Two years ago, I wrote one of the harshest reviews that has ever appeared on Gizmodo. It was for the LG G2, which was supposed to be the company’s flagship Android phone for the year, but it was just bad. I wasn’t shy about saying so. I was so unshy, in fact, that LG tried to get me fired for it.
But now here I sit, two years later, with LG’s G4 in my pocket. And guess what? It’s the best phone I’ve ever used.
Credit where credit’s due — you’ve come a long way, baby.
For the record, at the time, I was generally considered one of Gizmodo’s nicest reviewers, and this mudsling really surprised my colleagues. I am in no way malicious, and I truly want everything I test to be good and to succeed. I know that a lot of hard work from many individual people went into making a product, and I hate crapping all over that. Writing bad reviews makes me feel lousy and angsty.
But sometimes I have to. And sometimes I will use direct and rather fiery language to make sure you understand exactly what I’m saying. Jawbone didn’t like it when I called their UP3 “a fitness fiasco” and HTC didn’t appreciate it when I called their Media Link HD “the HTC Suck Puck,” but hey, if they didn’t want me to say that, then they shouldn’t have make a puck that sucked.
That said, I was especially rough with the G2, because it could have been so good. From a hardware standpoint it looked poised to blow everything else out of the water, but man, it really did the opposite, and there’s nothing more aggravating than unrealized potential.
Here are some highlights from the LG G2 review, the headline of which called it “A Braindead Hercules.”
- (“Who’s It For?”) “People who root their Android phones. Masochists.”
- “The software is a poor imitation of Samsung’s TouchWiz (which is, itself, bad). LG’s software is much, much worse. It’s flooded with even more useless “features,” it’s even more cluttered, even less intuitive and the overall look is that of a early 2000s feature phone. It’s almost begging you to hate it.”
- “A fiasco from start to finish.”
- “I don’t even know where to start with the software. It is so insanely, universally bad across the board.”
- “We’re used to seeing bad keyboards made by third parties, but this one was absolutely unusable.”
- “you know how Google Now is really pretty good at understanding voice commands and giving you what you want? Wouldn’t you rather use LG’s barely functional “voice mate guide” powered by a company called Maluuba?”
- “This is, overall, the most frustrating phone I’ve tested in the last two years.”
- “Bad software made what could have been one of the year’s best phones into a big dumb idiot.”
- And I made this video of the G2’s default alarm tone:
Here’s the thing, though: I stand behind every word of that. The software was just horrendous and it rendered what should have been a very good phone utterly unusable.
Our editor-in-chief at the time received a barrage of angry emails and phone calls from LG, the details of which are better left unsaid. Luckily he stood behind both the article and me and free journalism survived another day. But LG was done with me. When the G3 came out the company would only send Gizmodo a review unit if we promised that I wouldn’t touch it.
Again, I bore no ill-will toward LG. Hell, I wrote a love letter to one of their TVs just a few months later, but the damage had been done and I haven’t reviewed an LG phone since.
A few weeks ago I got an email from my contact at Verizon asking me if I’d like to review its version of the LG G4. I told them Gizmodo already had a G4 review up and that we wouldn’t be doing another one, but if they were up for sending it to me, I would love to try it for a little while. They did, and for the last few weeks I’ve been playing with it.
Holy crap, I love this phone. I mean, the experience of using it compared to the G2 is absolutely night and day, and it’s almost entirely because of the software.
LG had put a skin over the G2 that was truly dreadful. It replaced very good Google apps with very bad in-house apps. It was cluttered and unintuitive. It was slow and ugly. I still remember how annoying it was to use and the feeling of my cortisol levels rising.
The G4 is an entirely different beast. Now, when you tap on the phone’s screen to wake it up, it actually wakes up! There’s almost no LG-installed bloat-ware on this phone at all, and what few apps there are aren’t usually the default apps and are quarantined into their own little folder of exile.
But the biggest change is that it runs a version of Android that is incredibly close to stock, and that’s a good thing. Android Lollipop (5.1) is really good-looking and extremely intuitive to use. LG got its ego out of the way and let Android do its thing, which is what the best Android phones do (see Motorola’s Moto X and co.). But it goes one step beyond that…
The LG G4 runs Android better than Google’s own Nexus line. Much better, in fact. Lollipop is beautiful software, but it has some performance problems. Open apps and processes seem to accumulate until there’s just no RAM left, and then the phone slows down to a crawl. I mean, switching between apps will take forever and even typing becomes an exercise in futility. And I’m talking about using the Nexus 6, the Nexus 9, the Nexus 7, the Nexus 5, and even the HTC One M8 Google Play Edition. They have all of the same major slowdowns. The G4 doesn’t have that problem. That’s huge.
The excellent LG G4
There’s more to love than that, though. The G4 doesn’t feel nearly as gigantic as the Nexus 6, and as a result it’s infinitely easier to use one-handed. And then there’s the camera which takes some truly gorgeous photos.
No, it’s not perfect. I’m still not into having my power button on the back, which makes it really hard to reach when it’s, say, in my car mount, and the dialer app is still kind of a cluttered mess, but these are small offenses that I can live with, because it runs Android better than any other phone I’ve used, it has solid battery life, and a camera that I love using.
It’s a massive turnaround. Way bigger than we usually see. Usually when a company is as out-to-lunch as LG was when it made the G2 it takes many generations before it even start getting its stuff together. It took LG two. Two iterations. It’s really impressive.
I’m writing this because I hope other companies will see this example and follow suit. We see so many products that could be great if the company that made them had just had the wherewithal to get out of its own way. With the G4, it seems as if LG was finally willing to strip its ego away and let go of the compulsive need to make the phone all about them. Instead they made the phone that people wanted, and I’m willing to bet that they will sell a whole lot more of them. I hope you’re paying attention, other consumer electronics companies who shall remain nameless. I hope you know who you are.
Picture: The LG G2 that I dumped all over