LG applies a traditional design style that keeps a lot of the power in the user’s hands.
LG? They still make superphones, do they? Yes, that was a very cheap shot, particularly given how many LG phones I’ve owned myself over the years. Even so, the marketing battle (and wider rivalry) between Apple and Samsung has of late tended to drown out everyone else’s efforts.
The LG G4 is the South Korean company’s latest flagship handset, and for those seeking a viable alternative to the iPhone 6 or the Galaxy S6 Edge, it’s a pretty good option.
In various leather-clad and rubberised models, and in a slightly larger stylus version, this is a phone that actually seems to like - or at least respect - its users.
Let’s start with the familiar. Indeed, let’s start with the most immediately obvious thing about the phone in teardown terms. Even the x-ray gives away that LG has taken an old-school approach to the design.
The back clips on and off easily. There’s a removable battery. There’s a microSD memory slot (capable of taking cards up to 2TB). Most of the device is held together with standard Philips screws. Several components are held in place with spring contacts.
This is how phones were made before manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and Motorola started putting ‘hands-off’ signs on the batteries and great globules of goo all over the PCBs.
The teardown team at iFixit has only one major caveat when it comes to the G4’s friendliness to repairs: the display. “[It has a] fused display assembly - glass and LCD will need to be replaced together if one or the other breaks.”
In addition to ease of access, “many components are modular and can be replaced independently,” according to iFixit. It awards the phone a very high 8/10 for repairability.
You do rather suspect that LG is taking a swipe at its rivals in a much more fundamental way here. It’s an irony of not just higher end, but now a growing number of smartphones generally that their designers are following Apple’s lead in trying to restrict user access to parts of the device that should be relatively open.
The biggest bugbear in this regard is the battery. With the kind of heavy use that many of these phones now receive, particularly as continuous healthcare monitoring and 4G connectivity become commonplace, batteries can start to falter within the first year.
When you’ve spent more than £500 on one of these handsets (either all up-front or spread over a contract), being hit up again by the need to make a proprietary purchase of what should be the most standard of components has always felt a bit, well, rich.
Ironically, one criticism levelled against the G4 during benchmarking has been that its battery life is shorter than that of rival devices, despite the lithium-ion cell itself being rated at 3.85V and 11.2Wh - the Galaxy S6 has a 3.85V, 9.82Wh cell, and the iPhone 6 a 3.82V, 6.91Wh cell.
LG needs to do some work on power management via updates - particularly given that the G4 also runs off the less-draining 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 six-core processor (ARM-based in a BIG.little combination). However, when the G4’s battery does start to struggle, Amazon or any other online market is your friend. Just buy one and clip it in.
Similarly, the drive to push users to store most of their content in the cloud and then pull it down over 4G/Wi-Fi (or as Apple would now like, for you to use its own streaming services) is another constriction. A microSD card still does a very good job, as LG has recognised.
It seems strange nevertheless to discuss a high-end phone in terms of essentially bog-standard features, so it’s worth noting that LG has crammed a lot into the G4.
The front and rear-facing cameras are top-of-the-range. The main 16MP unit is highly user configurable and also capable of taking video at 4k resolution. The 8MP selfie unit offers enough resolution to almost justify one of those ridiculous sticks. Almost.
The 5.5-inch screen has 2560×1440px, and is further enhanced with LG’s ‘Quantum’ branded use of both blue and white LED backlights to enhance the colours. The display is also slightly curved to make it sit against the ear or in the hand more comfortably.
Finally, LG has updated its UI around the 5.1 Lollipop version of Android and leveraged the extra sensors within the G4 to offer the inevitable healthcare apps as standard.
LG’s more traditional design approach does also seem to have led to a modest weight penalty. The G4 is 152g, against 138g for the Galaxy S6 and 129g for the iPhone 6 (though the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch display like the G4, weighs 172g).
Still, a question that the G4 does raise is to what extent some of the more complex techniques rivals use to juggle real estate are actually about the usable space and how much is about keeping the user out so you can have some proprietary fun and games.
Certainly, the accessible G4 is a match for its rivals in terms of general functionality and performance. Even though battery life is apparently disappointing, it’s likely that many consumers will be comfortable with the trade-off.