That larger 16-megapixel sensor (think 1/2.6 inch, versus the S6's 1/3 inch) isn't the only thing contributing to the experience. There's a color spectrum sensor here too, right under the LED flash bulb, and it scans what the camera's pointed at before each shot. The idea is that by scanning a scene from both the visible and infrared portions of the spectrum, the camera can figure out that, say, a white piece of paper under a yellow light isn't a yellow piece of paper. From there, it tries to figure out how best to tweak the white balance and exposure for a natural-looking shot. The kicker: This all just happens, without any extra input from you. I almost always kept the G4's camera in "Simple" (no controls, just immediate shooting) or "Basic" (minimal onscreen controls) and most of the photos I rattled off looked great. Since LG's keen on turning the G4 into something a professional photog could use on the regular, there's a full manual mode here and the ability to shoot and export RAW photos. I mostly stayed out of the weeds, but there's plenty of fun to be had fiddling around with ISO values and shutter speeds in search of the ultimate late-night light-painting photo.
If you want to see the G4 in its element, though, whip it out when the sun goes down. Thanks to that f/1.8 lens, the phone's an absolute pro at sucking up photons even in the dimmest situations. There's often a tendency for smartphones to smear the hell out of low-light photos in an effort to smooth out the visual noise, but the G4 thankfully doesn't go overboard. Brighter, more nuanced photos like these are de rigueur for the G4, but they're not free of flaws. Remember that color sensor? The one that's supposed to improve the accuracy of your photos by figuring out what your subject is supposed to look like? The thing is, it sometimes works a little too hard and produces photos that are more yellow than they need to be. More often than not, this becomes an issue in low-light conditions, so you'll have to be a little more careful when you hit that dive.
Oh, and since I'm sure the vain among you are dying to know, the 8-megapixel front-facing camera takes a mean selfie. The f/2.0 lens might not be quite as impressive as the one around the back of the phone, but it's more than enough to capture your mug with solid fidelity. It draws light in from a wide angle, too, just in case you want to turn your selfie into a groufie, and clenching your fist twice will kick off a series of four photos, just to ensure at least one of them is usable. Throw in support for recording some crisp, clean, bright 4K video and you've got one of the most capable mobile shooters you can find out there. But here's the big question: Is it better than the competition? In many ways, yes -- not once did my daily driver iPhone 6 produce a photo I preferred over the G4's attempt. I'd be more willing to give the G4 camera the nod over the Galaxy S6 if it wasn't a little overzealous with the color correction at times, but other than that it's a dead heat.
Performance and battery life
If you were a company looking to piece together a truly killer phone for 2015, it stands to reason you'd use the most powerful parts you could get your hands on, right? Well, that's not exactly the conclusion that LG came to. The decision to use a Snapdragon 808 the company says is "optimized" for the G4 instead of a high-end 810 was purely about practicality. LG figured the 808 delivered performance that was similar to its cousin, but without the power/heat headaches (and for less money, to boot). That might sound like a classic case of putting profit ahead of performance, but you won't lose out on much as a result.
The G4 did as well as you'd imagine tackling all those little day-to-day tasks that are easy to take for granted. There was virtually no delay when firing up apps and switching through them (even when I jumped around at a frenzied pace trying to throw the phone for a loop). When it comes to normal, everyday use, there's functionally no difference between the G4 and its more powerful rivals. This last week of testing also saw plenty of poking around in the worlds of Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8, which both ran at a slightly choppier frame rate than they did on the Galaxy S6 and its edgier cousin. Make no mistake: This doesn't mean the G4 is a slug; not one bit. It just sits one rung lower than its rivals on the graphical performance ladder, which you can get a better sense for below.
As you might expect, Samsung's homebrew, high-octane chipset sits pretty comfortably near the top of the graphical charts, but the G4 easily trades blows with Snapdragon 810-powered phones when it comes to overall system performance. That more modest chipset also means the G4 is notably less prone to getting warm when pushed. The claims of Snapdragon 810s running hot enough to cook eggs were thoroughly debunked by both the warm-but-not-scalding G Flex2 and HTC One M9, but the G4 still runs noticeably cooler than both devices when you start pushing things to their limits. Of course, the other upside to having a less beefy (albeit better-tuned) processor setup is that you should see better battery performance as a result.
The party line about the Snapdragon 808's power consumption suggests that it doesn't need nearly as much juice as the 810 because it's running with two fewer extra processor cores. Even that IPS Quantum screen is pegged as being a straight-up power sipper compared to the screens LG used to use. So what's the deal here? During this last week of testing, the G4 stood up to my usual workload -- chatting up storms on Slack or Hangouts, listening to lengthy tomes in Audible, playing games in the bathroom and so on -- for entire workdays before it gave up the ghost. There were even a few times where, after having fallen asleep through episodes of Daredevil, I'd wake up the next day to see my phone had only just fired up its battery saver mode. On average, that worked out to between 13 and 14 hours of pretty consistent use a day before needing a trip to a power outlet -- the Galaxy S6 twins, on the other hand, usually stuck around for closer to 12. When I put the G4 through the standard Engadget video-rundown test (looping a 720p video with screen brightness set to 50 percent), it lasted for 11 hours and two minutes, clearly beating the S6's nearly nine-hour runtime.
Let's just reiterate something quickly: I'm reviewing the Korean version, as American units aren't ready yet. When they are, though, you can expect to shell out the typical $200-$250 with a multi-year carrier agreement, or about $650 off-contract. Naturally, there's plenty of other hardware you could pick up for the same price. I've made the comparison no less than a thousand times so far, but the G4's biggest Android-powered rival continues to be Samsung's pair of Galaxy S6s. It's not hard to see why. Their attractive, sturdy metal-and-glass designs are paired with high-powered Samsung-made chipsets, not to mention they both pack great cameras of their own. Collectively, they're the first Samsung phones that have ever given the iPhone some decent competition, and that fact hasn't been lost on consumers. The thing is, Samsung's approach to software is a little more overwrought, where LG (fortunately) opted for a cleaner, pared-back approach.
If you're itching for a taste of the Snapdragon 810 life, there's always HTC's One M9. It too will only set you back $200 with a contract, and the company's attention to design detail means you'll wind up with a well-built, attractive (if familiar-looking) phone. Audio quality through that pair of front-facing BoomSound speakers is no joke either, as they provide one of the best aural experiences you'll ever find in a phone. Throw in some generous "Uh-Oh" protection that will cover the M9 in case something goes horribly wrong and you've got a strong contender for your dollars. Just remember: It can run a little warm at times, and the camera doesn't really impress. Maybe that'll be enough to tip you in favor of the G4. Oh, and speaking of LG, there's always the G Flex2 ($300 from AT&T, $200 from Sprint). It's got an 810 thrumming away in that bent frame too, but really, you're mostly paying extra for the design.
It might not be as technically powerful as some of LG's other recent releases, but the G4 as a package is the most compelling the company has put out yet. From the pared-down user interface to the tight integration with Google to the strong camera performance, the G4 is a great phone... not to mention a very logical step forward from last year's G3. That said, I'm concerned that LG hasn't quite figured out how to get regular people excited about its hardware. The G4 is a highly respectable technical achievement, but even after using it for a week, I still don't think it's any more thrilling than it was when we first met. If you're upgrading from an old clunker of an Android phone, the G4 will do everything you need and so much more. If, on the other hand, you're coming from a G3, the mostly modest changes here might not make you feel like you've really gotten something new.
James Trew contributed to this review.