2015 has heralded the beginning of the end for plastic-bodied flagship smartphones. From theHTC One M9 to Samsung’s Galaxy S6 handsets and even the Huawei P8, a full metal unibody has now become the de facto design for almost every top-end handset I’ve seen this year. Except, it seems, on the LG G4.
Always keen to tear up the rule book, LG’s latest handset has gone full leather this time round, using genuine vegetable tanned, full grain cow hide on the rear of the phone. That’s not the only thing that makes the G4 unique either, as its rear camera is the first to use a colour spectrum sensor that can supposedly read colours in exactly the same way as the human eye.
It’s an intriguing combination, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how comfortable the leather back felt when I got one in for review. The stitching down the centre is a particularly classy touch, and the smooth tan leather option provided just as much grip as the stippled black version.
^ The tan leather has a much smoother texture compared to the grainier black model
Measuring 149x75x8.9mm thick, it’s not the slimmest of phones, but LG said that its customers were more than willing to sacrifice a few extra millimetres for a more ergonomic design – and I’d be inclined to agree. However, the leather cladding does add a considerable premium onto the handset, as it’s also available in cheaper ‘metallic’ and ‘ceramic’ models (both of which are really plastic) which currently start at around £350. The leather version, on the other hand, starts at around £400. That’s still cheaper than the Galaxy S6, though (even after its recent price-cut), and having tested both the leather and ceramic models, I personally prefer the G4’s curved leather rear to the flat glass of the S6.
If leather isn’t quite your bag, though, the ceramic and metallic versions are still decent alternatives. The ceramic model I had in for testing has a very subtle diamond-shaped pattern on the back of the handset. This adds a bit of visual flair to the phone when it catches the light, but in the hand it feels almost exactly the same as the plastic LG G3, making it a bit dull and tacky compared to the attention-grabbing leather versions.
^ The diamond pattern on the back of the ceramic model is very subtle but you barely notice it once it’s in your hand
The curve extends to the front of the screen as well, but the arc is so infinitesimally small that you’ll barely even notice it unless you put the phone face down on the table. It’s certainly nowhere near as curvy as the LG G Flex 2, but at least it should still help protect the screen if it happens to fall face down on the floor.
The 5.5in 2,560×1,440 display was one of the stand-out features on the LG G3, so it’s no surprise that LG has reprised this resolution for the G4. The resolution isn’t quite as special as it once was, though, as both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge now have 2,560×1,440 resolution displays as well. What’s more, they both have higher pixel densities of 576 pixels-per-inch (PPI) thanks to their smaller 5.1in screens, beating the G4’s pixel density of 534PPI by quite some margin.
LG may not have the sharpest screen in the business any more, but its secret weapon is undoubtedly its brand new IPS Quantum panel. Not to be confused with LG’s Quantum Dot technology used inside its TVs, the G4’s screen uses a new type of liquid crystal that’s meant to enhance brightness and overall colour accuracy.
^ On first glance, you could almost mistake the G4’s IPS Quantum display for an OLED panel
In practice, the screen really does pop out at you when you first turn it on, showing lovely rich, vibrant colours and eye-searingly bright whites. Subjectively, it’s almost comparable to the OLED display I saw on the G Flex 2 in terms of sheer colour intensity, but the G4 higher brightness level of 505.66cd/m2 really helps to keep those colours looking just as punchy both inside and out, particularly if you’re out in the sun.
Blacks were deep at 0.27cd/m2 and we were suitably impressed with the G4’s contrast levels, which LG says are supposedly 50% higher than those on the G3. This would certainly seem to be the case according to my own tests, as I measured a huge contrast ratio of 1,715:1, which beats the G3’s measly 741:1 by quite some margin. Again, when I compared the G4 side by side with the G Flex 2, I could barely tell the difference in terms of image detail, which is good news for anyone still debating whether to go for this or a Galaxy S6, and the G4’s viewing angles were just as wide as its curvier brother.
However, LG’s boldest claim about the G4’s display relates to its colour reproduction, and sadly that’s not one I could back up during my calibration tests. According to LG, it’s the only smartphone display that can reach 98% of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) colour gamut, which covers a much wider range of colours than the traditional sRGB gamut, particularly when it comes to the number of shades of red.
^ According to our results, the G4 covered 96.3% of the sRGB colour gamut, with its weakest areas being its red and yellow coverage
LG says this equates to about 120% of the sRGB gamut, but our colour calibrator showed the G4 was only displaying 96.3% of the sRGB colour gamut. What’s more, it was the G4’s reds and yellows that fell short of the gamut boundary. Of course, 96.3% is still a highly respectable score for an IPS display, and it’s easily one of the most subjectively pleasing screens I’ve seen outside of Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, even if the nitty-gritty numbers (in my tests) don’t quite live up to LG’s promises.