What does it take to make a smartphone exceptional?
It's a question I've been considering as I contemplate the G4, LG's latest effort at creating a buzz-worthy flagship phone. My problem is that after using the G4 on and off for six weeks — first with the international version of the phone and more recently with a U.S.-specific AT&T-connected model — I'm still struggling to wrap my head around what makes the device special.
The weird thing is that on paper, the G4 checks off all the right boxes. The phone has all the specs you'd expect to see in a modern high-end smartphone. It has no shortage of compelling individual elements. And its price is right where it ought to be — $200 to $240 on-contract from the major U.S. carriers, or $550 to $670 if you buy it outright or spread over a month-to-month payment plan.
But is that enough to make the G4 worth buying?
Body and design
Let's start by examining the exterior. At 5.9 x 3.0 in., the G4 is definitely large compared to its contemporaries in the standard-sized smartphone realm.
For perspective, LG's latest effort is about a third of an inch taller and also a touch wider than Samsung's Galaxy S6. It's taller and wider than most other phones in its class, too, including the HTC One M9 and the 2014 Moto X (see the graphic below for a true-to-life visual comparison). Only plus-sized devices like the Galaxy Note 4 outsize it — and even there, just barely — but LG insists the G4 isn't a "phablet" and doesn't belong in that categorization.
Despite its considerable footprint, the G4's thin profile and subtly curved back — with a depth of 0.25 to 0.39 in., depending on where you measure — keep the phone from feeling too unwieldy in the hand. I do find the device a touch too large to carry comfortably in my pocket, however; it tends to protrude precariously and seem like it's perpetually on the brink of falling out (and no, I don't wear particularly tight pants).
One interesting design element is the fact that LG, continuing its trend from the past couple of years, has placed the power and volume buttons on the G4's back. That setup takes some getting used to, and it's very much a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing; you'll really just have to give it a whirl to figure out how you feel.
Practical considerations aside, having the buttons on the back makes the G4 look quite sleek, as its sides are smooth and free from interruptions. Still, I can't help but think the phone comes across as less premium than other current flagships. Part of that is due to the use of plastic posing as metal around the device's perimeter (which seems somewhat chintzy). In addition, the phone's back panel peels off from the rest of the body — an attribute that provides some functional value, as we'll discuss in a moment, but that also makes the device seem cheaper and less sophisticated than its seam-free unibody brethren.
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