Even as Samsung and Sony gravitate towards glass housings and non-removable batteries for their mobile phones, South Korean tech giant LG is sticking with a removable back cover and battery, and a microSD slot for expandable memory in its new LG G4 flagship.

This is not just an incremental upgrade from last year's G3. Several significant changes warrant the purchase of this new flagship.

But first, ask yourself if you really want a 5.5-inch screen. If the answer is "yes", then this is the smartphone to get.

After years of using a plastic rear panel, LG came up with a metal/plastic combo for last year's G3, and will offer that, alongside curvy, leather-wrapped rear panels that are slim and beautiful.

The brown leather unit which was reviewed evokes a sense of prestige, not unlike that associated with designer brands such as Hermes or Alfred Dunhill.

There is a nice sheen to it that makes owners more mindful about putting it down just anywhere. But could you bear to buy a cover to protect - and block - that beauteous bum from view?

LG makes six versions in leather, but only the maroon, brown and black will be sold here. The original leather rear covers are not sold separately.

Adding to the rear curve is an all but imperceptible curve of the screen. This curve is nowhere near as obvious as the one on the LG G Flex2. Only if you put the phone on a flat surface with the screen facing down would you even notice the tiny gap.

The new quad-high-definition, or QHD, quantum display should not be confused with the quantum-dot TV displays. On the smartphone, it refers to the improved brightness, contrast and accuracy of colour reproduction.

The quality of the images is better than on the G3. But against other QHD displays? With blues, browns and yellows, the difference is less obvious than with reds, which look slightly darker than the more pinkish hue on the Samsung Galaxy S6, though the difference may not always be apparent.

At full brightness and when viewed indoors, both screens look sharp, with the LG G4 showing off a crispier white background on webpages. 

Where it shines is when the phone is used outdoors, under direct sunlight. Other phones tend to focus on the text, but the LG G4 delivers rich, readable text, as well as sharp, recognisable images.

The G4's 16MP camera has an f/1.8 aperture, allowing more light to reach the sensor, which is helpful in low-light conditions. It also has an auto laser focus feature that uses infrared detection to determine the focusing distance.

A new colour spectrum sensor at the back, under the LED flash, works to measure a scene's ambient light. So the camera can better detect the natural lighting conditions, and adjust for the colours from other objects in the frame.

Does it work? Yes it does. Is it perfect? It depends. The colour sensor compensates very well for indoor lighting and shows less of a yellow tint than does the Galaxy S6.

What is impressive is that the colour temperature of everything else in the frame is unaffected. In a picture of the same object shot with a G4 and an S6, the one by the G4 has better white tones.

The G4's software does seem to overadjust colours sometimes. In identical late afternoon shots of a garden, the shrubbery appeared darker in the G4 shot than in those by the S6. That said, the greens in the G4 shot generally looked brighter, and the plants and grass more lush.

This is most obvious when taking photos under low-light conditions. The wider aperture definitely allows the sensor to register more light, so images taken in darker environments have slightly more details.

But when it comes to colours, it seems that the LG G4 artificially enhances them in low light, so something that was originally red comes out as slightly pink or purple looking instead.

Still, any differences between the S6 and G4 were not detrimental to the final images. Both cameras are impressive and I would not hesitate to take either along on a holiday.

What does matter is that LG has tweaked and simplified the settings and controls of its latest smartphone camera to make them easier to use, and provided more than enough hardware and software upgrades to make this a great photography tool.

Even on manual, the camera is relatively simple to navigate, with controls listed on the screen, instead of being buried in sub-menus.

If you pre-order the phone, you get an extra battery, which supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0. Yes, it does juice up the battery more efficiently. But you will need a special charger for this - and it is not bundled with the phone.

LG has stuck with Android features that long-time users have come to love, and built a great smartphone on top of it.


This article was first published on June 3, 2015.
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