LG G4 – An “Oldie” But A Very Goody

I have an LG G4 for trial for a while, and even though the G5 has just been released, I was still interested in reviewing the G4. Mainly because I have little experience with LG smartphones – outside the Nexus 4 and 5 – and I always feel they are undervalued. For instance, right now, the LG G4 seems to me to be the best value-for-money smartphone one can buy. In this review I’ll be looking at it from that angle and in the process will compare it to my recent experiences with the Moto X Style, Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S Plus.

Hardware

Design and build quality

The G4 is a very interesting phone when it comes to this aspect. The design is not impressive. This is due to the materials used, to a large extend. In a world of glass and aluminium, the plastic finish of the G4 is somewhat disappointing. I realise that the G4 has the option of a leather back plate and I am pretty sure this will improve its looks, but I have not been able to try that.

Where its pure esthetic design is slightly disappointing, the ergonomics of the design are great. It has a curved back that is really pleasant to hold. Generally speaking it is sufficiently grippy and fits really nicely in the hand. The most pleasant phone I have held in the last year, I can confidently say.

The LG G4 is a large screened phone, but they have done a great job of keeping the dimensions of the phone as reduced as possible. This naturally helps with the ergonomics.

Having the LG G4 in one pocket and the Nexus 6P in the other, I can’t stress enough how much nicer using the LG G4 felt for me. 

Buttons and hardware controls

One of the things that LG introduced a few years back is placing the power and volume buttons on the back of the phone. Coming from the Nexus 6P, I already look for something on the back (which is where the Nexus 6P has its finger print reader), so the switch was not completely foreign. That being said, I am not enamoured with the set-up. A double tap to wake the phone makes it workable, though, in terms of turning the phone on. Still, I don’t really like the volume buttons on the back. The G5 will have the volume buttons on the side and a fingerprint scanner on the back. This lay-out makes more sense in my opinion (although I still slightly prefer Samsung and Apple’s configuration of a fingerprint scanner on the front of the phone).

The lack of a fingerprint scanner on the G4 is a real shame. However, I forgive the phone for that, given the great price and the otherwise fantastic hardware. Interestingly, I could not forgive the Moto X Style that suffers also from a lack of a fingerprint scanner (as it does not have the great hardware that this G4 has to compensate the lack of the scanner).

Screen

The screen on this phone is absolutely gorgeous. The resolution (which is QHD), the brightness, automatic brightness adjustment, contrast and viewing angles are all top notch. In reality, it puts the Nexus 6P screen to shame. Well done, LG. Not much more to say, but given that the screen is the main aspect of the phone that the user interacts with, it is necessary to nail it, and LG did so.

Speakers

Something LG did not nail is the speaker. It is a tinny, lowish volume speaker. I did not like it, and they have to do better. Personally, I use the phone speaker daily for listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music as well as view videos. The poor performance takes away from those experiences.
 

Connectivity

As with all modern phones, it had no problems establishing and keeping the necessary connections with the WIFI router, mobile phone network and bluetooth accessories.

Performance

The G4 comes with a Snapdragon 808 chip paired with 3GB of RAM. This is the same set-up as the Moto X Style. I find it to offer a sufficiently smooth experience. It is not a multitasking powerhouse, such as the Nexus 6P, but I found that animations and operations were reasonably smooth for an Android phone. Not top of the line, perhaps, but certainly a good experience. 

Camera

The camera is another stand-out feature on the G4. It has all the right specs: high resolution sensor, optical image stabilisation, and wide aperture. In addition, LG has shown to have created very good image processing algorithms, making the best use possible of the information gathered by the sensor.

The camera is joy to use. The camera is quick to launch, focuses reasonably quickly and allows you to review the picture quickly in the Gallery app. Moreover, the camera app is easy to use, while offering full manual control for those that want it. 

I can’t say enough positive things about this. It is up there with the best in the market, such as Samsung and Apple. 

Software

As with most manufacturers, LG has its own skin on Android. The only skin I have found acceptable in the past was the HTC UI on the HTC One M8. All the rest of the skins are just not very good. I am afraid that LG’s version of Android is also not great. It is mostly different for the sake of being different, and sometimes even breaks things.

One of the examples of what seems to be broken is the expandable notifications. That only works when the phone wants to. Not cool.

In turn, the addition that I personally did like was all the toggles on the notification tray, for things like airplane mode, bluetooth, wifi, torch, etc. Samsung has something very similar, and I find that works nicely. 

In any case, I quickly installed SwiftKey for the keyboard, Google Calendar for the calendar, Google Now Launcher for the home screen, Nine for email, MX Player Pro for videos, and Solid Explorer for the file manager. After that, it mostly worked just like any other Android phone. I just wonder why LG spends any time/resources on developing alternatives that are not any better than the Google-supplied apps. I realise this stems from a period where this seemed like a good idea, but I don’t think it is worth more money from the point of view of the consumer.

The phone I trialled ran Android 5.0.1. Supposedly, LG has already Marshmallow available, but I am afraid this was not available for my testing. Still, LG was pretty quickly out of the door with the 6.0 update and that is laudable. 

Price and value-for-money

Right now, the LG G4 costs 370 euros on Amazon in Spain. For that amount of money you get a great smartphone that only really lacks a finger print scanner and a quality speaker. In terms of price only the OnePlus 2 comes close, but I don’t feel that it offers the same quality.

I will certainly be recommending this phone to people that are looking to spend around 350 euros on a smartphone. I think it is the best you can buy with that budget in mind. And my experience with this phone, also makes me very curious about the LG G5.

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AMP by Google is revolutionary

I currently use a Google Nexus 6P. This is one of the best smartphones out there, but the web experience is still somewhat lacklustre. Some sites work well, but I dread opening a page from, for instance, The Verge on my phone.

Google has been working on an iniciative that should significantly speed up the mobile web, called Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). I have just experienced this on Nuzzel when visiting an article from the Verge and the experience was revolutionary, from a user point of view.

What is Nuzzel? 

Nuzzel is an easy way to see news from your friends. You can use Nuzzel to discover the best news stories shared by your friends on Facebook and Twitter without being overwhelmed or missing anything. Nuzzel is an app that supports Google AMP, for those news sources that also support it. One of those news sources is the infamous The Verge, which is a notoriously heavy site, particularly for Android smartphones.

Well, when I hit a link in Nuzzel to an article from The Verge it took a mere 2 seconds to fully load, compared to 10 seconds when loading it on Chrome for Android. Moreover, the scrolling experience in Nuzzel was great whereas the article in Chrome would stutter immensely.

What is Google AMP? 

Google AMP, however, is not limited to Nuzzel. Any mobile app can include it, and Twitter announced that it will support AMP at launch. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.

Currently an interesting set of publishers will support it at launch, including sites like BBC, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mashable, The Verge, and many more. 

After having had a taste of this, I am looking forward to a mobile future filled with Google AMP.

The internet of things will turn our machines against us

Talking about being a bit pessimistic! This article does have a point, though. Something I have been trying to say in my last few posts as well: the security of the Internet of Things should be extremely high on the agenda of the manufacturers. It is not a sexy feature, but instead a baseline feature. For some manufacturers, it could even be their main selling point.

The internet of things will turn our machines against us

How to “safely” opt into Google Now

We are living in a time where computers are starting to learn from us and anticipate our needs. On the one, hand that is very handy, but at the same time a bit frightening, because in order for a service to anticipate our needs, it needs to know a lot about us. One such service is Google Now. It’ll track your packages, remember where you parked your car, inform you of traffic on your daily commute, suggest places to visit and eat, suggest articles to read, will show the QR code of your tickets when you go to the airport, etc. Most of this information is actually quite useful. However, in order to opt into this, Google needs to track the following 4 things about you:

  1. Your search and browsing history
  2. Information from your devices
  3. Places you go
  4. Your voice searches and commands.

I am sure Google has its reasons for this, but the truth is that I would prefer Google not to know all these things about me. Although I am a person that has little to hide, I do not like the idea of one company having a history of all this information about me. I realise they will not abuse it, most likely, but there may be a data breach at some point or they are required to hand it over to some government agency. At the same time, I still like to enjoy the benefits. 

Well, one of the advantages of Google is that it does allow you pretty detailed control of what you share and you control the information that you have shared in the past (to a certain extend). So what I am doing is opting into the tracking of these four activities, but deleting the historic data each month. Which means that Google has at most one month of data on me, which I can live with.

In order to do that, you have to go to your Google Account and select the Activity Controls in the Personal Info & Privacy block. There you will be presented – one by one – with the different settings that you need to turn on in order for Google Now to work. Once you turn it on, you get a confirmation screen and there you confirm that you wish to turn it on. This is of course also the place where you can turn it off later (they call it pausing, but hey), if you would prefer that.

At the same time, here you can also manage the data you have so far shared with Google. In order to do that, you click MANAGE ACTIVITY. When you click that, you get presented with the history of data, generally speaking. At the top of the screen, select the overflow menu button (three dots) and select Delete Options. 

Then select Advanced and select All Time from the drop down menu. 

For Places you Go this is slightly different. For this Activity, you directly have a recycle bin in the bottom right of the map that you see after selecting Manage Activity. When you click that, you delete all location history.

I have been doing this for about 3 months, and I have not noticed that this makes Google Now any worse (or less accurate). Maybe in the future there may be some functionality which requires months of historic data, but for now it works fine with what it has on me.

The state of privacy in America: What we learned

The Tech sector sees as the next big things everything related to Smart: Smart Home, Digital Assistants, Internet of Things, the Cloud, etc. Although I would agree on their immense potential to make our lives more comfortable (and therefore become a big growth market for Consumer Electronics companies), there is one big condition: data privacy.

The linked article references a Pew Research piece regarding just this issue. One thing that is clear is that people currently do not feel that their data is safe, and that this will be important going forward when it comes to adoption of new products and services and the choice in which brand to trust. 

It should worry these companies to read the following: 

For instance, 54% of Americans consider it an acceptable trade-off to have surveillance cameras in the office in order to improve workplace security and help reduce thefts. But a scenario involving the use of a “smart thermostat” in people’s homes that might save energy costs in return for insight about people’s comings and goings was deemed “acceptable” by only 27% of adults. It was seen as “not acceptable” by 55%.

The article is an interesting read, and I don’t want to go into much more detail here, but right now Apple seems to have the best message. They stand for the privacy of the data of their customers and make that a corner stone in their marketing. Google, on the other hand, is going to have a much more difficult time convincing people.

The state of privacy in America: What we learned

Smart home – so close, but still so far

Today I listened to another episode of the 361 degrees podcast. The hosts of the podcast do their annual challenge and this season it is all about the smart home.

After smartphones and tablets, the next big potential market for consumer electronics companies is the smart home (as a subset of the Internet of Things).

It is still a pretty nascent market, though. The issue with the smart home is the fact that so far the market has not been able to vote on the dominant standard that will make all the different devices, sensors, apps and services talk to each other. Both Apple, Google and Samsung have their own standards (and a bit of hardware in some cases) and there are lots of startups that have attractive solutions (lights, cameras, sensors, locks, etc).

Personally, I have not really launched into the smart home market yet, and that is mainly because of my doubts and questions around interoperability of sensors/devices/services, reliability of the routines/programmes, security and ease of use. The episode I am linking to in this post illustrates these issues very well: https://soundcloud.com/361podcast/s11e06

Still, this is a market with a lot of potential and I recommend anyone that is interested in this to listen to the podcast episodes. I for one will start to try some stuff in the near future.

Smart home – so close, but still so far

Nexus 6P vs Moto X Style | Comparison

I have had a month with both phones and in this review/face-off I want to highlight the differences between them, and I’ll even declare a winner, if possible. Check out below what my thoughts are.

First of all, I am specifically comparing the grey 64Gb model of the Nexus 6P and the white Moto X Style with an additional 64Gb of storage via SD Card. To set the following in perspective, the Nexus 6P costs 699 euros on the Google Store while the Moto X Style currently costs 499 euros on Amazon.

Design and build

These are both large phones, with their 5.7" size screens. As a result, neither are easily used one-handed. However, I feel that the Moto X Style is slightly more pleasant to hold. This is a mixture of the shape and materials. The Nexus 6P feels larger and heavier and while made out of beautiful metal, it is as a result extremely slippery without a case (and putting one on, makes the phone larger still). In that sense, the Nexus 6P reminds me a lot of the iPhone 6S Plus – beautiful but a bit unwieldy. The Moto X Style is more pleasant to hold, and I don’t feel I need a case to use it comfortably and confidently.

Although functionally the Moto X Style may win, in terms of sheer design, the Nexus 6P stands above the Moto X Style. It is thin, feels very premium and is beautiful. The Moto X is not bad looking, but there is a noticeable difference. I am sure this is a place where the cost difference came into play.

Screen

First of all, the screens on both phones are reasonably good. That being said, I certainly prefer the Nexus 6P screen as its colours pop a little more and it’s a little brighter. Also, the viewing angles on the Nexus 6P are much better. In fact, the viewing angles on the Moto X Style are quite poor: the screen turns dull and washed out rather quickly if you don’t look at it head-on.

Although the 6P screen is better, it is not the best screen I have tried. My current phone is the Galaxy Note 4, and that screen has much better outside legibility. In that sense, Samsung clearly still has the best screens and both Huawei and Motorola have a lot to learn.

Active display

Both phones have some sort of Active Display, i.e. showing content while the phone is not actually unlocked (and the screen is off). Motorola is the brand that popularised this with the first Moto X, and they have a really good thing going. It is terribly useful to quickly view and act on notifications as well as play/pause multimedia. The Active Display turns on when you wave your hand over it or pick up the phone. Fantastic feature!

The Nexus 6P has an Active Display lite of sorts. When a notification comes in, it will show it briefly on the screen with white text on a black screen, making perfect use of the AMOLED panel’s qualities. It is useful for what it is – you can quickly see what the notification was for – but it is not as useful as Motorola’s implementation.

Performance and battery life

They both have similar specs, but the Nexus 6P has a slightly more powerful CPU and GPU. I would personally argue that this should not be noticeable, unless you play heavy duty games or load very large web sites. In general operation, these chips should give a very similar experience. However, for whatever reason, the experience on both phones is different. Scrolling is buttery smooth on the Nexus 6P, but not on the Moto X Style (or the Note 4 for that matter). As is generally the case, the Nexus phones are in a league of their own (in the Android world) when it comes to performance.

Although the Nexus 6P is as smooth an Android experience as you will find right now, web browsing is still not a great experience. A colleague of mine that uses iOS asked how the phone was and I said it was great. She loaded a web site on the 6P and tried pinch to zoom and panning on the screen and it was painful to see. Safari on iOS is how browsing on a mobile device should be. I realise this is not the Nexus 6P’s problem, as it affects all Android phones, but it is something that needs to be addressed urgently!

Both phones have big batteries and will last you more than certainly a day of moderate to heavy use. The nexus 6P is particularly strong in this area. Most of the days, I could finish with 20-30% in the tank. Great stuff and almost iPhone xx Plus territory. Once the Moto X Style got Marshmallow, it performed similarly, in my experience.

Speakers

Both of the phones have good speakers. They are stereo front-facing speakers, which is basically the ideal set-up. The Moto X Style speakers do get a bit louder which is nice, but the Nexus 6P is sufficient in my opinion, for car navigation, speaker calls and some podcast/music listening.

Camera

Motorola has a long track record of poor camera results. However, every year they make substantial improvements. This year’s camera is again a step above last year’s Moto X. It has a very high pixel count (21MP) when compared to previous year’s camera. Furthermore, it has a pretty unique camera interface, where you can move the focal point and exposure measurement by sliding it to the place you want with your finger. After that, by tapping on the screen in any place, the camera takes the picture. It hasn’t become second nature, as a tap to focus and then hitting the shutter button feels more intuitive, as just about all other cameras use that paradigm.

Under day light conditions the Moto X Style takes good pictures, although some HDR picture come out slightly blown out still. Where the camera falls down a little is in low-light shots, where it doesn’t manage to capture sufficient light and has quite a lot of noise in the pictures.

Nexus phones have a poor track record when it comes to camera quality. Arguably, this was often due to poor image processing algorithms. These are complicated/expensive to develop and often depend on work done by others (which means paying the necessary royalties to those folks). In order to avoid this, Huawei and Google, went with fewer, but larger, pixels so that the raw data captured is as rich and accurate as possible. Specifically, its camera has a 12MP sensor. From a specifications point of view, I would have liked to see OIS (particularly given the price point of the phone), but it does not have it (just like the Moto X Style).

The resulting pictures of the Nexus 6P are very nice I must say. The interface is plain, but works well enough for the regular person. It is reasonably fast in operation (launching, focussing, shot-to-shot time), with only the image processing taking up some time in the background (when you are shooting HDR). In day light it offers good results, although, similarly to the Moto X Style, it tends to blow out the high lights in outdoor HDR shots. This is a bit of a shame. In lower-light scenes, the pictures come out pretty good I find. It captures a lot of light and the photo is clear as long as the subjects were not moving around.

Finger print scanner

The Nexus 6P has a finger print scanner on the back of the phone. During the phone set-up, you are asked whether you want to set up the scanner. It takes very little time to do, and afterwards it is very fast in recognising the fingerprint and unlocking the phone. The fact that I can simply place the finger on the scanner and the phone unlocks is quite handy. However, I find the placement to be awkward. When you are out and about it is fine, however, whenever the phone is laying on the desk or placed in a cradle in my car, the finger print scanner on the back becomes a real nuisance. I have used both the iPhone’s and Samsung’s fingerprint scanners and I prefer the placement of the scanner on the home button on the front of the device (although I fully realise this a less natural location on a smartphone with a stock android interface that has on-screen buttons).

The Moto X Style does not have a finger print scanner at all. At this day and age, if you want the phone to compete with the flagships, I think it should have one. Personally, I find it to be an important omission on the part of Motorola. I realise it helps keep the cost down, but the OnePlus 2 is cheaper and does have a finger print scanner. I am pretty sure the next Moto X Style will have one, but that does not help with the omission on this one.

Conclusion

On an experience and specification level, the Nexus 6P wins over the Moto X Style. However, this is a must, given the price difference. The real question is, which phone offers better value for money. To answer that question, we will need to put the phones in their competitive land scape.

The Nexus 6P can compete with the likes of the Note 5/S6 Edge+ or iPhone 6s Plus or at least to a large extend. When compared to those phones, its unlocked price is actually pretty good. For that reason, if you have 699 euros to spend on a high end smartphone, I would say, look not further. It offers a great experience and saves you a couple hundred euros in the process (when compared to the before-mentioned smartphones).

The Moto X Style is a tougher sell, I feel. It competes in a market with the OnePlus 2 which is a similarly specified and performing smartphone for 399 euros. However, that phone is not readily available in the market yet and is also limited to online shops. The Moto X Style also competes with the LG G4, which is a bit cheaper and offers a better screen and camera, but with a poorer software experience than on the Moto X Style. All three of these phones are good phones and offer great value for money. However, if you want a large screen, good speakers, good performance, good battery life, stock android and the Motorola additions (like Active Display), then I do feel that the Moto X Style is great purchase.

Personally, though, I would go for the Nexus 6P. 🙂