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.

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. 🙂

iPhone 6s Plus review

Introduction

I have been an android user since the original Samsung Galaxy S. I have considered iPhones every year, but always thought Android was better (for me) and cheaper, so stuck with that. Last year, I got so far as to buy an iPhone 6, but after the first two weeks I brought it back and ended up with a HTC One M8. This year around I have again purchased an iPhone, but this time a space grey iPhone 6s Plus with 64 Gb of storage. So far, I am terribly impressed and I think this may be my first OS change in over 5 years. Below you can find my impressions and reasons for this.

Design and hardware

The iPhones have always been very well built and this phone is no exception. All the buttons have great feedback and it feels like it is built to last years. The only real down side is that it is way too slippery and it has been in a case from day 2 onwards, something I do with all phones anyway, though.

The actual design of the phone is fine. It is a good looking phone, and totally up there with the best in the market, like the new Galaxy phones from Samsung or the Xperia Z5 from Sony. I do think the design works better on the regular iPhone 6s, but it’s ok for the Plus as well.

The fingerprint reader

According to some studies, we unlock our phones up to 200 times a day. On recent years iPhones this is done via a finger print reader, if you choose so. According to Apple, this year’s fingerprint reader is twice as fast as last year’s. I can’t confirm that claim, but it is certainly fast. It basically registers the finger in a fraction of a second. In fact, if you wish to actually view the lock screen, you have to adapt by either hitting the home button differently (so it can’t register the finger) or by using the power button to turn on the screen.

The setup of the finger print reader is really easy and you can register many different fingers, unlike the Galaxy Note 4 that I had before and which allowed only 3 different fingers.

The screen

The screen is an interesting aspect. Apple used to have the best screens in the market, but I think that is not the case anymore. The positive aspects of the screen are the natural colour temperature, the maximum brightness, the automatic adaptive brightness, and the viewing angIes. However, the screen resolution is not particularly high. Personally, I feel it is more than adequate, but there are higher resolution screens out there and you can see it. Similarly, and admittedly this is a matter of taste, the screen has very natural/neutral colours and you don’t have the colour pop that you get on the good Samsung Super Amoled screens. And the worst thing about the screen is the blacks, they are simply dark greys. This is due to the screen technology used, but when compared side-by-side with a modern high quality Samsung screen, the difference is very noticeable, particularly when viewing videos.

All that being said, in day-to-day usage, the screen is very good and you’ll get few complaints from me. Nevertheless, it would not surprise me if Apple is working on better screens for the iPhone 7 in order to stay up to date with the competition.

The speakers

The mono speaker of the iPhone 6s Plus is located on the bottom right of the phone. Although the volume and clarity are very decent, they are not the best in the market. However, as with many things, it is good enough and not a source of insatisfaction.

The only realy downside to the speaker is its placement. It is very easily blocked. If I hold the phone in my right hand, my pinkey finger supports the phone and covers the speakers, which is just a bit unfortunate.

The camera

Apple made quite a fuss this year about its new camera. It has an increased resolution of 12MP and deep trench isolation of the pixels. The cameras have always been great on the iPhones and this is no exception. The software is fast and simple to use (although it is getting more complex every year). It focusses very quickly and accurately in most light conditions. The OIS in the Plus model is a real bonus in poor light conditions and with static subjects. All in all, I have been very impressed.

I went to a concert and recorded some footage, both video and stills. Concerts are really difficult situations for a camera, and this iPhone handled it like a champ.

The front facing camera got even more of an upgrade. Its resolution went up to a respectable 5MP and it got a selfie flash. At the same concert, in very dark conditions I made a selfie with my wife and the results was simply amazing. The only downside is that the lit up screen reflects in my glasses.

Performance and battery life

The performance of the iPhones is really something else. It responds pretty much instantly to any input. It has very occasional hicups, but at most twice a day, in my experience.

What I must particularly highlight, as an Android enthusiast, is how crazy refined all the animations and transitions are. With Material, Android has got a lot better, but iOS is on a different level. This may seem superficial, but I do feel that it goes a some way in justifying the higher price. This level of refinement in every interaction with the phone warrants a premium price. I was very impressed.

As for battery life, the Plus models have a big battery and I expected it to go long. In fact, I had no problem getting through a 17 hour days with about 30% left. The beauty of iOS is that it sips battery when you are not using it. With Android, I would be happy with a 3% drop per hour without usage. With iOS it is more like <1% per hour. That makes a whole lot of difference. With Doze mode in Marshmallow, Android should get better, but they have a way to go to achieve iOS levels.

The only real issue with the battery is the charging. It is quite slow. It has a big battery and should have come with some form of Quick Charging, if you ask me.

Operating System

One of the main reasons for not going with an iPhone before was iOS. Although very slick, it always felt very restrictied and featureless (to me). Android felt a lot better. This changed quite a bit with iOS 8, though, and iOS 9 feels like a really mature, robust and feature packed Operating System. For the first time in its history, I feel like I can use iOS full time and not miss Android. For any person that has used only iOS this sounds ridiculous, I am sure, but for me it is quite the revelation.

I like big screened phones, but I feel that it should allow for different UIs when compared to smaller screened phones. I find that iOS 9 is pretty good at that. When in portrait, the UI simply allows for more content, but when in landscape, it opens up other possibilities. Good examples are Settings and Mail where you basically get an iPad interface. With the clean interface and fonts or iOS, this works very well. Furthermore, because the home screen also turns landscape, you can use it fully landscape (unless an app does not support landscape, which happens a bit too often for my liking).

Coming from Android, I like my widgets and home screens. With the Notification pane widgets and the 3D Touch short cuts on the home screen, I feel I am pretty much sorted. Sure, it works differently, but it works well and it is just a matter of getting used to.

Another thing I quite liked was the swiping from left to right to go back to the previous screen. This interaction is intuitive and works really well. Android has a back button for this which is equally effective, but it doesn’t feel as good as the direct interaction that iOS permits. Furthermore, it worked in pretty much all apps, which is also impressive, I believe.

The only real downside to iOS that I found is that although I am sure it was simple some time ago, now with all the functionality that it has, it has become quite complex, at least for someone that hasn’t been eased into the complexity. I don’t mind it, but it certainly takes time to feel comfortable with everything and fully setting up an iPhone is certainly not for the uninitiated.

3D Touch

By far the biggest innovation this year for the iPhone, and the main reason I choose to buy one, is 3D Touch. It holds the promise of advancing User Experience on touch screen devices, and I was very eager to try it in person.

After about two weeks, I can say that I use it daily already. I find it particularly useful on the home screen, where you get presented deep links into the app that you 3D Touch. For instance, setting a timer for the tea is really quick by pressing the clock icon. Similarly, calling my wife is very easy by pressing the phone icon. It works great, and I welcome all apps to include it. In the future, it would be great if users could even select the 4 things that show up in the small list.

Within apps I have to still find a good reason to use it. Generally speaking the previewing (peak and pop) is almost not worth it to me. I find it easier and more convenient to simple open the piece of content – an email, photo, etc. – and return to the previous view by sliding in from the left. The biggest issue with 3D Touch within the app is two-fold: inconsistency and not being to manipulate the content.

Take for instance Tweetbot. In principle, you can preview photos in your timeline by 3D Touching them, however, it does not always work. Some image can’t be manipulated like this and show up some alternative menu. When this sort of thing happens too often, you end up simply not using 3D Touch.

The other issue is the inability to manipulate content. For instance, when I preview an email or a web page, often times I wish to see a little more, in that case I have to press harder and go into the actual email or web site. If this happens too often, which I feel it does, it just doesn’t pay to use it.

Lastly, being able to use the keyboard as a trackpad in text fields is a really cool and useful addition. Works like a charm!

Conclusion

I have really enjoyed using this iPhone 6S Plus. It is arguably the best smartphone in the market. It is not perfect, but it is a great all rounder. The screen and speakers are the two things that I would like Apple to work a little harder on. Performance, battery life and camera are really up there already.

If you come from iOS and will only consider iOS, naturally this is the next logical step. However, if you are not that tied to a platform, there is one big consideration: price.

Should you have almost a thousand euros to spend on a smartphone, you can’t go wrong with this phone. However, for almost 300–400 euros less you can get really good smartphones like the Nexus 6P, Sony Xperia Z5, LG G4 or Motorola Moto X Style. Sure, generally speaking they are not as good in one or two areas, but I would argue they are good smartphones in their own right. The latest Samsungs, like the Note 5, are probably equally good or even better in some areas when compared to the iPhone, but also cost about the same.

As for me, I fall in this last camp. I like the iPhone, but I am not sure I like it that much, i.e. 1000 euro much. We’ll see what happens…