Gadgets

The Leather-Clad G4 Makes LG a Serious Smartphone Contender

But what actually makes a smartphone luxurious anyway?

Hands-On With the New Leather-Clad LG G4 Phone

The luxury electronics battle is on. It’s been simmering for some time, but with the 18-carat gold Apple Watch Edition landing on wrists and Samsung’s high-quality Galaxy S6 taking on the iPhone, companies used to making products for the masses are now trying to distinguish themselves at the top end.

On Tuesday, LG unveiled the leather-clad G4 smartphone, the brand’s new flagship, in a bid to cement its own luxe status. So how is it?

The teal leather back is a strange color, but the large camera is front and center.

The teal leather back is a strange color, but the large camera is front and center.

Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

The first thing you’re going to notice about the G4 is that it looks nothing like its competitors. Around the screen, the front features a faux carbon-fiber finish and, unless you opt for one of the textured composite versions, the backs of the G4 handsets are real leather. There are a few color choices, ranging from conservative black and tan to more outlandish yellow and teal. All of them have a double-stitched seam down the back that’s meant to look handmade. Even if it were (it definitely isn’t), this is a smartphone and not a Birkin bag. I want to like the leather, since it’s the good vegetable-tanned stuff, but the thinness of it makes the material come across as sort of fake—which gives you the feeling of an old-school skeuomorphic app interface. Like it’s meant to remind you of leather. The beige, tan, and burgundy options are chic enough, but I worry that after a few months of use, rather than “develop a patina” the leather will actually “become gross.”

The screen on the G4 is slightly curved and incredibly beautiful.
The screen on the G4 is slightly curved and incredibly beautiful.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

What does impress, though, is the G4’s screen. It’s bananas. There’s a subtle curve that complements the arched back of the case. The screen is much more approachable than that of the G Flex 2, and you don’t even notice the concavity when you’re looking at a picture or watching video, which is definitely a good thing. Five and a half inches is your only size choice, which is good because it’s about as large as I would want to go (if not a little larger). And there’s resolution, brightness, and saturation to spare. I was expecting a good display, but nothing like this. It might just be the best smartphone display I’ve seen yet.

You’re probably wondering just how much juice this pretty IPS Quantum display consumes, and whether it means you’re going to have to run out and buy a stack of extra batteries to actually enjoy the G4. LG is still vague on details but assures us that the G4 will get more than a full day’s charge, even if you’re a heavy user. I’m just beginning to test mine, so the jury’s still out.

The entire body has a curved profile, which makes it feel nice in the hand and supposedly helps with durability.
The entire body has a curved profile, which makes it feel nice in the hand and supposedly helps with durability.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

The cameras are also a big improvement from what LG offered in the G3, and they had to be. Samsung, HTC, and Apple all schooled LG in this area before. The back-facing camera is 15 megapixels and has an f/1.8 lens that can focus in 0.276 seconds; the tool can launch and snap a photo in just 0.6 seconds from sleep. It’s hard to say whether the 0.1 stop bump over the Galaxy S6’s camera will be a noticeable improvement for most users, but LG is marketing the G4 as the phone for photography-conscious customers.

Just looking at the G4, it’s obvious that LG’s approach to a flagship phone is distinct from that of Apple or Samsung. It just looks different. But what all of this amounts to is more a question than an answer: What actually makes a smartphone luxurious? Is it materials and design? Or is it simply how much it improves your life? There’s some overlap between the two, but a leather back does not make this phone easier or more pleasant to use, the way leather seats improve the interior of a car.

The G4 comes in a variety of leather colors and finish, with metallic composite options as well.
The G4 comes in a variety of leather colors and finish, with metallic composite options as well.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

The LG G4 looks like it’s going to be a strong flagship smartphone, if not a bona fide luxury product. It has a big screen that will make even your awkward cousin’s Instagrams look enticing. The camera is a major step up with all the bells and whistles, and the phone claims long battery life. If true, it may offer you the greatest luxury of all: more time

The G4 will premiere in the U.S. in early June and will be priced comparably to the G3, though no firm numbers are available for either detail. For now, LG is seeding phones with actual users in a beta test and will be revealing more soon.

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