LG G4 Hands-on: Sexy Leather Design Meets Killer Camera

With the LG G4, LG is looking to deliver its most luxurious flagship phone yet without sacrificing the features Android power users crave. This sleek smartphone comes in a slick leather back, packs a sharp 5.5-inch Quantum IPS display, and offers a feature-rich 16-MP camera that LG hopes will replace your DSLR -- or at least make the Galaxy S6 jealous. Unlike Samsung's latest phone, the G4 also sports a replaceable battery and microSD Card slot.

Other highlights include a Snapdragon 808 processor that promises performance that's just as speedy as the S6 (if not faster) along with longer battery life. Based on my hands-on time with the G4, which is coming to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and U.S. Cellular, all of the above features should combine to create one of this year's most compelling Android phones.

Design: Better with Leather

The G4 looks similar to the G3, with the same curved backside and unique rear-facing home and volume buttons as its predecessor. LG's latest flagship comes with an optional full-grain leather back in six colors, which makes the phone look decidedly more fashionable than the average handset. The phone weighs 5.5 ounces, with edges that taper off to just 0.24 inches thin. That's heavier than the 4.9-ounce Galaxy S6, but the Samsung has a smaller 5.1-inch screen.

I also played with a plastic version of the phone, which featured a shiny, metal-brushed checkerboard pattern on the rear. I thought the leather grip was both more eye-pleasing and easier to grip. LG also claims that the G4 is 20 percent more durable than its predecessor, which should enable it to more easily withstand drops.

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Display: Crazy Rich Colors

The G4's is billed as the world's first smartphone with a Quantum IPS display, which is designed to deliver more authentic colors. The phone's 5.5-inch, quad-HD screen has the same size and resolution as its predecessor, but now promises colors that are 25 percent richer and brighter, with contrast that's up to 50 percent higher than before.

The smartphone's ability to project beautiful images was evident as soon as I booted up an included sample video, which showed colorful pieces of fruit moving around in slow motion. The fruits looked strikingly lifelike, and the rich reds and pinks of each piece really popped off the screen. As you can see in the video above, the G4's Quantum display recreated the vivid red color of the yarn on the table better than the Galaxy S6's AMOLED display, which gave the same color an orange tint. We'll have to see how the G4's screen compares to other quad-HD phone displays side-by-side.

Camera: DSLR Killer?

Like its rival flagships, the LG G4 wants to be the only digital camera you need. The phone's 16-MP sensor boasts a f/1.8 aperture, which is tighter than the G3's 2.4, and even better than the Galaxy S6's 1.9. In order to get you to drop your DSLR, the G4 offers a host of options for pro-level photography, including the ability to save photos as RAW files for better editing, as well as shutter speeds ranging from 1/6000th of a second to 1/30th.

The G4's color spectrum sensor is designed to keep colors accurate in auto mode, and you can preview the phone's various camera effects in real-time as you fiddle with them. When we saw the sensor in action in the above video, we noticed how much more true-to-life the colors appeared on the G4 with the color spectrum sensor as compared to the Galaxy S6's camera and even the G4's camera with the sensor turned off. In order to create an intuitive layout for all of these features, LG enlisted the help of professional photographers.

The G4's camera proved impressive during my limited time with it. When photographing a Manhattan parking lot, both vehicles and buildings looked accurate in color, with details that stayed sharp even as I zoomed in. 

LG is emphasizing speed with the G4, as it starts in just 0.6 seconds. Plus, with Quick Shot, you can take a photo just by double tapping the rear key.

The phone's 8-MP selfie cam was similarly impressive, capturing both my skin tone and curly beard with accuracy. The G4's gesture controls allow you to take selfies by closing your fist in front of the camera, and you can check the selfie you just took by quickly moving the phone towards your face after snapping a shot. Both motion-based features were responsive when I tried them out.

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Specs and Hardware

The G4 is powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor with 3GB of RAM, and promises comparable performance to the Galaxy S6. It remains to be seen how that performance holds up in the real world. The G4 has two big advantages over Samsung's flagship: a snap-open backside that lets you add a microSD card and swap out its 3,000-mAh battery.

Speaking of the battery, LG says to expect roughly 10.7 hours of endurance from the G4 when surfing the web over Wi-Fi, versus 9.1 hours for the Galaxy S6.

Apps: Google Front and Center

For a phone loaded with features, the Android 5.1-powered G4 is pleasantly thin on bloatware. LG and Google have worked to ensure there aren't any duplicate apps that do the same thing, meaning you'll get one browser (Chrome), one navigation app (Google Maps), and so on. The phone comes ready for use with Android Wear watches, and Google throws in 100GB of Drive storage for two years.

LG's own app offerings include QMemo for jotting down notes, as well as a Super Fast Gallery for quickly sifting through your photos. All in all, the G4's app selection barely bled into the second page when I brought up the full Apps menu, which was refreshing. (We'll have to see what the carriers do, though.)

Outlook

The Galaxy S6 set a high bar as the new Android phone to beat, but the LG G4 has the potential to go blow-for-blow with Samsung's flagship. The smartphone's leather design helps it stand out from the pack, and its Quantum IPS display could make it the ideal handset for watching movies on the go. The G4's pro-minded camera features offer a ton of photo options, and those burned by the S6's lack of a swappable battery can take comfort in the phone's removable backside.

For a more in-depth breakdown of the LG G4's strengths and weaknesses, stay tuned for our full review.

Mike Andronico is an associate editor at Tom's Guide. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+