LG G4 vs Samsung Galaxy S6: First look
Being half the size of Samsung hasn't stopped LG from continuously pressuring the current market leader in Android land, and 2015 is shaping up to be no different. The LG G4, still warm from our hands-on time with it, has an unusually tough year ahead of itself, however – its cross-town rival's Galaxy S6 proved a significant step forward from its predecessor.
Is the G4? On paper, it certainly seems so, though the improvements it underwent are a bit more muted in comparison. While sticking to its guns as pertains to design, the G4 has nevertheless evolved into an even better-looking device, and the hardware hidden behind the beautiful facade is no joke, either. So how does it stack against Samsung's greatest? Let's get a feel for both and see if we can't arrive at some early conclusions.
Until recently, neither LG nor Samsung brought particularly captivating devices to the market, at least not in a context where the likes of HTC's One line were also vying for your attention. Feeling under pressure to step their design efforts up and employ more complex and premium materials within their devices, both conglomerates relented and went for it. In the case of the Galaxy S6, we're looking at a significant investment – all units are protected by Gorilla Glass 4 on both sides and are kept together with an aluminum frame. A true glass-and-metal build.
LG didn't go to quite such lengths with the G4, though we have to point out that a more expensive version with genuine, stitched leather back is also available, and it can easily rival Samsung's new top shelfer. Regardless, the 'normal' G4 model features a polycarbonate build that is, in comparison, less impressive-sounding. On the bright side, the snazzy, numerous diamond-shaped carvings in the plastic back (which has been treated to a ceramic finish) do help elevate the G4 to a status of more than just a plasticky phone.
It's not just the pattern, though. Overall, LG's new flagship feels and looks very well defined and sturdily made. And while the catwalk isn't quite its thing, it has a few aces up its sleeve that may win over new fans. For example, LG is keeping true to its established customer base, and is holding onto what is slowly becoming a thing of the past: removable batteries and microSD card slots. Indeed, unlike the Galaxy S6, LG has decided not to meddle with this part of the design. Also, courtesy of its ergonomically-shaped rear, the G4 fits our hand nicely.
Of course, in the end, it'll be hard to argue against the simple fact that as far as ergonomics are concerned, most will likely side with the Galaxy S6. The reasons for this are several – Samsung's new flagship is lighter, notably smaller, and considerably thinner. It looks better than the G4 (at least the normal version), plain and simple.
If you were to scratch little-known vivo's Xplay 3S phablet from the list, you'd find that the G4's predecessor, the LG G3, was the first-to-market on a global scale with an extremely sharp, Quad HD display with 1440 x 2560 pixels. That worked out to 538 pixels per inch, which is insane, and is the case with the G4's 5.5-incher as well. As you can imagine, Samsung wasn't about to be outdone, it having its own display division as well, and jumped on the bandwagon with the Note 4. Fast-forward to today, and you'll find that the much smaller, 5.1-inch screen of the Galaxy S6 is similarly adorned with that same crazy number of tiny pixels – 577 per inch.
Size and pixel density aren't the only two difference between the two rival devices' displays, however. Case in point: LG is using an IPS LCD panel, whilst Samsung is sticking to its Super AMOLEDs for the Galaxy S6. Typically, that would mean significant differences in the way these things are built and function (AMOLEDs can turn off select pixels in some cases, saving battery, while LCDs can't), but the case here is a bit more complex than that. Indeed, LG is claiming to be using so-called Quantum Dot tech with the G4's display, meaning that it, too, can turn off select pixels when appropriate (e.g., complete blacks in the image). Other qualities that are typically attributed to this kind of technology, and that LG was fervently repeating, include a wider color gamut and higher achievable levels of brightness (the G4's panel exceeds 500 nits, from what we're told).
As always, we'll sit patiently and wait for a review unit so we can carry out our own measurements – after all, not one manufacturer has ever skipped over the opportunity to boast about its displays.
When you have both LG and Samsung – the two Android manufacturers with, traditionally, the heaviest of custom interfaces – concede that they need to cut down on the useless bloat and focus on streamlining the user experience, you've got yourself a positive answer: Feedback does matter.
Samsung notched the first here, for the Galaxy S6 predates the G4, and its TouchWiz interface hasn't felt as snappy ever before. Gone are the unequivocally gimmicky features that it used to drag around, and Samsung has instead focused on actually beneficial goodies, such as Quick Launch – a double click of the physical home button summons the camera almost instantaneously, no matter what you're doing. Of course, veteran features such as MultiWindow (run two apps side-by-side simultaneously) are still present, which should appease the power user crowd.
Now, just two months later, LG is doing the same thing. Dubbed UX 4.0, the new Android 5.1 Lollipop-based LG overlay has been similarly de-bloated, and now adheres to Google's Material Design guidelines. However, we didn't have the opportunity to spend a meaningful amount of time with it, and LG wasn't overly interested in discussing it during our visit, so consider our final verdict pending. What we can tell you right now, though, is that LG has substituted a few of the apps that usually come packed with its devices with ones from Google, and we couldn't be happier with that decision. One example – the enduring LG-made internet browser is gone, and Chrome is the only thing that's left to take care of your surfing needs.
Processor and performance
For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the mobile industry' silicon scene might just have a powerful, and quite serious, new entrant: Samsung. That's right, after sticking with Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors for years in major markets, and only making use of its home-grown Exynos chips in select regions, Samsung is now not only reversing the status quo, but booting Qualcomm off the team entirely.
Indeed, the Galaxy S6, no matter where you live, will come with an Exynos 7420 heart with eight, not four, chamers (or cores). Both synthetic and real world benchmarks indicate that the chipset is a worthy contender to Qualcomm's alternative – the Snapdragon 810 – which outdoes the 7420 in graphics performance, but is struggling with heat dissipation.
That very same heat, precisely, is what forced LG's hand with the G4. Despite utilizing the octa-core Snapdragon 810 with the G Flex 2, LG is essentially murdering Snapdragon 810's future by dropping it with the G4, and opting for the hexa-core Snapdragon 808. Now, while the SD808 was announced a while back, this is actually the first time we're seeing the chip in a production-ready device, and we haven't yet had the opportunity to dig deep. In any case, it makes use of six cores, divided in two clusters (2+4), made up by ARM Cortex A57 and Cortex A53 cores, along with an Adreno 418 GPU.
On the memory side of things, both the G4 and the S6 make use of 3 gigs of RAM, and offer a minimum of 32GB of built-in storage. As mentioned, you can expand upon that with the former, as it has a microSD slot in the rear. It remains to be seen if Exynos, in addition to Samsung's record-fast UFS 2.0 flash memory, will make quick work of whatever LG is using for the G4.
While it'll be some time more before we can say this with any kind of serious backing, the LG G4 is looking like quite the cameraphone – just like the Galaxy S6. Both devices flaunt 1/2.6" sensors with 16-megapixels and super-wide lens, but LG is slightly ahead in this last regard – its camera sports an f/1.8lens instead of the S6's f/1.9 one.
The similarities don't end there, though. For example, while LG has been making great use of gizmos that allow for optical image stabilization for years now, Samsung has also recently joined in, meaning shake-free video and better low-light performance for everybody. Where the two differ significantly is the flash and auto focus systems they work with – the LG G4 has a slot for the LED bulb that also houses a color spectrum sensor, which measures your environment's color temperature and lightning, helping the shooter to produce a better, more natural image. As for Samsung, it is also making sue of a single LED flash, with no further camera-centric tech making an appearance next to it, along with phase detection auto focus.
Despite this ostensible parity, the LG G4, in our heads, is slightly ahead, courtesy of its 8-megapixel selfie snapper, which ought to outdo the 5-megapixel front cam of the Galaxy S6. That said, it won't be the first time that a seemingly decent selfie camera under-performs and is beat by more conservative solutions. Time will tell.
Finally, we can't gloss over the dichotomy that is taking place in the camera interface department of the two flagships. With LG, we had the G3, which was extremely poor in terms of extra features and manual controls, and Samsung's Galaxy S5, which was the very opposite. Now, the reverse is happening – LG is introducing a number of new knobs and such that make the G4's camera UI feel busy, while Samsung has cut down on the bloat. Indeed, with the G4, we no have access to not just ISO and white balance, but also specialty latches that can even control shutter speed, unlocking some creative scenarios in the process. In comparison, Samsung has cut down on the number of special shooting modes with the S6, though you still have some control over the end result.
The LG G3, mostly due to its power-hungry Quad HD display, fares poorly in the real world as far as endurance is concerned, despite its rather large, 3,000 mAh battery. This could also be the case with the G4, seeing how it also has as pixel-dense a display on board and a 3,000 mAh battery, but there's no telling whether LG hasn't carried out a number of optimizations to mitigate the drain. What's more, newer components usually tend to be better designed, so that could help with battery life, too.
Still, it's quite possible that the G4 bests or matches the Galaxy S6, as it also makes use of a taxing, Quad HD display, and it has to take care of it with a significantly smaller, 2,550 mAh battery.
If one thing's for certain, it's that being half the size of your competitor doesn't mean you can't offer him a serious run for his money. LG has done just that with the G4, and the cross-town vendetta is about to reset and start all over in just a few months' time. We suspect that the outcome will mostly come down to preferences, as it'll be hard to argue every pro and con very successfully, no matter which side you look at this from.
Perhaps the only really major differentiating factor is the display size, though the way these two are designed will have a part in the conversation. Yes, the larger screen of the G4 will appeal to power users more, but if they also value the perceived (and felt, of course) sophistication of their devices, they will have a hard choice ahead of them – the Galaxy S6 is, after all, the more stylish of the two. That is, of course, until you consider the leather-clad incarnation of the G4 and the way both versions will be prices in comparison with the S6.
Unfortunately, pricing is one topic LG is keeping mum on, so we don't have anything specific to offer, bar rumors. According to them, both models will likely end up being at least slightly cheaper than the Galaxy S6, but this obviously isn't set in stone. It'll be interesting to see if a major shift in perceptions will occur if LG is planning just that – to undercut its opponent whilst bringing the same top notch proposition to market.