When I left my “day job” at Microsoft Retail last year to get back to, for lack of a better phrase, “full-time blogging”, one of the things I knew couldn’t last was my daily driver cell phone. I was using a Lumia 830 as my daily driver; the front camera left a lot to be desired and it wasn’t exactly a speed demon, but at least I could use it in front of non-employees without putting my own job at risk and at it did the basics well enough.
But I needed a good camera for covering games, and relatively up to date social media applications, and a feeling of reliability. Of the flagships available in Summer 2015, the LG G4 seemed like the best bet. They put a lot of effort into the camera, had a then-current Snapdragon 808 running the show on the inside, and it was one of the few phones left on the market with a swappable battery and SD Card slot for expandable memory. Not to mention, it came at a much better value than many of the other flagships.
I thought it would go well, and it did for a while. In fact, my feeling was that it, without a shred of hyperbole, was the best phone I had ever used. The front camera changed the selfie game forever; it was like having one of the best lenses of two years prior on the front rather than the “shrunk-down PC webcam” that everyone else seemed to be rocking, and their method of front-flash, which surrounded your preview with a bright white border at full brightness, was innovative. The one on the back was even better; while I’m admittedly far from a pro, I felt I was getting better pics with the phone in my pocket than the DSLR in my room that began to collect dust as a result. The curved back of the device felt great in the hand, as did having the buttons in the back where your index finger would be while gripping the device. The Android skin was reasonably light, and everything was buttery smooth, at least as far as Android went.
I quickly started recommending the device to friends. Many picked them up, especially after seeing the photos I was able to take with minimal effort. Now, I feel really bad about that.
A few months after release, G4 owners started noticing something peculiar. Out of nowhere, one day, their phone would suddenly restart. It would try to boot up, and then restart again, and again, and again. Never making it to function ever again. It was referred to as a “boot loop”, and while many brushed it off to an odd lemon, reports of these phones suffering the same fate became more and more widespread. The unofficial communities on Reddit and XDA-Developers have huge threads that get posts once or twice a day with new people talking about their phones kicking the dust.
Getting them replaced? Well, you better be under warranty, or you need to hope that the person on the other side of the phone will be nice to you. LG acknowledged the issue in January, and basically gave the response of “yeah, this is a thing, and if something happens to yours we’ll see what we can do“. This, after misdiagnosing a few devices and making improper repairs (a nightmare I had when my Dell desktop computer literally blew up in 2004 and they charged me $160 for a motherboard before admitting it was a power supply problem).
Coincidentally, motherboards are the issue here too; it seems that nearly every unit they’ve shipped out or manufactured has an issue with contacts getting loose, especially if heat is involved. As many know, the Snapdragon 808, while not as power-hungry as the faster 810 of the same year, starts sweating when you do such insane things as having your camera on for 30 seconds or going outside between the months of April and October. Needless to say, a motherboard that buckles under heat and a processor that is seems to have the eternal flame of Charmander’s tail aren’t really a good mix.
LG’s solution is to either fix the contacts or swap the motherboard, but both of these options basically just reset your ticking time bomb. That’s great if you really, really love the G4, and believe me; I did. But if you’re someone who needs their phone for the sake of work at all times, you’re leaving someone hanging without a device, only to pat them on the back and say “We’ll be around to help you again soon. Probably. Maybe.”
Had I known this when I picked the G4, I would’ve picked a different device. But I didn’t, and kept soldiering on; even when the update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow ruined all stability for my Bluetooth headphones, speakers, and soundbar (another known problem). After all, the phone had features that catered to me and buying a new flagship after a year would be ridiculous, right?
Anyway, you all can probably guess how this ends. About a week and a half ago, Chris dropped me off at my building after a journey to scenic Etobicoke for the CWHL draft. I got a phone call while walking towards my the door asking when I’d be home. I said I was 45 seconds away, hung up, and put my G4 in my pocket. I got upstairs, pulled it out to plug it into the charger, and noticed it was off.
Tried to turn it on. It wouldn’t. Waited an hour. Bootloop. Waited another hour. Got to the lock screen and it froze. Since then, I’ve tried it once or twice a day, and I usually get one of those three outcomes. I don’t know if I’m going to bother calling LG here; I’m going to miss some features, but what are they going to do for me? Send me a phone with another faulty motherboard that’s going to collapse on me in the middle of a media scrum in a few months, or when I’m trying to find my way home at 2AM? I could resell the new one or give it to my brother, but then I’d feel guilty when heartbreak happens to the new owner.
Quite honestly, it’s insane that this problem has persisted across so many variants of this device for so long and that LG is playing the “case by case basis” game. You look at a scenario like Samsung’s this week where they recalled every new Galaxy Note 7 on earth because a few of them had potentially explosive batteries; granted, there’s more physical danger to the owner in that scenario, but the point was that Samsung was proactive about their product’s fatal flaw and took no chances, hitting the proverbial panic button with fewer than 50 reports of problems.
As it stands, I’d be hard pressed to recommend an LG device, especially a flagship phone in the foreseeable future. That could change; I swore off Dell after the explosive desktop and a decade of improvements led me back to them for my main laptop (the XPS 13), but until then, the amount of trouble they’ve put others through make it impossible to put in a good word. Especially when “at least it has this cool feature!” leads to me reaching towards a silicon and plastic brick.