It’s almost time for the weigh-in: which is the best phone of the year?
The flagship models from their respective parents, they have grand expectations weighing them done. But you know what? They didn’t disappoint us, for the most part anyway.
These are two great Android phones. But when you have just the one contract to renew or the one wedge of notes to splash out on new phone, which should you buy? Let’s find out.
Leather and metal
This year LG has had a crack at competing, with a leather backplate. That’s right, its back comes covered with real leather, in a whole host of colours. If that sounds a bit too much like choosing a handbag, there are also plastic versions. They’re not 100 per cent plastic either, but mixed with ceramic to make the phones feel a bit more expensive.
Which one feels better? While the leather version of the LG G4 feels very interesting, and more high-end than plastic, it’s still not quite on the level of the HTC One M9. The sides of the phone are still plastic, for one. There’s some of that residual plasticky vibe here.
Still, if you’re not too bothered about how expensive your phone feels the LG G4 is still great. Unlike the One M9, you can remove the back to get access to the battery. In the HTC phone the battery is totally locked-in. Both phones have a microSD memory card slot, though.
Winner: HTC One M9
Pixel king vs pixel prince
The LG G4 claws back some ground with the screen. It’s more impressive than the HTC One M9’s in a number of respects. First, it’s a bit bigger. The LG G4 screen is 5.5 inches across where the One M9 has just a 5-inch screen.
This change means a lot if you like games or watching video. The LG G4 is that much more immersive, particularly for those first-person action games.
Next up comes resolution, where the LG G4 destroys the HTC One M9 with 2560 x 2440 pixels to the HTC’s 1920 x 1080. In all honesty it’s not a life-changing difference, but the LG is that bit sharper, especially close-up.
Basic aspects of image quality are stronger in the LG G4 too. It offers better blacks and contrast, and thanks to its Quantum Display tech its colours are most saturated too.
The LG G4 screen ‘pops’ more than the HTC One M9’s. However, if you’re a real screen snob you may find that the G4’s reds are a bit overcooked in places. That’s not an issue with the more relaxed One M9.
Winner: LG G4
Battle of the custom UIs
With both phones run versions of Android 5 Lollipop, the software fight becomes a case of which custom UI is better. At one side of the ring we have the HTC One M9 and Sense UI. In the other, the LG G4 and its UX 4.0.
Which wins the punch-up? Personal preference is an important factor here, but we think the look of the Sense UI is perhaps a bit better. UX 4.0 is all sharp angles, and has a few interface elements we just don’t use anymore. It really deserves more of a ground-up redesign.
That doesn’t mean the LG G4 falls behind in terms of software features, though. UX 4.0 has picked up the Smart Bulletin screen as an alternative to the BlinkFeed stream, for example. Both are bonus home screens that give you updates to nibble on when casually using your phone.
Blinkfeed takes content from select websites and your social networks while Smart Bulletin snags bits from the LG Health app, your calendar and other parts of the phone. There’s no real performance benefit to either: both are very snappy.
Winner: HTC One M9
The phone with the Snapdragon tattoo
In a curious move for a 2015 flagship, the LG G4 doesn’t actually use a flagship processor. Where the HTC One M9 uses the top-end Qualcom mobile CPU of the moment, the Snapdragon 810, the LG G4 uses the model one rung down, the Snapdragon 808.
The difference is that while both processors have four ‘everyday’ Cortex-A53 cores, the Snapdragon 808 only has two all-guns-blazing Cortex-A57 cores while the Snapdragon 810 has four.
Sure enough, the HTC One M9 is a fair bit more powerful as a result. In the Geekbench 3 benchmark you’ll get around 4200 points out of the M9, while the LG G4 will score around 3500. You won’t notice the difference in day-to-day use, but this gives the HTC One M9 better future- proofing, especially for gamers. It’s not just the CPU that’s better, but the GPU too.
So why has LG chosen to use this lesser processor when it used the higher-end one in the LG G Flex 2? It might be in part a cost-cutting measure, seen as less important than the extra tech LG has packed into the camera.
However, it’s also possible all the controversy about the Snapdragon 810’s overheating has put the company off the top-end processor. We didn’t have any serious heat problems with the HTC One M9, though, so it doesn’t win this particular fight.
Winner: HTC One M9
Focus on cameras
At first glance it looks like the HTC One M9 might have a better camera than the LG G4. It has a 20-megapixel sensor, winning you a whopping four more megapixels than the G4. That’s how many megapixels last year’s One M8 had, all in.
However, the reality is quite different. The LG G4 gas a much more reliable camera that will get you far better results 90 per cent of the time in all sorts of conditions. While there’s good hardware in the One M9’s camera array, its software doesn’t make very good use of it. Metering is frequently all over the place, where the LG G4 is dead on virtually all the time.
Aside from the sensor, the LG G4 also has better camera hardware and features. First, there’s the lens. The HTC One M9 has a relatively slow f/2.2 lens while the LG G4 has an incredibly quick f/1.8 one. It’s the fastest lens we’ve seen in a phone.
Optical image stabilisation in the LG G4 is also highly effective, and the combo of good lens and good OIS gets you well above-average low-light photos. The HTC One M9 doesn’t even have OIS, and its low-light photos are fairly average. Usable? Yes, but not great.
Other whizz-bang bits the LG G4 offers include laser focusing and a colour sensor by the flash that helps it work out what LED flash temperature is needed to avoid washing out people’s faces. Or whatever you’re snapping.
The LG G4 pretty much stream-rolls the HTC One M9 camera. But the HTC does have one victory. It’s a fair bit faster than the LG, which is reasonable but nowhere near as fast as its ‘laser focusing’ might suggest.
Winner: LG G4
Trouble staying awake?
Neither is all that great, and the LG G4 seems to have slightly worse general-use stamina despite having a smaller cell, perhaps because of its much higher-ppi screen. All too often we’d drain down the phone’s battery by sunset, missing midnight by a good few hours.
That said, in our looped video test, the LG G4 lasted nine hours 50 minutes. That’s very similar to the nine hours 30 minutes we got from the HTC One M9.
Neither phone offers particularly impressive stamina. While the Galaxy S6 doesn’t get street ahead for everyday stamina, it did last an extremely impressive 14 hours in our video test.
Tick, tick, tick, tick… BoomSund
Can anyone beat the BoomSound brothers? A couple of years ago HTC introduced its BoomSound speakers as one of the key draws of the HTC One M7. And drawn we were: they’re great.
Aside from adding a special Dolby DSP mode HTC doesn’t seem to have changed much since them. LG and Samsung have tried their best to catch up, and the LG G4’s rear mono speaker is actually louder than the HTC One M9’s pair.
However, the One M9’s speaker is a bit richer and smoother, offering a better listen, especially if you want to listen to music for its own sake. Front-facing speakers like the One M9’s are also a bit handier, meaning you don’t have to turn the phone over to avoid blocking the ports.
Winner: HTC One M9
LG G4 v HTC One M9 verdict
Which are more important? Having used the phones for at least few weeks each, we’re inclined to side with the LG G4 this time. While you get used to, or don’t even notice, the areas where the LG G4 is slightly weaker, the One M9’s camera issues continue to grate.
And after being initially skeptical about a leather-back phone, in use it feels pretty good. The ridicule you might receive from friends might not feel so good. But they’ll come around in the end.