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Thursday, May 24, 2018

LG G7 ThinQ Review

LG G7 ThinQ Review
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • TBC
Hot on the heels of the the V30S ThinQ is the G7 ThinQ, LG's other flaghship phone for 2018. There are many similarities between these two, but also a couple of significant differences.


First, the G7 has an IPS screen rather than OLED, and is benefits from the newer, faster Snapdragon 845 processor. It also gains the ability to take portrait photos with blurry backgrounds (which the G6 lacked) and has a traditional headphone socket, yet is waterproof.

LG has also beefed up the audio with a bigger, louder speaker and used some nifty screen technology to make the screen one of the brightest around.

With a sensible price, the G7 could be the Android flagship you've been waiting for - though the OnePlus 6 is a good chunk cheaper if you can live with its compromises.

Don't worry about that ThinQ branding: it's a suffix LG is now using for all of its products that have "artificial intelligence". We'll get to the AI later...

See what's changed in the LG G7 ThinQ over the LG G6.

LG G7 THINQ: PRICE & AVAILABILITY
In the UK the G7 goes on sale 31 May, though LG is quoting 2 June for the US where we expect it will cost around US$599.

The first few sites in the UK have listed the phone for pre-order, with Unlocked-Mobiles charging £594 for the SIM-free version.

It's more expensive from Clove, which has listed the three UK colours (see below) for £629.

The V30 (the near-identical phone to the V30S) launched in 2017 at £799/US$809, making it one of the more expensive flagships. Since then, though, it has dropped to £599/US$599, which means it is much better value. And, of course, a direct competitor to the G7. 

The OnePlus 6 costs £469 / US$429, which will make it a very tempting alternative to many people, but although it also has a SnapDragon 845 and a great OLED screen, it isn't waterproof, nor does it support wireless charging.

Colour options are similar to the V30, including Aurora Black and Moroccan Blue, and there's also Platinum Grey. Sadly the red version, Raspberry Rose, won't be sold in the UK.

The blue version looks great when it catches the light: photos can't really convey the real colour, nor the depth of the shine.

LG G7 THINQ: DESIGN AND BUILD
LG has clearly stuck with the G6's design and refined it for the G7. It's a Gorilla Glass 5 sandwich: a curved glass back is order of the day for 2018 flagships, and unlike the Huawei P20 and OnePlus 6, the G7 supports QI wireless charging, so the glass isn't simply there to look pretty. (But you can keep it looking prettier for longer with these cases).

There's IP68 water resistance, but when other manufacturers use this as an excuse to drop the headphone jack, not LG. Audio is one of the key features of the phone, so it's great to see a 3.5mm jack on the bottom next to the USB-C port.

Whereas previous LG phones have had their power button integrated with the fingerprint scanner, the G7 ThinQ has a normal sleep/wake button on the right-hand side.

Unusually for an Adroid phone, volume buttons are opposite, like an iPhone.

Below the volume buttons is another that's dedicated to the Google Assistant, a bit like Samsung's Bixby button. If you find this annoying you can disable it, but it's a much easier way of calling up the assistant than holding the on-screen home button.

You can press and release, or press and hold to speak to the Assistant a little like you were using a walkie-talkie. A third mode lets you double-press the button to launch Google Lens. Plus, thanks to far-field mics, you can say "OK Google" from across the room just as you would with a Google Home.

One of the most noticeable design features is the screen notch. It's by no means the only Android phone with a notch: Huawei's P20 series has one, as does the OnePlus 6 and Asus ZenFone 5.

Here the notch is a little longer than the P20's, but not as large as the iPhone X's - we've compared the LG G7 and iPhone X separately. The notch houses an 8Mp selfie camera and the earpiece speaker, plus an ambient light sensor.

LG calls the sections of screen either side of the notch a 'second screen' - a reference to the real second screen on the V-series phone from a couple of years ago. You'll find options in the Settings app to hide the notch by making the screen black, but you can also opt for different colours or some nifty gradient that make it blend differently.

Some will be miffed that there's both a notch and a small 'chin' at the bottom, but LG says that it's difficult to make the bottom bezel as thin as the top one because of the electronics required for the IPS screen.

Overall, the G7 looks and feels every inch the flagship phone.

LG G7 THINQ: SPECS AND FEATURES

Screen
The screen has an aspect ratio of 19.5:9 and a resolution of 3120x1440 pixels. It's tricky to measure its diagonal exactly because of the rounded corners, but LG quotes it as 6.1in.

Rather than use the traditional sub-pixel arrangement of red, green and blue, the G7's MLCD+ display adds a white pixel to boost brightness without using more power. You might therefore argue that a quarter of the pixels don't add anything to picture quality - and you'd be right - but resolution is higher than some competitors already and it looks nice and sharp.

It offers a Super Bright mode which raises brightness to 1000 nits for a maximum of three minutes, aiding screen readability when outdoors in sunny conditions. To enable it, you have to move the brightness slider to 100%, then tap on the sun icon which appears to the left of it.

We took the G7 outdoors in very bright conditions and it's noticeably brighter than all its rivals. And it's much easier to view a web page, read and reply to a text message or use the dialler to ring someone. It's also useful when using the viewfinder to frame a photo, but it's not meant to be used for long periods: it turns off after three minutes to preserve battery life and prevent overheating.

It's a shame that you have to enable it manually (the AI smarts clearly aren't up to the job of making this process automatic for some reason) and it's also slightly annoying that you won't get the maximum of 1000 nits unless it is absolutely dazzling outdoors. 

We used our Spyder 5 colorimeter to measure peak 'Boosted' brightness indoors and were baffled that it varied between around 630 and 750 nits. It was only when we took the setup outside and allowed the sun to shine on the G7 that we finally saw 971 nits. With Super Bright mode disabled, the brightest you'll see is around 500 nits.

Aside from the high brightness, colours looks vibrant and there isn't a really noticeable colour shift when tilting the phone and viewing off axis.

In the Settings app there's a choice of six colour modes, similar to those you'd find on a TV: Eco, Cinema, Cinema and more. By default, the mode will be chosen automatically based on the app you're using. There's an Expert mode where you can fine-tune the settings manually, even down to adjusting the red, green and blue levels individually.

Thanks to that high brightness, the screen supports HDR 10 content, and covers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut, so it can display all the necessary colours.

Unfortunately, refresh rate is fixed, so there's no difference whether you pick Game mode or Cinema.

The screen defaults to quad HD out of the box, but you can choose a lower resolution if you want to try and eke out more battery life. Being an IPS panel, it isn't compatible with Google's Daydream VR headset.

Processor, memory and storage
As befits a flagship Android phone in 2018, the G7 has the latest Snapdragon 845 processor. Depending on region, it's paired with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. The UK model will have the 4GB / 64GB combo, but as there's a microSD slot in the SIM tray, you can expand that storage easily.

In Geekbench 4, the G7 scored 8979 in the multicore test and 2312 in the single-core. So it's certainly quick. In JetStream, it managed 86.5, another top-end score.

We couldn't run GFXBench on the G7 that LG sent us to review due to the way the operating system had been installed for test phones, but we know from other 845-equipped phones that it should hit the screen's 60Hz limit in T-Rex and Manhattan. In Manhattan 3.1, expect a little over 50fps, and around 30fps in the more demanding Car Chase test.

As you'd expect, all the supporting hardware is the latest standard including 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5. There's NFC too, which you can use for Google Pay.

Connectivity and Audio
Despite having a mono speaker in the bottom edge rather than stereo speakers, the G7's sounds better than you'd expect from a phone. That's because the 'resonance chamber' is 17 times larger than previous phones. Any empty space inside the phone is used, and the water-resistant tape forms a seal that effectively makes the whole phone a speaker cabinet.

This means the back of the phone vibrates when sounds or music is played. Bass is certainly better than any other current phone, but it's no Bluetooth speaker replacement. We listened to a variety of genres on it and found that piano and bassier stringed instruments such as cellos sound much more full-bodied than on any other current flagship.

Because the phone itself vibrates, sound (and volume) improves if you place it on a surface. You'll notice the most difference if you put it on something thin such as a cardboard box or - as LG did in demos - a guitar. This amplifies the sound much more than it does with other phones, but you're unlikely to hear the benefit on a hardwood kitchen worktop, desk or a dining table as they're generally too thick to vibrate.

Putting the G7 in a case will dampen this 'boombox' effect, especially if you pick a silicone case or anything that isn't rigid.
As with the V30S, a quad DAC is used. This hi-fi kit was missing from the UK version of the G6, so it's good to see it in the G7 and - from our tests with various pairs of wired headphones, this is a great-sounding phone.

There's support for MQA files, which is used for hi-res audio (including streaming).

The G7 is the first phone to have a DTS:X 3D system which turns any headphones into a virtual 7.1 sound system. 

It's currently exclusive to LG, which says you don't need special video which has DTS:X 3D sound. Instead it will work with any video, including YouTube and Netflix streams.

In practice, we found it hard to notice any difference in most videos, even in action scenes when bullets are flying around. 

Cameras
With most phones sharing similar internal components, manufacturers are increasingly trying to differentiate by adding more cameras. The G7 takes the same approach as its predecessors: one standard camera and one wide-angle.  

The main camera is the same as the V30S's with a 71° field of view. It has a 16Mp sensor and optical stabilisation. The wide-angle camera has a 107° field of view and reduced distortion compared to older phones. There's no OIS, partly because you don't need it with such a wide angle. It's also fixed focus, unlike the main camera which has auto-focus.

Here's what the difference looks like:

Like Huawei's recent phones, there's an 'AI' mode which can identify 19 different types of scene which are automatically selected if one is recognised. In each, it will apply colour filters, brightness and recommends the wide-angle camera or Super Bright Camera (see below) when appropriate.

Unlike the P20 Pro, the AI Camera is a completely separate shooting mode, and it isn't on by default. Processing the scene is done on-device, but takes around 1.5 seconds. And after you take a photo there's a one-second delay before you can take another photo. To be clear, with AI CAM turned off, there are no perceptible delays when shooting in good light.

The Super Bright Camera is for use when it's really dark. It uses a technique called pixel binning which helps to get better results from the camera, but it means that you get 4Mp photos rather than 16Mp.

If you're taking video, having Super Bright enabled in the settings means the same method is used, so you get full HD quality rather than 4K in low light. You can also use the wide-angle camera in Super Bright mode, and the AI CAM mode too.

Getting back to video, the G7 tops out at 30fps in 4K, but you can record video in HDR. There's also a nifty 'Cine Video' mode which applies some Hollywood-style filters to make your footage look more cinematic. Whichever mode you choose, stabilisation is available not just at 1080p but also 4K.

Portrait mode is another key feature, as people expect their new phone to be able to blur out the background for a nice DLSR-style effect. The G7 keeps the same field of view as when shooting with the main camera, unlike most phones which use the zoom in and have a much narrower view.

Slo-mo is unimpressive for a 2018 flagship as the G7 can record 240fps at 720p. We'd have expected this to be 1080p, and the option to record in short bursts at 960fps.

Overall, image and video quality is good. Here is a selection of images we took with the G7, including examples of the video stabilisation. Don't pay too much attention to image quality since YouTube compresses video heavily.




When HDR is used (it's automatic), we were slightly disappointed that highlights were lost in some pictures: the sky is completely white in the shot below.

Here, we used the AI Camera, which tends to oversaturate colours to a ridiculous level (the same problem with Huawei's P20):

The front camera takes decent selfies, and even does a great job at bokeh:

Here's a shot compared to the same from an iPhone X:

This is an example of the level of detail captured by the main camera:

This video was shot in 4K with stabilisation enabled:

Here's a sample of 1080p60 video from the wide-angle camera:

The Super Bright mode produced some impressive looking shots, but only if you don't look too closely.

They're low resolution to start with - 4Mp - but when you zoom in certain areas look like an oil painting with no detail at all. The brightness is remarkable, though, as both photos below were taken when there was very, very little light. The indoor scene makes it seem as if it were taken in broad daylight!


Obviously, the main benefit of the G7 is the wide-angle view that lets you capture more of the scene without using Panorama mode. But we can't help feel that we'd prefer a telephoto camera: rivals which have a 2x or 3x zoom let you get closer to the action as well as giving you the option of taking a panorama when you can't move further back.

Battery life
The 3000mAh battery is smaller than some rivals, but LG is confident this is enough because of the more power efficient screen.

In general use, we found the G7 would just about last a day with normal use including taking lots of photos. If you're a mobile gamer, prepare to carry a USB powerbank around with you as you'll need to top up before too long.

Using Geekbench 4's battery rundown test, the G7 managed 5 hours and 46 minutes with the screen set to 120 nits. That's not a terrible result considering the capacity, but it is noticeably less time than you'll see from the OnePlus 6 and its 3300mAh battery.

The G7, though, support for QI wireless fast charging, and with the Quick Charge 3.0 adaptor included in the box it charges to just over 50 percent in 30 minutes.

Software and apps
LG’s tweaks to Android 8 are fairly extensive, but you’ll notice them most in the Settings app which looks quite different from stock Android. Usefully, they’re divided into Network, Sound, Display and General which means it’s fairly easy to get to the commonly used settings.

The notch isn't an issue for apps, as nothing extends into that 'second screen' area when you rotate the phone to landscape mode. When watching videos full screen, for example, they have rounded corners on both sides, and the extra bits of screen act as a black border.

In portrait mode, content does extend into the 'ears' but is overlaid with a grey bar and the usual Android notification icons over the top.

In the settings you can enable LG’s Smart Bulletin which appears when you swipe left from the main home screen. This is a combination of alerts and reminders as well as automation, LG Health info and a music player widget.

Pocket Briefing summarises the stuff that’s important to you, and the idea is you can check it when you go to bed and / or get up in the morning.

Pocket Adviser offers toggles for reminding you about various things you might have forgotten such as birthdays, people you haven’t called back after you declined their calls and even favourite contacts who haven’t been in touch for three months.

Automation lets you choose settings based on location, so you can pick a preferred Wi-Fi network when you arrive home, a sound profile to use, and which app to open when you plug in some headphones.

All of this is done without calling back to a server, so it could appeal to those who don’t like the privacy implications of using a more intrusive service such as Google Now.

There are quite a few pre-loaded apps including LG Health, a file manager, LG’s own music and gallery apps, Smart cleaning – for optimising memory use, LG Mobile Switch and SmartThinQ, LG’s app for controlling your ThinQ-compatible appliances.

Thanks to the tall screen you can run two apps on screen together. To do this, you bring up the app switcher and press the screen-divide symbol to enable the multi-window mode.

SPECS
  • 6.1in 19.5:9 (3120x1440, 564ppi) MLCD+ display, Gorilla Glass 5
  • Android Oreo 8.0 with UX 6.0+ and Google Assistant
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
  • 4 / 6GB LPDDR4
  • 64 / 128 UFS 2.0, microSD up to 2TB(?)
  • 16Mp f/1.6 + 16Mp f/1.9 wide-angle cameras, 8Mp f/1.9 selfie camera
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, USB-C (3.1)
  • IP68, MIL-SPEC 810G compliant, 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC, face/voice/fingerprint recognition
  • 3,000mAh, wired and wireless charging, Quick Charge 3.0
  • 153.2x71.9x7.9mm
  • 162g

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