After our initial look at the LG G7 ThinQ (we’ll call it LG G7) we had time to look at several firmware updates and test it with the latest firmware available to customers. We also had face to face time with LG engineers and product marketing personnel who contributed to building this phone. They provided invaluable information and insight into the goals, challenges, and results of all the work that lead to LG’s new mainstream flagship. We have now reached a conclusion.
For contextual purposes, it is important to remind that the G-Series is built to bring maximum value to the user. On the other hand, the V-Series is designed to cater to the enthusiasts at the very high-end, where price is less of a factor. This G-Series is faithful to this spirit and sees technology from LG’s V30 handset trickle down into the LG G7. “Show and Sound” has been one of the slogans for the LG G-Series, and it is true once again.
Here are the key highlights you should remember.
The LG G7 feels incredibly compact for a 6.1-inch high-end smartphone.
Like its predecessor, the LG G7 has a two-sided glass design, with Gorilla Glass 5 protecting both the screen and the back cover from scratches. Gorilla Glass is incredibly resistant to scratches, and it typically protects from stuff you have in your pocket or bag (dust, keys, etc…).
However, extremely tough glass is also brittle and will shatter upon impact on a hard surface. Manufacturers have various strategies to mitigate the shattering risk, but at the end of the day, a drop in the wrong place and it can crack. We have talked about the statistics of phones drops and cracks and how OEMs can try decreasing but never eliminate the risk.
Without test drops on dozens if not hundreds of phones, there is not real way to assess how durable the phone is. But the LG G7 passes 12 of the MIL-STD-810G for shocks and vibrations, and it is one of the rare handset to do so in this category. That is not a hard-surface drop test, but more one that shows that the handset can resist drops and vibrations. You can learn more about MIL-STD-810G if you are curious.
The phone is also rated for IP68 dust+water resistance. It means that dust cannot penetrate, and that it can be submerged underwater for a short period of time, usually ~30 minutes.
The LG G7 uses the LG V30 design language and feels much smoother in hand than last year’s LG G6 model. LG has done an excellent job of bringing the high-end industrial design of the V30 into a more mainstream phone such as the G7. In fact, the LG G7 already surpasses the V30 in critical aspects and should do so at a more affordable market segment.
The larger display is probably the most obvious feature when it comes to the G7 appearance (vs. G6). The Power button has been moved from the back to the right side. This was done because of consumer feedback, but also to save some space in the thickness axis. It is not surprising that consumers want this because that is a de-facto standard since so many other phones are built that way.
The fingerprint reader is still in the back, but there is no physical button that moves up and down now, just a flat sensor. I like the change, but other people liked the old ways. The LG G7 comes in four colors, and it is not completely clear right now which geo-region will have them, but the Red LG G7 is a real stunner and my personal favorite.
On the left side of the phone, there’s a Google Assistant button that triggers G.A, and it can also be used in a talkie-walkie style when addressing the A.I app. It makes it a bit more intuitive for some people and could reduce the lag that happens when the assistant gets ready. Less lag means less friction and a more natural experience. At the moment, the button can be disabled by the user, but it cannot be programmed to perform another task.
This is similar to the Samsung Bixby button, and the idea is to nudge people into at least trying these new functionalities. I think that OEMs and Google fear that if the button was programmable, people would immediately set it to another app they are more familiar with. Ultimately, I hope that this button will become programmable.
The LG G7 has greatly evolved from last year’s G6, and it is even more evolved than the LG V30 current official high-end phone. LG’s camera system is still comprised of a dual camera in the back, with a classic and a wide-angle lens and a selfie camera in the front. Two out of three camera sensor modules have been updated since the LG V30.
Perhaps one of the most promoted aspect of the LG G7 Camera is that it is A.I driven by default. Just like the LG V30S, the new G7 camera application will recognize and will automatically switch to an appropriate “mode” depending on the current scene. A “mode” is like Camera settings presets such as “Food, Nature, High-Contrast” and more. Users normally do not use these very much because it takes a couple more taps. The A.I will do this with virtually no user intervention.
In our hands-on experience with the device, the AI and its associated settings worked quite well for certain types of scenes such as Food, Low-light, Sunset or Nature scenes just to cite the most frequently used. For scenes with a lot of people of objects, it is a bit more difficult for the AI to figure things out, but in general, it’s pretty good.
Of course, you can either discard the AI’s suggestion on the fly or disable AI altogether if you really know what you want. In many cases, we found it worthwhile to keep the AI’s suggestion. The AI performance was excellent even though it is currently not running on dedicated AI hardware, but rather on the CPU cluster.
LG mentioned that it takes 1.5 ms for the AI to do its work. Everything that we have observed indicates that the software doesn’t use that much CPU, and the phone doesn’t even heat up a little with A.I running for several minutes in viewfinder mode."THE LG CAMERA A.I DOES NOT OVERDO IT"
The Camera A.I is better at recognizing “whole scenes,” rather than individual elements in the scene. Because of this, we don’t think that this version of Camera A.I does very fine tuning based on subjects found in the scene, but instead determines the “type of photo” to map it to one of 18 AI/scene filters. LG said the camera recognizes 1000+ types of objects, which can be as detailed as “a person well dressed.”
LG new AI filters list, since LG V30S: Baby, Animal, Beverage, Fruit, Sky, Beach, Snow, People, Low-light, Basic (works with misc. scenes).
A.I works on all lenses (main, wide, front), but will not work in Super Bright mode (more on that below), possibly because the Super Bright mode requires moving the image data to an inconvenient location in memory.
Also, it is essential to understand that the Camera AI does NOT learn from looking at the user’s photos but is trained by LG with a set of millions of images. This avoids potential privacy issues.
Maybe the most important thing of all is this: the LG Camera A.I does not overdo it! It cranks up some parameters within reasonable limits, at least that is my opinion. Other brands tend to do too much (saturation, sharpness, contrast – or all of these) and push people away. They key metric for success here is that you should edit the photo less.
From a hardware standpoint, there are two lenses and two sensors for the primary (rear) camera functions, including one ultra-wide camera module. Those sensors are identical: 16 Megapixel (4608×3456) with a pixel size of 1.0 μm (microns) and a sensor diagonal of 1/3.09″.
The sensor size is fairly small and there are clearly more powerful hardware on the market. The Ultra-wide camera has same sensor and it is an upgrade since the G6 ultrawide cameras was not as good. That camera has a fixed focus. LG Engineers have proven how much they could get out of this kind of hardware, but it is an uphill battle.
The reason behind this choice is to avoid the “camera bump” in the back of the phone. The motivation is understandable because Industrial Design is a significant purchase factor.
I’ll assume that the market research was done well, but this penalizes LG’s camera options, especially when many others like iPhone X or Huawei P20 Pro have sizable bumps to accommodate camera modules, and it doesn’t seem to curb their sales…
That’s not all. LG has also decreased how wide-angle the secondary rear camera is to reduce distortion. The field of view is not as wide as the LG G6, which was itself reduced from the LG V20.
The change was motivated by consumer feedback. Maybe in the future, LG will be able to remove distortion via software and widen the field of view again. The original V20 extreme angle was so cool.
In general, the LG G7 takes outstanding photos. In daylight, the photo quality is comparable to the Galaxy S9+. LG and Samsung differ when it comes to artistic choices. LG tends to favor noise reduction, while Samsung sharpens the photo where the edges are.
LG’s approach adds a slight blur, while Samsung’s sharpen the details, but leave more noise behind. Depending on your personal preference, you may like the look of one or another better, but in daylight, it looks good.
A complex scene, with a lot of different light sources
The LG G7 ThinQ struggles a bit in extreme high contrast situations, such as when shooting a bright sky or a sunset. The camera software has progressed a lot since we first tested it. I previously noticed some noise issues, but this has been fixed.
However, side by side pictures show that this handset is at a disadvantage in high-contrast situations against the Galaxy S9 or the Huawei P20 Pro. The OnePlus 6 will also challenge it easily in HDR-prone situations.
In my opinion, the HDR still needs some work, but the good news is that HDR is mainly a software problem, and there’s a chance that LG can improve it if it agrees with our analysis. For example, in the image below, the G7 loses a lot of details in the tree, while the P20 Pro captured it very well.
In portrait mode, the Bokeh (blur) was applied correctly in our tests and did not blur areas that should have been in-focus. I tried with both plants and people, and it both cases, it worked well. In the Portrait photos we took, the LG G7 has an advantage over the Galaxy S9+ for a couple of reasons:
Portrait Mode Subject: Hans-Georg Kluge / AndroidPIT
Since the LG G7 does not have a dedicated zoom lens, zoomed photos won’t be as sharp as any phone equipped with an optical 2X zoom. The more you zoom, and the more it is visible.
On the other hand, the ultrawide mode is extremely useful in many situations, whether it is when you want to capture a grand outdoor scene, or want to shoot with a wide angle in a small room.
It is really up to you to decide which is more important to you. LG says that ~40% of their users use the ultrawide by default, and we wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe 20%-25% of our photos were taken with the wide angle. How many photos did you snap with the zoom on? Maybe that’s a good place to start.
Introduced with the LG V30S, we initially covered the Bright Mode at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona. It is a particular low-light mode that trades off photo resolution for much better image brightness. This low-light mode works with both rear cameras, but unfortunately not with the selfie cam. This is a great idea because photo resolution is degraded in a low-light situations anyway.
LG is using a pixel binning technique LG markets under the name Pixel Fusion, where they will gather light from every four neighboring pixels. This decreases the photo resolution down to 4 Megapixel (from 16), but it increases the image brightness very efficiently.
In some ways, this is like emulating having larger image sensor pixels. The G7 Camera also lowers the ISO settings and increases the shutter speed to lower noise and blurring issues. Blurriness is a known issue as cameras attempt to find a balance between long exposure and sharpness.
Although LG uses multi-frame photography techniques with faster shutter apertures to avoid blur, all cameras are sensitive to subject motion in low-light mode, so this works optimally for scenes with little motion.
A reference photo that shows how my eyes perceived the darkness of the scene
The shot with Bright Mode (V30S)
In our previous tests with the LG V30S, the Bright Mode was excellent (photo above), and the photo resolution is more than sufficient for social media purpose. This mode is triggered automatically under 3 LUX of brightness (it’s like having a few of candles in the room).
But… going from 16 MP down to 4MP does have visible consequences if you zoom in a bit. In general, it’s fine to use 4 Megapixel images for social media posts, but looking at these photos on a tablet or HiDPI monitor shows a significant decrease in details when compared to the competition. Huawei’s P20 Pro also has binning, but goes from 40MP down to 10MP, a much more expensive solution, but that has less negative side effects.
The LG G7’s Snapdragon 845 has better image processors than the LG G6 and LG V30, so LG Engineers were able to improve their LG proprietary Bright Mode algorithm using the new hardware. By how much remains to be seen, and we need to conduct tests in a controlled environment to have a more accurate idea. More tests are coming!
The low-light bottom-line is that using pixel binning is a clever trick, but side by side tests show that it is not quite enough to challenge the best low-light cameras on the market, namely the Samsung S9/S9+, the Huawei P20 Pro or the OnePlus 6. While the S9+ ($810) and the Huawei P20 Pro ($790) are significantly more expensive than the LG G7 ThinQ ($650), the Oneplus 6 costs only $529.
The new selfie camera has an 8 Megapixel Sensor, and it doesn’t seem like a big change. However, the sensor image quality has supposedly improved since the LG V30, which many people complained about because of the low sharpness. The G7 selfies are better, and they look pretty decent, but nothing to brag about.
Incidentally, we asked LG if it was possible to completely disable the beautifier, and LG has confirmed that it is possible. In some phones, even when you specify “no beautify,” it still happens (but less) and it makes people go nutty.
The LG G7 gets a display upgrade in the form of a 6.1” (3120×1440 default res.) FullVision panel. This is a significantly larger screen than last year’s G6. LG produces some of the best IPS LCD displays, and the image quality is of course excellent. If anything, the default wallpapers don’t do justice to the screen quality.
It has great colors as well, just look at the colorspace coverage: 100% DCI and 135% sRGB (within range of iPhone X and well beyond G6). Unlike the LG V30 OLED display, this is an LCD IPS display, and the choice was made for two reasons. First, LG produces excellent IPS LCD screens which are so good that OEMs like Apple and others have been customers. Secondly, only IPS LCD can reach extreme brightness.
Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?
LG G7 and Galaxy S9+ at full brightness, outdoors
At 1000 NIT, the LG G7 display is ultra-bright and we actually measured its maximum brightness at 1097 NITs. Visual inspection also confirms that the G7 can be significantly brighter than any phones we’ve seen before. We’ll measure it with precise tools when the review unit arrives at our San Francisco office.
Such brightness has typically two purposes in a phone: readability in direct sunlight and HDR videos. The LG G7 is optimized for the former but doesn’t have a specific HDR certification such as DolbyVision or HDR10 as far as I know.
It is important to understand that the 1000 NITs mode, also called Super Bright is designed to last for about three minutes. The idea is to allow you to do a task for a few minutes with excellent clarity, then tone down the brightness back to a more normal ~650 NIT, which is already very strong. There are two reasons for this:
Not actual pixel layout. For illustration purposes only
LG can obtain such brightness levels by using a specific pixel structure with Red, Green, Blue (RGB) and White (W) pixels. We’ll call this structure RGBW (vs. RGB). Typically, “white color” is produced by the visual blending of the RGB colors.
With a white fourth sub-pixel, it is possible to either replace or supplement the RGB sub-pixels to produce brighter colors with less energy. It is the first time that RGBW is used in a smartphone display. This type of technology was previously used by LG in its LCD televisions.
According to LG, this represents a massive 30% energy savings for the brightness when compared to the LG G6, so the extra brightness does not kill battery life. This was tested at 500 NIT, which is the maximum level of brightness for the G6. As the brightness increases, the energy savings become exponential, although there isn’t much IPS LCD competition beyond 600 NIT these days. LG Leads the display brightness game by a large margin.
This RGBW paradigm isn’t exactly new: LG has been using a variant of it on its IPS LCD television, and also produce brighter displays than OLED for the exact same reason. This is a fundamental technical difference between IPS LCD and OLED. Although it is debatable that you need super-bright television indoors, the need for super-bright handset displays is much more apparent. Everyone knows how it feels to have an unreadable screen, and no-one likes it.
Like other recent large-screen Android phones, the LG G7 has a notch at the top of the screen. Although it is a controversial design for some people, it is fair to say that it allows having a bit more space for notifications and extra information. To make everyone happy, LG has made the notch area (called New Secondary Screen) customizable by allowing users to hide it entirely or change how it looks slightly.
Hiding it is straightforward, and the various appearances with color gradients are interesting to try. For my part, I’ll just enable the regular notch. My understanding is that the notch is OFF by default, at least in Korea.
The “New Second Screen” name is a reference to the LG V10 which was the first LG phone to have a “Second Screen” at the top, for notifications purposes. LG sees the “notch” not as a feature, but as a transition to a more permanent, genuinely full-display solution.
Display makers, including LG, realize that customers do not really “want” a notch if it can be avoided. However, in the current state of display technology, it is an acceptable solution to move forward.
We covered a bit more details about the LG G7 display, but for this review, you know enough to make a purchase decision.
With a 3000 mAh of battery capacity, the LG G7 is pretty decent, but not particularly impressive. Overall, it is expected that the battery life would be comparable to the LG G6, which we found to be quite good. The larger screen size is somewhat offset by the energy savings from the RGB+White pixels, and Snapdragon 845 is more power-efficient than 835 for common tasks.
At this size and price, some competitors may have 10%+ larger battery capacity, and the competition will be stiff when it comes to battery life, with the Huawei P20 packing 4000 mAh and the S9+ having 3500 mAh.
There is currently no battery test that will give you an accurate and meaningful estimation for YOUR usage. Synthetic benchmarks can sometimes spot small differences between handsets of similar capacity, but overall the capacity of the battery (in mAh) is your best proxy.
This handset is advertised as compatible with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 out of the box (QC 3.0). In fact, it is also compatible with QC 4.0, but the charger in the box is only 3.0. If you have a 3rd party QC 4.0 charger, the handset will support all the latest features of that specific standard.
We have measured the charging speed at 41 mAh/mn (using the provided charger),which is okay but previous generations of LG phones in the price range could reach 50+ mAh/mn. Testing with a QuickCharge 4.0 charger didn’t yield a faster charge speed, so don’t bother buying such a charger.
The LG G7 supports wireless charging out of the box. It should be very straightforward and work with the two most popular Wireless Charging standards. We’ll come back to it when the retail unit arrives.
The LG G7 dials it up a notch from the G6 when it comes to Audio. While the G6 had Hi-Fi Quad-DAC in some regions, the G7 will feature it in ALL regions. It uses the same ESS Quad-DAC as the LG V20/V30, and you can read about how Quad-DAC works in LG phones.
The main idea is that it provides better audio ouput, like very $1000+ music players. In theory, you could also use this phone as a standalone DAC for a computer via USB. The phone will also adapt the output to the speaker or headphones connected via the 3.5mm audio port.
There’s also DTX surround sound CODEC that is said to decrease noise by 50% and provide surround sound with any kinds of headphones.
The powerful, loud speaker is the real novelty with the LG G7. LG has a 2-step technique to make the G7’s speaker performance far superior to the Galaxy S9, which is already very good at this.
First, LG Engineers have increased the resonance chamber size from ~0.5 to ~8.0 CC with a new speaker integration with the rest of the phone. Usually, that the speaker module is self-contained with a small speaker and enough room to serve as a small resonance chamber. As you can imagine, the size of both the speaker and the resonance chamber is tiny at about ~0.5 CC (cubic centimeters).
The LG G7 won our side by side speaker comparison against the S9+ and the HTC U12, both considered as potential “best speakers”."THE LG G7 WON OUR SIDE BY SIDE SPEAKER COMPARISON AGAINST THE S9+ AND THE HTC U12"
LG’s speaker is NOT encased in a closed module. Instead, they use the whole phone internal volume as a resonance chamber. This works because the G7 is waterproof and therefore hermetically sealed to use the whole phone internal volume as a resonance chamber of ~8.0 CC.
The design must consider that the speaker is exposed, but the increase in chamber volume is fantastic. Since speakers are about “pushing air,” the larger the volume, the better the sound quality potential.
LG G7 key speaker highlight vs. last-gen LG phone:
Secondly, the back of the handset can vibrate and transmit sound. All it takes is to drop the phone onto a surface that can vibrate, like an empty box -or even a guitar- and you get even more power out of this loudspeaker setup. At the end of the day, the LG G7 does sound like a small standalone speaker.
We tested this in two different Café-style locations, and it was loud enough to have music for the whole place and loud enough that we had to shut it down at some point to have someone speak to the whole group.
You don’t need a fancy box to make this work, and even a shoebox should do the trick. It just requires that the material is flexible enough to transmit the phone’s vibrations. We’ll try on tables later, but so far, the results were impressive.
Some people have also asked why LG is not using a dual front-speaker design, which is often legitimately seen as the best speaker setup because the sound energy is directed towards the user. Dual front-speakers negatively affect the industrial design, especially for an all-screen phone like the G7.
Even if the secondary speaker is just the earpiece (like the Galaxy S9 does), it does help with high frequencies, but LG has identified lower frequencies to be the main issue with phones, not higher frequencies.In fact, the LG G7 performs much better than the G6 mostly in the sub-1Khz range according to LG data."THE LG G7 SOUNDS LIKE A COMPACT EXTERNAL SPEAKER"
In side by side tests, the LG G7’s loudspeaker did sound better (especially on a flat surface) than all the phones our group of journalists had on hand, including the Huawei P20 Pro and the Galaxy S9+.
Any damage to the water-tight sealing or glass would make the resonance chamber leak, and therefore you would lose the functionality. This is likely to happen if the phone is dropped and cracked. The water-tight seal could also be damaged by a glass repair not done to the exact original specifications. It is a known potential problem for all water-tight phones, not just for LG phones.
The audio-recording capabilities of the LG G7 include far-field microphones which are also optimized for listening to voice commands. Typically this kind of setup also makes things like conference-calls work better when there are many people, because it can pick-up sound from any location and doesn’t expect voice to come from one specific place.
LG says that its far-field implementation makes it 35% better for audio recording than competitors in a noisy environment. It is possible, but we don’t have an effective way to measure it.
Since people can now setup their Android phones to always listen to the Assistant trigger-key, the far-field microphone array should improve the rate of voice-activation. On recent Android phones, you can also unlock the phone using your voice.
We will wait for retail units to run benchmarks, but it is fair to say that we already know the performance profile of the Snapdragon 845 SoC. We looked at the Snapdragon 845 technical aspect extensively in December at the Qualcomm Media Event and ran our first Snapdragon 845 benchmarks again at Qualcomm’s HQ in February. Since Then, we have run benchmarks on the Samsung Galaxy S9 series, which was the first Snapdragon 845 production handset available to the public.
At the moment, it is the most powerful processing platform for Android phones. Last year, the LG G6 did not use the latest chip when it launched at MWC 2017, and this has changed for the LG G7. LG has not launched its 2018 G-Series phone at MWC 2018, and instead went with its own agenda. This is smart because although launching at an international event has advantages, it might be detrimental to LG’s original development schedule. Any OEM can tell you similar stories.
The performance of the LG G7 ThinQ is completely inline with what we expect from this Snapdragon 845 hardware platform. Whether it is for graphics (GFXBench) or CPU (Geekbench 4), there is a sharp contrast with last year’s high-end models.
The general performance is high, and the 845-equipped handsets stay fast, even after being “fully loaded” with our apps and data. Graphics performance is exceptionally high, which bodes well for VR/AR and 3D gaming.
The LG G7 will launch with Android 8 and will use LG’s UX (user-experience) layer on top of it. There are some UX changes, but too much at a superficial level. LG users will feel right at home, and newcomers will not feel disoriented. A.I is heavily promoted by LG, and camera aside, LG has a two pronged approach for AI.
Voice Assistant functionality will be provided by Google. As we said earlier, LG has worked with Google by providing a physical button to activate the Google Assistant app.
LG has its own AI layer as well, called Advanced Smart Bulletin. It is another type of A.I or machine-learning which will personalize the phone as it learns about your behavior. For privacy reasons, all of this computing and data will be computed and stored on-device. There is an overlap with what Google Does, but LG wanted to provide this service.
Advanced Smart Bulletin also knows how you use the device and might suggest things to improve battery life, for example. These kinds of things can be right, but it is difficult to tell if they will be good FOR YOU.
It is also hard to accurately measure the efficiency of what they are claiming to do (save time, battery, etc.). In the end, it will come down to customer satisfaction and happiness. Huawei introduced similar features, and that is how they measure the success. I suspect that LG will do the same thing.
As a side note, LG has announced the creation of a software team dedicated to firmware updates. This should help get updates faster, but keep in mind that wireless carriers remain part of a relatively slow chain.
Finally, there’s LG Qlink, the platform that links LG phones to other LG Electronics products. Qlink is designed to be a common “link” or protocol for all LG devices whatever their nature is. Because the lifecycle of a phone and a dishwasher are very different, it is not easy to build this kind of platform.
The benefits are that LG has the opportunity to make the initial setup much more accessible. For some devices such as TVs and Bluetooth speakers, the communication will be done over Bluetooth. For a home appliance, Cloud+WiFi will be the preferred route. Note that Qlink is not yet available in the USA, but it is in Korea.
With a street price of $650 on August 6 2018, the LG G-Series is designed to compete in the mainstream space (6.1” category) and undercuts the price of heavy hitters like the Galaxy S9+ ($820), iPhone X ($1000) or Huawei P20 Pro ($780), while offering similar features, including Bokeh, AI photography and powerful built-in speakers.
The screen size and quality alone will keep many other competitors at bay. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chip is a solid technological foundation and currently the best there is on Android. After all, the LG G-Series is now a more mainstream phone, and LG’s upcoming V-Series update (LG V40) will go toe to toe with the most expensive phones.
The LG G7 camera performs very well and still offers a rare ultrawide lens that we think is extremely useful in many common situations. That said, LG’s competition is very strong and the G7 ThinQ’s slightly under-performs the very best in HDR and low-light photography, two challenging, but important features for most users.
Yet, the LG G7 its like no other. Beautiful, it is also one of the smallest handset with a Snapdragon 845, a MIL-STD-810G certification, a 1000-NIT display and the best loudspeaker on the market. LG has managed to build this into one of the thinnest and lightest (162g) chassis in this category.Overall product rating: 8.3/10
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