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May 2, 2018

LG G7 ThinQ hands-on review

by John_A


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LG G7 ThinQ

LG hasn’t had much luck with its smartphones recently, especially its G series. The modular G5 flopped because it was clunky and hardly had any modules; and the promising G6 just didn’t generate a level of interest the company wanted. The latest in the lineup is the LG G7 ThinQ (pronounced “Thin-Que”), and there’s a lot to like. It packs all the high-end specifications you’d expect in a flagship phone, and it’s wrapped in an all-glass, modern design.

Will it be the hit LG wants? We’re not so sure. The special features that make the G7 ThinQ unique may not be interesting enough to draw iPhone, Samsung, and Google loyalists. But there’s no denying the G7 is a good phone. Let’s take a closer look.

A notch, chin, and glass

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, the G7 ThinQ has a notch. It’s the little cutout at the top of the screen, housing the front-facing camera and earpiece. Having used several phones with notches, including the Essential Phone, iPhone X, and Huawei P20 Pro, we don’t have many qualms about it here on the G7. Would we prefer a notch-less look? Absolutely, but we haven’t found its presence distracting.

There’s also a small chin on the bottom of the phone. Considering there’s a notch, we would have liked to see no bezel here — like the iPhone X — but it’s no dealbreaker. This front design does make the G7 ThinQ stand out a little less from the sea of notch-filled phones, but it didn’t put us off.

Yes, the G7 ThinQ has a notch.

If you really hate the notch, but like everything else about the G7 ThinQ, there are many ways to customize how the notch looks in the phone’s settings. You can add black bars, or even a rainbow-like effect, and you can also remove the rounded corners on the screen if you’re not a fan.

Speaking of ThinQ — what does it mean? It’s LG’s artificially-intelligent platform that connects a host of its products together. If you see LG appliances with the ThinQ branding — like a washing machine — it means you can easily connect them to the G7 ThinQ or V30S ThinQ and control them right from the phone’s notification drawer.

The G7 has a power button on the right side of the phone. It’s the first time in a while that LG has added a standalone power button to its phones; it was previously embedded in the fingerprint sensor on the back. We liked the rear power button, but we like the new separate one more because itimeans you can double press it to quickly open the camera.

On the left side is a volume rocker, and below it sits a new button — the AI Key. Like Samsung’s Bixby button, the AI Key lets you interact with Google Assistant. It’s one of our favorite features of the G7, as it makes it far easier to access the Assistant when you don’t want to say “Hey Google,” or when your phone screen is off. Press it once to activate voice recognition, or press and hold it to use it like a walkie-talkie and continuously talk to the Assistant. If you double tap the button, you’ll jump right into Google Lens for object identification with the phone’s camera. The AI Key works well, and it’s fast. We’ll have to use it more to see if it makes us ask Assistant more questions. If you don’t want to use it, you can disable it. At the moment, there’s no way to remap the key to do something else, but LG said if customers ask for this, it may consider adding a remapping option.

Overall, the G7 doesn’t do enough to differentiate its design from the competition

On the bottom is a USB Type-C charging port, a headphone jack, as well as a single, mono speaker — we’ll get to this soon. Flip the phone over and you’ll see LG has followed Samsung’s S9 Plus design to prop the cameras vertically instead of horizontally. The dual-camera setup is centered at the top vertically, with an easy-to-access fingerprint sensor below it. The back of the phone is covered in Gorilla Glass 5, allowing the G7 to wirelessly charge with the Qi standard; it’s par for the course on LG phones.

The G7 is surprisingly comfortable in the hand, considering it has a 6.1-inch display, and that’s largely because it’s incredibly light at 162 grams. That lightweight nature does mean it doesn’t feel as substantial as some other flagship phones.

Overall, the G7 doesn’t do enough to differentiate its design from the competition, but that isn’t just a problem with LG — a lot of smartphones look alike these days. That being said, we still think the phone looks good, and it doesn’t feel unwieldy in the hand.

Boombox speaker

LG places a lot of emphasis on its audio prowess with phones like the V30 — which sports a Quad DAC, and of course retains the headphone jack. The same Quad DAC and headphone jack is present on the G7 ThinQ, with support for DTS.X 3D sound, a surround sound technology similar to Dolby Atmos.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

But the spotlight feature for the G7 ThinQ is its “Boombox” speaker. How can a single, bottom-firing mono speaker produce boombox-like sound? LG removed the module that traditionally covers the speaker, and then tweaked the layout of the phone’s internals to make the whole phone a resonance chamber. That means the audio feels like it’s coming from the whole body of the phone, and it sounds fantastic.

The audio feels like it’s coming from the whole body of the phone, and it sounds fantastic.

We played a variety of tunes and compared the G7’s Boombox speaker with stereo speakers from the iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro, and the G7 easily got louder, and sounded richer. It didn’t sound like you were playing music from a phone, but from an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker. Since the whole phone becomes a resonance chamber, music can sound even better depending on the surface you place the phone on — hollow wood, for example, further enhanced the audio.

The resonance chamber is 17 times larger than any of LG’s previous products, and the company said the speaker is 39 percent bigger than the G6, essentially doubling the volume.

LG G7 ThinQ Compared To

Huawei P20 Pro

Nuu G3

Nokia 7 Plus

Vivo Apex

Asus Zenfone 5

LG V30S ThinQ

Alcatel 5 Series

Cat S61

Google Pixel 2

LG V30

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

HTC U11

Nokia 8

LG Optimus G Pro

T-Mobile myTouch 3G

While we’re impressed with how the G7 ThinQ sounds, we still prefer Bluetooth speakers or headphones. That being said, plenty of people make frequent use of their phone speakers, and they will undoubtedly be happy with the audio quality coming out of the G7 ThinQ. We’ll have to do more testing to see how the speaker fares when watching movies and YouTube videos.

Oddly, the phone’s IP68 waterproof seal is tied to the Boombox functionality, so if the seal breaks in some way, then the audio quality may be hampered. LG also said it’s recommending case makers opt for harder cases than soft ones, as the latter could also absorb some of the resonating sound.

Speedy performance, great display

The LG G7 ThinQ is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor, and comes with either 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, or 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. We’re happy to see that LG didn’t opt for last year’s processor, like it did with the LG G6.

In our brief time using the phone, we never once ran into any lag or slowdown. We didn’t get a chance to set up the phone to our liking, though, so we’ll have to test this further. Judging by the Snapdragon 845’s performance on phones like the Galaxy S9, however, we think the G7 will be able to handle just about anything. It runs Android 8.0 Oreo, and there’s not much bloatware loaded on top.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The 6.1-inch IPS LCD screen is great — it’s bright, and sharp with a 3,120 x 1,440 pixel resolution (564 pixels-per-inch). It supports HDR10, and the colors look thoroughly rich. The phone does have a unique 19.5:9 aspect ratio, which means you’re getting a slightly taller screen.

Going back to the notch, LG is calling the area around it the “new second screen,” which basically means it’s the place that shows your notification icons, and system icons like the clock and cellular connectivity. If you do add black bars to get rid of the notch, it’s surprisingly difficult to tell the phone has a notch — that’s how deep the blacks look. You have to look closer to be able to tell.

Super Bright Display allows you to boost the screen’s brightness up to 1,000 nits, but only for up to three minutes.

What’s unique about the screen is a new mode called Super Bright Display. It allows you to boost the screen’s brightness up to 1,000 nits, but only for up to three minutes — that’s to prevent overheating. It’s a little button you can tap next to the brightness slider in the notification drawer. It’s useful for when you’re outside and having trouble seeing the screen, and we found it gets bright enough to make a difference.

LG claims it has reduced the screen’s power consumption over the LG G6 by 30 percent at the same luminance (500 nits), which means the screen won’t take up much battery life. Speaking of which, the G7’s 3,000mAh is smaller than we’d like, but we’ll have to use the phone for a longer period of time to see how long it can last.

Wide-angle camera, and artificial intelligence

The G7 ThinQ uses the same dual-cam setup LG has relied on in previous devices — a standard 16-megapixel camera, with a f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization, is paired with a 16-megapixel f/1.9 wide-angle camera. A lot of the camera software we played around with was still in development, so we can’t quite pass official judgment yet.

Panorama

Still, the wide-angle mode makes the camera incredibly versatile, allowing you to take 107-degree photos. LG is one of the only manufacturers offering a super wide-angle camera on a smartphone, and it helps make the phone stand out. You can take unique photographs on the G7 that would require a lens mount to snap on other smartphones.

Wide-Angle mode

That being said, the company has also added a Portrait mode. It adds a blur effect around a subject, and in our brief tests, it looks pretty good. What’s unique here is the camera doesn’t crop into the subject — it stays at the same distance as the auto mode so you don’t need to suddenly adjust your framing. We have noticed some errors with the blur lines around a subject, and it can be frustrating to use sometimes as the camera doesn’t always register your distance from the subject. We’ll have to do a little more testing to see how well this stacks up against Portrait mode on other phones. It does work surprisingly well with the 8-megapixel selfie camera.

Portrait mode

You’ll find the same Super Bright Camera mode that’s available on the LG V30S. It enlarges the pixels so they absorb more light, but it lowers the overall pixel count. The end result is a 4-megapixel photo that might not have a ton of detail, but it will be clearer and more usable. This mode turns on automatically when the camera detects it’s in a low-light environment, but you can turn it off if you prefer. In theory, the G7 can take a photo twice as bright as the V30S given the same lighting conditions. We’re surprised at how well this mode works, and it’s able to challenge good low-light cameras like the P20 Pro and the Galaxy S9.

Super Bright

Then there’s AI Cam. It’s a separate mode in the camera that automatically identifies the scene you’re pointing the phone towards. If you point the phone at a sunset, the camera will know it’s a sunset, and it will compare your scene to images of sunsets to try and offer up the best-looking photo. With the G7, AI Cam can now identify 10 more scenes including baby faces, animals, drinks, fruits, and more — bringing the total amount of categories to 19. Once it identifies a scene, it alters the photo to change things like saturation, exposure, and more. It can even recommend a wider-angle view, or suggest using the Super Bright Camera mode when it’s too dark.

AI Cam

We think the AI Cam is better than Huawei’s AI image recognition software, which often simply cranks the saturation up. The AI Cam certainly does boost saturation, but it’s not as intense as Huawei’s technology. It still needs more work, and we almost always end up preferring standard photos not tweaked by AI. We’re also not fans of how it’s a separate mode we have to open up in the camera app, and we much prefer Huawei’s implementation.

You’ll be satisfied with the G7 ThinQ’s camera, but we don’t think it measures up to the competition like the P20 Pro and the Google Pixel 2. We’ll be conducting more tests to be sure.

Price and availability

LG hasn’t mentioned price yet, but it’s the key to making the G7 ThinQ a success. We’re hoping the company keeps it around $650. It’s also tough to recommend buying the phone at launch, because LG often significantly drops the price not long later. The LG G6, for example, dropped to $450 within a few months. The LG G7 ThinQ is available for pre-order now, and it will begin shipping in the U.S. in the first week of June.

We like what the G7 offers so far, but we’re not sure it has the features it needs to be a hit. We’ll continue testing the phone, and stay tuned for our full review soon.

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