LG G7 hands-on—LG adds a notched display, better speaker to the G6 formula

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Today, LG is making its latest flagship smartphone official and announcing the “LG G7 ThinQ.” After getting to spend about a half-hour with the phone, my main takeaway is that it wasn’t all that different from the LG G6, just with an iPhone X-style notched display and a few internal upgrades.

First let’s get the goofy name out of the way. The “ThinQ” brand debuted in LG’s appliance lineup (it’s pronounced “Thin Q”) in December, where it denoted which appliances were smart appliances. So why is LG’s latest smartphone named after a dishwasher? Because, like every smartphone launching this year, the G7 contains some nebulous “AI” features—everything has to have AI now. On the G7, “AI” means it has 18 different automatic camera modes, which are chosen via computer vision. It can detect things like “Food,” “Beverage,” or “Animal.” After taking a picture, the G7 can also automatically suggest a photo filter for you.

Right off the bat, the G7 spec sheet is a big improvement over the G6, since it launches with the latest Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 845. The LG G6 shipped with a year-old SoC last year, immediately putting it behind most of its 2017 competition. The G7 has a 3000mAh speaker, and its dual rear-camera setup has a 16MP main camera and second 16MP wide-angle lens. The US version has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (with an SD card slot if you want more), but LG’s hometown of Korea gets an upgraded model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The demo units were running Android 8.0.

The display on the G7 ThinQ is a 6.1in 3120×1440 display with an increasingly popular (with device makers, anyway) notched display. LG has struggled to manufacture OLEDs, and after the poorly-received LG OLED panels in the LG V30 and the Google Pixel 2 XL, LG is switching back to LCD with the G7.

That doesn’t mean the G7 has a bog-standard LCD though. LG is calling this a “Super bright” display, thanks to the extra white sub pixel along with the usual red, green, and blue sub pixels. The goal with this RGBW display is both a brighter LCD and more efficient LCD, and LG says it can hit 1000 nits of peak brightness. This isn’t spectacular for a smartphone, considering Samsung’s OLED display on the Galaxy S9 display has a peak brightness of 1130 nits, but it is pretty good for an LCD.

LG was nice enough to let us take the phones outside and see the display under the sun for ourselves, and the results were not that impressive. On a cloudy day, the display didn’t seem any brighter than the Pixel 2 XL that I had on hand, which is to say, like all smartphones, the display still is hard to read in any kind of sunlight.

The notched display contains the 8MP front-facing camera, an earpiece speaker, and the usual basic smartphone sensors like auto brightness and proximity. Not everyone likes the look of a notched display, so LG allows you to black out the area around the notch, making it look more like a traditional smartphone design. LG had a G6 on hand at the event and noted that, even if you black out the entire G7 notch area and count it as a top bezel, it’s still the same size as the top bezel on the G6. Combined with a smaller bottom bezel, the G7 is another step toward making the whole front of the phone a display. As far as notched smartphone designs go though, it’s hard to see the G7 as anything other than inferior to the iPhone X design, which doesn’t have a bottom bezel at all.

The G7 is built just like the LG G6, with an all-glass body and IP68 water resistance. Glass smartphones are always disappointingly fragile, but the material makes implementing the returning wireless charging feature easier for device makers. The back features LG’s usual dual-camera setup—arranged vertically this year instead of horizontally—and a rear fingerprint reader. LG went with a more traditional side power button this year (the G6’s power button is the fingerprint reader), and along with the volume rocker, there’s a whole extra side button specifically for Google Assistant.

Along with the Google Assistant side button, the G7 features “Super far field voice recognition,” which LG says will allow it to respond to the “OK Google”  hotword from farther away than usual. Google and LG also worked together to give the G7 custom Google Assistant commands for features in LG’s Android skin. The only examples LG gave were camera-released, like “Take a photo with food mode” or “Take a photo with low light mode.” The button is not remappable.

The G7 still has a headphone jack, and it’s still powered by the same great sounding DAC (an ESS Sabre ES9218) as the LG V30. The single bottom-firing speaker has gotten a big upgrade this year. In addition to being 39 percent larger than the G6, the speaker now uses the whole phone as a resonance chamber. Sure enough, when playing sound, the whole phone vibrates, helping it to pump out as much noise as possible. LG says the speaker is three times louder than the G6, and after hearing the phone in person, I believe it.

LG wouldn’t talk release dates or pricing, since in the US that’s up to carriers. The LG G6—which, remember, launched with a year-old SoC—cost around $650.

That’s about it for the LG G7. The phone feels like an LG G6 with a few upgrades, but it’s not a huge change. It seems strange to make to make a phone like the LG G6, complain about the G6’s low sales numbers, and then not change all that much for the G7. Maybe pricing information will paint the phone in a more compelling light.

Listing image by Ron Amadeo


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