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LG G7 ThinQ review: A shining star

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It’s time to get your sunglasses out, but wait. Hold off on the suncream. Step away from the floppy hat. You need your shades for a different reason: to protect your eyes from what is, quite possibly, the brightest screen ever seen on a smartphone.

That’s not something I expected from the LG G7. I expected it to double down on the camera. To be faster and longer lasting than its disappointing predecessor. To be better looking and more exquisitely manufactured. But here we are. LG is pushing the boundaries once again. And not necessarily in the most beneficial way. While it’s undeniable that having a display that can go that bright is handy when the sun beats down, especially if you happen to be skiing or on an arctic expedition, in everyday use it’s not entirely essential.

The benefits of having such a super-bright display are debatable for anything but HDR video (500cd/m2 is readable in most conditions, after all) and anything brighter than that runs the risk of temporarily blinding you every time you look at your phone.

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LG G7 review: Display

Before we go any further, let me just confirm that the brightness claim is no empty boast. Measured with our X-Rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter, it clocked 951cd/m2 with the screen displaying a fully white screen.

It won’t stay this bright for long: after pressing the Boost icon to the left of the brightness-adjustment slider, it sears your retinas for only a short while before falling to around 850cd/m2. It’s impressive. Just make sure you don’t accidentally hit Boost in a darkened room as your eyes will take a few minutes to readjust.

The good news is that the brightness isn’t the only area where the LG G7 pushes the boat out. The screen is a 10-bit panel and so is HDR10 compliant. Plus, as with most of 2018’s flagship smartphones, it’s a big screen with a long, tall aspect ratio (19.5:9). This means there’s plenty of screen space to play around with, without the phone being too big to hold in one hand.

More specifically, the LG G7’s display measures 6.1in across the diagonal, delivers a near-4K resolution of 3,120 x 1,440 and is also, according to LG, 30% more power-efficient (at a brightness of 500cd/m2) than the screen on the LG G6. It’s reasonably colour accurate, too, although only in the DCI-P3 colour space.

Despite a list of colour profiles as long as your arm (auto, eco, cinema, sport, game and expert), not one of them appears to be targeted at sRGB. Still, for most folks the wider gamut of DCI-P3 will be more pleasing to the eye and it’s pretty good, too, covering 95.7% of that colour space.

Oh, and the display also has a notch. Just like nearly every other flagship smartphone of 2018.

This particular notch isn’t as wide as the one on the Apple iPhone X but is a touch broader than the one on the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro. Personally, its presence here doesn’t bother me but if you’re not a fan there’s no need to panic. LG offers the option of “hiding” it using a black bar, while simultaneously using the extra screen space flanking the notch for notifications.

You can even pretty it up if you like: in the bizarrely titled “New second screen” section in the settings menu you can choose to display a gradient on either side, which softens its edges somewhat, but if you ask me, you should just get used to it.

Other than that, the LG G7 is a reasonably pretty phone. It’s clad in Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back and will be available in the UK in blue, black and “platinum” grey, all with a glossy finish that attracts fingerprints like crazy. The most eye-catching colour – “raspberry rose” – alas, won’t be coming to the UK.

It’s also IP68 dust- and water-resistance certified and Mil-spec tested. It has a fingerprint reader mounted in the centre of the rear panel below a vertically arranged dual camera array, while the volume buttons are on the left edge and the power button on the right. On the bottom of the phone is a single speaker grille, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB Type-C port for charging and data transfer.

You might also have spotted from the photograph above that there’s one extra key: situated just beneath the volume buttons on the left edge is a digital assistant button, used to call Google Assistant into action. Pressing it once activates Google Assistant, while a double press calls up Google Lens. And, if you’re okay with smartphone anthropomorphism, there’s far-field microphone tech that helps the phone pick up your voice from over five metres away.

LG G7 review: Performance

Last year, LG thought cutting back on the performance would be a good idea. It chose to stick with the Snapdragon 821 for the LG G6 when all its rivals went with the 835. That’s a mistake it hasn’t repeated this year and in 2018 the LG G7 is powered by a top-end Snapdragon 845, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage to back that up.

It’s a snappy feeling phone, more so than the HTC U12 Plus I looked at recently and the benchmarks are as you’d expect – pretty much on a level with all the flagship smartphones of 2018:

Overall, the LG G7 isn’t quite up there with the OnePlus 6 – and, yes, that phone does feel a mite quicker – but there isn’t much in it and in every respect the phone is a slick performer. It unlocks quickly, whether you choose to use the rear-mounted fingerprint reader or face unlock; it transitions from screen to screen without delay; even its camera software, which was so disappointingly sluggish on the HTC U12 Plus, is responsive.

As for battery life, that’s fine, but nothing out of the ordinary. In our video rundown benchmark, which we run at a set screen brightness and in flight mode to ensure a level playing field, it lasted 13hrs 37mins (817 minutes in total). That’s about what we’d expect from a flagship phone in 2018, as you can see from the graph below. It’s better than last year’s LG G6 but lags an hour behind the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Huawei P20 Pro and nearly four hours behind the OnePlus 6. It beats the HTC U12+, though.

LG G7 ThinQ review: Camera and audio

Speed isn’t the only notable thing about the LG G7’s camera software, though. It’s also “smart”.

In a move designed to ape Huawei and Asus’ intelligent cameras, the LG G7 can recognise objects and different types of scene on the fly and make adjustments to the camera as necessary. As you point the camera at a scene, words fade in, floating above recognised elements on screen in real-time, showing the inner thoughts of the algorithm as it goes about its business; after a second or two, it settles on an overall theme: sky, person, flowers or city, for example.

In use this seems to work pretty well but, as is the nature of such things, it was far from 100% flawless and frequently words that are disconnected with the subject matter in front of the lens will float across the screen. In one example, the camera variously identifies the side pod of the Formula-E car as a flip-flop, the front wing as a group of people and the wheel as “sport”. Still, there is plenty about the software that’s positive. The manual mode, in particular, is brilliant and, unlike pretty much every other smartphone on the planet, allows you to manually adjust and lock in exposure and white balance for video as well as stills.

And the camera hardware isn’t bad, either, following closely in the footsteps of last year’s LG G6 and the LG G5 before that. You get twin 16-megapixel rear cameras, both with an aperture of f/1.6 and optical image stabilisation. One of the cameras shoots a regular 77-degree view of your scene while the other shoots a 122-degree wide-angle view, which is useful for shooting in tight spaces.

The secondary camera is also employed to produce blurred-background portrait photographs, and it’s good to see LG pushing the boundaries a little, applying the blur in real-time so you can see how successful your shot is likely to be without having to capture shoot, review and then capture again. With a slider to adjust the amount of blur applied it’s the best UI for a portrait mode I’ve yet come across.

And there’s also a special low-light mode that uses four-to-one pixel binning to capture scenes in dark environments down to a single lux. This isn’t all that effective, producing over-processed, rather unnatural-looking images but that’s no great loss since the camera is actually pretty good in low light conditions. It’s not as good as the OnePlus 6 in this regard but it’s a close-run thing and you have to zoom in pretty close to identify its deficiencies, which are a slight over-saturation and over-keen compression.

The same goes for outdoor photographs. You have to zoom right in to distinguish between the results of the OnePlus 6 and the LG G7, where over-compression results in a slight loss of detail. The camera’s HDR mode is subtle to the point of pointlessness, though.

The LG G7’s video capture follows a similar theme. It’s good – delivering footage at up to 30fps in 4K that’s packed with detail and reasonably stable. You can record in HDR10, too, without video footage turning into a slideshow as it did on the Sony Xperia XZ2.

The last key improvement for the LG G7 is in the audio department. With a “sound box” 25 times larger than the LG G6, fitted in the bottom-right corner just behind the speaker grille, the G7’s Boombox speaker is capable of kicking out audio at truly impressive volume levels.

It can also use surfaces it’s placed on as a resonator, boosting lower-frequency sounds. There’s still no bass to speak of, but popping the phone on a wood table does improve the richness of the audio a touch.

LG G7 review: Verdict

So, what to make of the LG G7 ThinQ? There’s no doubt it’s a big improvement over the LG G6, and that’s a good thing. While the LG G6 initially looked like it would be one of the best phones of 2017, it was swiftly overtaken by the rest of the market.

This year, LG’s flagship arrives later in the year, with far more capable internals and it’s all the better for it. No, it isn’t quite the bargain that the OnePlus 6 is but it has its advantages, notably the wide-angle secondary camera and superbly flexible video capture. And, at £599, it’s more reasonably priced than either the Samsung Galaxy S9 or the Huawei P20 Pro.

In short, the LG G7 is a great phone at a very reasonable price. If you want more of a flagship feature set than the OnePlus 6 can offer but can’t quite stretch the funds for an S9 or P20 Pro, it’s a very fine alternative.

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