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T-Mobile LG G7 ThinQ review: Average battery life and high price overshadow excellent audio performance

Earlier this month I attended the LG G7 ThinQ launch event in NYC and then posted some first thoughts after spending five days with the new LG flagship smartphone.

Yesterday, T-Mobile was the first US carrier to reveal retail pricing and availability so it’s time to post my full review. I’ve been using a T-Mobile retail version, after sending back the previous pre-production unlocked model, and a couple of things have changed since I used that model. The software still does not appear to be finalized as Google Pay is still not functional.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
  • Display: 6.1 inch 19.5:9 1440 x 3120 pixel resolution FullVision IPS LCD, Gorilla Glass 5
  • Operating system: Android 8 Oreo
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB internal storage with microSD storage card
  • Cameras: 16-megapixel wide angle f/1.9 (107 degrees) and 16-megapixel standard f/1.6 (71 degrees) dual-rear cameras; 8-megapixel front-facing f/1.9 camera
  • Wireless technology: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, FM radio
  • Audio: 3.5mm headphone jack, Hi-Fi Quad DAC, DTS:X 3D surround sound, Boombox speaker
  • Durability ratings: IP68 dust and water resistant rating, MIL-STD-810G drop test compliant
  • Battery: 3,000mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 and wireless charging technologies
  • Dimensions: 153.2 x 71.9 x 8.2mm and 162 grams
  • Colors: Platinum Gray, Aurora Black, Moroccan Blue, and Raspberry Rose

Hardware

The front of the LG G7 is dominated by the flat 6.1 inch display. It is a LCD display, which personally doesn’t bother me as it still looks fantastic and works for me in the environments where I travel. OLED has become the standard for most Android phones and the iPhone X, but all previous Apple iPhone models used LCD without people whining about the display technology.

OLED screens have blacks that are darker than seen on LCD screens, but the concern I’ve read online is in regards to visibility in direct sunlight. It was a rare sunny day yesterday in Washington State and when I held the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, it has the best OLED display on any phone right now, at full brightness next to the LG G7 with the Super Bright toggle on then it was clear to me the LG G7 looked better in this condition. To be honest, the LG G7 looked to be the same as the S9 Plus without the Super Bright toggle enabled. This Super Bright toggle bumps the LG G7 up to 1000 nits. I’m not concerned at all about the G7 display being LCD instead of OLED.

The LCD display has performed well over the past month and the only issue I have is one that I have had with LG’s displays for years. LG’s auto-brightness never works well for my preferences as it always provides a dimmer display than the conditions warrant. I simply turn it off and stick with brightness at 50 percent for most indoor conditions.

Oddly though, LG calls its notch New Second Screen. In the past LG launched devices with an actual second screen that could contain shortcuts, call notifications and actions, speed dial options, and more. These functions have now moved to the floating bar on the G7. The New Second Screen is actually just the two small areas around the front notch where status information resides. You can customize the look of this area and the curvature below it, but it is not really a second screen even if that is what it is called.

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We also find an 8 megapixel front facing camera on the LG G7 that also supports portrait mode functionality. The few test selfies I took looked good, but unlike the previous LG V30 there is no wide-angle support for this front-facing camera. The LG V30 front-facing camera turned out questionable results so it looks like LG has improved performance on the LG G7.

The rear fingerprint scanner works well at quickly unlocking the phone, as does the less secure face unlock through the front-facing camera. The rear scanner cannot be used to access notifications and such so it has limited functionality.

The microSD card/SIM card tray is found on the top. The power button is on the right, which is new for LG. The most recent devices had the rear fingerprint scanner also act as the power button, but LG stated that user feedback indicated a desire for a dedicted power button. The wonderful feature of this right side power button is that you can double press it at any time, screen on or off, and launch the camera. Many Android phones let you double press the power button for the camera, but often just when the screen is off.

Two volume buttons are found on the upper right with a dedicated Google Assistant buton on the middle left side. These four buttons are arranged similarly to the Samsung Galaxy S9 devices, but the Google Assistant button is preferred to a Bixby button. Press the button to launch Google Assistant, press and hold to immediately talk to the Assistant, and press twice to launch Google Lens.

The mono speaker, USB-C port, and 3.5mm headset jack are found on the bottom. The LG G7 shines in the audio department and if listening to headphones through a wired connection are your preference then you will not be disappointed with the LG G7. The mono speaker powers the Boombox capability of the LG G7. LG claims it is ten times louder than the competition and initial tests indicate it has high volume and also lots of bass, when placed on a table or other flat object. LG exposes the speaker driver to the internal space within the phone to create a resonance chamber with a dramatic effect.

The 3.5mm headset jack is extremely capable with 32-bit Quad DAC technology and DTS:X support. There are several advanced audio settings on the phone that appear when you plug in a 3.5mm headset jack and the DTS:X virtual 3D surround sound is crazy good. I’ve been using wireless headphones lately since most phones have been leaving out the 3.5mm port, but with the LG G7 it is time to pull those wired cans back out of the drawer.

The camera has performed well for me and I do enjoy taking photos with the wide-angle lens, which is one unique capability that LG retains over other smartphone manufacturers. The AI Cam works well and is less aggressive than what I’ve experienced on the Huawei P20 devices. The LG G7 provides me with a more realistic view of the world through its AI camera software.

With just a 3,000 mAh battery I was worried about the performance of the LG G7. A month of testing has shown me to get about four hours of screen on time and I cannot get through a full day of use without placing the G7 down on a wireless charging. Standby time seems to be particularly poor, just like the Galaxy S9 Plus, and you can see the percentage remaining go down rather quickly even when little interaction with the display is occurring. This is one area where I have seen Apple destroy Google. I haven’t seen long battery life on the Galaxy S9 Plus either and this is one area where non-Huawei devices have let me down so far in 2018.

Software

The T-Mobile retail model is currently running Android 8.0.0 with the 1 May 2018 Android security update so it doesn’t look like it will launch next week with Android 8.1.

Just as Google was carrying out I/O in California, LG released an update for Google Assistant that enabled Google Lens via a double press of the left Google Assistant button. I don’t think that the LG G7 hardware-specific commands have been released yet, but look forward to hearing more about this functionality.

One thing I noticed immediately upon setting up this T-Mobile retail model was that home screen settings presented you with two left panel options, Google feed and LG Smart Bulletin. I never found much use with Smart Bulletin and complained about it in my first take. Needless to say, I have Google feed set as the left panel and am very pleased with this change.

Another minor thing I have complained about with LG phones before is the lack of integrating visual voicemail into the dialer like others have done. This retail version does have integrated visual voicemail so that is one pain point LG and T-Mobile have addressed.

Despite checking the box to have Google Assistant unlock the phone and perform the action I speak, the LG G7 refuses to do so and still requires me to unlock the phone first. This defeats the convenience of hands-free Google Assistant and also of having a dedicated Google Assistant button that still requires me to perform an unlock action. LG advertised its ability to launch the Google Assistant from a distance further than other phones, but when it won’t activate without being unlocked first then this is rather useless. This may be a software issue that has not been resolved.

Another issue I am having with this LG G7 is that Google Pay does not work. Again, I am sure this is due to the software that is currently installed on this review unit that should be addressed with an update.

One software surprise that I cannot explain is in regards to Twitter. All of the Android devices I am testing have Twitter version 7.45.0, but only the LG G7 ThinQ shows the navigation buttons along the bottom just like an Apple iPhone. This makes Twitter more useful on a big Android device.

There are a ton of settings on the LG G7 so you can spend hours in there tweaking the device to your liking. I’m a fan of the floating bar, context aware functions, and fine control over vibration strength and type.

One of the promoted features of the LG G7 ThinQ is the AI capability. Similar to Huawei’s new phones, this is primarily obvious in the camera experience. On the LG G7 there are now two new buttons adjacent to the viewfinder in the camera app. One for portrait and the other labeled AI Cam. You can use the camera with all the traditional modes as you have seen before on other LG phones, but the AI Cam offers some additional functionality.

Tapping on AI Cam and then pointing the camera at objects makes words appear and fade away as the phone attempts to identify the subjects in your viewfinder. I understand that more than 1,100 objects are included in the machine learning algorithms and you will see these words appearing as the phone gets to work. The AI Cam will then identify your subject as one of 19 elements and that word will appear in the lower left of the viewfinder with settings applied to the camera for this object. I was told that the camera will even switch to landscape for appropriate scenes in the viewfinder, but have to continue testing it to experience this myself.

I captured a few photos of the same subject with and without AI Cam and so far I prefer the AI Cam results over the default auto results. Like most people, I spend most of my time taking photos in auto mode even though there is a ton of power available to me in manual and other modes. It seems to me that proper use of AI in the camera can be a benefit to users and having the option to fall back to auto mode is great.


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Pricing and competition

As of now, we have only received pricing information from T-Mobile, but it is usually the lowest priced carrier of the four majors so we may see even higher prices with a lot more bloatware from Verizon, ATT, and Sprint. T-Mobile’s launch price is $750. That is $100 more than the launch price for the LG G6 last year.

$750 is higher than I was hoping to see and is also $30 more than the Galaxy S9 on T-Mobile. The Galaxy S9 has also been on sale at Samsung and T-Mobile at times so I feel the $750 price is just too high for LG at this time. LG needs to win customers and this price is unlikely to do that.

T-Mobile is going to offer the LG G7 ThinQ with a buy one, get one free offer, but please be aware that the free one is made free by monthly payments over a 24 month period. This means to get the full offer, you need to keep and use the LG G7 for at least 24 months and given LG’s anemic track record for updates (it has promised to get better) your phone may be lagging behind others in a few months.

The OnePlus 6 was just announced last week with a starting price of $529 and highest price of $629. It may not have all of the special LG additions, but the OnePlus 6 specs are higher.

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

The LG G7 ThinQ is a very capable smartphone with an enhanced audio experience so if you are an audiophile then you may want to consider the LG G7 ThinQ. Otherwise, I have a tough time justifying this phone at the $750 launch price. At $100 less, my rating would jump up 0.8 to 1.0 on the 10 scale. Fixing the software issues would add up to another 0.5 points.

I don’t understand the AI focus of the marketing for this phone since it really only has AI in the camera at this time. Huawei also heavily advertises AI, but I’ve yet to see it extend beyond the camera experience into real world proactive assistance.

The cameras have performed well, but just about every high end smartphone today provides you with excellent output so your image quality really comes down to the photographer shooting the content. The AI has helped in some settings and I find it useful at times.

The battery life disappoints me, but wireless charging helps since I have those chargers on all of my desks and tables where I work and sleep so I can keep it powered up throughout most days.

The LG G7 is not a particularly exciting phone, but it gets the job done. Drop the price $100 to $150 and it becomes a more competitive offering. We will soon see the latest from HTC and the OnePlus 6 is launching this week for a more reasonable price. It’s great to see LG keep trying and maybe some day it will get it all together. LG V40 anyone?

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