LG made good headway last year, but the phonemaker faces huge challenges. There's direct competition with the Galaxy S9, Apple's iPhones and the upcoming OnePlus 6. Beyond that, phone sales are slowing down and owners are starting to hold onto their devices longer. LG, which isn't a Top 5 global player, needs to pull out every trick it has to make a dent.
According to LG, over the next 18 to 24 months, it will make a "change in phone screens," along the lines of a bending or rollable display. LG has teased these types of innovations before. In the meantime, does this make the G7 a mere pit stop on the road to the future?
Multiple CNET editors spent some time with a preproduction model of the LG G7 in New York and San Francisco. The G7 looks like a really good phone: Its specs and design line up to suggest it can contend in a matchup against the Samsung Galaxy S9. But does it have an X factor? Maybe not. If I were to describe what excited me about the LG G7 to a friend, I'd have a really hard time.
Technically, this is the "LG G7 ThinQ," adding the branding for LG's ThinQ AI initiative, which the V30S ThinQ Edition phone had too, and which is planned for LG's many home devices, from washing machines and fridges to smart TVs. On the G7, the ThinQ AI software doesn't add up to much. It really only comes into play with the camera, which can identify common camera scenes, like close-ups and food, and optimize settings to help you get the best shot.
LG hasn't yet announced a price, but odds are you can expect something close to last year's G6, making it more affordable than the Galaxy S9. For the right price, it could be great. But, like a high-end laptop that somehow ends up seeming like all the others, the LG G7 could similarly become one more sharp-looking phone in a big crowd.
5 things you need to know about the G7
- It has a dedicated button for summoning Google Assistant, Google's answer to Siri and Alexa.
- It has a 6.1-inch display, but it's not OLED: It's IPS LCD, with RGB plus extra white pixels.
- There's a notch in the display, but you can make it a black bar with notifications instead if you prefer, similar to the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro.
- There's an AI Camera mode like the V30S ThinQ Edition, which aims to pick the best camera setting.
- Bright Mode promises brighter photos in low lighting versus last year's G6 and Galaxy S8.
LG's G7 cameras, in a quick spec list
- It has two rear 16-megapixel lenses: (one has a 71-degree field of view at f/1.6, the other has a 107-degree FOV at f/1.9)
- The front camera has 8 megapixels, with 90-degree FOV and f/1.9
- The rear lenses are less super-wide-angle than the LG V30, coming with less distortion in photos, but can't fit as much into the frame
- Bright Mode promises four times brighter shots than the G6 in low light
- The cameras can record in HDR10
- Portrait Mode works on the front and rear cameras, and can be edited before and after shooting on the rear camera to add extra blur
AI Camera: ThinQ-driven
LG promises that ThinQ will be used in everything from photos to connecting with LG TVs and appliances. Right now, it's most notably used in AI Camera, an intelligent automatic camera mode that debuted on the LG V30S. It scans objects in the environment as well as lighting and distance to determine optimal settings. AI Camera uses onboard machine learning: the test phone I used was offline.
The mode recognizes 18 categories of scene information on the G7: person, flower, pet, food, sunset, sunrise, landscape, city, baby, animal, beverage, fruit, sky, beach, snow, people, low-light and "basic." It switches to what's needed. Keep in mind other cameras and phones, like the Huawei P20, have some implicit version of this technology as well.
The mode cycles through what the camera sees, flashing words across the screen until a final decision is made and a shooting mode selected. You get a little haptic ping when it's done (you can turn this off), a light tap in the phone. It recognized a bowl of oranges as "fruit," but had a hard time with a row of glasses or other abstract objects. Did the automatic mode help photos look better? I'd say that's impossible to clearly tell in a brief demo with prerelease software.
A screen with a notch, but you can make it disappear
The G7's 6.1-inch IPS LCD display is high in resolution (3,120x1,440 pixels) -- but also has a notch, joining many other 2018 phones. It's a bit longer than the 18:9 Samsung GS9 display or most typical 18:9 displays, because of the extra notch. But that notch effect can be made to vanish in some way, similar to the Huawei P20 and upcoming OnePlus 6.
Enter the "New Second Screen" settings, and presto, the extra screen on either side of the camera turns black. The information -- time, carrier, Wi-Fi and all of that -- still float there, like the common status bar on most phones. Basically, do you prefer the background black or another color? At least it means the phone's 18:9 display works without the notch intervening.
Why not OLED? LG claims the IPS LCD used on the G7 is extra-bright (up to 1,000 nits), plus it has red, green, blue and an extra white pixel for improved display quality. The screen didn't look good in the glare of outdoor light, however, in our brief hands-on time.
Hey look, a dedicated Google Assistant button! (And far-field mic)
Even though LG has ThinQ AI, the dedicated assistant-summoning button on the side of the G7 calls up Google, not ThinQ. Pressing it once launches Google Assistant, and pressing and holding skips the need to say "OK, Google." This is similar to squeezing the sides on the Pixel 2 ($649.99 at Amazon Marketplace) and 2 XL. Assistant also responds to 32 commands that do various things on the phone, some camera-related, and you can double-press the button to launch vision search. You just can't customize it to launch anything else.
LG also wants you to talk to your phone from far away like a Google Home ($129.00 at Walmart). Improved microphones promise up to a 16-foot (4.9-meter) range and better voice recognition when other audio is nearby. I'm not sure I want my phone to listen to me from that far away, but if you're planning on docking your phone and using it like an Echo or Home, maybe this is useful.
A 'booming' speaker
The LG G7 promises a weird new trick with its audio, turning its insides into a giant resonating chamber for its onboard speaker. The G7 doesn't have stereo speakers, just a single louder one. But when I tried playing music on it during my briefing, and playing back YouTube music videos, it just ended up sounding loud, not good. I've heard better-defined sound on phones.
High-end lossless music playback
LG's recent V30 phone had an included built-in DAC for better-sounding audio and the G7's got the same one -- the ESS Sabre ES9218. What it means is if you're interested in high-end lossless audio (like Tidal) and listening to it on your phone, it should sound really good on the G7.
LG is also betting on 7.1 surround audio via DTS X support, which would require wired headphones or connected wireless speakers. It promises a "virtual sound bubble." It doesn't work with the G7's one onboard speaker. Probably, you do not need 7.1 surround audio on your phone.
The LG G7 will come in new platinum gray, new aurora black, new Moroccan blue and raspberry rose. In other words: gray, black, blue and pinkish-red. No unicorn.
LG G7 ThinQ spec comparison chart
|LG G7 ThinQ||Samsung Galaxy S9||iPhone 8 Plus|
|Display size, resolution||6.1-inch IPS LCD; 3,120x1,440 pixels||5.8-inch OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels||5.5-inch LCD; 1,920x1,080 pixels|
|Pixel density||563 ppi||570 ppi||401 ppi|
|Dimensions (Inches)||6x2.8x0.31 in||5.81x2.70x0.33 in||6.24x3.07x0.30 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||153.2x71.9x7.9 mm||147.7x68.7x8.5 mm||158.4x78.1x7.5 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||5.7 oz, 162 g||5.75 oz; 163 g||7.13 oz; 202 g|
|Mobile software||Android 8.0 Oreo||Android 8.0 Oreo||iOS 11|
|Camera||Dual 16-megapixel (71 degree, f/1.6 and 107 degree, f/1.9)||12-megapixel||Dual 12-megapixel|
|Front-facing camera||8-megapixel (f/1.9)||8-megapixel||7-megapixel|
|Processor||2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)||Apple A11 Bionic|
|Storage||64GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 256GB|
|Expandable storage||Up to 2TB||400GB||None|
|Battery||3,000mAh||3,000mAh||2,675mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this)|
|Fingerprint sensor||Back||Back||Home button (Touch ID)|
|Special features||Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, DTS:X 3D Surround, Quad DAC||Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning||Water resistant (IP67), wireless Qi charge compatible|
|Price off-contract (USD)||TBA||Varies: $720-$800 (64GB)||$799 (64GB), $949 (256GB)|
|Price (GBP)||TBA||£739||£799 (64GB), £949 (256GB)|
|Price (AUD)||TBA||AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,349 (256GB)||AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)|