LG G6 hands-on: G6 and GalaxyS8 you choose one?

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LG G6 hands-on: G6 and GalaxyS8 you choose one?
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KEY FEATURES

  • 18:9 quad-HD display
  • HDR10 and Dolby Vision
  • Android 7.0
  • 2 x 13-megapixel rear cameras
  • Very thin bezel
  • Snapdragon 821, 4GB RAM
  • 32GB storage, microSD
  • 3,300mAh battery, USB-C
  • Wireless charging (US-only)
  • Quad-DAC (Korea-only)
  • Dual-SIM (select Eastern European countries)
  • Manufacturer: LG
  • China Price: $289

The G6 is a phone LG needs. Whether it has any chance of beating the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 (or upcoming iPhone 8) remains to be seen, but with the G6 LG has finally made a good-looking phone free of gimmicks.

There are still some questionable decisions here – notably the use of older components – but the excellent display and reliable camera make it one of the best Android phones around.

LG G6 – DISPLAY

Rather than the typical 16:9 aspect ratio seen on almost every other smartphone, LG has opted for an 18:9 ratio display (basically 2:1) that provides a taller panel in a smaller body.

The 5.7-inch display – a sizeable increase from the 5.3-inch panel of the G5 – sits inside a shell that’s barely bigger than its predecessor and one that’s noticeably smaller than the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

One side effect of cramming a bigger screen into a shell of this size is that the corners of the panel are now rounded, rather than at right angles. It’s a little odd at first, but easy to becomes accustomed to.

It matches the overall curviness of the phone, but looks best on the black model. On my white review unit, the black border between the panel and bezel is fairly prominent, and the corner curves aren’t perfectly circular. It’s a small issue, but once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to forget.

The other issue is black bars. Remember when Apple switched the iPhone from a 4-inch to a 5-inch screen? It led to months (maybe years) of apps not fitting the display properly, with many requiring thick black bars at the top and bottom to work. Something similar is happening here, but not to quite the same level of annoyance.

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There are black bars on either side when watching YouTube content

For instance, videos from YouTube – which are almost universally 16:9 – have black bars on either side, and media from Amazon’s Prime app has one large bar running along the bottom. Using software trickery it is possible to extend video in certain apps – Netflix, for example – so that films take up most of the screen.

Regular apps are fine, thanks to Android’s native rescaling features, but games will either need to be updated or played with black bars at the bottom. It’s annoying, but thankfully not too distracting. The software layer used for videos is present here, so you can stretch games out to fill the entire screen. It works well, and in titles such as Alto’s Adventure or Horizon Chase, I didn’t notice the difference.

All of LG’s own apps have been updated, and since the aspect ratio is 2:1, the design theme for the UI is two squares on top of each other. This helps Android 7’s native split-screen multi-tasking, providing more space for each app.

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However, minor quirks aside this is a very nice screen. To match the stretched display the resolution here sits at 2880 x 1440, and even though it isn’t AMOLED, it delivers vivid colours and deep blacks. It’s the first phone with Dolby Vision support and, like the dearly departed Note 7, it’s HDR10-enabled too.

Blacks aren’t quite as deep as AMOLED panels, though, and with LG’s huge OLED TV business it seems odd for the company not to utilise its expertise here. Being an IPS LCD also stops it from being compatible with Google’s Daydream VR platform, something that I enjoy immensely on the Pixel.

There were a few demo HDR (high dynamic range) videos on my review sample. Content looks noticeably brighter and darker scenes are more detailed too, but it isn’t quite the jump you’d see on a huge TV. LG says that HDR content from Amazon and Netflix will work, but it will need an app update first. The company hasn’t said when it will be available, but I’ll update this review when I know more.

LG G6 – DESIGN

For the first time I can remember, LG has crafted a phone that looks attractive. The lack of a thick bezel instantly draws the eye, and LG has also ditched that dodgy metal-sprayed plastic that caused so much controversy on the G5.

There’s a slab of Gorillas Glass 5 on the rear (interestingly, it’s only Gorilla Glass 3 on the front), and a metal rim running around the sides, which LG claims adds some much-needed rigidity that’s lost with the unorthodox screen.

The standby switch – with a fingerprint sensor tucked inside – can still be found on the rear of the handset and the volume rocker is on the side.

However, unlike many phones that use capacitive pads, this switch actually depresses and offers decent feedback. Just below the camera is the perfect place for a fingerprint sensor, simply because it’s where my finger naturally rests when I pick up a phone. A major concern I have with the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the strange placement of the fingerprint scanner, which sits directly next to the camera sensor.

My biggest issue with the fingerprint scanner on the LG G6 is actually its speed and sensitivity. Since it’s basically flush to the rear, accidental touches are an issue. Even when the handset is in my pocket, it seems to randomly think I’m pressing the scanner when it’s brushing against my leg.

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So the LG G6 is an attractive phone, once you get over the wide-aspect screen. But I worry this novelty will wear thin. We’re bound to see a greater number of phones using this aspect screen this year, as the Galaxy S8 proves, and the G6 lacks the wow factor of Samsung’s curved edges.

Moreover, the black, white and silvery-blue colours in which the phone is available lack imagination, and the glass-backed design with metal sides feels a bit “me too” at this stage. You’ll find it on everything from budget Honor and Alcatel handsets to higher-end devices.

Basically, it looks great from the front, but a little dull elsewhere.

It is water-resistant, however, something I’m starting to demand more and more in a top-end phone. The IP68 rating means it will withstand an accidental meeting with the bathtub or toilet – just remember that the rating only applies to “fresh water”, so swimming pools and the sea don’t count.

LG G6 – PERFORMANCE

In what I can only assume was LG’s haste to ship the G6 before Samsung launched the Galaxy S8, the G6 comes with Qualcomm’s older Snapdragon 821 chipset rather than the latest 835. Most flagship phones released in 2017 will be powered by the 835, so it feels like the G6 is being short-changed with the older CPU.

There’s nothing wrong with the 821; in fact, it powers the fastest Android phone – in daily use, that is – in the Google Pixel. And the G6 is a fast phone, in just about every area. Lag is nowhere to be seen and even high-powered games such as Modern Combat and Asphalt play without a hitch or dropped frame.

Yet if LG wants to charge plus-£600/$600 for this phone then it needs to be filling it with the top-end components. The 835 isn’t only faster; it’s a much more efficient CPU with support for future-proofing features such as Gigabit LTE and Quick Charge 4.0. Considering the battery here isn’t anything to shout about, that extra efficiency could have been very important.

Related: What is the Snapdragon 835?

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The G6 scores as you’d expect in the benchmarks. Not quite as much as the 835 and Kirin 960, but more in line with the phones we saw in late 2016 and early 2017. In Geekbench 4, the G6 scores 1764 (single-core) and 4223 (multi-core), which is about the same as the Pixel but below our 835 tests (6547 multi-core) and the Huawei P10 (6237).

The 4GB of RAM is plenty – 6GB remains almost a complete waste – but I’d have liked more than 32GB of internal storage. There’s a microSD card slot, yes, but most other phones are now shipping with a base of 64GB.

And if you live in Europe, then prepare to get annoyed. The European and UK version of the LG G6 is missing some handy features from which other folks will benefit.

There’s no wireless charging – that’s exclusive to the US – and there’s no Quad Hi-Fi DAC for improved sound quality. Sadly, the latter is available only on the Korean model.

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Neither feature is vital, but they’re rare extras that would have been a decent addition. LG couldn’t offer a reason why they’re lacking.

The downward-facing speaker is loud, surprisingly so, and fine for podcasts and audiobooks but nothing more. Call quality is sharp on both 3 and EE, and the mic does a good job at cancelling out noise.

LG G6 – SOFTWARE

LG’s UI design is far from the best. It’s a little like iOS mashed with Huawei’s EMUI, with a dash of TouchWiz thrown in. It does have the Google Assistant, though, which seems to be improving all the time.

But there’s huge improvement in UI over the G5, and a lot of that comes from that switch to a new screen size. LG is playing up that the 18:9 aspect ration enables you to place two square apps on top of each other, and this makes for much-improved multi-tasking.

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LG’s software layer lives atop Android 7 Nougat, and while it’s noticeably different from Google’s iteration, it does have a few extra tricks that are quite nice. I like being able to ditch the apps tray, and a quick swipe down from the homescreen brings a clever iOS-like universal search.

There’s also something called Smart Bulletin, which lives where you’d expect Google Now to be, but it’s just a mixture of fairly useless automation features that – thankfully – can be turned off.

LG G6 – CAMERA

The cameras haven’t seen a huge improvement in the G6 over its predecessor, but there have been a few tweaks to the already impressive setup.

Just like the G5, the G6 has two sensors sitting next to each on the rear of the device. One is your typical camera with 13 megapixels, optical image stabilisation (OIS), f/1.8 aperture; the other has a much wider field of view.

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The latter offers that GoPro-like wide-angle shot that looks great. LG told me that it has found that almost 50% of people tend to use just the wide-angle camera, so it’s bumped that from an 8-megapixel sensor to a 13-megapixel version.

It lacks OIS, though, and has a much narrower f/2.4 aperture, so low-light snaps won’t be quite as good. It doesn’t have auto-focus, either – but since that focal point is so wide, it doesn’t really make a difference.

LG has worked with Qualcomm to pluck some of the dual-camera smarts from the 835 CPU to implement them here in the 821. This results in a much smoother process when switching sensors, giving the feel of a single camera. It works, too, although there remains a noticeable change in colour temperature when you switch.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the LG G6’s cameras, but there are a couple of issues. While picture detail is decent, on occasion colours can look a bit drab and the dynamic range just isn’t on a par with other high-end Android phones. Pictures often lack depth – but then this can be seen with almost all smartphones when you’re coming from the Pixel.

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There’s plenty of detail

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Colours can look a bit drab

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Well-lit shots look great

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The wide-angle sensor is much better than on previous models

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This is a colourful, low-light shot with barely any noise

The Pixel remains ahead of the G6, not only in terms of picture quality, but with regards to ease of use, too. Opening up the camera isn’t as fast as it should be, and there’s noticeable lag between double-tapping the volume to open the camera and it actually accepting the command.

The wide f/1.7 aperture does help significantly in low-light, even though the pixels themselves are no bigger than they were on the G5. Details are still kept in dark conditions, and noise is kept to a minimum. Again, it isn’t on the level of the Pixel, but it can comfortably match the Huawei P10 Plus and iPhone 7 – and that puts it right at the top of its game.

There’s a fairly standard 5-megapixel camera for selfies – and, of course, 4K video recording is supported as well.

LG G6 – BATTERY LIFE

By going with a much sleeker water-resistant design, LG has had to sacrifice the removable battery that many seemed to like on previous iterations. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need to carry around a spare battery, especially when battery packs are much cheaper and easier, but I know others who will bemoan its removal.

The cell is rated at 3300mAh, and it has always managed to get through the day – although not far beyond that. An hour of Spotify streaming consumes between 4-5%, and an hour of Netflix around 11%.

It charges up via USB Type-C and supports Quick Charge 3 for faster charging. You can go from 0-100% in about 1hr 25mins, which is actually a little slower than I’d expect – but you’ll get a 20% boost in as many minutes.

It performs strangely with chargers that aren’t LG-made, however. A number that I tried didn’t do anything at all. You also need to ensure you dry the charging port well if it becomes wet, or else a constant warning message will stop it charging.

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SHOULD I BUY AN LG G6?

Ditching the modular design of last year’s G5 was the correct move by LG – it was handled poorly, mis-communicated and failed miserably. With the G6, LG has a phone that I can see being much more successful.

It features all the parts of the G5 that I liked – basically, that decent camera setup – but now looks attractive, and the near-bezel-free design is eye-catching. Will the 18:9 (2:1) aspect ratio catch on? I don’t see why not, and now that Samsung has followed suit, I’m sure it will become the norm come 2018.

There are still a few niggles that stop me from believing the LG G6 is the “Phone of the Year” quite yet. Couldn’t it have waited for the Snapdragon 835? I know a CPU isn’t everything, but it instantly puts the G6 on the back foot. The same goes for those missing features in the European model – surely it wouldn’t have been so hard to add in wireless charging and the Quad DAC?

I believe this to be LG’s best phone in years, but with the competition improving too, it’s a tough call as to whether or not the G6 will stand up against the upcoming iPhone 8 or Samsung Galaxy S8.

If the price drops, and LG phones often do, then the G6 could become far more appealing.

VERDICT

An impressive, simple Android phone let down by a few odd decisions.

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