Back in 2017 I wrote “LG has a problem.” I was reviewing the company’s G6 flagship — a great phone overshadowed by the marketing might of the Samsungs, Huaweis, and Apples of the world. Fast forward two years, and things haven’t really changed. LG’s mobile division is losing mind share and hemorrhaging money, following a series of poorly marketed good-but-not-great devices.
Today I’m reviewing the LG G8 ThinQ, the company’s answer to Samsung’s mighty Galaxy S10. Usually, LG launches its high-end G-series handset in the spring, and its V-series multimedia powerhouse in the fall. But at MWC 2019 recently, it announced the G8 and V50 ThinQ at the same time, billing them as 4G and 5G flagships, respectively, This positions the G8 as LG’s top mainstream phone for the next year — an odd strategy.
Other than an in-display speaker and time-of-flight (ToF) camera, the G8’s specs and design don’t particularly stand out against the competition. As a result, LG is pushing a series of features — including Air Motion hover gestures, and Hand ID palm recognition — that seem more like gimmicks than meaningful innovation. So, are these actually useful? Does the G8 nail the basics? Is it worth buying? Let’s find out in this review.
Hardware and design
“Forgettable” is how I’d describe the G8’s design — especially in the subdued Aurora (blueish) Black hue my review unit came in. LG calls it “minimalism”, and while accurate, I think that’s a cop-out. The G8 almost blends into its own negative space, almost apologizes for existing. The Morocco Blue and Carmine Red models are less boring, but have nothing on Huawei’s spectacular P30-series colors.
This isn’t to say the G8 is poorly made or low quality. LG shows great attention to detail here, with Gorilla Glass 6 front and back (curved on all four edges), a polished aluminum frame, flush-mounted under-glass cameras, and no earpiece (more on that later). It’s also water and dust resistant (IP68 and MIL-STD-810G rated). In all, this is a sleek and premium handset, but so is every other flagship these days.
While the G8 doesn’t look very memorable, it feels really good in hand. It’s a smaller phone (151.9 x 71.8 x 8.4mm, 167g), thanks to a 6.1-inch screen with minimal bezels and a notch. The display is also a speaker, which is why there’s no earpiece. Instead, the notch is home to a next-gen ToF camera alongside the 8MP f/1.7 front shooter, which enables secure face identification, palm recognition, hover gestures, and better portrait selfies. That notch lacks a notification LED, though.
In back, the glass is interrupted only by the fingerprint sensor and flash, since both rear cameras — 12MP f/1.5 main and 16MP f/1.9 wide-angle — are installed right under the surface, eliminating any kind of bump. The power/lock key and nano-SIM/microSD tray are located on the right side, and the volume rocker and Google Assistant button are mounted on the left, along with a small mystery hole. There’s a secondary mic on top, and a primary mic, speaker, USB Type-C port, and headphone jack (yes!) on the bottom edge.
LG usually does a pretty good job with its displays, and the G8 is no exception. It features a 6.1-inch FullVision (edge-to-edge) Quad HD+ OLED screen (3120 x 1440 pixels, 564ppi) with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, HDR10 support, and a notch. This is a beautiful panel, with vibrant but accurate colors, super dark blacks, and impeccable viewing angles. Unlike some other OLED screens, It exhibits very little off-axis discoloration and is bright enough to remain usable in direct sunlight.
But one of the G8’s party tricks is the in-display speaker. LG calls this Crystal Sound, and it basically uses the OLED panel as a diaphragm by placing an exciter behind the top quarter of the screen. Not only does this completely replace the earpiece, but unlike Huawei’s implementation on the P30 Pro, it’s loud enough to complement the main speaker. It also sounds surprisingly good (more on this later).
Imaging is what makes or breaks a phone these days, and LG’s always been pretty competitive on that front. After all, it was first to include a dedicated wide-angle camera on its devices, something that’s become quite popular with other manufacturers lately. I honestly find it more useful than a telephoto (zoom) shooter, given the choice. To this end, most recent flagships have three rear cameras for maximum flexibility.
And that’s where the G8 falls short. While it inherits the V40 ThinQ’s 12MP 78-degree main and 16MP 107-degree wide-angle shooters, it lacks the V40’s 12MP telephoto camera — except the South Korean variant, strangely. So here in the US, we’re only getting two shooters in the back, regular and wide. On the plus side, though, the G8’s camera system is a solid performer, thanks to a fast f/1.5 main lens with OIS, and a main sensor with large 1.4-micron pixels — not to mention the class-leading f/1.9 aperture on the wide-angle shooter.
The resulting photos are generally pleasant. Color and exposure are particularly good, and the main camera shines in low light. There’s a Night View mode, but it doesn’t perform as well as Google’s Night Sight or Huawei’s Night mode. Other capture modes include portrait, AI, manual, cinemagraph, panorama (up to 360-degree), food, and AR stickers, to name the most relevant. I only have one minor niggle, and that’s the lack of autofocus on the wide-angle lens, which would allow macro shots like with Huawei’s Mate 20- and P30-series.
When it comes to video, the G8 records at 4k / 60fps stabilized with the main shooter, and 1080p / 30fps stabilized with the selfie camera. It also supports HDR10, and features LG’s excellent manual video mode, plus slow-motion, time lapse, and Video Depth Control — basically portrait mode for video. It works reasonably well, and provides yet another creative outlet beyond the already long list of modes. Combine this with the headphone jack which handles external mics without an adapter, and we have a winner.
Selfies are handled by an 8MP 80-degree f/1.7 shooter with 1.22-micron pixels plus a ToF camera. The Z Camera, as LG calls it, measures depth to millimeter accuracy, allowing 256 levels of background blur for a more natural bokeh effect when taking selfie portraits. And with the new Spotlight mode, you can shine a virtual light on a subject’s face to eliminate shadow areas — very cool. Oddly, there’s no portrait mode for selfie videos.
Reception and sound quality
I used the G8 in San Francisco and Portland on Verizon’s LTE network (my review unit is the Verizon model) and didn’t notice any problems with voice quality or data speeds. WiFi reception is a little weaker in fringe signal areas than other phones I recently tested, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Both the Crystal Sound OLED in-display speaker and the main speaker sound fine during calls.
Audio has long been LG’s big differentiator, and once again, the G8 delivers. First, the headphone jack is mated to ESS’ phenomenal 32-bit HiFi Quad DAC. It’s like having a $1,000 standalone DAC and headphone amp built right into the handset. Second, the Crystal Sound OLED and main Boombox stereo speakers have been tuned by audio manufacturer Meridian and sound great. Third, DTS:X 3D is available through both the headphone jack and speakers to add more dimension to any content. Excellent stuff.