LG G8 ThinQ review: generic flagship, stellar audio

Giimmicks are not a good way to stand out

LG G8 ThinQ review

Bottom Line

A generic but competent Android flagship with stellar audio that’s hampered by unreliable gimmicks and bloatware.

Overall
3.5

Pros

  • Premium materials and build quality
  • Strong performance
  • Beautiful display
  • Feature-packed camera
  • Headphone jack with stellar audio
  • Wireless charging
  • IP rated

Cons

  • Generic design
  • No notification light
  • Middling battery life
  • Unreliable palm recognition and hover gestures
  • Skinned Android
  • All the bloatware

Performance and battery life

The G8 uses Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 855 SoC, which incorporates a speedy octa-core Kryo 485 CPU, Adreno 640 GPU, and X24 Gigabit LTE (CAT 20) modem. It’s paired with 6GB of RAM and features 128GB of storage (expandable via microSD card up to 2TB), WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD, NFC, A-GPS / GLONASS / BeiDou, and the usual bevy of sensors. A 3500mAh battery completes the package.

As you’d expect, the G8 is really fast. It never skips a beat — whether you’re playing the latest games or juggling a bunch of social media apps. Day-to-day, it’s just as snappy as Samsung’s Galaxy S10 or the highly optimized Snapdragon 845-equipped OnePlus 6T. Battery life is decent, typically yielding 4+ hours of screen-on time. While that’s not spectacular, it means most people will only have to charge once a day. And when that time comes, the G8 supports Quick Charge 3.0 and Qi wireless charging.

What’s more interesting is that you can unlock the G8 using three different forms of secure biometric authentication: fingerprint, face, and palm. First, there’s a standard capacitive fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. Second, the Z Camera enables secure face identification, like Apple’s Face ID. Third, the Z camera also enables what LG calls Hand ID, which recognizes the unique pattern of veins in the palm of your hand.

This is possible because the ToF camera is sensitive to infrared light (ie. heat), and the blood in your veins is warmer than the surrounding tissue. In practice, the fingerprint sensor is the quickest and most reliable way to unlock the G8. Face identification is marginally slower and pretty reliable, although it often fails when I wear different glasses than the ones I used during setup. Palm recognition is really slow and super finicky, and while it’s technically more secure, it’s just not ready for prime time.

Gimmicks

LG G8 ThinQ review: generic flagship, stellar audio 15
Air Motion on the LG G8 ThinQ

Picture this: you’re cooking in the kitchen and your hands are messy. Your G8 is on the counter right next to you playing music and you want to turn the volume down. Do you (a) say “Hey Google, turn down the volume” or (b) hover your hand above your phone’s display, hope that Hand ID unlocks it, then make a series of carefully orchestrated gestures and hope the Z camera recognizes them?

Welcome to Air Motion, a bad idea with an even worse implementation. I’m all for alternative input methods, but the tech needs to work. I tried to master Air Motion’s gestures several times and just gave up — it’s just not reliable. On top of that, functionality is limited to launching apps, taking screenshots, plus controlling calls, alarms/timers, and media volume/playback (for YouTube and LG’s music/video players only) — all things you can do with Google Assistant. So why bother?

Software

Ten years into Android, and skins (or interface customizations) are still very much a thing — for better or worse. How you feel is really a matter of personal preference, but I’m more of a stock Android fan, if there’s still such a thing. After all, even Google’s Pixel devices aren’t 100% stock anymore. It’s no surprise then, that the G8 runs LG’s UX 8.0 on top of Android 9 (Pie) — a skin has not changed much since the G6 two years ago.

Samsung’s One UI, while lightweight, polished, and generally a massive improvement over past skins (remember TouchWiz?) is still unmistakably Samsung. LG’s UX 8.0 — much like Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 — is less subtle, more convoluted, and somehow devoid of a clear identity. It still gets in the way, but at least it’s reasonably fast, and its flaws are mostly remedied by installing a decent third party launcher and keyboard.

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So what does LG’s skin bring to the table? It’s a mixed bag. Some features are welcome, like Knock On (double-tap to wake) and the lovely LG Smart font, Others are unnecessary, like AppFlash (an alternative to Google’s Discover page located to the left of the home screen), the default launcher which comes in two flavors (with and without app drawer), and the optional tab view in the settings (who even wants this?)

I’m not gonna bore you by listing the plethora of preinstalled apps Verizon’s version of the G8 comes with. To be honest, I can’t remember them because I uninstalled all this bloatware right after setting up the phone. But trust me — it was a complete mess. I don’t mind LG’s apps, but do we also need Amazon’s apps, Verizon’s apps, and a bunch of games? No. And don’t get me started on Verizon Messages.

Price and competition

Here in the US, the G8 will be available starting April 11 for just $620 from T-Mobile, $700 (unlocked) from Best Buy, $830 from AT&T, and $840 from Verizon and Sprint. This puts the handset squarely in Samsung Galaxy S10e and Apple iPhone XR territory, since both cost $750 and offer similar specs. And then there’s the OnePlus 6T, which costs $550 from T-Mobile and $580 (unlocked) from OnePlus — not to mention the upcoming OnePlus 7, which is still unannounced.

Compared to the G8, the Galaxy S10e comes with a smaller, lower resolution display (5.8-inches, 1080p) and a smaller battery (3100mAh). The iPhone XR comes with less storage (64GB) and a single camera, but no headphone jack. With the OnePlus 6T, you get an older processor (Snapdragon 845), no wide-angle shooter, no headphone jack, no water resistance, but you also get a bigger screen (6.4-inches), larger battery (3700mAh), an in-display fingerprint sensor, and an almost stock version of Android 9.

LG’s own V40 ThinQ still sells for $600 from T-Mobile and $720 from Sprint. It features a smaller battery (3300mAh), less storage (64GB), an older processor (Snapdragon 845), but a larger screen (6.4-inches), similar cameras (plus a third, telephoto shooter), and a headphone jack (with the same 32-bit HiFi Quad DAC). Finally, there’s also Huawei’s P30 which you can import for less than $700 and offers an outstanding triple camera system but a lower resolution display (1080p).

Bottom line

The G8 ThinQ is a beautifully crafted phone with solid specs, great performance, an excellent display, a nice camera (particularly for video creators), and incredible sound quality (especially via the headphone jack). At 6.1-inches, the screen is slightly smaller than many other flagships, making the device easier to hold. Better yet, LG didn’t skimp on features like water resistance and wireless charging.

On the other hand, the G8 looks uninspired (subjective, I know), comes up a little short on battery life, lacks a telephoto shooter (in addition to other two), runs a skinned version of Android 9, and suffers from excessive bloatware. And then there are the gimmicks — Hand ID and Air Motion — which seem like solutions looking for a problem, gratuitous ways of showcasing the otherwise useful Z Camera. I would give the tech a pass if it worked reliably, but it just doesn’t.

In the end, I only see three reasons to buy a G8. You’re an audiophile who seeks the absolute best audio experience on the go. You’re a long-time LG customer who wants a quality mid-size handset with a Snapdragon 855, a 1440p display, a wide-angle camera, and a headphone jack, and you can live with skinned Android. You’re a T-Mobile customer looking for a cheaper alternative to the Galaxy S10e. These are awfully thin slices of the mobile market. Good thing LG sells a lot of TVs, fridges, and washing machines, eh?