LG G6 Review: The right phone at the wrong time

LG G6 Review: The right phone at the wrong time

If the Galaxy S8 is a Ferrari 812 Superfast, the LG G6 is a BMW M760i. It’s sexy, but not as sexy. It’s fast, but not as fast. It can do a lot, but not as much.

It’s almost a shame that the LG G6 is landing when it is. A year or even a few months ago it would have been an absolute show-stopper, but most people looking for the hottest new phone are likely going to gravitate toward the S8’s intoxicating design. From the processor to the screen and everything in between, the G6 comes in just a little short of Samsung’s all-or-nothing gambit.

But even if it’s a safe, conventional phone, the G6 is still one of the best entries of 2017 and a firm testament that LG is still a contender in the never-ending smartphone race. It might not turn as many heads as the Galaxy S8, you’re still getting a dependable, luxurious phone that feels great when you’re using it.

But let’s face it, everyone wants a Ferrari.

Pure and simple

For a premium phone with all the trimmings, the LG G6 is quite unassuming. Lying on the table with its screen turned off, it could be a Pixel XL or any number of other "black rectangle" handsets. Even on closer inspection, there’s nothing about it that’s particularly unique. It’s a rounded rectangle with beveled edges, no more, no less.

lg g6 black table Michael Simon/IDG

The black G6 could just as easily be a Pixel or an iPhone.

Like the past few LG releases, there’s an LG logo where the home button would go, and there’s no 2.5D glass or curved edges. But even without any design innovations or frills, the G6 definitely has the look of a premium product. It’s simple for sure, but its design manages to feel modern and classic all at once, kind of like a vintage Leica camera with a touch screen.

Then you turn it on. Its 5.7-inch 1440 x 2880 QHD+ display takes up nearly the entire front face (80 percent of it, to be exact), and it makes recent bezel-heavy phones like the HTC U Ultra and the Pixel seem outdated by comparison. It’s not an edge-to-edge screen like the S8—and quite frankly, the side bezels, while thin, could stand to shed a millimeter or two—but LG has packed a ton of screen into a very small space, without resorting to the use of marketing buzzwords or visual flair.

Style and comfort

The G6 might not look like a 5.7-inch phone, but you don’t realize just how compact it really is until you pick it up. It’s not just that you can use it with one hand, typing and swiping really does feel as natural as they do with the smaller-screened Pixel.

lg g6 front2 Christopher Hebert/IDG

When you hold the G6, it’s remarkable that LG has fit such a large screen in such a small frame.

The G6’s back is made of glass, but it’s not as slippery as other phones I’ve used (cough, U Ultra, cough). The dual camera system lies flush against the back, which tapers ever so slightly to nestle in the curve of your palm, something I wish the edges did, especially after getting to hold the Galaxy S8. The case is made of of Gorilla Glass 5, but the camera is covered in Gorilla Glass 3, and it picked up its share of scratches after just a week of use. I actually picked up quite a few dings on my G6, so you might want to invest in a case.

lg g6 camera scratches Doug Duvall/IDG

The G6's camera covering picked up far more scratches than the rest of the case did.

But while LG has kicked the G5's gimmicky mods to the curb, some other quirks are still on display. The power button is baked into the fingerprint sensor on the back, which is just a terrible place for it. LG newbies are going to have to fumble a bit to turn it on, and when you have to take a screen shot, you’ll need to do some serious finger-contorting.

lg g6 black usb c Doug Duvall/IDG

That space to the left of the USB-C port would be a perfect place for the headphone jack, but LG decided to put it at the top.

While I appreciate the decision to keep the headphone jack, LG has stubbornly kept it at the top of the device. It might have made sense last year due to the G5’s removable chin, but there’s no reason why is needs to be up there all by its lonesome on the G6. LG could have brought it to the bottom across from the the speaker where there’s a perfect bit of empty space. Plus, the jack just makes more sense on the bottom.

Perfectly imperfect

There’s no denying the G6’s industrial beauty. From the metal frame to its buttons and even the antenna lines, LG has gone to considerable lengths to make the G6 as pleasing to look at as it is to hold.

lg g6 edge2 Christopher Hebert/IDG

It’s a small issue, but something about the G6’s rounded screen corners bothers me.

So, I may be picking nits here, but the G6’s rounded screen corners don’t really do it for me. I know they’re supposed to hold up better when the phone drops on pavement, but if there was a right-angle option, I’d prefer it. For one, they don’t quite mimic the corners of the frame, so it creates an asymmetrical feel. For another, they’re not fully smooth. You can look at the picture above to see what I’m talking about, but the flat edges don’t seamlessly blend into the curves, a flaw that’s not as noticeable on the S8 (which also has rounded corners) due to its curved display.

And one more quibble on the design: The areas above and below the display aren’t equal. I thought it was an optical illusion at first, but I measured and the bottom is 2 millimeters longer than the top (9mm vs 7mm). Once you see it, you can’t unsee it (or at least I couldn’t). I can’t think of a technical reason why LG couldn’t nudge the display down a millimeter to make the top and bottom equal, but they didn’t, and it detracts from an otherwise perfectly symmetrical design.

Buzz worthy

Even with a slightly off-center design, the G6’s display is a winner. Crisp, bold displays are de riguer for a smartphone in this range, but the Full Vision screen is a cut above other LCDs, with crisp, bold colors and rich blacks. As you might have heard, the 18:9 aspect ratio means the screen can be divided into two equal squares, which helps set the experience apart from other 5.7-inchers. Plus it supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, so when Netflix and Amazon start ramping up mobile HDR content, it’ll be one of the few phones that can take advantage of it.

lg g6 screen Christopher Hebert/IDG

The screen on the G6 is nothing short of fantastic.

The lack of a power button on the side will take some getting used to if you haven’t used an LG phone before, so the double-tap to wake and sleep will be your best friend. However, when I did reach for the fingerprint sensor, it was extremely fast and accurate, and the speedy animations actually made it seem a touch quicker than on Google’s phones, registering on the screen as soon as I felt the confirmation vibration.

I only know that because LG’s haptic system made me very aware of it. Vibrations aren’t something I generally pay much attention to (even though I keep all of my phones on silent), but on the G6, my fingers never quite got used to them. On most Android phones I’ve used, the feedback is generally sharp and pinpointed, but on the G6, it’s more of a dull rumble, even with the intensity turned all the way up. 

I had the opposite problem with alerts. There five options for buzzes, but they all are fairly intense, to the point where normal notifications startled me. Mind you, I’m not an LG aficionado, so this could be a usual behavior for its phones, but I wouldn’t mind a way to tone it down in a future update. That being said, I never missed a text.

On-par performance

Like every premium phone released before the Galaxy S8, the G6 is powered by the Snapdragon 821, a very capable chip that’s just a little boring as this point. And since the G6 is in direct competition with the Galaxy S8, I can’t help but wish LG would have waited a month or two for the 835.

There’s no shortage of phones running the 821—the Pixels, OnePlus 3T, HTC U Ultra, Xiaomi Mi Note 2, to name a few—and anyone who owns one of them will no doubt sing its praises. Looking at the benchmarks, the G6 stacks up with the best of the best, and real-world experience holds up. It’s as good as any of the other 821 phones, and it’s hard to criticize its performance. But it’s also not exciting. The 821 is what top-tier phones have been using for some time, and it’s hard to get jazzed about a processor we’ve seen so many times before.

lg g6 benchmarks pcmark Greenbot

The G6 performs quite well, but so do other Snapdragon 821 based phones.

The same is true with the battery. LG has spent the better part of the last two months assuring us that the battery in the G6 won’t explode like Samsung’s Note7 did, but most people will be more interested in size than safety (especially since Samsung has been telling us the same thing). LG has put a 3,300 mAh battery into the G6, and while it’s bigger than some phones of this size, there are no real breakthroughs here. My real-world experience was mostly in line than the benchmarks, and I rarely had to scramble to charge the G6. And even when I did, a few minutes of charging was all I needed to get through the rest of my day.

lg g6 benchmarks battery Greenbot

Battery life is good, but not exceptional. You'll get through a day with ease, but not two.

LG stalwarts will gripe that the battery is no longer removable, but most users won’t care. And the addition of IP68 water resistance is good tradeoff, as is support for Qi and PMA wireless charging. (As long as you buy a U.S. model, anyway. Wireless charging is limited to models sold in the States, while quad-DAC is only on the Korea model, and the 64GB variant is exclusive to a handful of Asian countries.)

Picture frame

LG has always packed its phones with serious camera capabilities, but unlike the G5, which brought dual cameras to an LG phone for the first time, the G6 doesn’t offer any must-try features. Rather, it refines an already great system and offers some neat improvements in the app to take advantage of the screen’s unique proportions.

lg g6 camera app2 Christopher Hebert/IDG

The G6's camera app has some neat modes to take advantage of the display's unique proportions.

On the back you’ll find the same dual camera setup, but the wide-angle lens no longer gets short shrift. Both rear cameras are now 13MP and use the same sensor, so you no longer have to sacrifice image quality to get a wide-angle shot. Like the G5, switching between the two cameras is as simple as tapping one of the icons on the screen, but LG has packed a bunch of bunch of new settings into the app to take advantage of the new 18:9 screen dimensions.

To be honest, I’ve never enjoyed using a camera app more. The unique proportions of the screen have allowed LG to explore fun new ways to enhance the shooting experience, and it’s refreshing to see some effort put into creating a new and improved camera app interface. Flip the camera to square and you’ll get a whole new set of modes. There’s Snap Shot that show you the last picture you’ve taken, Guide Shot, that lets you superimpose an image onto your viewfinder for creative compositions, and my personal favorite, Match Shot, which takes a simultaneous picture with the front and rear camera just like Frontback.

lg g6 wide angle Greenbot

Even on gloomy days, the LG captures detail well when using the regular camera (left), and can also photograph a wide-angle scene with little distortion at the edges (right).

And no matter the mode you chose, the photos you take are equally impressive. Whether shooting with the wide angle lens or the regular one, pics were extremely true-to-life, with crisp details and excellent color reproduction. Wide-angle shots had very little barrel distortion at the edges, much less than the V20. Even in low-light conditions, the camera performed admirably, though I did miss having a wide-aperture portrait mode.

lg g6 lighting photos Greenbot

Whether you're dealing with low light or strange light, the G6 handles it with ease.

Around the front, LG has actually decreased the pixels from 8MP to 5MP but it made up for it by adding a 100-degree wide-angle lens for more inclusive selfies. It’s a curious decision when most of its competitors are upping the specs on the front camera, but the G6 still takes decent selfies. As expected, low-light conditions can cause issues, but nothing like I haven’t seen on other phones. And the front screen “flash” (which adds a bright white border to your viewing window) definitely helps.

Square deal

The screen is by and large the G6’s best quality, but it’s not just because of its size. As you can see in the camera app, the proportions make it a bit taller than other 5.7-inch phones, and the ability to divide it into two perfect squares makes for some interesting interface possibilities. And LG took full advantage of it.

lg g6 multi window Christopher Hebert/IDG

I flat out loved multi-window on the G6.

In addition to the camera app upgrades, the G6 utilizes its unique screen in all sorts of fun ways in LG’s UX 6.0. For one, multi-window is just better. I didn’t expect a few millimeters to make that much of a difference, but they really do. The even proportions give both apps the room they need to breathe, and jumping between them is somehow more intuitive than it is on other phones. It’s hard to adequately describe, but I truly enjoyed using multi-window apps on the G6.

Elsewhere, LG has done a fine job with its Nougat tweaks. The usual LG customizations are here, including lock-screen app icons, extra navigation buttons, and shortcut keys, but surprisingly the best part of LG’s UX skin is its own apps. Like you, I generally ditch the manufacturer’s bundled apps in favor of the ones from Google, but LG makes a compelling case to at least try out the ones it has made.

lg g6 calendar app Greenbot

LG uses the 2:1 proportions of the G6 well inside its own apps.

Take the calendar. Looking at it in portrait mode you’ll see a bit more of your appointments, but in landscape you can see a full calendar on one side and a list of you upcoming appointments on the other. Or in the music app, artwork will be displayed on one side and tracks on the other. There's nothing groundbreaking, but all in all it’s a fantastic use of space that I’d love to see Google adopt for its own apps as 18:9 screens become more popular.

Should you buy it?

LG has built a fantastic phone with the G6. It might not have the sex appeal of the Galaxy S8 or the novelty of the G5, but it’s one of the best phones I’ve ever used, even if it isn’t all that exciting.

If there’s a criticism of the G6, it’s that it’s too safe. I started this review by comparing it to a high-end BMW, and that’s precisely what you get with a Beemer: a solid, dependable ride with conservative good looks. It might look bland next to a the newest Ferrari, but it can still hold its own in a street race.

LG made a conscious decision with the G6 to build a phone that doesn’t compromise for the sake of gimmicks. It’s probably the best phone LG has ever made, but it’s inevitably going to lose sales to the Galaxy S8. At $650 (give or take carrier padding), it’s cheaper than the S8, but not enormously so, and it’s hard to see the S8’s design and expanded feature set not winning over most high-end phone buyers.

But if the Galaxy S8 is just a little too flashy for you, or you just can't stand Samsung, the G6 will be a perfect fit.

IDG Insider

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