It's hard not to feel just a little bad for the LG G6, going up against the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ (Review). There was a brief window of time following the G6's launch announcement at MWC 2017 when it did get a bit of attention, but even then, everyone was more focused on Galaxy S8 leaks and Samsung's decision to launch later with a more powerful processor. LG was able to pull off an early launch because it decided to use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 from last year instead of waiting for the delayed Snapdragon 835 - a very interesting move.
However, it means that LG knows the G6 can't compete toe-to-toe with the flagships releasing over the next few weeks and months. Instead, it has to rely on its visual appeal, cameras, software, durability, and the idea that it can deliver a unique overall experience. Let's see what LG brings to the table, and how the G6 stacks up against its current and near-future competition.
The first thing you'll notice about the LG G6 is that it's quite chunky. It isn't actually all that big compared to current-day phones with 5.5-inch screens, especially the iPhone 7 Plus (Review), but it feels thick and bulky. That might be because of the dated styling, with flat sides and a slightly bulging rear. The front glass doesn't have any hint of a curve, and the shiny bevelled edges of the metal frame look very much like phones from many years ago which were inspired by the iPhone 5.
Comparisons with the new Galaxy S8 siblings are inevitable, but despite the timing of their launches, these phones couldn't be more different. While Samsung has pulled off a futuristic, slick look with shiny glass and organic lines everywhere, LG's offering looks plainer and subdued in comparison. That said, the LG G6 also feels like a workhorse rather than a showpiece, and we were much less worried about it shattering in case of a fall.
Two things come to the G6's rescue, aesthetically at least. One is the Platinum Ice colour of the front and rear panels - this phone is also available in black, but we found our review unit's unique look to be a breath of fresh air while still being neutral enough to work in any situation. The second is the screen itself, which takes up nearly the whole front of the phone.
LG calls this a 'FullVision' display, and it has an aspect ratio of 2:1 (18:9 relative to the usual 16:9). Having a screen that's taller but not wider makes the G6 easier to hold than an ordinary phablet. It also matches the ratio of the proposed Univisium standard, which some filmmakers want to adopt because it bridges the gap between wider cinematic formats and smaller commercial 16:9 screens. Some Netflix and Amazon content is already optimised for 2:1, so we might actually see this catch on as a standard. Moreover, you should be able to run two apps side by side more comfortably.
For some reason, LG insists on putting its phones' power buttons on the back. We've complained about this every generation starting with the G2, but while at least the volume buttons have moved back to one side, the power button is still in the last place anyone would think to look for it. It's integrated into the fingerprint sensor, so you can't even tell that it's a physical button till you try it for yourself. This is one brand differentiator that just needs to die.
You'll find a pair of volume buttons on the left, a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the right, a 3.5mm audio socket on the top, and a Micro-USB port plus a single asymmetrically placed speaker grille on the bottom. There are also thick antenna bands all around, which can be seen from the front.
On the rear, you'll see the twin cameras up top with the dual-LED flash between them and the power button below. The regulatory text printed at the bottom detracts from this phone's looks, but LG might have wanted to make sure we all see the 'Made in India' line.
The LG G6 is rated IP68 for protection against water and dust, and MIL-STD-810G for shock resistance. There's Corning Gorilla Glass 3 in the front and Gorilla Glass 5 at the back, which makes us even more confident about the G6's durability. However, the metal frame will be easy to dent and chip, so you'll still want a case on this phone.
In terms of comfort, the G6 isn't the easiest to hold and use. Grip is good, but you can't easily reach every part of the screen with one thumb. It's particularly difficult to reach the Android navigation buttons which are right on the bottom of the screen.
The big thing that the G6 is missing is modularity - despite LG's previous commitments, the snap-on "friends" that it introduced with the G5 won't work with this phone - or any future model, it would seem. The idea might have had its merits, but clearly, not enough people responded well enough for LG to bother continuing at the cost of design, and battery capacity.
As noted, the LG G6 uses a slightly dated processor, but there's very little it cannot do. The SoC has two of Qualcomm's own Kryo cores running at 2.35GHz and two more running at 1.6GHz, plus integrated Adreno 530 graphics. You get 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which should be enough for most people. You can use a microSD card for more storage, but only at the cost of a second SIM.
The screen's resolution is 1440x2880 pixels, and it supports Dolby Vision HDR which should make videos look great, assuming they're made with HDR in mind. The G6 can take two Nano-SIMs, but the phone has to be restarted each time you swap them. The LG G6 supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, and GPS. The battery capacity is a healthy 3300mAh, and wireless charging is supported.
One interesting detail to note is that while only one variant of the G6 is being sold here, specifications vary depending on country. For example, the G6 sold in India and South Korea has 64GB of storage and a Quad DAC audio processing subsystem which improves the quality of sound output. In some other countries, you get 32GB of storage and the DAC feature is missing, but wireless charging is added.
Android 7.0 is barely recognisable under LG's skin. However, most of the changes are thoughtful, or at least easy to live with. You can dip into the settings and choose to use normal icons rather than the default squared-off ones. There's no app drawer by default, but there is a link in the settings to download a two-layer launcher. This is nice in theory because it avoids bloating the default skin, but there was nothing to download when we tried following the link - maybe it's coming in a future update.
You can change the order in which the on-screen Android navigation buttons are displayed, and also add two more buttons in addition to the default Back, Home, and Overview. Some apps force a Menu button to appear, which pushes the others to one side. That means you have up to six buttons in the bar below, and the ones you want aren't always in the same place.
Swiping down anywhere on a home screen brings up an iOS-style search bar plus commonly used apps, contacts, photos, and websites. Smart Bulletin is a dashboard that lives to the left of your first home screen and can show widgets for the Health app, calendar appointments, Evernote, and music controls, but it's turned off by default and buried deep within the home screen settings menu.
There are loads of customisation options including fonts, themes, animations, shortcuts, and "smart settings", which uses your GPS location to trigger sound profiles, Wi-Fi access points, and Bluetooth accessories.
There are quite a few preloaded apps - you might actually want to have Facebook, Instagram, and Evernote around, but the rest are all from LG itself. You get the usual resource optimiser and file manager, but there's also one called Quick Help, which contains tutorials and FAQs; an SOS app which sends a message to preselected contacts in addition to calling emergency services when you hit the power button thrice; RemoteCall, which lets an LG service representative control your phone directly; and SmartWorld, which is a storefront for games, themes, wallpapers, and fonts.
An LG Friends Manager app appears to indicate that accessories will continue to be called "friends", but will use Bluetooth rather than snapping on to the phone itself. As of now, it just shows ads for LG's air conditioners and home appliances.
Finally, we have the HD Audio Recorder app, which is quite powerful. We saw it on the LG V20 last year, and it has many of the same features including the ability to record over a backing track, save audio as 24bit/192KHz FLAC files, and adjust mic sensitivity controls.
The two cameras on the rear have the same 13-megapixel sensors, but different lenses. There's one standard lens with a 71-degree field of view which can go down to an aperture of f/1.8, and one 125-degree wide-angle lens which can only go down to f/2.4 in low light. You switch between them using a toggle control in the app, and it's pretty seamless. The only problem is remembering that you might need to choose your lens, for example if you try to take a macro shot without realising the wide-angle lens is selected, you'll be frustrated that you can't lock focus. You could end up with an inadvertent fish-eye effect, or miss a spontaneous shot because the less suitable lens was active.
The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and 100-degree lens, but the app lets you crop photos to an 82-degree field of view which gives you roughly the same effect. Video can be recorded at up to 4K, and we didn't encounter any artificial restriction on how long videos can be.
There are a few controls in the app that are difficult to find, and camera modes are organised under two different menus which is a little confusing. LG boasts of its Square Camera mode and there's even a direct shortcut to it on the homescreen. It's easy to think this is a separate app because you can't easily find it within the main one. It basically lets you take square photos so that two can line up next to each other on screen - you can use this to align parts of one shot with another, create a collage, or use one as a reference for capturing another.
Tap to see full sized LG G6 standard and wide-angle camera samples
Square Camera seems like a gimmick, forced in so that LG had some way to show that the extra screen space can be useful. What's worse is that in its default Auto mode, the camera captures 8.7-megapixel 2:1 photos which are severely cropped from the 13-megapixel 4:3 frames that the sensor is actually capable of capturing. Sure, they look good on the phone's screen, but why capture less than you can? That too, with no explanation to users who wouldn't even think to expect something like this.
We were very happy with the photos we were able to take. Of course, it's great fun switching between lenses and trying interesting ways to compose shots. Having this capability really opens up possibilities that you might not be used to after using an ordinary smartphone camera for years. Photos looked sharp and vibrant with only a slight tendency towards being overexposed sometimes. Colours were rich and focus was just right. Textures such as rusted metal and fur looked remarkably crisp. We were able to get excellent depth of field effects in close-ups.
Detail was excellent though there is a noticeable dip in quality in low light, especially when using the wide-angle lens. It's all the more obvious since you can directly compare shots taken with both lenses. Textures become a little muddy, motion causes more severe blurs, and colours tend to be more muted, but noise was usually under control.
The front camera is quite good too, and we were happy with the quality of photos. 4K video look good, and what's really interesting is that you can switch between lenses while recording. Transitions are abrupt but don't cause any lag or loss in quality.
Tap to see full sized LG G6 photo samples
It really doesn't take much time to get used to the larger screen. LG's own UI and apps are optimised to take advantage of it, and while it does feel like there's a little more breathing room, nothing is dramatically different. Like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the G6's screen also has rounded corners, and so third-party apps can be letterboxed with black strips above and below if they want to run in a standard 16:9 rectangle. Interestingly, LG uses the extra space to show the Android navigation buttons even when they aren't strictly needed. In some apps, the letterboxing is off-centre to make room for the buttons, and it can get a bit distracting.
The screen feels like a natural extension of the smaller secondary screen we saw on the LG V20. Whereas that model treated the extra space as a separate area to display notifications, shortcuts and controls for several apps, the G6 doesn't treat its extra space as separate at all. It's simpler, but we would have liked some interesting functionality that could take advantage of it.
Size and shape aside, the display quality is excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed using the G6 to watch movies and play games on. Colours pop nicely and text is super crisp. Sound is also quite impressive. We found that the G6's speaker was quite powerful and loud. The bundled headset has a partially braided cable but wasn't very comfortable, and there's nothing special about its quality.
We recorded a score of 157,265 in AnTuTu which is what we'd expect from a Snapdragon 821 processor. Geekbench gave us 1,771 in its single-core test and 4,268 in its multi-core test. The 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme score was 14,041 points, and the phone managed to push out 45fps in GFXBench's T-rex scene. Asphalt 8 ran without any trouble.
All of this means that the LG G6 has more than enough power for today's apps and games. It also means that the G6 doesn't do anything new, or push any limits. It doesn't have contextual learning tools like its competitors (beyond Google Assistant), and won't be performing any AI tricks.
The battery lasted for 11 hours, 50 minutes in our video loop test, which is pretty good but not spectacular. With regular use including a lot of Wi-Fi and cellular activity and a bit of gaming, we could stretch a charge to almost a day and a half. Quick charging works as expected, as long as you carry LG's oversized bundled charger around with you.
If you're in the mood to spend a ton of money on a flagship smartphone right now, chances are you want it to feel futuristic or at least cutting-edge. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ gave us that excitement, and after spending time with those two devices, the LG G6 doesn't quite feel like it's on the same level.
Thankfully, it doesn't need to be. The G6 is priced and positioned very smartly, one step below Samsung's offerings. It looks nice, feels solid, runs like a dream, and takes excellent photos. It's honestly the next best thing, and could be the better choice for people who are looking for value more than bragging rights. The big screen and dual cameras also give it an edge over similarly positioned options such as the Google Pixel, Sony Xperia XZs, and even the iPhone 7.
We really like what we see with the LG G6. The balance between cost, features, performance and style is absolutely unmatched right now. If you aren't particular about having the absolute latest technology, we think that this phone will prove to be a highly satisfactory choice.