LG G7 ThinQ Review: A Good Phone With Some Machine Learning to Do
There’s an unspoken rule for high-end phones in 2018: you need a notch and a lot of glass. At least, that’s what every major smartphone maker seems to believe. Apple didn’t invent the idea of an all-screen smartphone with a notch, but competitors are taking heed of the trend anyway, and if you know anything about LG, you’ll know it rarely says no to a hot new trend or gimmick.
The LG G7, like many of the Gs before it, is a perfect amalgamation of the latest smartphone fashion. It has a back panel covered in Gorilla Glass that curves on the edges. The frame is all rounded metal with an extra voice assistant button on the side. The main speaker is on the bottom. The fingerprint sensor is on the back, right below the dual rear cameras. And the 6.1-inch LCD screen is packed with 3,120 x 1,440 pixels, likely stretching over more of the phone’s face than your current phone—from the bottom (almost) right to the very tip top, with a small notch cut out for the selfie camera, proximity sensor, and earpiece.
On the inside, it has everything you’d expect, too. It’s powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB RAM, and 64GB of built-in storage (expandable via a MicroSD slot). The rear cameras both boast 16-megapixels while the front is 8-megapixel. The operating system is Google’s latest Android 8.0 Oreo, with some LG apps and features plastered on top. The 3,000mAh battery also lasts nearly two days and it has IP68 waterproofing.
Like the LG V30 and LG G6, this is a competitive, nothing-to-be-ashamed-of, everything-you-desire Android phone. Overall, it’s fantastic, and you’ll be happy with it. But like many devices this year, it also suffers from a lack of inspiration and humanity.
Life’s Good…I Guess?
Maybe LG is tired. I wouldn’t blame it. It’s been on the losing end of a long, exhausting battle with Korean rival Samsung for years, and though it’s come up with a flurry of innovative ideas in the last half decade, most of them have gone ignored by the phone-buying public.
The LG of old made bold moves when it put the power button on the back of its G2 and gained accolades for the laser auto-focus camera, redesigned software, and overall sleekness of the G3. The G4 followed it by experimenting with new materials, like leather, and improved camera tech, but had trouble retaining the momentum of the G3. Soon after, the V10 came out rocking a klutz-proof design and a small second screen up top for notifications and extras.
Hoping a big move might change its fate, in 2016 LG released an innovative, if desperate, modular phone with the G5. It was a great idea that wasn’t executed well, and so LG retreated to safer, blander designs.
Perhaps fearing it might take on more water, LG hasn’t rocked the boat with its smartphones lately. The 2017 G6 was a great, but very ordinary high-end phone, and the G7 feels like it comes from a company that just needs a nap.
LG Thinks My Plant is a Flip Flop
The only major innovation in LG’s G7 ThinQ is in its name, which you’d imagine is supposed to evoke the word “Think” and maybe “IQ,” yet is oddly pronounced “Thin Queue.” The name feels like a marketing gimmick to try and harness the power of “AI” as a buzzword. Granted, the G7 ThinQ can talk to LG appliances and does have a Google Assistant button, but those are hardly crazy new ideas. Its one standout “AI” feature is called “AI Cam,” which supposedly uses machine learning to craft better-looking photos.
In reality, the AI Cam seems to either do nothing or actively make my photos look worse, but it makes sure I know it’s working by comically spewing out random words on screen, because … it’s thinQing? Just a moment ago, I aimed the AI Cam at an aloe plant in my living room (the only houseplant that survives my constant neglect). Here are just a few of the words that popped up at blistering speed across the screen when the AI Cam looks at an Aloe plant: Close-Up, One Person, Ham, Beach, Flip Flops, Swimwear, Musical Instrument, Text Messaging, Home Interior, and Infinity Pool. Needless to say, every single guess was completely inaccurate. Did I mention that it thinks my wall clock is beer and cauliflower?
Most AI Cam pics seem to come out the same as an ordinary camera, though outdoor shots looked oddly cold or overly blue.
I don’t understand the AI Cam, and I don’t think you will either—you’re better off ignoring it. The standard camera mode, sans machine learning works well enough, though a tad slow for such a high-end phone, and you’ll lose a small amount of detail if you engage the wide-angle mode that uses the second camera. But, you can take some decent low light shots thanks to a new Super Bright Camera mode, possibly the only smart thing about this intelligent camera.
There is some 7 in the G7
If you wade through LG’s questionable marketing choices and half-baked AI, the G7 does have some standout features. Audio is certainly one of them. LG has included a High-Fi Quad DAC (Digital Audio Converter) for wired headsets and DTS:X 3D, which really improves the sound in many Bluetooth headphones. You can tinker with EQ settings, and it even has a headphone jack! If you’re an audiophile and an Android aficionado, give the G7 a close look.
LG also amped up the speakers on the G7 a bit as well by hollowing out part of the rear of the phone, which acts as a resonance chamber. Sound is still quite distorted at high volumes, but the G7 can get louder than most modern Android phones, if you’re into that.
You can also use Google Assistant hands-free from across the room and there’s a setting that lets you pump the brightness up enough to give you a headache, though it will drain your otherwise respectable battery.
Speaking of that extra large screen, it’s more palatable than some implementations I’ve seen because LG does a decent job hiding it. The normal black tray up top is completely black, covering it up much of the time while showing the time and everything you’d want to see on either side of the notch, which is noticeably more petite than Apple’s version.
Don’t Over-ThinQ It
If you ignore the silly “ThinQ” branding and half-baked features, the LG G7 is still a competitive high-end phone. It probably won’t earn a lot of accolades or attention because it doesn’t stand out when placed next to a gaggle of Android options on the shelf at your local Verizon or AT&T store. But, at around $650, at least it’s cheaper than Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and every bit as good in the ways that count. The LG G7 ThinQ will hit U.S. retailers June 1 and should go up for pre-order May 25. We’ll update this review with a link to buy the unlocked version as soon as we’re able.
Just be sure to buy a case (my suggestion). Like almost every phone this year, if the G7’s rear glass cracks, your wallet is in for a world of hurt.