LG G6 hands-on: This is the LG _phone_ we wanted to see
- LG G6 release date: March 2017 (Korea) April 2017 (US, UK and Europe)
- LG G6 price: £/$TBA
LG’s flagship phones have, for the last few years, pinned their success on standout features. The LG G3 introduced quad-HD displays, the G4 shipped with quirky leather backs, and last year’s G5 went with a modular design. For the G6, LG is focusing on cramming a large display in a small body.
And from my first impressions, it appears that the LG G6 is likely to be far more successful than those failed modules.
The first thing you’ll notice about the LG G6 is its peculiar display. Like the Xiaomi MiMix – a China-only _phone_ released in late 2016 – the screen here is stretched to nearly every corner of the device.
Rather than the typical 16:9 aspect ratio almost every smartphone since the original iPhone has opted for, LG has switched to an 18:9 ratio display (basically 2:1) that provides more screen in a smaller body.
Related: MWC 2017 live news and highlights
The 5.7-inch display – a sizeable increase from the 5.2-inch panel used for the G5 – sits inside a body that's barely bigger than its predecessor and noticeably smaller than the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
One side effect of cramming a bigger screen into a shell of this size is that the corners of the panel are now rounded, rather than right angles. It’s an odd jolt from normality and I'm not sure I like it. Although it matches the general curviness of the phone, it looks strange and is particularly off-putting on both the silver and white models. Hopefully, it’s something I'll get used to.
To match the stretched display, the resolution here sits at 2,880 x 1,440 – and it’s a lovely panel. Even though it isn't AMOLED, it delivers vivid colours and deep blacks. It’s the first phone with Dolby Vision support and, like the dearly departed Note 7, it’s HDR10-enabled too.
There were a few demo HDR (high dynamic range) videos on my review sample, which looked noticeably brighter and darker scenes were more detailed too. LG says HDR content from Amazon and Netflix will work, but you’ll probably have to wait for an app update.
Remember when Apple switched the iPhone from a 4-inch to a 5-inch screen? Well, that lead to months (and years) of apps not fitting the display properly, requiring thick black bars at the top and bottom to work. Something similar is happening here, but not to quite the same level of annoyance.
For instance, videos from YouTube and Netflix will display natively at 16:9 with bars making up the rest of the space. LG says there will be an option to stretch the content out, but I can’t yet vouch for just how good that looks.
Related: What is HDR?
Regular apps should be fine – thanks to Android’s native rescaling features – but games will either need to be updated or played with black bars sitting on the bottom. It’s annoying, but not too distracting.
All of LG’s own apps have been updated; and since the aspect ratio is 2:1, the design theme for the UI is two squares on top of each other. This helps Android 7’s native split-screen multi-tasking, providing more space for each app.
LG’s UI design is far from the best, though – a little like iOS mashed with Huawei’s EMUI with a dash of TouchWiz thrown in. Some of the icons are weirdly big, some are more rounded than others and, by default, there’s no app drawer. It does have the Google Assistant, though – the first phone to do so aside from the Pixel.
For the first time I can remember, LG has crafted a phone that looks "nice". The lack of a thick bezel instantly draws the eye, but LG has also ditched that horrid metal-sprayed plastic that caused so much controversy on the G5.
There’s a slab of Gorillas Glass 5 on the rear (interestingly, it’s only Gorilla Glass 3 on the front), and a metal rim running around the sides that LG claims needs to be there to add some much-needed rigidity that's lost with the unorthodox screen.
The standby switch, with a very fast fingerprint pad tucked inside, is still on the rear of the handset, but unlike many phones that use capacitive pads, this actually depresses and offers decent feedback. Just below the camera is the perfect place for a fingerprint sensor, simply because it’s where my finger naturally rests when I pick up a phone. A major concern I have with the rumoured Samsung Galaxy S8 is the strange placement of the new home button.
While the LG G6 is a nice phone to look at, once you get over the screen – and once it becomes more common, which I'm sure it will this year – there isn’t much else to help it stand out from the crowd. The black, white and silvery-blue colours lack imagination, and the glass-backed design with metal sides has become almost cliché. You’ll find it on everything from budget Honor and Alcatel phones to higher-end devices.
There also hasn’t been a whole heap of improvements on the inside. As was heavily rumoured, the LG G6 uses last year’s Snapdragon 821 CPU – looks like Samsung did snap up those initial runs of the 835 – with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of basic storage. There is a microSD slot, but I'd have much preferred to see 64GB as the starting point.
The 821 is a great processor, with plenty of oomph and good efficiency, and we don’t really yet know all the benefits of the 835 in day-to-day use, but it’s still a shame not to see the latest silicon here.
Related: What is the Snapdragon 835?
The cameras haven’t seen a huge improvement either, but there have been a few tweaks to the already impressive setup.
Just like the G5, the G6 has two sensors sitting next to each on the back of the device. One is your typical camera; 13 megapixels, OIS, f/1.8 aperture, while the other has a much wider field of view.
It offers that GoPro-like wide-angle shot that looks great. Surprisingly, LG told me it has found that almost 50% of people tend to use just the wide-angle camera, so it’s bumped that from an 8-megapixel sensor to a 13-megapixel version. It lacks OIS, though, and has a much narrower f/2.4 aperture, so low-light snaps won’t be quite as good. It doesn’t have autofocus, either – but since that focal point is so wide, it shouldn’t make a difference.
LG has worked with Qualcomm to pluck some of the dual-camera smarts from the 835 CPU and implemented them in the 821 here. This results in a much smoother process when switching sensors and it’s meant to feel like it’s just one camera. It works, too, but there’s still a noticeable change in colour temperature when you switch.
I didn’t have much time to really test the camera, but LG said it should be much faster than previous versions – and I have to agree. Opening the app was quick, as was the shutter, and thanks to the long display you can have a constant view of your photo library, even when shooting a picture.
There’s a fairly standard 5-megapixel camera for selfies – and, of course, 4K video recording is supported.
Related: What is IP68?
If you live in Europe, then prepare to get annoyed. The European and UK version of the LG G6 is missing some super-nice features that other folks will get.
There's no wireless charging, since that’s exclusive to the US, nor will there be Hi-Fi Quad DAC for improved sound quality. Sadly, the latter is available only on the Korean model.
Neither are vital components, but they’re nice extras that are still quite rare. LG couldn’t offer a reason why they weren’t coming – but, apparently, it doesn’t add any extra weight or thickness to the handset to include either of these features.
Another missing feature that might annoy some is the battery, which isn’t removable any more. Instead, it’s a fixed 3,300mAh cell stuck behind the glass. This is hardly a surprise, especially as having a removable battery was one of the main reasons the G5 struggled to look good. It also lets the G6 finally become water-resistant – a much more useful feature than a swappable battery in my opinion – and it has the same IP68 rating as the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Ditching the modular design was the correct move by LG. It was handled poorly, miscommunicated, and failed miserably. With the G6, LG has a phone that I can see being much more successful.
It has all the parts from the G5 that I liked – basically, that ace camera setup – but finally it now looks good and the near-bezel-free design is quite eye-catching. Will the 18:9 (2:1) aspect ratio catch on? I really don’t see why not, and if Samsung follows suit then I'm sure it will become the norm come 2018.
There are still a few niggles that stop me from believing the LG G6 is the "Phone of the Year" quite yet. Couldn’t it have waited for the Snapdragon 835? I know a CPU isn’t everything, but it instantly puts the G6 on the back foot. The same goes for those missing features in the European model; surely it wouldn’t have been so hard to add in wireless charging and the Quad DAC?
I’m looking forward to using the G6 more over the next few weeks, and I’ll update this review with my thoughts as I go along.