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LG G6 Review: Insanely Great

Greater than the sum of its parts.

Camera

While the G6 follows in the G5’s footsteps by putting two shooters in the back — one regular (70 degrees), one wide-angle (125 degrees) — there are quite a few significant changes between the two handsets, some of which are puzzling. First, LG’s new flagship uses two identical 13-megapixel Sony IMX258 sensors instead of 16MP and 8MP modules like on the G5 and V20. Not only does the main camera have a lower resolution, but it features the same small 1.12-micron pixels as before. This means there’s less room for cropping or zooming but no improvement in low-light performance (at least on paper). Thankfully, last year’s fast f/1.8 lens and 3-axis OIS mechanism remain.

As for the wide-angle shooter, it gains pixels (good) but sticks with a slower f/2.4 lens, and inexplicably loses OIS (bad). The selfie camera also gets a spec drop — from 8-megapixels and f/2.0 on the G5, to 5-megapixels and f/2.2 on the G6. On the plus side, the new front-facing shooter offers a wider, 100-degree field-of-view, along with a narrower mode (done in software). It’s unclear if LG is using a larger sensor and downsampling wider FOV selfies to 5MP or using a 5MP module and upsampling the narrow-angle (cropped) pictures. The phone supports 4k video recording on both rear cameras (plus 1080p in front), and incorporates the V20’s awesome manual controls.

Based on the impressive camera performance of the G5 and V20 (and even the G4 and V10 before them), LG obviously has massive imaging expertise with 1.12-micron sensors. Despite making due with the older IMX258, and switching from laser autofocus to phase detection AF, the G6 delivers. Like its predecessors, this flagship takes amazing shots (especially in manual mode). The resulting photos are highly detailed and beautifully exposed, with pleasant colors regardless of the subject. Low-light pictures are superb, despite those small pixels. In fact, the G6 often beats the Pixel XL in the same conditions — no small feat.

We experienced one glaring issue (pun intended) with our pre-production G6 review unit, which we hope LG addresses on retail devices. Both rear shooters exhibit purple halos around bright objects when shooting in low light. We’re not sure if this a hardware problem or something that can be fixed with an update. If we’re being nitpicky, the G6 also has a tendency to over-sharpen images and to apply more noise reduction than necessary at times.

The G6’s camera app is an evolution of what LG offered with the G5 and V20, but it provides a few significant (and welcome) improvements. You can finally adjust exposure in auto mode thanks to a dedicated slider that pops up when you touch to focus. Manual mode now includes a focus peaking setting that highlights areas in focus. There’s an option that takes advantage of the 18:9 display by showing the last few images taken to the left of the viewfinder. A new square mode splits the 2:1 screen in half, with the viewfinder on the left and one of four different preview windows on the right (Snap, Grid, Match, and Guide) that encourage you to be creative with square photography — fun!

Reception and sound quality

We used the G6 primarily on AT&T’s LTE network in San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX without any signal issues. Calls were loud and clear, and data speeds were as fast as expected. The single mono speaker sounds decent — definitely loud and clear enough for calls and the occasional music or video. In other words, it’s better than average but no match for multi-speaker rock stars like the Mate 9 or HTC 10.

There’s good and bad news on the headphones front. While the G6 smartly features a headphone jack, it lacks ESS’ outstanding HiFi Quad DAC in most markets. If you’re not familiar with this audio chip, go read our V20 review — it’s incredible. Korean models and other select Asian versions are getting the special chip, but not US phones. Nevertheless, the G6’s default DAC (presumably Qualcomm’s audio processor) sounds great, and the built-in headphone amp was able to drive our BeyerDynamic DT990 PRO headphones and Etymotic Research ER.4P in-ear monitors like a champ.

Performance and battery life

LG gave the G6 flagship-worthy specs without relying on bleeding-edge 10nm processors or gobs of expensive, power-hungry RAM. Inside you’ll find Qualcomm’s excellent Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996) with a 2.35GHz/1.6GHz quad-core Kryo CPU and Adreno 530 GPU, along with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of on-board storage (64GB in Korea and other select Asian markets). While we consider 32GB to be the minimum acceptable amount of built-in storage for a modern handset, the G6 also supports microSD cards up to 256GB. As you can imagine, the benchmarks are pretty much on par with other Snapdragon 821-equipped phones running Nougat. The G6 is quick and responsive, making it an absolute pleasure to use.

Other specs include a plethora of LTE bands (CAT12), WiFi a/b/g/n/ac (dual-band), Bluetooth 4.2 LE with aptX, A-GPS/Glonass, NFC, and the usual assortment of sensors (proximity, light, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, fingerprint, and barometer). The G6 also packs a sealed 3300mAh Li-polymer battery and supports Quick Charge 3.0 for fast charging, and Qi / PMA wireless charging (US models only). Battery life is impressive: we spent several days at SXSW and the G6 never ran out of steam despite the intensive workload. In fact, that 3300mAh battery almost lasted two days when we forgot to charge our review unit overnight.

Benchmark Test Score
PC Mark for Android Work 6280
AnTuTu 149085
GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen 2051 frames
3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1 2624
PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life 8h50 (note: close estimate, app crashed)

Software

The G6 runs Android 7.0 with LG’s UX 6.0 skin. It’s also technically the first Android handset other than the Pixel twins to ship with Google Assistant out of the box. LG’s latest interface is lighter and faster than ever, and the default launcher comes in two flavors, with or without an app drawer. Regardless, we generally end up installing the Google Now Launcher and Gboard keyboard on our Android devices for a more Google-like experience. Along the same lines, it’s disappointing that the G6 isn’t launching with Android 7.1. LG tells us it’s coming, so we’ll keep you posted.

But back to that UX 6.0 interface. It’s an evolution of the V20 skin, with some welcome visual tweaks to take advantage of that gorgeous 18:9 display. All the previous goodies are there, including Knock On (double-tap to wake), the lovely LG Smart font, and the optional list view in the settings. Most of LG’s built-in apps (like the camera) are optimized for the 2:1 aspect ratio, other apps can usually be scaled to use the extra screen real estate, and some even do it automatically. Thankfully, our unlocked G6 review unit came with almost no bloatware pre-installed (just LG’s standard app suite and Evernote), but we fully expect carrier-branded phones to be a mess. You’ve been warned.

Competition and price

With prices starting around $650 unsubsidized, the G6 is less expensive than most flagships with larger screens (5.5-inch plus). In the US, this buys you the black or titanium version with 32GB of storage, wireless charging, but no HiFi Quad DAC. It’s launching on April 7 and is available for pre-order now on T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular. And for a limited time, LG is bundling a free Google Home with the G6. Meanwhile, Verizon is even throwing in a free 34-inch TV for customers activating a new line. The handset will also be available unlocked from LG directly, Best Buy, Amazon, and B&H Photo Video at some point in the near future.

There’s an elephant in the room, though. Samsung will be unveiling its latest flagship — the Snapdragon 835-equipped Galaxy S8 — on March 29 in New York City. It’s also expected to ship with a 18:9 screen but without a dual camera system.

Keeping all this in mind, what’s the G6’s competition? Based on display size alone, there’s the Pixel XL, iPhone 7 Plus, and Moto Z. If you’d rather have phone with a smaller footprint, check out the Pixel, iPhone 7, and HTC 10. Finally, if you’re on a budget, look no further than the OnePlus 3T and Axon 7. We’re not including the awesome Huawei Mate 9, the excellent LG V20, or the stylish (but flawed) HTC U Ultra here, because of their sheer size. And if you can wait few more weeks, the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus are also worth considering.

Read on for the verdict…

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