LG continues to overburden its phones with gimmicks and with an expectation of slow updates to boot, the G8 ThinQ is not the best experience money can buy
The LG G8 ThinQ is Spring’s fresh reminder that the smartphone industry still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, despite initial impressions based on outward appearance. While it looks like last year’s G7 ThinQ in many ways, the G8 ThinQ packs in tons of new technology, not just the requisite spec boost, including a larger battery, Crystal OLED with sound-on-display technology, and a brand new TOF camera up front.
It’s one of LG’s most interesting flagships in a while, and it seems to take the good ideas of previous generations and change out ones that didn’t work so well.
Disclaimer: At Android Headlines, we now review all phones from the “good” and the “bad” perspectives. Our reviews are designed to give a deeper perspective on the positive and negatives of each new device and should help readers who are specifically looking for why a phone is really good, or why its negative aspects might make it worth avoiding. This “bad” review focuses on the negative for the LG G8 ThinQ. For an idea of everything LG did right with this phone, visit our “good” review.
Thicker, smaller and heavier might not be the first ideas that come to mind when thinking of a new smartphone, but that’s just what LG did with the G8 ThinQ. It’s half a millimeter thicker than the G7 and about 5 grams heavier, owing much to the new increased battery size inside the phone. While the increase in thickness and weight are fairly marginal, the increase in battery life was sorely needed.
Battery life isn’t the best you’ll find among 2019 flagships, and much of this can be attributed to LG not going far enough to increase the size. At 3,500mAh it’s a 500mAh improvement over last year, but the battery will likely still not be quite enough for power users to get through a full day without a top-up.
What’s frustrating is that the advanced screen time statistics in Android 9 Pie, known as Digital Wellbeing, are completely missing from LG’s version of Android. Adaptive battery and other Pie battery tech are here, but what could arguably be called the best digital health improvement in Android’s history is completely missing.
On the hardware front, LG hasn’t made many changes to the notch design they began with the G7 ThinQ last year. The design features a reduced chin, which is what accounts for the slightly shorter design, but no real reduction in the size of the notch in the top of the display. Users who hate notches will certainly find no respite here.
A hand not recognized
Biometrically unlocking with a face is ideal, but unlocking with a hand is far from it in practice. Unlike the face unlock, which is straightforward and needs no tweaking out of the box, unlocking with your hand takes quite a bit of getting used to. First off you’ll need to hold your hand 4 inches from the screen and then wait for it to recognize.
This precise requirement for recognition is frustrating, and the slow time it takes to actually unlock the device is longer than we’re used to as consumers. As a result, it’s likely most people won’t even bother using this method of unlocking, as the setting is not only a bit hidden and not well advertised on the phone itself (it’s not even included in the initial setup), and the difficulties in using it are beyond what most people will learn to deal with.
Similarly, LG includes a new set of hands-free control gestures called “Air Motion.” These are designed to give users a way to interact with specific elements of the phone without needing to touch them. This is mainly advertised as something to use when hands are dirty or the phone is sitting on a table or counter, such as when cooking.
I was never able to figure out how to use the feature on my own, even after playing around with it for several hours. LG released a set of how-to videos for these features, and since then I’ve had little problem with using them when I want to, but the fact that it took me this much effort to learn how to use it means it’s simply too finicky for most people.
A steep learning curve is not something people want when it comes to technology, especially when that tech is originally designed to make things easier.
Not quite crystal clear audio
LG is utilizing a new technology it calls the Crystal Sound OLED speaker. The is, effectively, a speaker that resonates through the OLED display and straight out of the front of the phone. This, in conjunction with the Boombox speaker on the back and the bottom-firing single speaker, should produce an unparalleled sound experience.
This is true when compared to previous generation LG devices, which all featured lackluster speakers on-device. When compared to other similarly priced flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S10, the quality difference is a lot more vast, and it’s not in LG’s favor.
Bass is better than other smartphone speakers, but the mids and highs are a bit flat, and even with DTS:X virtual surround sound enabled, the sound from the Galaxy S10 is just so much richer than what comes from the LG G8 ThinQ.
That DTS:X functionality is a bit annoying as well, as it constantly has to be toggled to get the best sound from the device. When enabled it enhanced the speakers on the phone itself, but it also ruins the sound quality that comes from that high-quality Quad-DAC inside the 3.5mm port. If LG offered a way for DTS:X to only be enabled for certain audio outputs, such as the phone speakers only, this negative would completely disappear.
The speakers also tend to rattle when certain frequencies are played back, particularly when the volume is above 75%. This is distracting when it happens and sounds terrible.
It’s not just the speakers that sound less impressive than competitors, the OLED display itself could be brighter. It’s not overly difficult to see outside, but there are a number of other OLED panels that are far easier to see outside.
Lacking a traditional earpiece means that sound has to come from somewhere else; a configuration that might be a bit confusing when making the first few phone calls. Sound comes from closer to the middle of the display, which means it takes a while to figure out where the sweet spot to put your ear is located. This is more of a learning curve than anything but is something that initially feels like a negative point.
Updates aren’t central
LG launched the V40 ThinQ after Android 9 Pie was released, but that phone still has yet to receive an Android 9 Pie update to this day. While the LG G8 ThinQ does launch with Android 9 Pie, LG’s history of updates has been extremely slow by any measure. Seeing LG finally get the Pie built of their UX in order is a great step in the right direction, but they remain among the slowest of any manufacturer to put out regular updates for their phones.
LG has made quite a few changes to stock Android 9 Pie, mostly for the better, but the old style of controlling volume is still present and very much unwelcome. Pie’s volume control sliders were moved to the location of the volume rocker and swapped to a vertically-scrolling set of bars, all of which were easier to use and looked visually pleasant.
The volume sliders still sit at the very top of the screen, something that’s become a design faux pas, and still requires expansion of the panel in order to adjust all volume sliders.
A few other antiquated feeling bits are hanging around too, like the ancient-feeling home screen and app drawer designs. Just like Samsung’s home launcher, LG’s features a horizontally scrolling set of pages which aren’t inherently bad but feel a bit dated when compared to the quick vertically scrolling drawers on other phones and launchers.
You’ll also find that there’s no automatic sorting of the app drawer, rather, you’ll need to sort it from time to time if there’s any hope of finding anything. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the launcher wasn’t so ingrained on a system level, and folks that use the Pie-style navigation will regularly need to deal with this issue on the Overview screen.
Pie-style navigation in and of itself isn’t the greatest navigation style in the world, and while this isn’t the right place to critique its questionable design, there is a problem with both this navigation style and the stock three-button design: screen space is taken up by a dedicated navigation bar at the bottom.
Not having full-screen gestures puts the G8 ThinQ behind many other phones, which often give users the entire screen to use for content. Some 3rd party apps can hide this nav bar in favor of custom gestures, but these all require hooking the phone up to a computer and running an ADB command.
Most users simply won’t feel comfortable with having to modify things in this manner. LG could always add new things in the future, but for now the G8 remains behind in this area.
LG’s UX has often been quick and snappy, but an odd lag seems to have developed in some areas of the interface. Some of this is attributed directly to Android 9 Pie’s slow multitasking behavior, but other areas like scrolling lists that stutter and pause from time to time don’t have such an excuse.
Moving the settings toggle back on the top of the notification shade means a quicker way to get into settings when compared to stock Android 9 Pie, but the half-baked quick toggle buttons from Pie haven’t been modified at all. This means that clicking the WiFi icon, for instance, will only turn WiFi on or off.
Other manufacturers give users the ability to quickly swap WiFi hotspots right from the notification shade without having to navigate away from the app currently being used, but this design forces users to leave their current app just to change a simple setting.
Similarly, the stock notch handling behavior in Android 9 Pie has also not been modified. This is something most manufacturers haven’t bothered changing, so it’s not exclusive to LG, but it’s still irritating.
This behavior means that if a video is running full screen, the notch will block part of the content. This is distracting and simply should not be allowed at an app or operating system level, as it defeats the point of these devices constantly being tuned for better multimedia experiences when part of the content is just going to be covered up.
One Camera Too Few
While the number of cameras on smartphones became a bit of a joke last year, many quickly learned that this is actually an important step for smartphone photography as it essentially helps these devices overcome the obstacles put in place by simple physics. LG has been a pioneer of multi-camera systems for several generations now, but the G8 ThinQ is missing the telephoto camera in many key markets and the results speak for themselves in this regard.
Attempting to see things closer by pinching-to-zoom in the viewfinder will end up delivering a significantly less detailed image than other smartphones. The most perplexing part of this decision lies in the fact that some regions get G8 models with a telephoto camera, leaving many users out of the best version of the phone simply because they don’t live in a certain territory.
LG’s new camera modes are mostly a miss, which is unfortunate given how good these features could have been. Night mode, in particular, is a big disappointment, as it does little to enhance most scenes it’s used in. In fact, half the time we used Night View mode (as it’s called) there was zero visual difference between it and the same shot taken in auto mode.
The new Bokeh Video mode is also disappointingly bad, as it does an extremely poor job of isolating any subject in the video and blurring the background. Any kind of motion seems to throw off the edge detection calculation, blurring seemingly random parts of the video and making it look just plain bad.
View the whole camera review gallery on Flickr.com.
It’s just not for everyone
Price has always been a huge determining factor when it comes to deciding which smartphone is the right choice, and LG’s positioning of the G8 somewhere in between the Galaxy S10e and Galaxy S10 puts it in a somewhat tough position. There’s no denying this flagship has plenty of innovation and offers features and options that other flagship phones don’t, but LG doesn’t have the same clout with consumers that they used to, and much of this is their own doing.
Pricing this at or below the Galaxy S10e would have made it an obvious choice for several reasons, but the extra $100 makes it a much tougher decision, especially when phones like the OnePlus 6T and others are sold in the US as a significantly lower price.
The LG G8 ThinQ is now available to order from a number of carriers and retailers. To find the best price for you, check out our LG G8 ThinQ price roundup.