Hands on: LG G6 review

The mainstream phone that's pretty much all screen

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Our Early Verdict

The G6 is a possibly game-changing phone from LG, which has dialled back on innovation to deliver a simply solid handset.

For

  • Great screen
  • Water-resistant body

Against

  • Older chipset
  • Removable battery gone

Update: While the software on the LG G6 we have in for testing is largely finished - LG says it's about 90-95% there - we won't be benchmarking or scoring this handset until we've reviewed the final software, as per our reviews guarantee.

However, we've learned enough of the quirks of the handset to bring you our more in-depth hands on review of the phone - if you're excited about what LG is bringing to the table, we've got the info for you.

With the LG G6, the modular design of the LG G5 is gone in favor of a more traditional phone, one that takes multiple elements from the top handsets around, blended together to make a more prosaic (but still intriguing) handset. 

The G6 is a much more conservative design than its predecessor, taking the form of a sealed unit that drops the removable battery, replacing it with a larger-capacity power pack and waterproof shell.

Surprisingly, this phone isn't using the latest chipset from Qualcomm, so you won't be getting the full grunt of the Snapdragon 835. However, LG maintains this was a decision to benefit the consumer – using a chip it had expertise with rather than an unknown entity it couldn't test fully.

Instead, it's going with a Snapdragon 821 option, which LG told us was a better option given it had more experience working with the chip and could thus extract more performance rather than using an untested engine.

The screen is, really, the only place where innovation is still present on the G6, with the longer 18:9 display giving more screen real estate to play with, and introducing some clever little changes to the user interface to exploit the extra pixels.

Beyond that, there's not a lot that marks out the LG G6 from the rest of the competition – and that's a pretty good thing.  

Update: Having used the LG G6 for a couple of weeks, it's easy to see that this is a 'grown-up' handset from the South Korean brand. It just feels nicer in the hand, more solid and refined, and I really haven't missed anything from the LG G5 at all.

The main thing that's perturbing is the early price rumor: it's going to possibly cost up to £699 (around $860 / AU$1125) at launch, and, well, that's just too much for what's on offer.

(This may be an early price from retailers jumping in too quickly though, so keep an eye out for other costs landing soon).

However, LG seems to have baked all the components together well, so if you do have to spend that much you'll be getting a decent phone.

It’s interesting that some early reviews of this preview build have called the LG G6 a 'return to form' - apart from perhaps the LG G2, the brand hasn’t had a stellar flagship device for years. Rather, it feels more like a ‘finally understanding what users actually want in a phone’.
 

Design 

The LG G6 is covered in a mix of glass and metal, with two sheets of Gorilla Glass (although weirdly it's Gorilla Glass 5 on the rear, but only the much older Gorilla Glass 3 on the front) framed with a rim of aluminum.

What's most impressive is how little bezel there is on this phone – we're expecting the same kind of design from Samsung on the Galaxy S8, but the narrow bezels have been shrunken top and bottom to create an impressive effect when you turn the phone on.

Anyone aware of the LG G5's design will be surprised by the way of just how … normal this phone looks. Gone is the dull plastic back of the LG G3, the odd leather of the G4 or the come-apart design of last year’s phone – the LG G6 is smooth and classy all the way around.

That will disappoint those who like the way LG has taken things in a different direction in the past, but honestly, the G6 design is a smart move. It’s the most classically understated and sophisticated phone we’ve ever seen from LG, and it’s the perfect platform for letting the internals shine through.

The rear of the phone is smooth, with no protruding camera bump – we’ll get onto the snapper in a moment, but LG told us it chose slimmer sensors rather than more advanced camera tech to make the design of the phone sleeker.

It's a gamble, but last year's camera was fine, and LG can probably just get away without another change.

There are two sensors on the rear of the phone, above the round fingerprint sensor, which also doubles a power button.  

The LG G6 will be coming in platinum, black and white at launch, although it was strongly hinted to us that more colors will be popping up soon.

The platinum is the most alluring of the colors, with a metallic sheen under the glass that catches the light nicely. However, the combination of the white option, with two cameras and round fingerprint sensor below, makes the G6 look a bit like a surprised ghost.

At the bottom of the phone is the single speaker next to the USB-C connector – and LG has kept the headphone jack at the top, declining to bow to the industry trend of dropping the connector as it keeps more 'traditional' (read: everyone) music fans happy.

Some LG phone lovers will be distraught, however, to find that the battery is now sealed into the handset – LG has finally given up on the removable power pack in order to put in a more powerful and slimmer juice unit.

It’s been increased to 3300mAh within the slimmer 7.9mm frame – and it’s the right move. The need for removable power packs is almost dead thanks to the proliferation of portable battery chargers, but its V-series phones (such as the LG V20 launched last year) keeps the option for now.

MicroSD support still exists, with the up-to-2TB expansion option thrust into the SIM tray, and complementing the 32GB of onboard storage; however, it's really annoying that you can't adopt the storage from the memory card and use it as internal memory like other phones allow you to do.

The design of the LG G6 is certainly more refined - it does feel a bit light and over time the glass back feels more like plastic. That creates slightly sweaty digits, and there have been times when the fingerprint sensor has needed a wipe to function correctly.

However, that sensor is in the right place - rarely was there a misplaced finger when trying to unlock the handset, and the ring on the outside was easy to hit.

The 18:9 screen, (which is branded ‘FullVision’) is created by LG’s own screen division, LG Display. It extends the QHD resolution of its predecessor, making it ever more widescreen to boost the pixel count to 2880 x 1440 and uses LCD technology rather than OLED.

The corners are even curved to keep the aesthetic of the handset, rather than the sharp design most phones pack. It's an interesting move, but doesn't really add much more than novelty.

The lack of OLED is key as it means the LG G6 is not Daydream compatible, so Google's new VR headset won't work with the new phone, which is a real shame.

There's not even a new VR offering from LG (although 2016's 360 VR headset was hardly a strong candidate for virtual reality experience of the year) so you'll be limited to Cardboard headsets if you're desperate to enter a virtual world.

While it lacks the colorful pop of the Samsung Galaxy S7, for instance, with its Super AMOLED screen, there's a vivacity that's well complemented by the longer display.

What is impressive is the addition of Dolby Vision / HDR 10 support for all manner of HDR content. 

LG told TechRadar that it's been working with Netflix and Amazon to bring that content to the mobile app (where currently you can only get the standard shows and movies in HD) and there will be a few to choose from at launch.

This means you'll get extra color and detail to your movies that are encoded in this format, bringing a superb experience to the mobile. However, we could only test this by watching the pre-installed Dolby Vision demonstration, which is always going to be impressive.

It's also worth noting that you'll need to be on the top-tier Netflix plan to access this quality - which is thoroughly not worth it if you're just going to be watching on a phone.

The screen on the LG G6 is impressive, but as suspected the larger dimensions are, largely, not much use in apps. What's surprising is some games work better in the larger format - when you open some titles you're presented with a little logo in the top right-hand side of the screen that lets extend the contents a little further, and gaming seems to deal with this flawlessly.

Most other titles, those which aren't the inbuilt native apps, will just give you a white bar at the bottom where the home and back buttons pop up - it's not that useful, and as suspected video doesn't really stretch out that well.

The Always On Display is still a good move - it's something that's both useful and visually appealing on this phone. However, when you're in the dark it's clear to see that the LED lights at the bottom of the screen are illuminating the screen, with a slight flare protruding up the display.

Of course, it's not a massive problem, but at the same time it doesn't make the G6 look terribly premium.
 

It's still a curious decision by LG to use LCD over OLED for a number of reasons. Firstly, the contrast ratio (while good) is still not as deep as on Samsung's devices, with the blacks not as true as they could be (and using LCD rules out Daydream support, as previously mentioned).

LG is still using the pervasive display on the lock screen (known as the Always On Display on Samsung phones), so you can see the time without needing to turn on the phone. 

Both South Korean brands claim the same battery life reduction for using this feature, but surely it would be more efficient on an OLED panel.

The reason this is so curious is because LG is such a big advocate of OLED panels, and the quality they bring, in the TV space, so believing in LCD technology here still is odd.

New user interface

The new Fullvision 18:9 display has given LG a few more pixels to work with, and now the display is essentially two squares stacked on top of one another.
LG has embraced this idea and made the 'double square' a feature of the user interface throughout.

This means, for example, that in the contacts menu the contact image is larger, more settings are visible and you'll be able to see more Facebook on the screen without the need for scrolling through.

You can also rotate the phone and either have two apps running in multi-window or, for certain apps, have two different functions on the screen at once.

This latter trick is currently limited to the email and calendar though, and isn't really that new – plenty of phones have been able to do this for years, but just with a more squished preview window to see your messages and upcoming meetings.

LG's certainly made good use of the extra screen space it's managed to eke out - things like the weather app have been well thought through and look visually appealing. 

The general interface doesn't seem like that much of an upgrade, but that's not a bad thing at all. It's all lightning quick under the finger, as you'd expect, and all the elements that Android 7 brings are present and correct.

One flaw that will hopefully be ironed out soon is Google Assistant - while it works pretty well, it's incredibly slow to wake from sleep if you're saying the words 'OK Google' to get it up.

The 'two square' interface isn't as useful as expected, as it's only in the square camera that you'll really notice it. The multi-window mode is still too fiddly on a phone to be a real must-have feature - although we used it from time to time, it wasn't noticeably better than on any previous LG or Samsung phones.

The icons on the home screen (which still comes without an app drawer by default) are tidied up too, with the rounded look applied throughout. 

Camera

The LG G6 camera is upgraded in a way, but also remains very similar to last year's in others. The same normal and wide-angle camera lenses are back, but they're now both 13MP. 

However, the aperture hasn't improved, nor the pixel size; in short, you're not going to get better snaps day to day with the new G6 phone.

The reason for making them the same resolution is apparently to stop the judder when zooming in – when jumping from wide angle to the closer sensor there was previously a judder that saw the image quality change, and LG says it worked with Qualcomm to bring features from the Snapdragon 835 to the new phone.

However, it's not worked, as the judder is still there and there's a tangible difference between the two sensor qualities.

The main image sensor packs optical image stabilisation, and appears to have a warmer image quality about it, with a faster f/1.8 aperture. The other wide-angle sensor is f/2.4 and lacks the same stabiliser, so images can come out less sharp.

However, the overall image quality was clear enough, even at this early stage for the phone – the camera and battery are usually the things being tweaked up until the very last minute, so it's fair to think that the G6 could even improve massively here before launch.

The new 18:9 screen size has given LG a chance to have two Instagram-friendly squares on the screen at once, and it's used them pretty well. 

Our favorite is the large preview, where you can take pictures on one side and have the full-screen previews alongside, which you can scroll through while still snapping.

Alternatively, there's an option to use the same size camera viewfinder as found on the G5, with the extra pixels used to show a strip of recently-taken photos, which again makes it easy to multitask using the camera.

The LG G6 is an advanced phone with a strong camera – there are plenty of new features to enjoy, although they're rather hard to find (the square mode picture options are hidden under myriad menus, or a separate app on another home screen). 

LG will struggle to overcome the negative press of not really improving the camera from last year, but with new square features and decent performance, users probably won't mind too much.

Update:  The camera on the LG G6 is, so far, something of a slight disappointment. Again, this should not be read as indicative of the final review sample, as the camera undergoes work until launch, but in night mode particularly the performance is poor. 

As you'll see with some of the samples, you can take some sharp and attractive photos, but in night mode things are very slow and a little blurry around the edges - the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the Google Pixel are better options for sure.

We're also not taken with the dual lenses - it seems that the closer lens is too close, and the wider option gets too much into the frame.

With this, it very much depends on what you like though. If you're a fan of taking pics of lots of people, then this is a great camera... the wide angle lens is sharp enough and brings in loads of detail.

The square interface hasn't offered anything other than novelty so far, but we've not explored it as a way to take great Instagram photos as yet - which is what the square viewfinder and preview window together would offer. 

Image 1 of 5

The closer lens held at the 'normal' distance for a camera phone - the sharpness at night isn't the best around.

Image 2 of 5

From the same distance... slightly too far away

Image 3 of 5

The close up lens can produce sharp images

Image 4 of 5

The HDR mode at sunset produced a great, if slightly distorted, image

Image 5 of 5

This low light shot, with block colors, is better - and the shutter speed was pretty fast too.

Battery

The improvement of the battery from 2800mAh to 3300mAh should bring cheers from anyone who wants a phone with a long battery life – LG has historically been excellent at optimising battery, so packing in more power is always going to be a welcome move.

This is where the inclusion of the Snapdragon 821 processor is going to have an effect too, according to LG, as its engineers have worked with the chipset for longer and have managed to extract more performance out of it, which leads to longer-lasting and less hot handsets.

Whether this is just an excuse remains to be seen – there are many efficiency advantages being touted by Qualcomm in its latest 835 chip – and LG could be just trying to deflect from the decision to use an older (and presumably cheaper) engine in its phone.

The ways you'll charge your new phone are varied, and a little hard to explain as there will be so many versions of the LG G6 throughout the world. In the US you'll be able to charge this phone wirelessly, with both PMA and WPC standards supported.

Simply put: if there's a wireless charging station around and you live in the United States, you'll be able to charge the G6 on it.

However, the rest of the world isn't getting such an option, in favor of QuickCharge 3.0 to help you juice your phone a little quicker.

(Also, South Korea is getting a Quad DAC amplifier inside, where the rest of the world is not – LG says it's trying to localise the phone more efficiently, but it seems like a lot of hassle).

There aren't many other new battery optimizations from LG here, but then again it probably didn't need them – with the more powerful and longer-lasting power pack on show users should be able to eke out longer between charges than ever before.

LG has put some smarts into the charging though, with the phone able to read the age and temperature of the battery to make sure the right amount of current goes into the power pack. 

This means degradation will be slower and your G6 will last for longer. That's a Good Thing.

Update:  The battery life after a couple of weeks of testing isn't stellar - but don't read too much into that. As mentioned above, until software is final, there's no point deciding whether a phone has brilliant battery life or not, as it'll be heavily optimised right until the point of sale, so we're not running any tests yet.

That said, there's nothing on the G6 that hints this will be a phone with great battery life, with most days seeing things get a little dicey towards night time... the battery saving mode isn't offering too much even then. 

Early verdict 

The LG G6 is a phone that takes things back to basics, and does so well. The sleek metal and glass fusion is attractive, and to anyone using the iPhone 7 Plus, the ratio of screen to body will be staggering.  

The larger display has been well used for the native apps, but massive worries remain over third-party apps. While LG has assured us that things will stretch nicely this isn't certain, and if your favorite titles have ugly black bars left and right that's going to be bad press for the phone.

Similarly, the Netflix and Amazon HDR content sound amazing, but it's too early for those to be must-have features, and you'll need to be on high-end plans to make them work properly in the case of Netflix.

What we worry most about is LG's past: it has a history of starting something and not following it through. VR content for 2016's headset? Not really. The Rolling Bot? Never made it out the gate. New modules for the G5? Never appeared... so how do we know that the company will work with app developers to improve their wares for its longer screen format?

The success of the G6 depends on one thing though: the price. LG has been pretty clear that it made cost-cutting decisions throughout this phone – for instance, the lower-power chipset or the loss of certain features for certain regions – as it listened to what would actually enhance the consumer's experience and made design decisions accordingly. 

Well, most brands say that. It would be dumb to just create a phone with a random set of features and hope that something sticks – but then again, LG has done that in the past, so it's good that the brand is taking things back to basics.

However, the early prices seem worrisome, and anyone looking to buy the G6 will be hoping that it drops in price quickly if those costs are to be believed.

That doesn't mean the G6 isn't innovative – the screen looks great and there's raw power, from the camera to the battery to the general snappiness of the handset, rippling through this phone.

But it lacks any real headline features that will lure people towards it on the shop shelves, other than just being a decent phone. 

There's good reason to be hopeful there though, as LG has traditionally lowered its prices quite quickly after launch, so even if this handset appears with an eye-watering price it should drop in most territories (although probably not the US, where the G5 has remained rather expensive).

Is the LG G6 going to be a strong contender to the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8? In all honesty, probably not. 

But this is a phone that gives LG a platform to work from, showing it can make a handsome phone with good features; in short, if this is the direction LG is now taking with phone design, you should be already looking forward to the G7. 

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.