Hands on: LG G8 review

LG asks for your hand, doesn’t put a ring on it

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text
Image Credit: TechRadar

Early Verdict

The LG G8 is pushing Hand ID to unlock the phone and midair gestures to control things like the volume. It didn't work well enough for us in our demo time with the phone, but we did test other promising tech. Its hole-less speaker gets rid of the top speaker grill with innovative vibrating sound, and video portrait mode makes its debut.

For

  • Hole-less vibrating top speaker
  • Video portrait mode works well

Against

  • Hand ID tech is done in vein
  • Boring design for 2019

There's a good phone underneath the LG G8 underneath my waving palm. It's another silly trick – this time a new way to unlock the smartphone – that distracts from LG's potential greatness.

Its headline feature is the ability to read the blood in your palm's veins to unlock the phone, then trigger gestures to control music, take calls and wave off alarms, all without touching the screen.

'Hand ID' on the LG G8 is set up to be a futuristic way to authenticate and control your phone. We're not sure if it works like its its Minority Report premise suggests, or makes much sense.

But it shouldn't divert your attention from other groundbreaking tech inside LG’s flagship Android phone for 2019, like video portrait mode and a vibrating Crystal Sound OLED for a hole-less display.

This is where the real innovation is. LG G8 has no top speaker hole, and its vibrations provides a wider source of audio through the seamless screen. It’s a novel idea found in LG’s high-end OLED TVs, and tech that the nearly-bezel-less Samsung Galaxy S10 doesn’t have, but needs.

LG is also first to video portrait mode, harnessing the Snapdragon 855 chipset. It takes what you love about portrait mode for photos and applies the same background blurring effect for less distracting video. It really worked in our tests.

There’s just one simple configuration of the LG G8: 128GB of internal storage with 6GB of RAM, expandable with a microSD card slot. That’s up from 64GB of storage in the LG G7. The 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC also makes it a good value if you’re an audiophile.

LG G8 ThinQ review

Image Credit: TechRadar

The triple-lens rear camera carried over from the LG V40 and improved front-facing camera require more tests in our full LG G8 review. So does the 3,500mAh battery and QuickCharge 3.0, which may be longer-lasting and faster-charging than the battery in the S10.

The LG G8 doesn’t change phones. It doesn’t fold, it doesn’t have a fancy punch-hole camera to extend the display from top to bottom, and it doesn’t have an in-screen fingerprint sensor. What it does have are new audio and camera tricks, and a 'Hand ID' feature you should likely ignore.

LG G8 ThinQ price and release date

The LG G8 price hasn’t been announced yet, but the LG G7 cost $749, £599 and AU$ $1,099 when it launched a year ago in April. Not much time has passed, but phones have got more expensive since then and LG includes a lot of new tech in its handset. It won’t be cheap.

It’ll be less expensive and come later out than the simultaneously announced LG V50, which looks like the LG V40 on 5G steroids. But we don’t have an exact release date for either phone. LG likes to launch in South Korea first, so expect other countries to get it by April again.

Display and design

The LG G8 has a 6.1-inch OLED display with a notch, matching the size and top cutout of the G7, but not the display type. Last year’s phone had an LCD screen touting Super Bright mode.

LG G8 ThinQ review

Image Credit: TechRadar

We found the LG G8 to get plenty bright in our early tests and offer better contrast, making the Super Bright LCD another one-off LG experiment you didn’t need in the end. No big surprise.

What’s likely here to stay is LG’s Crystal Sound OLED technology. It eliminates the top speaker in favor of emitting sound through the same micro-vibrations found on LG’s high-end OLED TVs. 

Its vibrations weren’t big enough to feel distracting against our face, but enough of to produce clear sound from a wider area. There’s a sweet spot at the top where you can hear a caller best, but we could still make out the conversation further down the screen. 

Crystal Sound OLED is more than just interesting tech. It offers a solution that could drive us to a 100% screen-to-body ratio one day, without relying on a poised-to-break pop-up selfie camera. We predict this idea will be used again by LG, and even copied by others.

LG also claims its phone is more waterproof this way. We’ve experienced waterproof phones in which water becomes lodged in speakers and then calls sound muffled until things become dry. That won’t be an issue with this holeless vibrating speaker.

LG G8 will come in three colors: Carmine Red, New Aurora Black, and New Platinum Gray, and includes a 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung isn’t the only one keeping it around.

Everything else about the G8 design you’ve seen before: it has a rear dual-lens camera without a bump, a rear fingerprint sensor exactly where you’d expect and metal frame sandwiched by strong Gorilla Glass 5 on front and Gorilla Glass 6 on back. In 2019, it’s unremarkable.

Hand ID

The LG G8 is pushing new unlocking and gesture controls with its Time of Flight Z-axis camera, though the software in our demo is said to be non-final. We struggled to get the phone to unlock.

LG G8 ThinQ review

Image Credit: TechRadar

Hand ID, as LG calls it, works by shining an invisible IR laser at your open palm in order to read the blood pattern in your veins. Neat so far. You hold your palm six to eight inches away from this special front-facing camera and slowly move your hand backward.

It could be an effective way to unlock the LG G8 when it’s sitting on a table and the fingerprint sensor on back is inaccessible. But it never worked for us on any first attempt. The whole idea seems like a hassle more than picking up your phone and accessing the rear sensor.

We also asked LG if we could register more than one hand. The answer was a sheepish ‘No.’ So which hand is your favorite... or, if you dislike Hand ID enough, your least favorite?

LG’s Hand ID and Samsung’s in-screen fingerprint sensor seem like technology ripped from the future. But, they also make us miss more reliable front-facing sensors a lot in 2019.

Air Motion

Air Motion also uses your hand in conjunction with the G8’s Z-axis camera, this time to execute a variety of hovering gestures that don’t require touching the screen.

We were able to turn the volume down in Google Play Music, for example, by opening our palm to trigger Air Motion and making a ‘turning knob’ motion in midair. It worked after a few attempts.

Air Motion gestures worked a little better, but took multiple tries to get right. You can also receive or dismiss calls, swipe away alarms and timers, scrub through music and videos, and take a screenshot.

When all of this Air Motion worked, it felt fairly rewarding. But that may be because we struggled with getting it to recognize our hovering, constantly waving hand. We’re really hoping that LG sorts out both Hand ID and Air Motion with software updates. 

Video Portrait Mode and cameras

Here’s where the LG G8 innovation is hiding. Along with the Crystal Sound OLED speaker, we liked video portrait mode. It’s something we’ve been waiting for to spice up our footage.

Image 1 of 3

Image 2 of 3

Image 3 of 3

Video Portrait Mode works like you’d expect if you’ve ever used portrait photo mode on a modern smartphone. Your subject is in focus, while everything in the background becomes blurred.

We’re going to have to continue to test video portraits taken on the LG G8 to determine how effective the blur is around tough edges, like wispy hair. Portrait photos struggle with this, too.

When we saw the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset tout portrait video mode capabilities, we were eager to test it out. LG, not Samsung, is the first smartphone maker to harness its power.

The rear dual-lens camera responsible for portrait video is made up of a 12MP standard lens at an f/1.5 aperture capturing 1.4 micro-sized pixels, and a 16MP wide f/1.9 camera with a wide 107 degree field of view. That’s a lot tighter than Samsung's new 123 degree field of view.

The front camera is a 8MP f/1.7 lens capturing 1.22 micro-sized pixels. There’s no wide camera on front this time, leaving you with an 80 degree field of view, and, of course, there’s the Z Camera with Time of Flight capabilities to help map depth.

Specs and battery life

The LG G8 touts that powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, 128GB of internal storage with microSD card support and 6GB of RAM. It’s RAM is shy of Samsung’s 8GB in the base S10 model. That’s the only real major difference.

LG G8 ThinQ review

Image Credit: TechRadar

It’s configured to be a powerful daily driver for most people looking for flagship-level specs. And this Android 9 Pie phone should last you all day. It has a sizable 3,500mAh battery capacity. The S10 has 3,400mAh battery behind its 6.1-inch screen. 

We’ll, of course run benchmark and battery life tests on the LG G8 when it launches and has final software. But the specs and battery capacity look good on paper. 

LG G8 ThinQ review

Image Credit: TechRadar

Early verdict

The LG G8 has ambitious ideas that may or may not pan out when the final software is ready. Hand ID and touchless gesture controls didn’t really grab us in our demo with this device.

Oh, Hand ID sounds neat – it reads the blood in your veins to unlock the phone – but when it doesn’t work, you’re going to really question if you need this. The answer is almost certainly no.

There are good ideas here you’ll want from a smartphone in 2019. Video portrait mode is the next evolution of phone cameras, and LG has it first. It also found a way to eliminate the top speaker with its Crystal Sound OLED audio vibrations. Expect others to copy this, too.

The success of the LG G8 may in fact come down to its price. It doesn’t have a flashy new design like the Galaxy S10, but it may still set trends with its camera and audio tricks.

MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest showcase for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2019 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

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.