• LG G6 Release Date: March 2017 (Korea) April 2017 (US, UK and Europe)
• LG G6 Price: £/$TBA
Note: I’ve been using the LG G6 for a couple of weeks now, and it’s great. Normally I'd be ready to give my final verdict, but the unit I’m testing is pre-production and running unfinished software, and as such I feel it would be unfair to judge it in this form. I'll be receiving a proper UK version in the coming weeks, after which I'll add my final verdict and rating.
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 Mi Mix – a China-only phone released in late 2016 – the screen is stretched to nearly every corner of the device.
Rather than the typical 16:9 aspect ratio seen on almost every other smartphone, LG opts for an 18:9 ratio display (basically 2:1) that provides a taller display in a smaller body.
The 5.7-inch display – a sizeable increase from the 5.2-inch panel of the G5 – sits inside a shell 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. While a little odd at first, but I quickly became used to it. It matches the overall curviness of the phone; but it looks best on the black model. On my white review unit, the black border between the panel and bezel is fairly prominent, and the corner curves aren’t perfectly circular. It’s a small issue, but once you've noticed it, it’s hard to forget.
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.
Blacks aren’t quite as deep as AMOLED panels, though – and with LG’s huge AMOLED business, it seems odd for the company not to utilise its expertise here. Being an IPS LCD also stops it from being compatible with Google’s Daydream VR platform, something that I enjoy immensely on the Pixel.
There were a few demo HDR (high dynamic range) videos on my review sample; content looked noticeably brighter and darker scenes were more detailed too. LG says that HDR content from Amazon and Netflix will work, but it will follow an app update. LG hasn’t said when they'll be available, but I'll update this article when I know more.
Remember when Apple switched the iPhone from a 4-inch to a 5-inch screen? It led to months (maybe years) of apps not fitting the display properly; many required 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, which are almost universally 16:9, have black bars on either side. Media from Amazon’s Prime app has one large bar at the bottom. Some software trickery lets you stretch video in certain apps – Netflix, for example – so films take up most of the screen.
Related: What is HDR?
Regular apps are fine, thanks to Android’s native rescaling features, but games will either need to be updated or played with black bars at the bottom. It’s annoying, but not too distracting. The software layer used for videos is present here, so you can stretch games out to fill the entire screen. It works well, and in titles such as Alto’s Adventure or Horizon Chase, I didn't notice the difference.
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. It's a little like iOS mashed with Huawei’s EMUI, with a dash of TouchWiz thrown in. It does have the Google Assistant, though – the first phone to do so aside from the Pixel.
The software does have some nice little additions that make up for the less than amazing design. A swipe down on the homescreen brings up a search that can look inside apps, and the lack of an app drawer is something I actually really like.
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, and 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, which LG claims adds some much-needed rigidity that's lost with the unorthodox screen.
The standby switch, with a fingerprint pad tucked inside, can still be found on the rear of the handset. However, unlike many phones that use capacitive pads, this switch 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 fingerprint scanner, beneath the glass and thereby eliminating the Home button entirely.
My biggest issue with the fingerprint scanner on the LG G6 is actually its speed and sensitivity. Since it’s basically flush to the rear, accidental touches are an issue. Even when the handset is in my pocket, it seems to randomly think I'm pressing the scanner when it’s brushing against my leg.
So the LG G6 is an attractive phone, once you get over the screen – but once it becomes more common, which I'm sure it will this year, it doesn't feature 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.
Basically, it looks great from the front but a little dull elsewhere.
Considering my review unit is a pre-production unit, I'll benchmark the G6's performance in more detail once I've had a play with a European retain unit.
This handset hasn't seen the same level of improvement on the inside as the G5, but it remains a very fast phone indeed; and even on the pre-production software, I haven’t encountered any issues.
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's 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. 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, especially if this phone is going to retail at the same price as the Samsung Galaxy S8.
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 rear of the device. One is your typical camera; 13 megapixels, OIS, f/1.8 aperture; the other has a much wider field of view.
The latter offers that GoPro-like wide-angle shot that looks great. Surprisingly, LG told me that 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 auto-focus, 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 to implement them here in the 821. This results in a much smoother process when switching sensors, giving the feel of a single camera. It works, too, although there remains a noticeable change in colour temperature when you switch. The wider-view camera is also much worse in low light, leaving you with very noisy photos.
I’m quite impressed with the LG G6's cameras, but there are a couple of issues. While picture detail is decent, on occasion colours can look a bit drab and the dynamic range just isn’t on a par with other high-end Android phones. Pictures often lack depth – but then this can be seen with almost all smartphones when you’re coming from the Pixel.
The Pixel remains ahead of the G6, not only in terms of picture quality, but with regards to ease of use, too. I’ll cut LG some slack since this is early software – but the time it takes to open the app, focus and snap a picture are currently just too long.
Low-light images are free of noise, however, and if the light is bright you can get some really fantastic shots.
There’s a fairly standard 5-megapixel camera for selfies – and, of course, 4K video recording is supported as well.
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 handy features from which other folks will benefit.
There's no wireless charging – that’s exclusive to the US – and nor will Quad Hi-Fi DAC feature for improved sound quality. Sadly, the latter is available only on the Korean model. My review unit is of US origin, so has the wireless charging support and it matches the S7 for recharge speed when docked without wires.
Neither feature is vital, but they’re rare extras that would have been a decent addition. LG couldn’t offer a reason they're lacking – but, apparently, it doesn’t add any extra weight or thickness to the handset to include either of these features.
Also likely to annoy is the fact that the battery is no longer removable. Instead, it’s a fixed 3,300mAh cell stuck behind the glass. This is hardly a surprise, given that the removable battery had such a negative impact on the overall look of the G5. It also means the G6 is finally water-resistant – in my opinion, a far more useful feature than a swappable battery – and has the same IP68 rating as the Samsung Galaxy S7.
I’ll save my final thoughts on battery life for when I've used a retail version, since there are some notable quirks in the stamina department with my unit. Hopefully, these will ironed out, though.
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 believe this to be LG’s best phone in years, but with the competition improving too, it’s a tough call as to whether or not this will stand up against the upcoming iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8. Price will be a big factor, and if this comes in cheaper than those models then LG could have a winner on its hands.