LG G6 Review: The Perfect Component Compromise?

After a torrid year living down the interesting but horribly flawed G5, LG has seemingly come good with this, the G6 – it does seem as though the even numbered in the ‘G’ range are always the ones to go for. True, there’s nothing spectacular here, but then that’s kind of the point, this is LG doubling down on just doing everything well rather than striking down a new blind alley… again. Notable here in our G6 review is a 2:1 screen with smaller top and bottom bezels, but elsewhere it’s a set of intelligent compromises to try and create a smartphone that’s all things to all men. And on the whole LG has succeeded.

After the G4, with its optionally leather removable back and the horrible G5, with its pop-off bottom section, the G6 is solid, one piece, almost boringly standard, yet with a solidity that reminded me of the best of Huawei’s output. There’s a really tough and solid aluminium chassis, with chamfered and mostly flattened sides – I love it and it makes the G6 very easy to grip, unlike some of the slippery, all-rounded devices I’ve seen of late.

LG G6 review

Thankfully there’s no oleophobic coating on the back, the kiss of death for phone grip on some competitors. This does mean that fingerprints show, especially on the review gloss black model, but there’s also ‘ice platinum’ and ‘mystic white’ to choose from and these should show fingerprints a lot less.

LG G6 review photo - back view

Also helping grip is the narrower form factor here – the 2:1 screen (18:9, compare this to the more usual 16:9) allows for a 5.7” display here, yet the width of the phone is only 72mm, meaning that I could wrap my hand right round it, with finger and thumb touching. All very secure.

LG G6 review photo

The 5.7” figure for screen diagonal is a little misleading, of course, since the aspect ratio is unusual, but I suspect we’ll see more and more phones adopt a similar idea, and many commentators have suggested that screen area (in cm²) be used instead to compare displays – the G6 works out at about 85cm², compared to 89cm² for the (also ‘5.7”’) Nexus 6P. In truth, the difference this makes is negligible, what really matters is the feel in the hand and the G6 is top notch in this regard.

You’ll still use a case a lot of the time though, if only because of all the exposed glass and the likelihood that shattering will occur when dropped. The front is Gorilla Glass 3 and the back Gorilla Glass 5, but you can bet that neither will fare well when dropped onto a pavement, for example.

The display itself is a very decent LCD panel, QHD in resolution, with excellent colours and contrast in all light conditions, at least when viewed head-on. When viewed from an angle – such as someone looking from the side, over your shoulder, or you trying to take a photo from an arty viewpoint then contrast decreases markedly, but it’s fine for everyday use.

The use of LCD means that the G6’s display isn’t fast enough for Google’s DayDream VR, so if that’s on your checklist then look elsewhere. The G6’s panel and underlying chipset is Dolby Vision/HDR10 compliant, and demo videos (both pre-loaded and from YouTube) look absolutely stunning, with a fantastic range of colours, though LG has missed a trick here by not also including stereo speakers.

LG G6 review photo - top of the phone

As it is, we have smartphones like the fabulous ZTE Axon 7 with Dolby Atmos stereo speakers that sound incredible, yet with a standard display in terms of colour gamut. Then this G6 has the Dolby Vision-compliant HDR display but only an average mono speaker down at the bottom. Why the heck can’t we have both? The first smartphone to have both HDR screen and decent stereo audio will get my money.

There’s not an amazing amount of Dolby Vision content online at the moment, though Netflix has started to produce true HDR streams for its top tier subscribers in some regions. Early days.

Although the top bezel is small on the G6, surely a proper speaker could have been squeezed in under the earpiece? Or perhaps they could have added an extra millimetre or two of height to accommodate a class-leading top speaker? All for the G7, no doubt, but then that’s an odd number, so…

Around the exterior, the volume buttons are positive in action and made of metal too. There are top and bottom microphone holes for stereo audio recording when shooting video, working well for general usage, but this isn’t a gig recording phone and the microphones will distort at high (concert) volumes. There’s a very welcome headphone jack, and for every major smartphone that keeps this essential port, I give a cheer – Apple was wrong (in my opinion) to ditch the 3.5mm jack in 2016 and I’m very glad that most manufacturers in the Android world aren’t copying it slavishly.

LG G6 review photo - bottom view

Down at the bottom is a USB Type C port, of course, this is now the 2017 standard and anything above £100 which doesn’t have this is missing a huge trick. Type C is so much more robust, physically, so much more capable in terms of power – and it’s reversible. In the G6’s case, the phone is Quick Charge 3.0-compliant and charges amazingly quickly from compatible chargers – 50% charge in 20 minutes in my testing.

Around the back is a fingerprint sensor that’s on the small side and does take some finding quickly with your index finger. It’s set into a slight indentation and this helps, but I don’t understand why LG had to make the sensor so small – every other device I have in for review right now has a larger sensor, making it easier to find ‘blind’ around the back.

Still, it works, and it doubles as a power button, in traditional ‘G’ series fashion. It’s slightly odd day to day, mind you, since it turns on with a light capacitive touch yet requires a firm and positive physical press to turn off again. You do get used to this, but most of the time it’s easier to just let the phone screen power off on the usual time out!

The fit and finish of the G6 is backed up by full IP68 water and dust-proofing, which is good to see – microphones, headphone jack, SIM and microSD slot, charging port, speaker, all points of possible water ingress and all sealed tight with no unsightly or fiddly grommets. That’s impressive.

LG G6 review photo - camera cluster view

Imaging

Above this is the camera cluster, neatly set flush into the phone’s glass back. This does restrict the height (front to back) of the two cameras and means that mean that neither can have a large sensor – unfortunately. Both are only 1/3″ optical format, the main one with f/1.8 aperture, OIS and Phase Detection Auto-Focus (PDAF), the wide angle camera with f/2.4 aperture, 120° field of view, and fixed focus.

As usual with LG’s twin camera phones, the switch from regular lens to wide angle is usually done manually, using an on-screen icon, though the Camera app will also auto-switch if you try and zoom in too far on the wide angle camera or out too far on the regular one. It’s well thought out and I was surprised by how much I used (and enjoyed) having a wide angle lens on my phone camera.

Of course, I’d also like a 2x zoom lens, as on the iPhone 7 Plus, so I’m calling it right now – by mid 2018 we’ll have phones with three cameras on the back, laid out in a line: wide, regular and zoom. And then I’ll be happy!

See below for sample photos from the G6, along with relevant crops and comments. This isn’t the best camera phone in the world in terms of image quality, but there are still positives to take away:

LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop, showing the low level sharpening and other enhancements applied by LG. It all looks great on the phone screen, but a little ugly if you need to crop in a lot.
LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop – the sharpening isn’t as bad as in Samsung’s phones, and in fact there’s a certain painting-like quality in bokeh-blurred backgrounds…
LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop – you have to look very, very closely to see artefacts though – this is in artificial light, the G6 does perfectly well enough.
LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop, the signs are fine, but the brickwork looks artificial, with the image processing unable to cope with the fine real world brick texture.
LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop, in low light, showing digital noise, jagged edges and cross-hatch artefacts
LG G6 sample photo, see below for a 1:1 crop
1:1 crop
1:1 crop, even in the dead of night, the G6 doesn’t do too badly – there’s noise and there are artefacts, but colours are accurate and nothing’s blurred, thanks to the OIS.
LG G6 sample photo
Where the second camera comes in handy is here, standing in front of something big and with no way to step backwards to get it all in the frame. Zoom out on-screen or switch to the wide angle camera and…
LG G6 sample photo
…bingo, the whole scene in frame. Yes, there’s some fish-eye distortion, but this is acceptable in the context. And could be straightened using an image editor if you were so inclined…

In addition to the regular Camera operation there’s also a ‘Square’ preset, with a direct shortcut from the default homescreen, running the exact same application but with some tweaks – the 2:1 display means that square captured images line up neatly besides the live square viewfinder. The result are 9.7MP square images and 1080p square video, neither of which fit neatly into most peoples’ workflows, though Instagram users will probably be very happy! LG might be able to change the aspect ratio of smartphone screens, but they’re not going to change public expectations for how a photo should look. Still, it’s a novel use for a novel display.

The square camera mode, here showing viewfinder and the last snapped photo - at the same time.
The square camera mode, here showing viewfinder and the last snapped photo – at the same time.
...and the standard/regular viewfinder
…and the standard/regular viewfinder, note the manual switching for the two cameras top centre. Notice also the DSLR-like focussing reticule, though this is smoke and mirrors, since there’s no laser focus here.

Video capture from that main camera is at up to 4K and with the stereo audio capture already mentioned. There’s optional digital stabilisation on top of the OIS – the two combined make for very steady footage, even though it’s not quite as impressive as that in the recent Google Pixel, LG not having Google’s mastery over EIS algorithms.

The front ‘selfie’ camera is unremarkable at 5MP, though it’s quite wide angle at 120°, so should suffice to get plenty of the scene in when needed.

LG G6 review photo - 'Always on' view

Performance and UI

Notable when the LG G6 is powered up but the screen is off is LG’s implementation of an ‘Always on’ glance screen, showing time, date, battery state in percent and the icons for some recent notifications. It’s done very well, in fact especially well since LCD screens are not best suited to always-on content, since the whole phone screen has to be lit to some degree in order for any pixels to be seen (unlike AMOLED, where the pixels light themselves). The only caveat I’d add here is that in a very dark bedroom you can see the glow of the LCD’s illuminating strip, plus a graduated light haze from the entire display, and this may be off-putting to some people (it was to me, as I sleep in total darkness).

The G6 is very fast in action, one of the fastest feeling phones I’ve ever reviewed in terms of the speed of the UI, proving that LG’s UX 6.0 is relatively light in terms of resources as an Android app launcher and experience. This despite the G6 using a Snapdragon 821 chipset and not the latest 835. Leaving aside political issues over whether LG could or could not have managed to procure enough of the latter, it makes absolutely no difference to the end user – the G6 just flies, helped by 4GB RAM, a very nice complement to the 821 and all of this running on Android 7.0 Nougat, of course.

UX 6.0 includes the option of a traditional ‘App drawer’ home screen or an ‘all on the panes’ approach (as with iOS and many Huawei/Honor devices). It’s good to have the choice, though the drawer-less default makes perfect sense for new users and it’s not until you have 40 or more third party applications or games installed that more organisation is needed.

Screenshot
Screenshot, showing the homescreen with and without an app drawer – curiously, this also affects the icon size and spacing. I preferred the larger version and no app drawer!
Screenshot
Screenshot, showing the selection of the extra homescreen mode and the app icon layout and traditional layout and hide/show options…

Talking of choice, the virtual controls can also be customised with a total of six options and five slots and you can have these in any combination or order you like. A really nice interface, in Settings, for doing all the dragging and dropping, as needed.

Screenshot
Screenshot, showing the way in through Settings to the ‘button combination’ config screen – just drag and drop!

There are the usual application overlaps, with LG wanting you to use its own Gallery, Contacts, Calendar, and Music player, but these aren’t huge issues and they all operate on the same data. There’s no real bloatware, thankfully, with just a couple of recent additions to the LG stable. HD Audio Recorder looks an astoundingly flexible and capable utility, but is currently unaccountably restricted to mono – surely this is a bug? And then there’s the impressive Smart Doctor, an on-board diagnostics app for end users, clearing out Android temporary files and individually testing all the various sensors in the phone.

Screenshot
Screenshot, showing the Smart Doctor utility – it’s typical optimisation and clean-up fare, but the sensor testing suite is a nice touch.

Whereas LG’s Android skins used to be full of (usually) unwanted gimmicks, these have been drastically toned down now and the bits that are left are all neatly accessed through Settings, which makes perfect sense. So themes, font changes, double ‘knock’ to wake, and so on.

In terms of using the extra screen real estate, with its unusual aspect ratio, my fears were unfounded. The Android world has had several years of different resolutions and subtle ratio changes, of virtual controls on one phone and capacitive on the next, with the result that all the apps I tried adapted perfectly to the 2:1 screen, altering their UI natively or, in some cases, being intelligently scaled by LG’s UX 6.0. At worst, for games, virtual controls were left in place to the side of a traditional 16:9 window.

Screenshot
Screenshot, showing a typical game on the 2:1 screen. A 16:9 window is flanked by a bar with virtual controls. It might be a little ugly, but it’s not a problem.
Screenshot
Screenshot, showing two typical non-optimised Android applications, each hard coded for a 16:9 screen, but yet again the virtual controls in a dedicated bar look perfectly reasonable – the apps just think the phone has a 16:9 screen with capacitive controls, etc.

Video material (YouTube, Netflix, etc.) was presented with black bars on either side of the central playback window, not an issue at all on the black review G6, since the bars melt into the case colour, but I can imagine this being unsightly on the Platinum and White versions. A reason to stick with the black G6 and fingerprints be damned?

LG wisely avoids a ‘Bixby moment’ and for voice it uses the pure Google Assistant, just as on the Pixel phones. This is coming on fast and it’s utterly reassuring that LG has tied itself close to the Android standard here rather than risking all on a leap into a competitive unknown.

Battery and variants

I was impressed by battery life too, even with the ‘always on’ display – I got through a heavy day with care and no need for a top-up. The built-in cell is 3300mAh and just about sufficient, given the fast Snapdragon 821 chipset, though I do wonder about some of these ‘sealed’ phones a year down the road when battery capacity is down to 70% of the original and a full charge now only lasts until tea-time. Still, there’s always that Quick Charge 3.0 facility, I guess.

LG’s move from replaceable batteries is unfortunate but timely. While having such a feature was a big Unique Selling Point in the smartphone world of today, you could also argue that its competitors use sealed batteries without problem, year in, year out, and reduced capacity rarely seems to be an issue.

One interesting oddity is that the USA version of the G6 also gets Qi/PMA wireless charging, whereas the world versions don’t. This is puzzling, since the dimensions are the same – implying that the world version is either 1mm thicker than it needs to be or, more likely, the coils are there in both cases and it’s a quirk of either the exact chipset variant used or a marketing differentiator.

Along similar lines, the Korean G6 gets a quad-DAC option, i.e. extra electronics to amplify and process music output through headphones. This apparently works brilliantly but is heavy on battery, is turned off by default and presumably omitted on world G6s so that users didn’t get themselves into battery trouble. Plus the EU has much stricter controls over the volume gadgets can pump out through headphones – you get the standard nanny-state volume warnings here and even auto-reduction if you start playing with the volume turned up too far(!) – and this won’t have helped.

Pricing and verdict

LG, as with Google, Sony and just about everyone else in the phone world, has been eyeing up Apple’s share of the smartphone industry’s profits and has spared no expense in producing something with a unibody aluminium chassis and premium components, in an attempt to justify a progressively higher price for each year’s flagship. The G6 comes in at somewhere around £650 inc VAT in the UK, depending on where you look.

We’ve been used to LG’s flagships coming in at lower prices than Samsung’s and this is still true, despite the rising tide. However, the difference isn’t that great this time around, with only £50 difference as I write this review.

The real question though is whether the G6 is worth £650 of your hard earned money. I have to conclude that, on the whole, it might be. As mentioned when I started, the G6 represents a huge set of compromises – yet they’re intelligent compromises.

The screen’s compromised in being LCD and not AMOLED, but this makes sense in terms of cost, longevity and being less power hungry when dealing with today’s white-themed apps and web pages. The camera is compromised in being restricted in size by the need for a flush back, but LG does enough with it (and with the wide angle option) that its photos will still please most people. The chipset is compromised in being ‘last year’s’ Snapdragon 821, yet there are gains here in build cost and in power management. Then there are the weak points, such as the average mono speaker, the lack of DayDream VR compliance, and the need for black bars when watching videos, but all of these pale in comparison to all the things LG did right.

The superb feel in the hand, the good wide angle camera, the HDR display, the component choices (including that 3.5mm jack and the waterproofing), the light skin on top of Android, the use of Google Assistant, and good battery life, all drive me to recommend the G6 as perhaps the pick of the current 2017 crop. It’s not the flashiest nor the most advertised, and there are no outstanding USPs, but I predict that more people will be happier with the G6 over the course of a typical two year contract than with any of the other new fare.

Thanks to Clove for the review loan.

Like this post? Share it!

  • Death89

    Great review as ever Steve! Are you not bored of reviewing black slabs yet though?

    Where’s the innovation gone from this market! I miss the days of variety…

    • Oh, they’re still quite different if you know what to look for 😎

      But yes, I too relish each innovative detail when it comes 😎

  • Tale 85

    “The front is Gorilla Glass 5 and the back Gorilla Glass 3,”
    Knowing how I hate to pick nits, the back glass panel is Gorilla Glass 5, with the front being Gorilla Glass 3. At least from everything I’ve read.

  • Richard Durishin

    Steve, let go the stereo speaker thing! No speakers in a handset can do any music – any real music – justice. Even your beloved Marshall pales in comparison to a) a set of half-decent earbuds and b) music “Chromecast” to something with real speakers. Heck, I’m sure that even a moderately priced Bluetooth speaker sounds better than the Marshall (there’s an idea for a comparo).

    Keep cheering, though, for the 3.5mm jack. BT doesn’t have the bandwidth to deliver full fidelity and USB-C phones would obviate the ability to charge and play.

    But, a great review – as always.

    Cheers!

    R

  • Linus De Paoli

    Steve now almost 6 months after the review and with prices down to ~EU400 do you think the G6 is a better deal compared with the S8 at ~EU580?