LG G7 ThinQ hands on: Camera smarts, killer sound, and some funky notch options

To notch or not to notch.

If you liked the LG V30, you'll also like the G7. Where LG's previous G phones have made their debuts with new screens, body styles, and features that set the tone for the rest of the year, the G7 is more of an iteration than a revelation. It leaves the G6's boxy industrial design behind and follows the curved cues of the V30. Put it next to LG's latest V flagship, in fact, and you'll have a hard time telling them apart.

Except for the notch, that is. That's right, LG has decided that the best way to differentiate the G7 from its previous phones is to add a camera cutout to the top of the screen, joining the Essential Phone, ZenFone 5, and upcoming OnePlus 6 on the list of Android phones trying to squeeze as much screen as possible into their bodies. In a callback to the V20, LG is calling the area to the right and left of the notch a "new second screen," but make no mistake: It's really just a split status bar with some interesting display options.

lg g7 camera Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The LG G7 THinQ's camera has been infused with AI.

I've only spent a small amount of time with the phone, but I can tell you this much: The G7's notch isn't meant to be an iPhone X-like defining feature. It's merely the easiest way for LG to add a few millimeters of screen real estate, and judging by how much better the phone looks when the whole thing is hidden with a black status bar, LG isn't all that invested in it as a design element.

But everything below the notch is pretty darn intriguing.

A bigger screen and new buttons

You can check out our news story for the G7's full specs, but suffice to say, it's on par with the other 2018 Android flagships, with a Snapdragon 845 processor and a 6.1-inch, 19.5:9 HDR screen. LG has stuck with an LCD for the G7 (rather than switching to OLED like on the V30), which tells us that it still hasn't worked out the kinks in its next-gen smartphone display tech.

lg g7 notch2 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

With the notch visible, the G7 looks a little unbalanced

While the Quad HD resolution is essentially the same as the G6, LG says the G7 can hit 1,000 nits of brightness. It didn't blow me away in my brief outdoor testing, but it's definitely brighter than the G6 and V30. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Samsung' Galaxy S9 and Note 8 still boast higher peak brightnesses, but 1,000 nits will really only come on handy in very specific situations (like when using your phone on a very sunny day). However, LG does say its M+ RGBW display uses 35 percent less battery consumption than its previous LCDs. That's good, because the G7 only has a 3,000mAh battery, down from 3,300mAh in the V30 and the G6.

Since LG has increased the size of its screen without increasing the physical dimensions by more than a few millimeters, there's very little else on the front of the phone. But the bezels aren't completely gone. There is a very present strip of glass below the screen and a slightly larger bezel at the top than the sides, which makes the whole phone seem unbalanced at first blush. Otherwise, the G7 is nearly identical to the V30, with curved edges, rounded corners, and a metallic back that's slick but not slippery to the touch.

lg g7 notch Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Some of the LG G7's notch options are just weird.

One change LG fans will notice is the addition of two new buttons to the side of the phone. The first is the power button, which is no longer built into the rear fingerprint sensor. The other is a dedicated Google Assistant button. Like Samsung's Bixby button, pressing it launches the same Google Assistant interface as long-pressing the virtual home button. I'm thankful that LG isn't pushing its own AI chatbot with the G7, but there's no way to remap or turn off the button (at least not yet). It's a curious choice (even Google lets you disable Active Edge on its Pixel phones), especially since the G7 also includes super far-field microphones for voice recognition up to 16 feet away.

But enough about the buttons, less talk about the notch. LG's implementation here isn't bad, as it includes an option in Settings to black out the screen adjacent to the camera—or re-render it in a variety of colors, which is just weird. Even with LCD tech, the black blended in nicely with the camera, and I suspect most people will opt to turn off the notch, restoring the visual balance to the phone without losing any useable pixels.

Now, if LG were to actually bring second-screen usefulness to the top of the screen with shortcuts and at-a-glance information, it would be a real innovation. But for now, it's just a show-or-hide background on the status bar. Check out our video above to see how it all works.

Sounds like a winner

While the G7 doesn't have front-facing stereo speakers like the Pixel 2, it's still a total audio powerhouse, as LG has gone all in on high-fidelity sound. For starters, there's a 32-bit Quad DAC-powered 3.5mm headphone jack on the U.S. model (with MAQ format support), as well as support for Dolby Atmos competitor DTS-X.

lg g7 ports Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

See the headphone jack? The sound system on the G7 is the real star of the show.

The latter will bring 3D virtual surround sound to wired headphones and speakers, and while I didn't get to test it yet, I'm impressed with the settings, which let you choose between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound. Optimal sound will depend on the output device, but this is one more way LG is using sound quality to differentiate its phones from competitors.

LG has also introduced a Boombox speaker on the G7, which is about 40 percent larger than on the G6. It uses the inner space in the body of the G7 as an acoustic chamber, and the results are impressive. LG says it's 10 times louder than competing smartphones, and I can attest that's it's pretty darn loud. Granted, my demo was in a optimized space, but sound from the phone was full and bass-heavy, and when placed on a wooden table, it resonated even more. If sound quality matters to you, the G7 should pique your interest.

AI in the camera 

At this point, you're probably wondering what the ThinQ surname is all about. For starters, it's pronounced Thin-Q rather than Think, and I don't really know why. Pronunciation aside, ThinQ is LG's branding for its line of smart devices and appliances, so the usage here isn't unique to the G7, and in fact, we already saw similar tech on the V30S ThinQ that debuted at MWC.

lg g7 pic Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G7 includes a new portrait mode that produces a bokeh effect that can be adjusted both before and after the shot.

So, the G7's ThinQness is merely an evolution of that phone's AI infusion, but whether it's more than a gimmick remains to be seen. It only works with the still camera, and its main purpose is to figure out what you're shooting and suggest the best picture settings for optimized color, contrast, and saturation. It was hard to gauge its success with my limited testing, but it seemed to take better pics than just using standard auto mode. And it's fun to watch the AI Camera scan a scene in real time to identify what it's seeing.

lg g7 ai cam id Michael Simon/IDG

The AI Cam on the G7 will analyze the scene and take its best guess at what it sees. FWIW, that's not spinach or fish.

When shooting in very low light, the G7 uses its new super bright mode to turn overly dark and noisy images into useable ones. I snapped a few pics in a closet with the door cracked ever so slightly, and the G7 captured incredible detail that even my eyes could barely see. It'll require much more testing, but my first impressions were strong. In fact, it looks more impressive than the Samsung Galaxy S9's f/1.5 mechanical aperture.

Making an impression

After about an hour with the G7, I can say that I can't wait to get my hands on it. It might not be as significant an update as the G6 or V30, but the features it brings—a smarter camera, high-quality sound, and top-of-the-line specs—are no gimmicks. Even the AI camera seems like it might come in handy.

lg g7 camera Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The G7's camera has been infused with AI.

One thing I know for sure, though: As much as I like it on the iPhone X, the first thing I'm going to do when I get my G7 review unit is hide the notch.

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