As Mobile World Congress gets underway today, Sunday 26 February, in Barcelona, Spain, there are thousands of companies vying for your attention. One that tries to do so every year is LG, and this year it has gone big – literally – with its latest high-end handset, the LG G6.
LG has lagged behind the popularity of fellow South Korean rival Samsung in recent years, and with no Galaxy S8 in Barcelona, LG is desperate to make sure the G6 takes all the headlines, thought it faces stiff competition from Sony and even Nokia this year.
The design has been overhauled again following the leather-clad G4 and the modular G5 to a debatably more uniform metal and glass affair. LG’s Friends didn’t last long, did they?
But the G6 looks stunning and performs just as well as the best smartphones on the market after our initial tests.
We got exclusive early hands-on time with the LG G6. Here are our initial impressions on it in our LG G6 review.
See also: LG announces the G6 at MWC
LG G6 hands-on review: UK price and availability
As of yet LG has not announced a price for the LG G6 in the UK. The release date is also unconfirmed, though we expect it to be in April or May, and we expect it to be available on all four major UK networks.
LG G6 hands-on review: Design and build
So LG has gone big, but it’s the screen, not the handset itself, that’s grown. The G6 boasts an 18:9 screen, expanding the display from the traditional confines of 16:9. This leaves it with a 5.7in Quad HD display. It looks seriously good.
Alongside that wonderful display is a design that conforms, unlike the modular G5 and the leather-clad G4. The G6 takes a leaf out of the iPhone 4’s book with a solid aluminium frame and Gorilla Glass on the front and back. It comes in white, platinum and black, with only the latter being a true fingerprint magnet.
The refined design is simpler and more elegant, with the dual rear cameras and fingerprint sensor that acts as the power/lock button sitting flush with the body. The bottom edge houses the USB-C port (fully waterproof), single speaker and mic. The right edge is smooth and clear save for the SIM tray, while the left edge has the two volume keys. The top edge has that very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack.
Even though the metal and glass frame isn’t entirely original, the rounded design is made all the more striking thanks to the rounded corners of the actual display as well. It’s a clever detail that doesn’t negatively affect use while accentuating the G6’s thin bezels and unusually tall screen. It works really well.
LG said that its goal with the G6, after extensive customer research, was to make a phone with a huge screen but that you could still comfortable use with one hand. The problem here is that that is basically impossible, even for those with large hands. Where the company has succeeded though is by making the G6 perfectly pocket friendly while packing in a screen that it’s easy to scroll through and hold with a single paw.
This might sound easy to achieve, but it can be rare to find on phablets like the G6. The iPhone 7 Plus, for example, is a through and through two-handed device, and the G6 succeeds in fitting a larger screen than that phone into a smaller overall body.
LG G6 hands-on review: Features and specifications
One point of contention among the tech community is LG’s decision to go with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor rather than its latest 835 that we expect to see in the Galaxy S8.
The 821 is in its third generation, and LG told us in an interview that it therefore has more expertise in how to optimise the user experience (UX) and implied the 835 wouldn’t have brought any more noticeable advantages.
We hope that the as yet unannounced price will reflect this. LG needs to undercut its rivals somewhere, something HTC failed to do with its overpriced HTC U Ultra, another phone with the 821 processor. We aren’t too worried about performance though – we’ll add benchmarks to this review as soon as we have them.
The display is a 5.7in Quad HD display with a resolution of 2880 x 1440 – it’s stunning. Aside from the 564ppi, the extra height of the 18:9 aspect means the whole experience of using the G6 is improved from the G5. If that sounds a bit too vague, it’s because you really need to get your hands on it to see what we mean. This impression is also intrinsically linked with the changes to the software, which we’ll come onto.
The screen also retains the always-on functionality from the G5, with a slightly altered setup lower down on the screen with a new default font. It still displays the time, date and apps that you have notifications for.
One thing that we need to investigate further when we receive a final review unit is how the 18:9 aspect ratio behaves outside of the LG UI. During our hands on time, we played a couple of pre loaded games that displayed in 16:9 (as is the standard) with a black bar on the far right edge as we held the G6 landscape. This could be an annoyance to users if LG doesn’t manage to sort out standards. LG told us that it was working directly with Netflix to sort this out, but we remain worried that with the plethora of services and games out there, the G6 might be doomed to a life of black bar playback. Hopefully not.
The LG G5 impressed us with its dual camera setup that enabled wide-angle shots. The G6 retains this, with two 13Mp rear facing cameras. The wide-angle lens offers a 125 degree angle and the standard has optical image stabilisation. LG claims it has found an algorithm that lets you zoom between the two cameras smoothly without a software jerk. On a pre-production unit this actually didn’t work, but fingers crossed it will in the retail version.
These cameras can record up to 60fps at full HD quality, and in ultra HD at 30fps. HDR support is only for still images, not video, but this is quite usual for smartphones – even the high-end ones.
Storage and RAM
All variants of the LG G6 will have 4GB RAM as standard. Regionally, some of the features differ. The European version of the LG G6 will have 32GB storage but a micro SD slot for expansion up to 2TB. The same applies to the US version.
The Korean variant will have 64GB storage, but also the micro SD support. LG said these differences were down to regional marketing decisions. Hopefully it won’t make too much difference given the storage is expandable.
Connectivity and extras
Where those regional decisions become a bit more frustrating is in the extras. The US G6 will have wireless charging, which adds extra convenience, minimal extra weight and no design changes. However, the Korean and European versions miss out on this handy addition.
The Korean G6 will have Hi-Fi Quad DAC, a component that allows for high quality audio playback. LG told us that it doesn’t cost much more to add this feature, but the US and Europe miss out on it. It referred back to regional decisions on included components, but for us it’s frustrating that the European version will miss out on two desirable features.
There will also be a dual SIM version, but don’t expect this to come to the UK or Europe. These three missing features aren’t vital to the G6’s success in the UK, but we’d certainly welcome them and it’s frustrating to see a major phone split its features like this dependent on market. Extra features are universally appreciated.
The G6 does have one trick up its sleeve for all regions though. LG claims it’s the first smartphone to support both Dolby Vision and HDR 10. In basic terms, it’s the first smartphone to theoretically support superior audio-visual standards normally associated with high-end televisions.
We say theoretically because while it supports both, streaming services such as Netflix don’t actually yet offer playback of this combined quality on mobile devices. Remember when everything was ‘HD ready’, before HD actually existed? It’s like that. Watch this space.
An iPhone 7 compared to the LG G6
LG G6 hands-on review: Software
The G6’s software has been quite substantially overhauled from the G5’s in order to play nice with the taller 18:9 screen. LG’s own apps such as messaging, weather and calendar have been redesigned to better manage white space and information displayed since there’s more room to play with.
When presented side by side with the G5’s screens, the difference is noticeably positive:
As you can see, apps have more space to work with, so LG has worked very hard to bring the user a more aesthetically pleasing experience, working on attractive, modernised graphics in the main apps.
The camera software too has been redone, with some excellent use of the extra screen space – we love that when taking photos landscape, you get a camera roll of the last few photos taken, rather than the smartphone norm of one tiny thumbnail of the one most recent photo.
With our hands-on of the pre-production model we liked the use of the two square idea (app presentation split into squares) in the camera functions LG calls guide shot (for comparison snaps), grid shot (2x2grid shots) and match shot (for collages). They are a tad gimmicky and the software was buggy, so we will fully test it on the final review unit.
We also welcome LG’s decision to choose whether or not to display apps iOS style on the home screen or store them in an app tray. We don’t mind it on iOS, but given the choice on Android, we’ll pick the app tray every time.