Second best. Also ran. Little brother. Lesser than.
If you’re looking at the mobile landscape today, this might be what you think of the LG G6. Message boards everywhere are filled with potential customers asking “why would I buy an LG G6 when the Samsung Galaxy S8 seems superior?” While that’s a valid question when trying to decide between the two, it glosses over a whole host of things that LG does very well. Boiling a phone down to just what processor it has or how many milliamp hours(mAh) the battery has doesn’t tell the whole story of a phone.
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I’ve spent the last three months with the LG G6. It’s either held my SIM or been in my pocket alongside my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus as I switch back and forth between them. In my extended time, I’ve never used a phone quite so polarizing as the G6. However, the phone comes a host of contradictions. Let’s dive in.
Over the course of my cell phone obsession, I’ve owned the LG G3, G4, G Flex, V10, and V20. I’ve also spent time with the LG G5 for my review and I’ve had years of supporting my grandmother’s LG G2. While I haven’t loved everything about LG’s flagships, I do have a great respect for the South Korean giant’s devices and I keep coming back to them.
My love affair began with the LG G3, the first phone with a 1440p display. 1080p displays had been the standard of greatness for a few years until LG broke through the FHD barrier on the G3. As you can tell, that was the big selling point, but there were others. A great design, solid battery life (and the battery was removable!), and decent software was a recipe for success.
From that point on, I was hooked. LG has had its missteps (G5, G Flex 2), but overall it has produced very respectable phones. I love that it has never shied away from taking chances. Almost every iteration of the G series has been a complete redesign instead of the tick-tock method that most companies use. It also knows when it’s made a mistake. The LG G5 was released and with it came plenty of promises for the modular system LG heavily marketed. LG quickly realized that it was never going to take off and cut bait quickly. That might have angered some G5 owners, but it was the right thing for LG as a whole.
LG knew it needed a complete redesign and we “ended up” with the LG G6.
There isn’t much about the LG G6 that resembles the G5. The dual camera/fingerprint sensor setup has returned to the rear of the device the small LG branding on the front, but that’s about it. The plastic/metal backing has been replaced by a glass fingerprint magnet. The front of the device has bezels so small and a display that will require your eyes to take some time to adjust to. The battery is now built-in and while that’s a bummer, we get an IP rating for our troubles.
The redesign is so drastic it’s a bit hard to put into words. It’s obvious that LG obviously threw out the playbook immediately after the G5 launched and started over from scratch. The G5 felt like a cheap toy but the G6 feels like something worthy of the $650 asking price.
It’s that different.
The most noticeable redesign of the device is the aforementioned display. Sporting almost no side bezel, the G6 now fits a 5.7″ display into its body. LG went a little outside of the box this year and stretched the display north and south to give it an 18:9 display ratio instead of the 16:9 that we’re used to seeing.
The extra little bit of space means that the display is twice as tall as it is wide. The benefit is that you can display more information on the screen, but as most full-screen apps aren’t designed to support an 18:9 screen ratio, black bars appear on the top and bottom of the apps. LG has included software tricks that we’ll go into more detail about later to make the most use out of your display, but issues do remain.
While the display is the show-stealer, the rest of the body got a redesign too. The aluminum frame holds the flat display which harkens back to a time where every display didn’t have to be curved. This makes the phone easy to use and enjoyable to hold. The buttons are clicky, the back glass looks beautiful when it isn’t mucked up by fingerprints and smudges, and the bottom-firing speaker holds its own.
- Display: 5.7″ 1440 x 2880 LCD
- Dimensions: 5.86 x 2.83 x 0.31 in
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, 2 x 2.35GHz, 2 x 1.6GHz
- GPU: Adreno 530
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 32 GB with microSD card expansion up to 256GB
- Battery: 3300mAh, non-removable
- Camera (main): Dual-13MP, f/1.8 primary + f/2.2 wide-angle
- Camera (front): 5MP f/2.2
- Bluetooth version: 4.2
- USB: 3.1, type-C
- Charging technology: Fast charging, Wireless charging
I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation where the LG G6’s processor wasn’t brought up as a negative. As you may know, Samsung bought up all of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors that Qualcomm could produce, so LG was forced to wait or use a different processor. LG got its phone out early and went with the SD821. And look, that chip powered some of last year’s best phones like the Pixel, V20, and OnePlus 3T. It’s no slouch, but it’s not the latest and greatest either.
The rest of the power plant is rather ordinary for a flagship phone. 4GB of RAM and 32B of storage seem to be the minimal people will accept for a flagship in 2017, while the 3300mAh sits right in between the Samsung Galaxy S8’s 3000mAh and the Galaxy S8+’s 3500mAh batteries.
But, that battery just isn’t big enough. I may be among the subset of users who demand a little bit more from their devices, but I did find the battery life a bit lacking. I would routinely go hunting for a charger around 6:00 PM every night to get through the rest of my waking hours. I’d routinely end up with between 3:30 and 4:30 hours of screen on time while using apps to surf Reddit, check my email, chat with friends, and check my social networks. Nothing too strenuous.
I don’t know if there can be anything done with the software to improve it but I do know we’re seeing phones come out of China that all have 4000mAh batteries at the low end. Everyone is walking on eggshells because they don’t want to have the Note 7, but bigger batteries sell phones.
Wireless charging is still a bit of a luxury on phones in 2017 so I’m pleased to see it on the G6; however, it’s only on the US version of the device. While wireless and quick charging helps confront the issue of less than ideal battery life, it isn’t a perfect solution because you’re required to be near an outlet.
While on a recent long weekend, I spent a lot of it outside and the G6 couldn’t keep up. The phone died all three days after a lot of navigating, picture taking, and screen on time. I couldn’t find time to charge it during the middle of the day and it died early. In 2017, this feels unacceptable
Wireless charging and Quick Charge 3.0 do help soften the blow of having an embedded battery, even if it’s not a perfect solution. It’s the first time since the G2 that LG released an early-year flagship without a removable battery. This is the unfortunate cost of the redesigned glass and metal body along with an IP68 water and dust resistance rating. We trade aesthetics and function over the peace of mind that comes with a spare battery.
The engineering work that LG put into getting a display that big, that bright, and that beautiful into that small of a frame is honestly amazing to me. Unfortunately, there a few limiting factors that hold it back from being top-tier.
LG has continued to go with its own LCD panels and while there used to be a debate about which technology, LCD or AMOLED had the upper, AMOLED has ended that debate with the giant leaps forward it has made in the last five years. Buying a phone with an LCD panel feels like settling for less.
AMOLED displays have the ability to only turn on the pixels it needs. This is pretty important when you take into consideration that the LG G6 has an always-on display baked into its functionality. There was a story floating around recently that Google is investing in LG to make flexible OLED panels for its devices so hopefully, in the next few years we’ll see LG’s strategy shift from LCD to OLED.
The other limiting factor is LG’s software. I’ve honestly never been a fan of LG’s software and if I’m using an LG device I immediately throw on Nova Launcher. But, there are some things that Nova Launcher can’t fix; one of those issues is auto-brightness.
This has been an issue with every LG device I’ve ever used. I’m a fan of auto-brightness. I just want it to work because I hate screwing around with the brightness. But, LG just can’t seem to figure it out. The G6’s brightness was constantly too low forcing me to manually set the brightness multiple times a day. The screen does look great (and has awesome max brightness) but if it’s so dark that you’re not able to see things, what the hell is the point?
LG, figure that out before you release another device.
The LG G6 features a dual-camera setup on the rear of the device. It has two 13MP sensors, one at a normal field of view for your everyday pictures, and one sensor with a 125-degree field of view. The main sensor has an aperture of f/1.8 and comes with optical image stabilization while the wide-angle lens has an aperture of f/2.2 and does not feature OIS.
The wide-angle lens is great for capturing landscapes, large groups of friends, and anything that won’t fit into the normal 71-degree sensor. In previous generations of LG devices with dual-camera setups, there was a noticeable lag when switching between the two cameras, but that is all but gone now. LG has seriously upped its game and continues the winning streak with a great camera app too.
The front-facing camera features the same 5MP resolution that the LG G5 had. It can record 1080p video and comes with a beauty mode for those selfies. Much like the wide-angle lens on the rear of the G6, the front-facing camera is a bit wider. It splits the difference between the 71 and 125-degree rear lenses, coming in at about 100-degrees. This will make it easier to get that large group of friends in your selfies.
USB Type-C was once the connector of the future, but the future is now. Almost everyone has adopted the standard now and even Apple is starting to use it on its Macbooks. The LG G6 is no exception and features Type-C, much like the LG G5 and LG V20 before it. It also supports USB On-The-Go (USB OTG). UBS OTG allows the G6 to act as a host for flash drives, battery banks, and other phones and pass power and data between it and another device.
Additionally, the G6 supports Bluetooth 4.2. While the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ support the newer Bluetooth 5.0, the G6 does fine with 4.2. I have both the Galaxy S8+ and LG G6 and have noticed no real-world difference between the Bluetooth capabilities of the devices. Could it be that I’m not stressing them enough to find the breaking point of the LG G6 that the Samsung Galaxy S8+ handles with ease? Sure, but I’m using the devices in real world scenarios where I haven’t had any issue like that.
Where I have had issues, however, is with WiFi. The chip within the G6 has given me intermittent problems since I got the device. I can’t pinpoint exactly when or why it happens, but I occasionally have to disable WiFi then turn it back on to get a good connection. I hope that this is just another frustrating bug that can be fixed through a software update instead of a long-term problem with the hardware.
A nice surprise was the inclusion of FM radio on our T-Mobile unit. The included radio app requires you to use any wired headset to listen, but its there and its great in case you don’t want to use your data (or you’re in a bad signal area) to listen to some tunes. You’ll also get your normal radios for GPS, GLONAS, and BeiDou Navigation Satellite System or BDS.
All-in-all, the connectivity suite on the LG G6 is pretty standard for a 2016 or 2017 flagship.
Buttons and Audio
One of the most recognizable things about LG phones in the past has been the placement of its buttons. Starting with the G2, LG made the decision to move the lock/wake button to the rear of the device and it integrated a fingerprint scanner into the button starting with the G5.
The fingerprint scanner on the G6 is nothing less than best in class. I’ve been using it for almost three months at this point and I’ve never had a misread and it’s extremely fast. The placement, unlike on the S8 and S8+ is directly below the camera on the rear of the device and perfectly placed. A wonderful fingerprint sensor like the G6’s in addition to double-tap to wake so you can check our notifications is the perfect combination to stay on top of whats going on with your device. LG has done an excellent job here.
The left side of the device is dotted by two satisfyingly clicky volume buttons near the top of the device. When I hold the device in my right hand my finger sits just below the buttons and it’s a bit of an inconvenience to reach up and push them hard enough for it register. I have to shuffle the phone in my hand to get a little more leverage to press the buttons so a lower position would’ve been a little more convenient.
To the right of the charging port are three machined holes dotting the bottom of the device. These holes are the gateway to a rather standard, bottom-firing speaker. I was neither impressed nor disappointed with the speaker. It has the ability to get quite loud but the quality isn’t especially good. While doing the audio test for the review my wife was pretty impressed by how clear the music was, and while I do agree with that, it does lack any kind of bass and distorts just a hair at the highest of volumes.
If you’re an individual who listens to a lot of music through the speakers on their phone, first, buy some damn headphones. No one wants to hear your music but you. But, secondly, this might not be the phone for you. It’s great for watching a YouTube video or listening to a podcast, but there are better phones on the market for listening to music.
Apple and Motorola (and more recently, HTC) have done a disservice to the entire industry by removing the headphones jack from devices and forcing customers into using a pair of wireless headphones or using a USB Type-C (or lightning on Apple devices) adapter that can easily be lost. Wireless headphones don’t sound as good as wired ones, no ifs, and’s, or butts.
Luckily, we don’t have that issue on the G6 because LG had the good sense to include the headphone port. I can’t believe we have to make a note of this, but here we are. Listening to music on the G6 with a pair of wired headphones sounds as good as any other device, but it could have been better. LG left the quad-DAC out in the US version of the G6, opting only to offer it in a few select markets. Disappointing to say the least.
Since the dawn of Android, phone manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and LG have been designing custom software to differentiate their phones from everyone else. Sometimes these software tweaks are small features like in the case of Motorola. Sometimes they’re complete redesigns of the software like we see in phones like the Xiaomi Mi 6.
LG falls somewhere in the middle. I’ve railed on them before because I don’t like the approach its taken with its software over the years and while there are some cool software features included, I have never gotten on board with the software skin as a whole.
LG had a huge opportunity with the G6 due to the new aspect ratio of the display. The phone is now twice as tall as it is wide and I believe LG missed a huge opportunity in building the software around it. There are some features in UX 6.0 that work better with a longer screen like split screen apps and apps that have two information panes in landscape mode, but there is nothing build specifically for the LG G6‘s new display.
One of the biggest obstacles in designing software for a phone with an 18:9 display is that almost every app in the Play Store is designed to work on a 16:9 display. LG had to find a workaround to get these apps to display in a visually pleasing way on the G6 or be stuck with black bars on the top and bottom of apps.
LG implemented a few options to scale your apps to make them look as good as possible, but honestly, it just falls flat for me. There are too many steps, too much jumping back and forth to see how the apps look… Samsung’s approach is better and easier, it’s just that simple. I don’t want black bars around my apps, I don’t want apps stretched so much that I can’t press buttons on the screen, I just want it to work. Samsung achieved this while LG lags behind.
It isn’t all negative though. Some of my favorite features have carried over from old versions of the software. I love that you can edit your navigation buttons to set them in an order you want, and even add buttons. I was lost on the huge LG V20 without the added button that drops the notification shade, but it’s not that big of a deal now on the much smaller G6.
In the application drawer, you can set to display your apps in alphabetical order, download date, or custom order if you’re into that sort of thing. I like that you have options here even if I’m so set in my ways that I’ll never use those options. There are a few more options in the application drawer like showing larger icons, hiding apps, uninstalling multiple apps and viewing the homescreen settings that are welcome additions.
And the further you go into the settings application, the more you’re going to find. Many customers became frustrated with the overabundance of “in-your-face” features popping up so it seems like Samsung and LG have decided to hide them in the settings menu. This is something I support since it allows the casual user who just wants to make phone calls and text use their phone how they want, but rewards those who customize their phone a little bit more. Additionally, most people won’t care about custom ringtones, but there’s an option if you want it.
I can comfortably sit here and say the LG G6 is a good phone. It might even be a great phone and it’s one of your best options right now. But, we’re only six months into the year. We still have releases from Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung, Apple, and more on the horizon. If you’re committing to a phone today that you’ll be paying on for the next 24-months, do you want it to be the LG G6?
Earlier in the review, I mentioned that no phone I’ve ever used has ever been as polarizing as the LG G6. It feels like every great feature has a “yeah, but…” right after it. It has a great display! Yeah, but it’s LCD instead of AMOLED and the auto-brightness hurts it. It has a massive 3300mAh battery, Quick Charge 3.0, and Wireless Charging! Yeah, but the baseline battery life isn’t great and you can quickly find your phone dead if you’re not around a charger. The new 18:9 display is awesome and makes the phone feel thinner! Yeah, but almost no apps are optimized it and LG’s software answer is clunky and frustrating.
It truly is a phone of contradictions.
We’ve never have, and never will see a perfect phone because it all comes down to the compromises we’re willing to make for the overall phone. If you’re willing to make those compromises, then pick up the LG G6. If you’re not, wait for something better to come along.