LG G8 review

In our first impression post on the LG G8, we ask whether LG is finally ready to take on Samsung and its Galaxy lineup. LG has been releasing phones that take on Samsung for years but has been seen as an also-ran, a cheaper alternative to its South Korean rival. Does the G8 change that?

Most people find that the G devices have inferior displays, inferior cameras, or an inferior build. These, along with some smart marketing, have led to Samsung crushing LG in sales.

LG G8 first impressions: Finally taking Samsung head on?

After a few weeks with the device, I finally feel ready to answer that question and give a few more insights on just what the LG G8 brings to the table.

Hardware and design

I have one admission to make: LG has long made the phone I find perfect for my hand. In a world of expanding screens, shrinking bezels, and slippery materials, LG seems to strike a balance between the three that few others can. The LG G8 is another in a long line of comfortable devices — but I do have a few gripes.

Much like every other premium phone on the market, the G8 is a glass and metal sandwich. The glass on the front and back of the device lend to a premium feel but come at a cost. This is the most slippery device I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

That title used to be held by the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, but the G8 ups the ante by seemingly sliding off completely flat surfaces. This has led to multiple falls. Even though the device has mostly held up through it all, it’s frustrating to find my phone on the ground.

If you’re going to buy a G8, plan on picking up a case too. It’s almost mandatory unless you want to risk the out-of-pocket expense to replace a broken screen or back glass. Luckily, as JerryRigEverything pointed out, those are pretty cheap and can be replaced somewhat easily.

What cannot be replaced easily is the battery. Another revelation from the excellent video above is that LG used glue to hold down the battery in the G8. Other companies use pull tabs or glue that easily comes off, but not LG. This is an anti-consumer practice that forces users to upgrade their device instead of replacing a degraded battery and it’s unacceptable.

If you’re picking up a phone to use for three or more years, something that the LG would normally be good for, this is a hard pass due to this battery issue. Frankly, I’ve had my issues with some of the choices LG has made in the past but I’m incredibly disappointed in this one and hope LG reconsiders this practice in the future.

The G8 uses largely the same design language as the LG G6 and LG G7. Whether that’s a good thing is really in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I love it and think that the G8 is one of the best looking phones on the market. If you were hoping for a refresh, you didn’t get it but I don’t think that’s a reason to look in another direction.

The reason LG keeps coming back to this design is that it looks great and it’s functional. I get frustrated with the curved display edges of the Samsung Galaxy series and LG offers an excellent alternative.

The only problem for LG is now the Galaxy S10e is a thing and is both cheaper and offers a flat display for everyone who doesn’t like curved displays. The displays on the Galaxy S lineup are both better and more power-efficient too. Not that this is a bad display. In fact, I quite like how it looks, but seeing the Galaxy S10e and LG G8 next to each other in a carrier store will tell you everything you need to know.

Going back to those falls, I’m actually pretty surprised how well the G8 has held up. The glass that covers the display is still in perfect condition, despite lacking a screen protector. The rear has only seen minor scratches.

If you want your phone pristine from the time you leave the store with it, you’re probably going to put it in a case anyway so this is more for those who would rather have naked phone. You do run the risk of cracks and scratches, but overall I’m pretty pleased how the G8 looks almost a month after using the device.

Battery

During our initial hands-on, I was not impressed with the battery life with our review unit. I complained that the device was run by the power-efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, a chip that uses battery at a slower clip than last year’s Snapdragon 845.

In my early testing I would top out at around four hours of daily screen on time and occasionally have to charge up before bed. This falls behind other class leaders like the Galaxy S10, OnePlus 6T, and Huawei P30 Pro.A

A funny thing happened when LG switched out my Verizon-branded unit for a factory unlocked version; my battery life skyrocketed. Despite LG assuring me that there were no real differences between the devices, the proof is in the pudding.

Perhaps it was the pre-loaded Verizon apps killing the battery in the background, but I now routinely get more than five hours of screen on time and a day to a day and a half of usage.

After using the OnePlus 6T as my daily driver and not needing to worry about charging up at night, the LG G8 was disappointing to say the least. Now. I’m back to loving the battery life on this phone and charging up during the day while I’m doing other tasks instead of searching for a charger before bed.

Heavy users and gamers will still have some trouble. There have been rumblings for years that LG’s displays are rather power inefficient and I think there’s probably some merit to that. Standby time and battery usage, while the screen is off (streaming media, mostly), is great, but you can watch the battery percentage drop quickly while using the phone to stream video or play games.

Luckily, there are plenty of options to keep you topped up. Quick Charge 3.0 is on board as well as fast wireless charging. LG wins here over both the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the OnePlus 6T. The Galaxy lineup only supports Quick Charge 2.0 and the OnePlus devices might charge faster, but require a proprietary charger to do so.

I remarked that the LG G8 isn’t my first choice for an endurance champ and that hasn’t changed, but the picture is far prettier than I had once seen.

Camera

For years smartphone makers relied on higher megapixel counts to try and sell their phones to customers who assumed more equals better. We have seemingly moved past this phase but smartphone photography remains one of the more important aspects of buying a phone.

While LG isn’t normally thought of as one of the leaders in this area, that doesn’t mean you’re going to suffer if you pick up an LG G8. We’re not going to recommend the device over something like the Google Pixel 3 or even the cheaper Google Pixel 3a, but it does a great job and produces pictures you’ll be proud to post on social media or send to friends and family members.

One disappointing aspect of the G8 sold in the US is that there are only two camera sensors on the rear of the phone. We saw three on last year’s LG V40 and we see the same on the Korean model of the G8. For some reason LG decided to just go with a standard lens and wide-angle lens, opting not to include a zoom or depth sensing lens here. It’s disappointing but not a reason you should skip the G8.

We found the wide-angle lens a lot of fun to shoot with. As you can see in the camera samples you do get quite a bit more in your picture and it can lead to some interesting shots. This was a feature that you could really only find on LG phones for the past couple of years but other phone makers have caught on and included wide-angle lenses in their devices, too. This is just another reason to consider other options beyond the G8.

Where LG suffers most, in my opinion, is its computational photography. That’s really just a fancy way of saying how the LG G8 processes the pictures you take once you hit the shutter button. You can see just how far ahead Google is when you install the Google Camera application and snap comparison pictures. If you do decide to pick up the LG G8, we suggest you do just that.

Check out pictures from the LG G8

Software

For me, LG’s software skin has always been one of the biggest downsides of its devices. I don’t love the approach, colors, or way features are displayed, but I can fully recognize that I’m not the target market.

If you’re moving over from a different Android device or an iPhone, I can see the logic on hiding some features the way that they’re hidden and the (seemingly) constant reminders about moving over your data and not replacing your battery when you first set up the phone.

One of the indefensible software choices is sticking with a launcher that does not feature an app tray as the default launcher. Honestly LG, stop it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the app tray is one of the single biggest advantages Android has over iOS. There’s no flexibility in iOS to put your icons where you want and hide the lesser-used ones from sight. Why would you get rid of that here?

Luckily, you can change the launcher and I would encourage owners to install a Pixel launcher clone or Nova to get an even better experience.

One of the other big issues I had with my Verizon review unit went away on the unlocked unit too — laggy software. This thing now hums along with no dropped frames or stutters in sight.

Loading times are fast and I never have to think about what the phone is doing or wait on it to function. That’s the sweet spot of performance. I still occasionally have an issue with the multitasking button bringing up my last used app when I double tap it, but that could be more down to me missing it than it acting up.

One of the big features LG has been pushing has been using the Time-of-Flight sensor on the front of the phone to operate it hands-free in some situations. Once the phone recognizes your hand, you can unlock it, change music tracks, turn the volume up and down, and more. I like the ambition to try something a little different, but the experience falls flat.

It takes time for the ToF sensor to pick the gesture, it takes time to perform the action, and it takes time to get back into whatever you were doing. Again, cool feature, and maybe there’s some use for it in the future but it just takes longer to do these actions than if you’d press a button on your phone. Not sure why anyone would use this beyond a cool party trick, but it doesn’t cost you anything by being on the phone, I guess.

I think the software experience is going to be fine for the vast majority of potential customers but I don’t know why I’d recommend it over something from Samsung or Google. LG doesn’t do anything vastly better in software than either of those companies and they certainly don’t update their software any faster. If you want the LG G8, I say go for it but don’t do it because of the software experience.

Conclusion

The LG G8 is a good, but not top-tier phone. If you’re going to go out and spend a paycheck or two on a phone, I think there are probably better options out there. But, if you can find it cheaper than the $800 initial asking price, you might be in business. And with the quick price drop on LG devices, that’s a pretty good bet if you’re looking right now. I still wouldn’t pick it over the OnePlus 6T or 7 unless you have to have wireless charging or a high-quality DAC, but it’s a close race right now.

It can’t be said enough just how comfortable this phone is, though. It fits perfectly in my perfectly average hands and besides being a damn slippery device, I don’t really have any qualms with the build. LG even found a way to get rid of the camera hump, something that is under-appreciated but makes a difference to someone who is as particular as I am. Plus, this thing is damn slim and I love that.

Are we over the notch hate yet? Because I really am. I know there a lot of phones that will come out with more attractive options like the full-screen display on the OnePlus 7 Pro, the water drop notch on the OnePlus 7 and the cutouts on Samsung and Huawei devices, but I never noticed the notch on the LG G8 — except when it decided to scroll some icons in the top right when I was looking for the battery percentage. Even then, I waited for about two seconds and got what I was eventually after.

Where I think the G8 is really held back is in software. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just not better than anything else out there. Samsung phones have more features that make a difference in day-to-day use. Google has quick software updated and free full resolution photo backups for its Pixel 3 and 3 XL owners (unfortunately, this is not available on the 3a and 3a XL).

I’ve seen a lot of hate for the G8 and demonizing on the internet with people wondering why LG even tries anymore. Why? Because they make damn good phones. They make the best alternative to those who don’t like what’s out there from Samsung and Google here in the US.

A lot of people don’t know whether to trust OnePlus or not since its a relatively new name. LG is safe. LG makes a really good phone with some compelling features that won’t frustrate you for the next couple of years. Unless you want fast software updates.

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