LG G8 ThinQ hands-on: Bland on the outside, blistering on the inside

The LG G8 ThinQ, the company’s smaller flagship device for the year, mixes old and new in ways that might not be enough for some fans. The design is nearly carried over entirely from the previous generation and the under-the-hood improvements, while enticing, are hard to spot at a glance. The result is a phone that, for better or worse, hides its best features until it gets to know you a bit. Literally.

The LG G8 competes directly with the Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone Xs, and Huawei’s P20 Pro. It’s close in size, capabilities, and price point. Did LG do enough with its 2019 flagship to fend off its foes?

Framing the familiar

From several feet away, very little differentiates the G7 and G8. The basic size and shape is nearly identical. Curved Gorilla Glass 6 covers the front and back, and an aluminum frame provides support. LG says the aluminum has been anodized and covered with a glossy finish to give it a little extra visual pizzazz. I appreciate the G8’s semi-compact footprint. If you shy away from today’s massive platters, the G8 keeps things reined in. It’s narrower than many devices and this makes it easier to hold and use.

Visually, the biggest departure between the G7 and G8 is the camera module. Where the G7 has a raised, vertical camera module, the G8 has a flush, horizontal camera module. I do like the flush look and feel of the G8’s camera more. The fingerprint sensor, USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and buttons are all exactly the same between the G7 and G8.

Other staples on board the G8 include an IP68 rating for protection against dust and water, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, and the fastest LTE. Wireless charging is available, as is NFC for mobile Google Pay transactions. These are table-stakes features for a modern flagship and the G8 ThinQ has them all.

Taking flight

The G8 derives much of its magical power from the Z camera, a time-of-flight (ToF) camera that’s been added to the front. The ToF Z camera is able to understand distance/depth and thus create 3D maps of the stuff within its field of view. This lets it do some neat tricks.

LG G8 ThinQ

First, 3D facial recognition. LG stopped short of calling it Face ID, but the ToF camera is able to generate a detailed picture of your face — even in really low light — and use it to unlock the phone. LG combined an “awareness” tool to further improve the security, meaning the phone’s owner has to be awake and looking at the screen for the 3D facial recognition feature to work. LG says it accomplishes this by recording and recognizing eyesight patterns. This will prevent others from simply waving the phone in front of the owner to unlock it.

The G8 includes a novel feature called Hand ID: The phone can recognize you by looking at your hand. No, it’s not reading the lines in your palm like Zoltar at your local county faire. Rather, the Z camera is creating an image of the veins in your hand. It does this via the infrared absorption characteristics of hemoglobin in your blood. LG contends that this is very hard to forge or crack for breaking into phones.

LG showed us how Hand ID works and it’s pretty cool. Essentially, you hover your hand a few inches over the phone to unlock it. I can’t say it was super fast, though I didn’t think it was slow either. Going hand-in-hand with Hand ID (ha!) is the G8’s Air Motion feature. Because the phone recognizes the shape and movement of your hand, G8 owners can wave their hand over the device to access shortcuts, or to quell calls and alarms, pause music or video, and even take screenshots. The screenshot tool is fun and looks like something out of Guardians of the Galaxy.

LG G8 ThinQ

Why all this hand-motion stuff? Well, some people find themselves in situations when they have sticky fingers and don’t want to smear oil, peanut butter, ketchup, or whatever on their fancy phone screens when they need to answer a call. Consider the problem solved.

Visionary vibrations

The screen is certainly something. It carries over the 6.1-inch dimension, Quad HD+ resolution, and 19.5:9 aspect ratio of the G7, but LG improved the color from HDR10 to HDR10+. This means it produces even richer colors and deeper contrast. I walked away from my time with the phone impressed — at least as far as the screen is concerned. It’s gorgeous, of that there’s no doubt. Yes it has a notch, though you can control whether or not it appears as a notch or a black bar at the top.

Showing content is not all the screen does, not by a long shot. LG says the G8 ThinQ has “Crystal Sound OLED.” Let me ‘splain.

LG G8 ThinQ

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LG G8 ThinQ to pack OLED screen that can be used as an amplifier

LG Newsroom

We’ve seen loads of rumors regarding the LG G8 ThinQ in the past few months, and so-called Sound On Display technology was one of these claimed features. Now, the Korean company has …

Ports and holes create a problem for engineers as they attempt to waterproof a phone. Water will seep into any opening. Even openings on waterproof phones (such as receivers) can become clogged. In order to save itself some hassle, LG did away with the speaker and receiver. How will you hear actual phone calls? The screen itself vibrates. LG says the glass acts as the speaker diaphragm and it provides clean audio when making phone calls. It is similar to bone conduction. In fact, pressing the G8 to your head will help you hear calls better in noisy environments. The benefit is that water won’t get into the receiver hole.

The crystal sound OLED is also capable of producing stereo music when it’s time to kick back and chill. The samples I heard were decent enough and louder than you might expect.

LG G8 ThinQ

Picture this

Though the Samsung Galaxy S10 and (presumably) the Huawei P30 have three rear cameras, the G8 ThinQ sticks to two. Sort of. The main camera is a 12MP shooter at ƒ/1.5 and a 78-degree field-of-view. The wide-angle camera shoots 16MP images at ƒ/1.9 and has a 107-degree field of view. The camera is assisted by artificial intelligence to recognize objects and adjust automatically to various scenes. It does all the things we expect from a flagship camera. One addition I’m particularly fond of its the Night View feature. As other phone makers have done, LG boosted the G8’s ability to capture crisp and clean night shots. The sample shots were impressive, though we’ll reserve true judgement until we test it ourselves.

lg g8 thinq with three cameras

The LG G8 ThinQ with three rear cameras

Oddly, we spotted a variant of the LG G8 with three cameras on the back. When asked, LG representatives told Android Authority that there is in fact a three-camera version that will be made available to carriers. It’s not clear which carriers in what countries might sell the three-camera G8, though it’s possible it’ll come to the U.S. This three-camera version mirrors the 16MP ultra-wide, 12MP wide, and 12MP telephoto of the V50 ThinQ.

LG G8 ThinQ

LG can lay claim to at least one “first.” The G8 can capture Portrait Video, or video that shoots bokeh in real time. Using the rear cameras, the phone allows people to focus on a subject and blur the background as they film. It even includes a tool for adjusting the level of blur on the fly. Very cool. This is something we look forward to testing.

Related: The full list of LG G8 specs

On the front, LG opted for an 8MP camera at ƒ/1.7. The ToF camera goes beyond biometrics, of course. It also assists with the selfie camera in creating self portraits that are enhanced with bokeh effects.

The rest

Just a bit more to talk about. I’m happy to report that LG somehow found room inside the chassis to improve the size of the battery from 3,000mAh (on the G7) to 3,500mAh. That’s a huge improvement. Together with the more advanced power management tools in Android 9 Pie, the G8 should offer more uptime than the G7 did.

Performance of the pre-production units we saw was smooth. The G8 relies on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and comes with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage standard. It can manage a microSD card up to 2TB. Then there’s the Vapor Chamber. Yeah, LG cooked up a heat-dissipation system for the G8 ThinQ to ensure the internals don’t get too hot while gaming.

LG G8 ThinQ

In addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack, the phone has a 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC for audiophiles to get excited about. The phone supports DTS:X 3D Surround Sound and the microphones can handle super-far field voice recognition for voice commands.

The LG G8 ThinQ will come in three colors: Carmine Red, New Aurora Black, and New Platinum Gray. LG says it will reach the U.S. in the coming weeks. Expect pricing to be between $750 and $800.

If ever the old adage — don’t judge a book by its cover — applied to anything, it is the LG G8 ThinQ. The phone is a bit bland to behold, but there’s no question this is an advanced piece of tech.

You can learn even more about the LG G8 ThinQ and the 5G-capable LG V50 ThinQ at the links below:

  • LG G8 ThinQ is here: Everything you need to know
  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G hands-on: A safe bet
  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G is here: Everything you need to know
  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G specs: 5G support and a 4,000mAh battery
  • LG’s V-series will now be exclusively 5G, G-series will be 4G only

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