Let’s be real: Last year’s G5 was ambitious, but it never lived up to its potential. Even now, I have to give props to LG: It took guts to make that phone, and it took guts to admit at a Mobile World Congress press conference that it was a step in the wrong direction. “We get it,” the company seemed to say. “We were wrong, but we listened and did better.”
And you know what? It did. The props I offer to LG now are not only for moxie but also for surprisingly good execution. Apart from adding a surprisingly long screen, the company gave up on trying to redefine how smartphones work and built a more conservative machine that played to people’s desires instead. It’s a more sensible kind of flagship for LG. Too bad the competition this year is fiercer than ever.
Hardware and design
I wouldn’t be surprised if LG took almost everything it learned about industrial design with the G5 and set it on fire. That’s the sort of seismic shift we’re working with here. And honestly, it’s for the best. The G5’s modularity required sacrifices, and with that constraint gone the company’s engineers were able to design a sleek, sturdy frame that feels worthy of a flagship. You can tell just looking at the materials used. The G5’s light, plasticky metal is gone, replaced by Gorilla Glass 5 on the G6’s back (a pane of Gorilla Glass 3 covers the screen). Those glass panels eventually meet at a band of aluminum that encircles the phone. Even better, the G6 is IP68 dust- and water-resistant, a feat that was straight-up impossible last year because of the G5’s slide-out battery mechanism.
One of the few design decisions that remained was the dual camera on the back, only this time it sits flush with the phone’s body. Below that is the signature sleep/wake button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It’s been years since LG made this a mainstay of its high-end phones, and I appreciate the placement. The sensor was always within reach of my index fingers, but it occasionally needed a few clicks to unlock.
Meanwhile, you’ll find the volume keys on the left side, directly opposite the microSIM and microSD card slot (which takes up to 2TB of additional storage). You’ll probably need the latter too. In the US, the G6 comes with 32GB of storage, only 19GB of which are available once you crack open the box. There’s a USB-C port on the bottom, a headphone jack up top and that’s really it. Well, except for the G6’s claim to fame: the display.
I challenge you to tear your eyes away from the G6’s screen, its rounded corners or the mere sliver of bezel running around it all. The phone is basically all screen, and it feels like a revelation. In fact, with a screen this prominent, the rest of the G6’s frame fades into the background (especially on our low-key black review unit). That’s fine by me; the G6 is a well-built machine, but it’s pretty plain-looking.
LG’s minimal design aside, the company squeezed a whole lot of screen into a modestly sized body. It’s remarkably comfortable to hold and use for long periods of time. Between the not-quite-finished model I received at Mobile World Congress and the consumer-ready, AT&T version LG later provided, I’ve been using this all-screen design for over a month. In a nutshell: I’m never going back. You’ll still shimmy your hand up the phone’s body to reach the top corners with your thumbs, but the G6 is surprisingly comfortable for one-handed use.
To top it all off, it’s surprisingly durable. One night, while perhaps a little tipsy at dinner, the G6 slipped from my grasp and fell about 15 feet from the restaurant’s upstairs table to the hard tile of the ground floor. I felt like a tremendous idiot, but the phone suffered only a few nicks around the edges. Seriously, LG: well done.
Display and sound
Since the screen is the single biggest change to LG’s G Series formula, let’s dig a little deeper. It’s a 5.7-inch IPS LCD running at 2,880 x 1,440 (that’s an 18:9 aspect ratio, for those keeping track). As far as LG is concerned, this super long FullVision display is the way of the future. After all, it seems well suited to multitasking, and filmmakers (like La La Land’s Damien Chazelle) have already embraced wider-than-widescreen formats. Even better, the G6 and its screen support standards like Dolby Vision and HDR10 for more vivid video. It’s just too bad that finding content that takes full advantage of this screen is still pretty difficult.
And don’t forget about those curves. The corners of the panel are actually round, which supposedly helps disperse the blunt force that comes with a careless drop. It’s equal parts clever and cool-looking, which I love. None of this would matter if the screen itself was lousy, but that’s thankfully not the case: Text and images are crisp and precise, colors are lively without veering into over-saturation. Viewing angles are excellent too, which is crucial: What good is a long screen if it’s hard to glance at?
So yeah, LG clearly paid a lot of attention to the G6’s display — too bad it didn’t spend as much time on the phone’s audio. There’s a single speaker wedged into the phone’s bottom, and its output is anemic at best. It’s a good thing LG kept the classic headphone jack around, but even that isn’t as good as it could be. See, despite the company’s commitment to high-quality audio with its V Series phones, the G6 lacks the Quad DAC that made devices like the V20 such great media players. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised: You had to buy a separate “Friend” to squeeze high-fidelity audio out of the G5, and it was never available in North America anyway. There’s still hope for you audiophiles: The Asian version of the phone has that DAC built-in if you don’t mind scouting for foreign devices online.
Remember the days when LG’s custom interface was terrible? Yeah, so do I. These days LG is into restraint, and while it’s still a long way from stock Android 7.0, the company’s skin and apps add more value than headaches. Does that mean it’s for everyone? Hell no, but it’s progress.
That progress can be tougher to spot if you’ve used the G5 or the V20, since almost all the usual tricks are back. You can still turn on the screen with a double-tap, rearrange your navigation keys or ditch the traditional Android app launcher in favor of an iOS-style app free-for-all. The most noticeable changes are cosmetic — here’s looking at you, wallpapers and “squircle” icons — but the biggest ones are meant to take advantage of that super long screen.
Consider the calendar and the contact list: They look normal enough when launched, but rotating the phone reveals another view that displays extra information in two side-by-side square panels. Handy. Still another included app lets you change how other apps are scaled to fit on-screen. Fiddling around with it can get certain apps looking more natural on the G6’s 18:9 display, but in my experience, you could ignore this feature completely and not miss out on anything. Google’s also got your back: It’s been encouraging developers to build native support for 18:9 screens into its apps.
Speaking of Google, the G6 was — briefly — the only non-Pixel smartphone to come with Google’s virtual Assistant. Google kind of spoiled LG’s fun by rolling Assistant out to compatible devices shortly after the G6’s announcement, but hey, a good voice interface is a good voice interface. If you were expecting differences in performance between the Assistant here and the one running on Google’s first-party hardware, don’t worry. After a few initial moments of sluggishness, talking to the G6 was as pleasant as talking to the Pixels. That’s good news for those of you with burning curiosities and a fondness for chatting with inanimate objects.
The AT&T model we tested is loaded with bloatware. Maybe the strangest change is AT&T’s use of Firefox — not Chrome — as the default web browser. Some of you won’t mind, as Firefox is a perfectly good alternative. Beyond that, we’re left with 13 preloaded apps no one ever actually asked for and a persistent notification that keeps insisting I set up the DirecTV remote app. News flash, AT&T: I don’t use the service and wouldn’t use this app even if I did, so for the love of God, stop shoving this notification in my face.
Dual cameras have gone from gimmick to flagship feature, and LG was one of the first companies to make them feel valuable. The work began with last year’s G5, which combined an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera with a 16-megapixel main camera for more-flexible shooting. It was a solid first attempt, but this year’s approach feels much more elegant.
For one, this time the normal and wide-angle cameras shoot at the same 13-megapixel resolution. Now we have resolution parity, and they both turn out crisp, detailed images without much fiddling. There are still differences between the two though. The main camera has a f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization and phase-detection autofocus, all of which the wide-angle camera lacks. In other words, you should probably steer clear of those wide-angle shots at night: They too often come out fuzzy and improperly exposed.
In normal daylight conditions though, both cameras capture crisp images with lots of detail and bright colors. In fact, thanks to some aggressive image processing, colors can sometimes border on garish. For more-nuanced control over your photos, you can switch into a Pro mode with manual settings. It’s overkill for most, but in the right hands it leads to some killer shots. And fortunately, switching between the two cameras is mostly free of lag, a feat the company pulled off with some help from Qualcomm.
LG also threw in some square shooting modes that make use of the long screen. You can, for instance, instantly preview photos you took on one side of the screen while retaining a live view on the other or quickly build an animated, 4×4 grid of shots for Instagram or whatever. Exactly how valuable some of these modes are is debatable, but I’m willing to admit I might be short on imagination.
The G6 also doubles as a respectable videographer’s tool. It packs full manual control, a first for LG, which also helps keep low-light videos looking good. What’s more, handy additional features like focus peaking and hi-res audio recording are must-haves for people who take their on-the-go shooting seriously. I still think Google’s Pixels are the best all-around smartphone cameras out there, but consider me impressed by the sheer flexibility on offer here.
Performance and battery life
The G6 felt plenty fast in day-to-day use, thanks to the Snapdragon 821 chipset, 4GB of RAM and the Adreno 530 GPU ticking away inside. I know what you’re thinking: This is a very familiar configuration that we’ve already seen in a handful of flagship phones. The Galaxy S8 and Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium might churn out more power thanks to their shiny new Snapdragon 835s, but performance rarely felt lacking.
My usual workday consists of a lot of Slack, Outlook and Spotify, with pretty frequent sessions of Hearthstone and Dirt Extreme. Multitasking — even in split-screen mode — yielded relatively few hiccups. And graphically intense gaming proved to be no problem either. Swiping around the interface and launching apps was snappy too, though spurts of slowness popped up from time to time. I’d put my money on LG’s interface dragging the system down, but it was never enough to cause more than momentary frustration.
|LG G6||Google Pixel XL||Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge||LG G5|
|3DMark IS Unlimited||30,346||29,360||26,666||26,981|
|GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)||42||48||47||47|
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the greatest luck with the G6’s battery. It’s a 3,300mAh cell, which is larger than what you’ll find in some competitors — the HTC U Ultra and the regular Galaxy S8 spring to mind. Even so, I could only count on the G6 to last for one day. If I was lucky and didn’t use the phone too much, I might wake up the next morning to find it still clinging to life. The G6 didn’t fare much better in our video rundown test, where we loop HD videos with WiFi connected until it dies. It lasted just under 11 hours, which puts it a bit behind last year’s V20.
To put that in perspective, the G6 did worse than HTC’s U Ultra and the smaller Google Pixel, despite both of them having smaller batteries. At least the G6 is convenient and quick to charge: It supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 tech, and the US model comes with built-in wireless charging support. (In case you’ve been keeping track, that’s /another/ thing the G5 couldn’t do.)
I don’t mean to spoil the ending, but this is the best phone LG has built in years. The problem is, its biggest rivals haven’t exactly been sitting still. After a wave of strong first impressions, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is clearly the smartphone to beat: It too has a long, bezel-less display, and it’s clearly more of a looker. Beyond that, I’m cautiously optimistic about what the S8’s Bixby virtual assistant will develop into over time. The G6 could have the edge in photography though. I’m told the S8’s camera aren’t hugely improved over last year’s S7s, and that’s a hell of a niche to leave open for LG.
If you’re looking for a better music experience, you might want to check out the LG V20 ($ 599) as well. It packs the Quad DAC that our version of the G6 doesn’t have, and it packs a small, sometimes useful second screen above the big one. And for those of you looking for the peak of what the Snapdragon 821 can offer, I’d suggest Google’s Pixel XL ($ 769+). I already mentioned it had the best all-around smartphone camera out there; it also packs a completely clean version of Android. Sure, it might not be as attractive as the G6, but its sturdy build quality means it feels every bit as premium and it’ll get software updates from Google as soon as they’re available.
It’s also worth pointing out that buying a G6 can be lucrative in other ways. If you were fast enough on the draw, you could’ve nabbed a free TV and/or Google Home to go with that G6. That’s an uncannily good deal, though it feels a little desperate.
There’s no doubt about it: The G6 represents some of LG’s best smartphone work ever. Sure, it’s not perfect: Audio is pretty weak, and so is the battery. None of that takes away from the fact that LG has built a phone that feels ready to compete with the best of the best for the first time in ages. Whether it has what it takes to beat those rivals, though, is a matter of opinion.
I’ve enjoyed my time with the G6 but you can’t underestimate the power of a visceral thrill, and that’s one thing the G6 never managed to deliver. Deep down, I can’t help but wonder if this year will go LG’s way. The Galaxy S8 and Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone are poised to suck the air out of the room, and it’d be a shame to see LG’s effort overshadowed simply because other companies are better at generating hype. If you’re looking for a shiny new smartphone, the G6 definitely deserves a close look … but you might want to wait until we see what the full field of competitors looks like.