LG's latest flagship looks cool, but that feeling wears off... quickly.

For LG, the past few years have been disappointing, to say the least. The company has continuously lost money in its mobile division, and turning a profit hasn’t been in the conversation for a while. The company has also failed to deliver a phone that could properly tackle the latest flagships from Apple, Google, and Samsung. LG has certainly tried, but perhaps not hard enough.

I don’t really know if LG is trying to turn things around with its latest flagship, the G8 ThinQ. Starting at $819.99, it’s certainly not competitively priced. Its specs are rather run of the mill for a 2019 phone. And despite being a decent package overall, the phone’s various gimmicky features create a flash-bang that’s cool to advertise but not practical for everyday use.

This phone will go down as the blood-scanning phone. Because other than this feature and a few others, the G8 is just kind of flat.

The G8 isn’t bad, necessarily, and it shows in the design department. LG is sticking to a very similar form factor to last year’s G7. This time around, the company decided to make the camera module flush with the rest of the back of the phone by making it slightly thicker and filling it out with a larger battery. I along with many other tech reviewers have been asking companies to do this for years, so kudos to you, LG, for doing it.

The thicker phone is comfortable to hold. You don’t necessarily feel like it’s gonna slip out of your hands like you do with thinner devices on the market. However, speaking of slipping, this is by far the slipperiest phone I’ve ever tested. I don’t know what the process is when it comes to producing glass for smartphones, but whether LG omitted a special coating or wanted extra gloss, the G8 can’t help but slide literally anywehre you place it.

This is maddening. I placed my G8 on top of a book that wasn’t slanted whatsoever. After around a half hour, I noticed the phone had fallen off the face of the book and landed on my desk. No damage was done, but I’ve never had a phone do that in my entire life. Mind you, it was on airplane mode, so the vibration couldn’t have caused it.

I’ve also noticed the G8 gets much more slimy, crusty, and gross than other phones I’ve tested. Whatever that coating LG is missing needs to be implemented, because as a result of the omission, you get a finger grease-covered slip fest that essentially requires a case for any sane person to handle it every day. LG sent me one to try with the phone, but it’s just a cheap plastic cover for the back that does nothing but add slightly more grip and collect scratches like your cat’s favorite section of the furniture.

At least the G8 has good design intentions. Like I said, it’s made of glass so it feels premium. You also get a USB-C port on the bottom along with a headphone jack and loud speaker. LG brings over its Boombox speaker from the G7 and V40 by using the G8’s body as a resonance chamber, creating a louder sound presence with a touch more bass. If it’s volume you desire, you’ll love this feature.

On the front of the G8, LG includes a 6.1-inch OLED display with a resolution of 3120×1440. It also includes a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, making it taller and more compact than some other flagships on the market. It’s a good-looking screen, with a decent amount of brightness and good responsiveness. The colors are pretty saturated, but not too overly done like Samsung phones of the past. All in all, it’s a good screen that should please anyone who lays eyes on it.

Of course, there’s more to the G8’s screen than just its quality, and this is where we start talking about the wacky new features added to the device.

The first one is the most practical, and it’s called Crystal Sound OLED. Essentially, the G8 uses a specialized OLED display that can vibrate enough to produce sound. It replaces the traditional speaker port at the top of the phone where you’d normally find an earpiece. The tech is used to create a stereo sound field like most other phones have and fully replace the traditional earpiece, allowing you to hold your phone however you’d like up to your ear when making a phone call.

In my testing, I thought it was a weird sensation to move the G8 up and down my ear with no sound distortion. Nothing ever got muffled and I could consistently hear callers clearly, so while it’s a bit strange to use, as soon as you get used to it, you’ll be thankful the features there. When you play music on the loudspeaker, everything gets a bit louder and clearer thanks to the Crystal OLED.

You may be wondering why LG would get rid of the earpiece in the first place. After all, they could’ve just included it and made it a loudspeaker to pair with the downward-firing unit for stereo separation. As it turns out, it doesn’t appear the company had enough room to fit such a feature int he same sized notch as the G7. So to avoid increasing the size of the notch, the vibrating OLED panel was probably the best move.

I say the G8 doesn’t have enough room in its notch because of the added tech LG includes this year. Instead of just a selfie camera and earpiece, the company includes its all-new Z Camera for multiple new features.

The Z Camera consists of a Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor along with an infrared sensor. The infrared camera blasts infrared light at a subject, while the ToF sensor measures the time it takes to read the reflection of the subject at hand. It works very similarly to Apple’s Face ID system on the iPhone and iPad.

Using LG’s Z Camera, a few new features are brought to the table. You get much more advanced facial recognition, better portrait photography, and the wackiest feature I’ve seen on a phone in a long time, Air Motion.

By placing your hand above the Z Camera on the G8, you can control your phone with hover gestures. Once it’s unlocked, you place your hand over the G8 until an indicator light is shown. After you see the light, scoop your hand up almost like you’re grabbing sand at the beach or cooked spaghetti. This will enable Air Motion and allow you to switch between two different apps, use controls within an app, and turn up and down your phone’s volume.

As you can imagine, this feature is extremely finicky. You have to position your hand directly in the spot where the sensor can even notice your hand. The G8 does try to help you position your hand by telling you to move to the left or slightly upward, but these tips aren’t easy to see since your hand is covering the portion of the screen where they’re displayed.

If you’re lucky enough to get Air Motion working, switching between apps is just a matter of moving to the left or right. That works fine. But if you want to increase the volume without touching your phone, you have to twist an imaginary knob, and the G8 isn’t exactly the best at figuring out what you’re doing.

Why have air controls in the first case? LG says a hypothetical situation could be if your hands are dirty and you don’t want to ruin your phone. That makes sense, I guess, but it’s important to remember the G8 is IP68 waterproof. You can rinse it off afterward and it’ll work fine. And if your hands are just wet and there’s no towl nearby, touching the screen likely won’t have any repercussions at all.

Then there’s Hand ID. To coincide with Air Motion, LG uses the Z Camera to shine infrared light at the vein pattern in your hand and read the reflection of the hemoglobin in your blood. Using various algorithms like with facial recognition, this creates a unique data pattern that, if identical to the stored information, will unlock your phone. It’s the most LG thing that’s ever been released, and like cheap LG features of the past, it doesn’t work very well.

The idea here is to avoid having to pick up your phone to unlock it. I get that, because having to unlock your phone while it’s on your desk is oddly annoying when the fingerprint scanner is on the back (like it is on the G8). But Hand ID isn’t always accurate or reliable, with a rough success rate of only around 55 percent. Face recognition on the G8, for instance, has a success rate of around 75 percent. Meanwhile, the fingerprint scanner on the back has a success rate of 95 percent.

With stats like those, you can pretty clearly tell that I’m not a fan of Hand ID. It’s cool in concept, but considering how unreliable it is, I’d rather just pick up my phone to unlock it. Even LG’s Face Unlock doesn’t do it for me.

The security situation on the G8 is pretty weird. You have two solutions that are supposed to be advanced and more secure than a fingerprint, but neither work very well. Then you have an average run-of-the-mill physical fingerprint scanner on the back which works fine. If LG wanted to avoid people picking up their phones to unlock them, they could’ve just done an in-display reader like on the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 6T. It’d be more up to par with what’s on the market today, and you wouldn’t have to pick up your phoen to unlock it if it were sitting on your desk. Even if it had the same success rate of the phone’s facial recognition, I think it’d be worth it.

LG definitely wants you to use Hand ID and Face Unlock. They’ll be marketing these features to death with the G8. But more often than not, in practice, you’ll be falling back onto the age-old fingerprint reader because it’s more reliable, quicker, and convenient to use. I applaud LG for taking a chance, but it didn’t pay off this time around.

Another point of contention for LG regarding the G8 is the camera. The phone comes with a standard 12MP lens with an f/1.5 aperture and a secondary, Super Wide 16MP lens with an f/1.9 aperture. The latter offers a 107-degree field of view which helps to get more of a scene into a frame. LG has been offering this feature for years at this point, but now that other manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei have jumped on the bandwagon, it’s becoming hard for LG to stand out in the camera department.

Photos from the G8 look fine. They have good sharpness and clarity, and color reproduction is pretty decent. But something about the contrasts and cheap-looking saturation make photos you take with the phone seem dull, in a sense. Sort of like if you can’t sing and try to hit a high note. You’ll probably wind up flat. That’s how I feel about the cameras.

Luckily, LG’s HDR processing is good at preserving highlights and exposing shadows when necessary. There isn’t a ton of foul play here, and I’m glad LG figured out a good photo processing algorithm for the G8.

In terms of video, this is another area LG could improve upon. Things tend to look choppy at times, with stabilization having a hard time keeping up with your scene. The image looks okay, but the overall quality has room for improvement. Luckily, you can shoot in 4K at 60 frames per second, the best quality of video currently available to smartphone users.

On the selfie side, there’s not much to rave about. Selfies are fine when taken with the G8, nothing more, nothing less.

New with the G8 are a few features. There’s Video Depth Control which adds a hardware-based bokeh effect to videos. Think of it as portrait mode but for videos. It’s alright, I guess, but you probably won’t want to use it all the time considering how unpredictable it can be.

Then there’s Night View which aims to boost brightness and clarity with low-light images. It doesn’t hold a candle to Google’s Night Sight on the Pixel 3, but it’s better than what the normal mode kicks out.

There are also some new features in regards to the selfie camera. If you want to take a portrait selfie, the G8 will use the Z Camera to capture depth information and create a more natural-looking blur. It works much better than LG’s previous software-based portrait selfie mode, but it’s still not perfect since edges around a subject get blurred more often than not. The same can be said about portraits taken with the rear camera.

Of course, the G8 also has its normal slew of features within the camera app, including manual controls, Cine Video, AI Cam, Google Lens integration, Spotlight mode, and My Avatar which is probably the worst Animoji ripoff I’ve seen thus far.

Overall, I think you’ll be pleased with the cameras on the G8. They’re by no means the best and they don’t break into the top five phone cameras on the market. But thanks to LG’s HDR efforts and multiple camera modes along with the wide-angle sensor, you’ll probably enjoy yourself when taking photographs and videos.

Elsewhere, the G8 is a pretty standard Android flagship. You get a Snapdragon 855 processor paired to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of baseline storage. Performance is pretty great, with the phone handling everything from intense gaming to multitasking like a champ. I didn’t experience very many hiccups, and only once in a while was there an app that had trouble loading.

Software-wise, LG is sticking to its traditional ways of skinning every aspect of Android. In this case, you get Android 9 Pie out of the box with some updated UI tweaks. You also get all the normal Pie stuff like improved notification management, new navigation gestures (which pretty much suck), and improved security.

There are some new feautres within the software that are being introduced with the G8. For instance, you can enable a setting that automatically adapts the display to the ambient lighting in the environment you’re currently in. It’s called “True View” and it’s basically a knock-off of Apple’s True Tone. You’ll also find an improved UI for editing screenshots, app scaling settings, and new shortcut keys to tools like Capture+.

Unfortunately, the same gripes I’ve had with LG software in the past are sticking around with the G8. You still get a home screen launcher that constantly needs to ahve its app drawer sorted out so it remains in alphabetical order, you still get a ton of LG and carrier bloatware, and the overall aesthetic feels janky and outdated. Samsung just revamped its entire user interface for its latest generation of phones, yet LG chose to remain in the past. I really don’t know what LG’s thinking anymore when it comes to software.

Oh, and in case you thought the G8 would change things in terms of more frequent software upgrades, you’re wrong. Owners of last year’s G7 still don’t have Pie, and there’s no way the G8 will get Android Q in a reasonable time frame either.

For power, LG includes a 3,500mAh battery with the G8. That’s 500mAh larger than what’s in the G7, and endurance is pretty great. I can get just under six hours of screen-on time which is decent, and the phone can last me an entire day of heavy use. I’ll have to charge it at night, however, since I’m typically down to 20 percent when I go to bed. But nonetheless, it’s able to survive my intense 16-hour days of constantly posting on Instagram, checking website stats, and managing other projects I’m working on (hint-hint!).

To juice back up when you need more power, LG provides a USB-C port equipped with Quick Charge 3.0. You also get wireless charging with the G8. However, unlike other flagship phones. this one doesn’t come with reverse wireless charging. That means you can’t place another Qi-enabled device on the back of the phone to begin charging it. This feature is definitely something I’d expect LG to include considering they’re some of the leaders when it comes to gimmicky features, but I guess they had their reasons for the omission.

Finally, I’d like to touch on a few tidbits regarding the G8. It still has a Google Assistant key which is convenient and doesn’t get in the way like the Bixby key does on the Galaxy S10, there’s still a hi-fi quad DAC for improved headphone listening sessions, the display is HDR compliant, a heat pipe inside the phone helps to keep it cool during intense tasks, it’s certified MIL-STD 810G tested (a.k.a. military drop compliant), and you get Bluetooth 5.0 for all your wireless needs.

When I think about how I would sum up the G8, I feel sort of bitter and underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, LG’s latest flagship is a good package with decent battery life, great performance, a nice display, and fair cameras. But that’s really it. Other than the quintessential boxes you need to check when developing a new phone, the G8 doesn’t exactly stand out.

No, you won’t find another phone that scans your blood or gives you hover gestures. It’s also pretty hard to find another Android phone that comes with a proper Face ID competitor. But these features feel like gimmicks and, to me, aren’t practical enough for everyday use, especially since they aren’t very reliable.

Would I recommend the G8? Certainly not at $820. If you can find the phone for less (and you certainly will, likely right after launch), I think it’s a pretty fair buy. Just know that nothing about it will blow you away. Air Motion might, but for only five seconds. You may scan your blood twice, but then realize using the fingerprint reader is way more convenient.

The G8 is a flash-bang of a phone. It’ll undoubtedly catch your eye when LG advertises it to you, but the hype will die off once you’ve used it for a few days. And that’s disappointing, because LG is on the road to be surpassed by all its bigger competitors yet again.

Rating: 7/10

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