LG V50 ThinQ Review: A 2019 Flagship with a Headphone Jack

LG V50 ThinQ Review: A 2019 Flagship with a Headphone Jack

LG V50 ThinQ

7.3

Design

6.0/10

Display

8.0/10

Performance

7.5/10

Camera

6.5/10

Battery

8.5/10

Pros

  • Headphone jack!
  • Nice display
  • Good performance
  • Great battery life
  • Extensive manual camera controls

Cons

  • Software is absolutely horrific
  • Camera in auto-mode feels...icky
  • Tinny speakers
  • No real stand-out features
  • Bo-rrr-iiing!

When LG announces new V series phones, it’s usually September or October. But this year, the company did something unprecedented: it announced the new V50 ThinQ in February alongside a G series phone. Not only did LG announce the phone way sooner than expected, but it did so coinciding with the introduction of the G8 ThinQ, the phone that, at the time, was the more important flagship for the company to focus on.

Now, well into the second half of 2019, we’re starting to see the V50 pop up in the wild. Granted, it’s not as wide-spread as something like an iPhone 11 or Pixel 4, but at least people can buy it thanks to Sprint who recently started selling it.

LG sent me the Korean version of the V50 which doesn’t differ from the U.S. version too much. The only notable difference (besides the extra bloatware which isn’t entirely worth mentioning) is the fact the Korean version works with LG’s Dual Screen accessory. I’m reviewing it separately and I’ll link back to it once I finished it. For now, I’m focusing on the V50 itself.

My verdict? It’s a good phone. A really good phone. But it’s boring. Exceptionally boring. I don’t mean that to sound harsh, but it’s true. LG doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd, and unlike the G8 ThinQ, there’s no blood scanning or air gestures to use as headliner features.

It took me a while to form an opinion on this phone because I didn’t wanna sound like a jerk when I said how boring it is. Fortunately, I’ve been able to come to a conclusion. The V50 is a 2019 flagship that includes one of the most rare features in high-end smartphones today: a headphone jack.


The Headphone Jack

The headphone jack has been dropped from the lineups of many popular smartphone makers, but LG has been stubborn in leaving the 100+ year-old port left behind. After all, the company has made a name for itself in the tech community as one of the only manufacturers who takes the headphone jack seriously.

What do I mean by that? More often than not, in their premium phones, LG backs its 3.5mm port with a hi-fi DAC, and the one in the V50 ThinQ has received the most enhancements of any LG phone to date. That makes it the best DAC in any LG phone, and if you’re an audiophile, you’ll appreciate it.

For everyone else, though, it’s a different conversation. The headphone jack isn’t a focal point. It’s just a convenience that’s nice to have. With so many manufacturers ditching the jack, it’s hard to find a flagship phone with one. Samsung still has a few phones with the plug onboard, but its latest flagship omits the IO, hinting at a future line of Samsung devices not including the feature at all.

Moving forward, it looks like LG is gonna be the only one who includes a headphone jack with its flagship phones. That’s okay, but LG is gonna have to do more with its flagships so it isn’t strictly relying on the port to differentiate itself from other devices on the market.

The headphone jack is one of the only reasons to buy a V50. That’s just how bland the phone is itself. And if LG ever decides to ditch the jack, it’s gonna be even harder to recommend any future flagships from the company. Because if next year’s V60 is as rudimentary as this year’s V50, LG is gonna have a serious flagship problem on its hands.


A 2019 Design & Display

One area where LG does just enough to justify releasing the V50 in 2019 is the Design & Display department. Both of these elements are just fine. I’m not putting them down – they’re actually rather good – but at the same time, I’m not praising them, either.

The V50 sticks with a regular churn-of-the-mill glass exterior that’s coated in an extra-glossy black finish. Picking up fingerprints like a magnet and sliding off tables like the G8 ThinQ, you could say this isn’t my favorite design of the year. At least there’s no camera bump.

On the sides, you get normal volume and power buttons alongside a Google Assistant key that comes in handy more often than not. On the bottom, you get a USB-C port, a Boombox speaker, and the headlining headphone jack. The top of the device has nothing but a single microphone.

On the front, you’ll find a 6.4-inch 3120×1440 OLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a pretty average-sized notch. All of these specs check the required boxes to qualify as a flagship smartphone screen in 2019. It’s a nice screen to look out, blacks are inky, viewing angles are great, and it gets plenty bright in direct sunlight.

But it doesn’t do anything to wow you. Sure, it comes with HDR+, but so does basically every other high-end smartphone screen. It’s also flat, so it doesn’t look as good as something like a Samsung Galaxy or OnePlus 7 Pro from the front. Personally I enjoy a flat screen since it’s easier to hold, but there’s definitely no eye-candy in this department, especially since the bezels around the screen aren’t very slim.

I dunno man, there’s just nothing about the V50’s design and display that get me excited. They’re both really bland. And unfortunately, this impression takes me right into the next section of this review: the cameras.


2019 Cameras

The V40 last year broke new ground when it debuted with a set of five cameras. There were three on the back (one wide, one ultra-wide, one telephoto) and two on the front (one wide, one ultra-wide). Little did we know at the time this type of implementation would go completely mainstream, at least to an extent.

Now, well into 2019, there are tons of phones with triple rear cameras. Off the top of my head, I can name the Galaxy S10, Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Fold, iPhone 11 Pro, OnePlus 7 Pro, OnePlus 7T, and Huawei P30 Pro. There are so many manufacturers doing wide/ultra-wide/telephoto sensor setups nowadays, so you’d think LG would try to spice things up with its lineup of lenses.

They didn’t. At least not really.

On the back of the V50, you’ll find a 12MP f/1.5 main lens, a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, and a 16MP ultra-wide f/1.9 lens. All three take good pictures. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you they suck. But they could definitely be better.

There’s always been this certain look when it comes to LG photos. I don’t know what it is, but I think it has to do with their processing. Something about it just feels off to me, almost in a way that feels a bit icky.

Don’t get me wrong, when you flood the V50 with enough daylight, you can get some pretty stellar shots, especially with the wide-angle. Things are typically pretty sharp and color reproduction is normally okay, but any time you get into risky lighting situations, the post-processing causes some odd issues like blurring and contrast inconsistences.

I wanna say the sensors might be at fault here as well, but I know they aren’t. How do I know? Because as soon as you start messing around with the manual settings, you can get even better pictures.

The manual photo options on the V50 is definitely a focal point of its photography experience. They’re so extensive and granular that you’d really have to hate the V50 to not get the shot you want. Everything from contrast to frame rates to mic direction can be adjusted across photo and video shooting methods.

It’s a load of fun, is what I’m saying.

Speaking of video, look: if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ve been spoiled by the best video you can capture with a phone. I’m not saying the V50 can’t capture good video because it can, but it isn’t as smooth or pleasant to look at as what you get from one of Apple’s phones. The V50 might allow 4K 60fps capture, but it won’t look as eye-pleasing as you may expect. At least you have manual controls to help fix that.

With such heavy reliance on users actually using the manual controls in the camera app, I can’t say the V50 takes great photos that everyone will notice. The auto mode is just kind of crummy, crummy in a way that make the cameras feel a lot less capable compared to what the competition offers. Nothing about them really stand out besides the fact you get extensive manual controls.

Honest to God, I’m struggling to find another reason to buy this phone because of its cameras. Average consumers are just gonna have a hard time with them.

Oh, and the selfies are…well…fine, I guess.


2019 Flagship Specs

If you thought the camera setup was just scratching the surface of what it means to be a part of a 2019 phone, wait until you read the V50’s list of specs.

  • Snapdragon 855
  • 6GB of RAM (that’s it)
  • 128GB storage (that’s it)
  • microSD card support up to 1TB
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Fingerprint reader (works fine, but no fancy face unlock anywhere)
  • IP68 water and dust resistance

As a result, the V50 performs as you’d expect a 2019 phone to. It’s fast, it keeps up with jumping between apps, and you don’t get any slowdowns. What else is there to say?


A 2019 Battery

Phones in 2019 also adopted bigger batteries, and this is one common trend I’m glad LG hopped on.

Inside the V50, the company includes a 4,000mAh battery. This gets me at least a full day’s worth of use from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with around 40 percent left in the tank. Mind you, I use my phone constantly for checking email, listening to music, taking pictures – y’know, all the heavy duty stuff, all the time. In the end, I was glad to get these kinds of results.

The V50 also ships with Quick Charge 3.0 and an 18W fast charger. It charges pretty quickly, but definitely not as quickly as something like a OnePlus phone that can juice up from zero to 100 in, like, an hour. the V50 takes more like 1.5 to 2 hours to charge from that state. Still pretty fast, though.

In a pinch, you can also wirelessly charge the V50. And yes, if your charger is capable of pumping out currents at a faster rate, the V50 can charge wirelessly at around 10 to 11W. At least you won’t be stuck with a measly 5W.


Ancient Software and its Ancient Issues

I’m gonna try to not go on a rant here.

With the V50, LG includes Android 9 Pie out of the box with a promised upgrade to Android 10 in the future. That’s nice.

You know what isn’t nice? LG’s software skin. It’s terrible. It’s ugly, it feels clunky, bloatware is still alive and well, the home screen still forces you to sort your app drawer yourself (why?!), and things feel generally slower than what you’d get from, say, Samsung’s One UI.

Luckily, it looks like LG will be retiring this aging software package with its new UI that comes with the G8X ThinQ. I don’t have the G8X yet so I can’t tell you if it’s actually better, but early impressions from users who have gone hands-on with the device seem generally positive. This skin will eventually come to the V50 when Android 10 starts rolling out, so I will be sitting on pins and needles in the mean time.

Still though, the V50’s out-of-box experience is truly terrible and is, by far, the worst part of the phone.


Conclusion

I really wish LG would stop. Not stop making phones, just stop all of their old ways.

LG has been doing the same thing for years. It includes all the flagship features you expect in high-end phones, it charges the same prices its competitors do, and it expects you to buy their phone instead of a Samsung or something. But the smartphone market is crowded with phones that qualify as flagships, and there’s not a lot riding on the V50 that make it truly stand out.

Like I said at the beginning of this review, the only real reason to buy the V50 is for the headphone jack. It’s seriously awesome. As an added bonus, you get a decent 2019 phone with extensive manual controls, which makes the overall experience good, but not great.

I guess another reason you might buy this phone is for the 5G support. But c’mon guys, who’s buying 5G phones now?

I don’t care what the fanboys say. I don’t care what “true reviewers” have to say. The V50 doesn’t excite me. It does enough to serve as a 2019 flagship phone, nothing more, nothing less. And for $1,000+, that’s inexcusable.

There are so many great phones out there that are worth the money you pay. The V50 isn’t one of them. Don’t buy it.

Y’know, unless you need the headphone jack.

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