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LG V40 ThinQ review: Savvy Note 9 rival wields 5 versatile cameras

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MSRP: $949.99
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The Good The LG V40's five cameras give you a variety of photography options. The phone has a 6.4-inch screen, but is still comfortable to hold. It's water resistant, has expandable memory and a headphone jack.

The Bad The LG V40's slew of photo and camera tools can be overwhelming to navigate for a casual photographer. Its battery life is average.

The Bottom Line The LG V40 ThinQ is one of the best phones of 2018, but the Pixel 3 XL has the better grab-and-go camera and battery life.

8.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 9

Oftentimes, LG phones play second or third fiddle to the iPhone and Galaxy brands. But with the LG V40 ThinQ, the Korean tech company is making waves as the first mainstream phone to have five (yes, five) camera lenses dedicated to taking better, more creative photos than the iPhone XS Max or Galaxy Note 9 -- three on the V40's rear, two on the front. (Technically the Amazon Fire Phone had five cameras, too, but those were used for motion tracking and not photography.)

But despite this impressive amount of hardware, I wouldn't knight the V40 as the best phone to take photos with. The V40, the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max all have different strengths. And if we're considering the best phone to simply grab and just start taking amazing photos with, the Pixel 3/3 XL gets my vote, even though it just has one rear lens.

So should you get the V40? It's definitely worth considering if you see yourself using the wide-angle lens often -- that is, taking expansive photos with a wide field of view, and fitting lots of content in each frame. It's a signature feature in many LG phones, and the company has been iterating and improving on it for years.

It's also one of the few premium phones that still has a headphone jack, which can be a deal breaker for some. Plus, the V40's price ranges from $900 to $980 depending on the US carrier and $950 unlocked from LG. (We'll update with UK and Australia pricing when we get it, but for now that converts to about £724 or AU$1,306.) That means you can save upwards of $100 compared to pricier big-screen phones such as the Note 9 and new iPhones.

But if you don't need all that photo hardware, or already have any of the V30 models (including the V30S and V35 ThinQ), it's best to skip this phone. In addition, the Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T have exceptional cameras of their own, though both don't have headphone jacks or expandable storage. The Pixel 3 XL starts at $900, £870 and AU$1,349, while the OnePlus 6T costs $549 and £499. Australia pricing for the 6T hasn't been released, but that converts to AU$774.) Note that while the Pixel 3 XL starts at a cheaper price, its lack of expandable storage complicates its overall value.

During the V40's launch, LG unveiled a smartwatch too. It's the first smartwatch to run Google's Wear OS and have mechanical hands like an analog watch. Click here to read all about the LG Watch W7.

Editors' note: This review was originally published on Oct. 3, 2018, and was updated on Nov. 8 with additional analysis of the Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T.

Five cameras, lots of options

While there are many dual-rear camera phones, and future phones are expected to add even more -- the recent Huawei P20 Pro has four, for example -- the V40 is a rarity with five. Its rear camera setup includes a standard lens with optical image stabilization, a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens with 2x zoom that takes dramatic, bokeh-style portraits. LG also loaded the camera with a bunch of lighting tools for portrait photos, nearly identical to the ones on the latest iPhones, which adds a studio-like quality to your pictures.

Photo quality on the V40 is excellent -- pictures taken in brightly lit settings were sharp and vibrant. Compared to the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max though, the V40 washed out cooler hues just a tad, though it rendered whites purer than the other two phones. But when it came to red hues or skin tones, colors were more accurate on the V40 than that of the iPhone, which had a tendency to overwarm oranges and reds.

For low-light scenes, the V40 brightened up a dark bar easily. The iPhone XS Max brought in more details, however, while the Note 9 handled different exposures better and had a wider dynamic range.

lg-v40-thinq-8712

The V40's three rear cameras.

Josh Miller/CNET

The LG V40 also handled portrait photos well, and the drop-off between the subject in the foreground and the blurred background looked smooth and natural. Of the three phones, I liked the Note 9 the best in this instance because of the way it correctly handled white balance and skin tones. As for studio lighting features, the V40's image looked flat, while the iPhone's picture had much more depth and shading.

As the only phone of the three with two front-facing cameras, the V40 took the best portrait selfies. Skin tones were true to life and faces looked sharp. The bokeh effect also didn't look as patchy and overprocessed as the others, and it even recognized my flyaway hairs as part of my head rather than blurring them out.

In this indoor shot, colors are vibrant (especially the red hues) and objects are sharp and focused.

Lynn La/CNET

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