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LG G7 ThinQ review: Does everything right except excite you

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MSRP: $829.99

The Good The waterproof LG G7 ThinQ has an AI camera that gives your photos an extra boost before you snap them. There's a secondary wide-angle rear camera, a headphone jack and 64GB of expandable storage.

The Bad The phone has a familiar design, its Google Assistant button isn’t reprogrammable and battery life doesn’t look promising.

The Bottom Line The LG G7 ThinQ is a fine phone, but it does nothing to distinguish itself from more compelling offerings from Samsung, OnePlus and Google.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

You have to admit, LG's got a tough gig ahead of itself with the launch of the LG G7 ThinQ. Not only are its stagnant sales far behind that of Apple and its main Korean rival Samsung, but people, in general, are buying fewer phones.

So you can't blame the company if it wants to stir things up a little. Earlier this year, LG said it wanted to release phones on its own cadence and not because others are doing so at the same time.

As a result, the G7 ThinQ (pronounced "thin-kew"), which was officially introduced last week, arrived a month later in the year compared to its G6 predecessor in 2017.

Was it worth it? It's hard to tell. LG provided only preproduction units at its launch event, so my analysis and impressions of the phone thus far may change once final review models are available. Then again, if things hold steady (which oftentimes they do when comparing the pre- and post-production models of LG phones), I'm going to bet on: No, the wait wasn't really that worth it.

Don't get me wrong, the phone in and of itself is solid. It still has plenty of things I liked about last year's flagship, such as water resistance, a headphone jack, a sharp screen and a capable dual camera.

But last year, LG was digging itself out of the flub that was the modular G5, so the bar wasn't set that high. This time around, perhaps due to the relative excellence of the G6, the G7 feels like more of the same. It might have been great for 2017, but its new features (like an iPhone X-style notch that you can camouflage, a rough-around-the-edges AI camera and a Google Assistant button) aren't enough to wow in 2018.

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The LG G7 (left) and the Galaxy S9 (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Again, it's too early to give final buying advice, especially since I've only spent time with a buggy preproduction unit and LG hasn't released any pricing information yet. LG did say you can expect it to be about the same price as the G6, so it'll perhaps be a bit north of $600 to $700 depending on your carrier (it does have more internal storage than last year, after all). In the UK and Australia, the G6 went for £649 and AU$1,008, respectively.

But every day it withholds that pricing info, LG takes a risk. Even if the G7 ThinQ ends up cheaper than the Galaxy S9, it's almost certain to be more expensive than the hotly anticipated OnePlus 6, which will be unveiled on May 16. A week later, HTC will take the wraps off its new phone as well. And even without seeing those new phones, I can heartily recommend the Pixel 2, which still has one of the best cameras on the market.

Editors' note: This review is based on testing of early versions of the LG G7's hardware and software. We'll update it with additional reflections and full ratings once we've had the chance to test the final shipping version of the phone that will be available to consumers.

The G7's optional-ish notch

Though first introduced on Android phones, the controversial screen notch -- which looks like a black cutout tab on top of the screen -- was popularized by the iPhone X. And while its overall existence remains a point of contention (i.e. it gives you more screen real estate versus it's a distracting and unnecessary aesthetic choice), more Android phones are adopting it, including the G7. It's also built into Google's latest OS update, Android P.

I've gotten used to using a phone with a notch, so I won't debate its merits here. I will say, though, that the G7's notch is optional -- kind of. Like the Huawei P20, if you don't like it, you can go into the settings to blacken the sides that flank the tab to have a traditional-looking alert bar. There are other colors too, like gray or swirly rainbow, but honestly, anything that's not black looks quite ugly.

The reason I say "kind of optional," however, is that these overlays don't stay "on" completely. While the alert bar remains black on certain things like the home screen, the settings menu or when you launch the Gallery app, it switches off when you launch other things. That means when you're looking at Chrome, text messages, Maps or other apps, the notch is back on and visible. Why LG just won't allow the black bars to remain consistently on or off is a mystery.

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The G7's notch and the (thankfully optional) rainbow alert bar.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A bright screen and ho-hum looks

As for the rest of the screen, LG boasts that the G7's LCD display is super bright (1,000 nits) and easy to view in outdoor sunlight. When I compared it to the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9, the white on the G7 was indeed the purest and brightest. Its high resolution (3,120x1,440 pixels) also makes it sharp and clear.

But blues, reds and greens looked more vibrant and saturated on the Galaxy S9 than on the G7. In addition, the G7's blacks could not compete with the OLED screens of the other two, and its screen looked more darkish gray than the Galaxy and the iPhone when displaying a black swatch. Lastly, even though color shifting isn't a huge deal on phones, color tones changed more on the G7 as you viewed it from different angles.

Overall, the G7 is tall and slim, with thin bezels (save for the bottom) and a glossy design. It doesn't have any particular wow factor (like the Galaxy S9's curved screen) or any other thing that just sets it apart (like the Pixel 2's glass shade). But then again, that's like most phones. And while the G7's back attracts fingerprints like a magnet, it also feels less fragile than the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X. I'd still be careful, since the front and back are made of glass, but at least I'm not a nervous wreck while using it with one hand.

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The G7's narrow frame fits comfortably in one hand.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other design tidbits:

  • The phone is rated IP68, meaning you can dunk it in 1 meter (about 3 feet) of water for 30 minutes. It kept working after our preliminary dunking test, when the phone was submerged for 28 minutes in a 5-gallon bucket of water.
  • There's a headphone jack. No need to carry around a dongle or toss out your wired headphones.
  • Unlike past LG G phones, the G7's fingerprint sensor on the back doesn't double as a sleep/power button. That button is now on the right edge and the fingerprint reader is now just a plain ol' reader.
  • The G7 is available in four colors: gray, black, blue and a dark magenta pink like the V30 in raspberry rose. Not every color will sell in every country.

LG G7's Google Assistant button takes on Samsung

Like squeezing the sides of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, the G7 has a hotkey below the volume rocker that launches Google Assistant. LG claims this saves you the trouble of having to say the "OK, Google" voice command. (It's funny how these companies posit "tapping a button" versus saying a command as equal inconveniences against another.) 

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The G7's Google Assistant button.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Long-press the button and you can run an image search with the phone's camera and Google Lens, which uses AR and Google's vast search database to identify objects and offer information. You can't reprogram the button, which is a drag, and these are the only two actions you can do for now.

LG and Google worked together to make the G7 the first phone with a dedicated Assistant button. But I wonder how much of an advantage this is, since I bet the G7 won't be the last. The G6, for example, was the first non-Google phone to have Assistant built-in, until other phones quickly got it with a software update. And despite LG and Google being close partners, I imagine Google will still save its best software goodies for its upcoming Pixel 3 phones, which should arrive in October if Google follows its normal release schedule.

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Interacting with Google Assistant on the G7.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But if AI is what the G7 is going for, Assistant is a safe choice. It can carry out some G7-specific actions like taking a photo with the wide-angle camera or launching the camera on AI mode (though sometimes this is slow). And I prefer LG's route to roping users into some new, half-baked proprietary platform like Samsung's Bixby, which is accessible on Galaxy phones through a hotkey too. Read more on how the LG G7's Google Assistant key differs from Samsung's Bixby.

A reminder that I was handling a preproduction unit at this time. Besides the quick access to Assistant and the AI camera (which I'll get to), there's nothing notably new on the G7 in terms of software. This can, however, change once LG finalizes the phone.

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