LG is in a tight spot.
Not only does it have to prove itself after that lukewarm reception of last year's modular-like G5, but its biggest rival Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 just a few weeks after the G6. Given the huge popularity of Galaxy phones in general, and the fact that this is Samsung's first major phone announcement after its exploding Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, it'd be difficult for most companies to outshine the Samsung for attention.
Fortunately, LG's latest marquee handset, the G6, is in a good position to give the Galaxy S8 a run for its money. Gone is that funky modular body (but also the removable battery). In its place is a slim water-resistant build that's 80 percent screen on the front. It's a safer play for LG, which will have to battle the Google Pixel phones and the OnePlus 3T in addition to the S8. (Check out the LG G6 spec comparison here.) For the first time in a while, LG stands a fighting chance against Samsung to be the considerable alternative as your next Android phone.
For one thing, it's cheaper than the S8 by about $30-$100, depending on the carrier. In the US, it will be available to retailers on April 7 and cost about $600 to $720. (The S8, on the other hand, costs about $750. You can also get a Google Home speaker if you jump on the G6 and buy it at an early date (usually by April 30).
There are a lot of reasons you should consider the G6 ahead of the S8 (and two reasons why perhaps you should not). But let's start with what we liked...
The G6 is the company's first dust- and water-resistant flagship. It's rated IP68, which means you can dunk it in up to a meter of water (about 3 feet) for up to 30 minutes. For the everyday user though, it just means the G6 won't crap out after you accidentally drop it in the pool or spill coffee on it. (Get a deeper dive on IP ratings and what they mean for waterproof gadgets.)
I dunked it in a fishbowl and let it sit underwater for 30 minutes. The handset kept ticking fine afterward, and it even had an incoming call during its bath. Check back with CNET as we'll continue to test the G6's waterproofness more extensively.
The G6 comes at a time when many of its competitors have already made their marquee phones splash-friendly. The S8, for instance, is water proof with the same IP68 rating.
The G6 is LG's nicest-looking flagship yet, which I don't say often, especially given last year's G5. But the polished G6 has a streamlined aesthetic and a smooth unibody design (think the LG V20 with fewer seams or the G5 with fewer bumps). It comes in silver, black and white, though the white version will only be available in certain countries, not including the US. Oh, and don't worry, it has a headphone jack.
The 5.7-inch screen is super sharp, with a 1,400-pixel resolution and 565 ppi. It takes up roughly 80 percent of the front of the phone, leaving thin margins all around. It's also unique in that it has an 18:9 aspect ratio, aka: 2:1 (most phones are 16:9).
Not all apps and games can take full advantage of this ratio at full screen and when they can't, you'll see black bars on the sides of the display. You can enable "app scaling" on some apps by going into Settings. The downside is that app scaling will crop content in order to fill the display, and it isn't available for every app (it's an option for Netflix, for instance, but not YouTube). The upside is that you can watch some things or play a few games without generating letterboxes, so the image fills the full 5.7-inch screen. (Look, I didn't promise your life would change dramatically or anything, OK?)
The Galaxy S8's screen has a barely-there bezel as well. It also has a higher 570ppi pixel density and is just a smudge sharper. Some might not see much value in having such a high-pixel density, especially to the naked eye. But now that VR and AR headsets are gaining more popularity, phone displays have to be even sharper up close.
Like the V20 and the G5 before it, the G6 has two cameras on the back. But they aren't to take artsy "bokeh" portraits like you do with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. On the G6, you can switch between the standard 13-megapixel lens and the 120-degree wide-angle lens to capture more content in each frame.
If you're really all about that wide-angle life, the 5-megapixel front-facing shooter has a wide-angle option as well. We'll have to spend more time taking selfies to see if image quality is better than last year's 8-megapixel front-facing shooter, but it worked decently enough when we tried it out.
One of my favorite things about the camera is the option to show five of your most recent photos, like a gallery stream, right on the interface (you'll have to toggle this feature on in camera settings.) LG added a separate camera app too called Square Camera. Aimed at hardcore Instagram users, it offered a number of different tools to take neat square photos. (For more on how Square Camera works, watch the video above and check out our explainer.) The app's features are also tucked in the native camera app under the Auto icon.
Aside from the Google Pixel phones, the G6 is the only other handset so far to feature Google's signature AI, the Google Assistant, natively. Assistant uses Google's vast search database and voice recognition. You can chat with it and look up things like random facts, the news and nearby places. If you have smart home devices, you can use Assistant on your phone to control the lights in your home or set the thermostat. (Learn more about what Assistant can do on a phone here.)
The Galaxy S8 comes with its own assistant as well. Known as Bixby, it has its own dedicated button. Unlike Google Assistant, which emphasizes looking up stuff on the internet, Samsung hopes to differentiate Bixby by enabling it to control a user's phone. So you can tell Bixby to "Find a photo of the SFMOMA. Send that image to Shara."
Bixby's abilities are a bit more limiting than Assistant when we tested it out. It can carry out phone-centric commands but can't look up the weather or sports scores. Another advantage of Assistant is that it's deeply integrated with other Google services, like your calendar and Gmail. If you're already in the Google ecosystem (and chances are high that you are), Assistant may be more useful.
Spec nerds may notice that the G6 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processing platform, which is the same chipset in last year's OnePlus 3T and Google Pixels. Compared to the 821 processor, Qualcomm's latest 835 chipset is measurably smaller, faster and quicker at recharging mobile batteries.
The Galaxy S8 is equipped with the 835 for some markets. When I benchmarked the 835 in a reference device, it indeed outpaced phones with the 821 (including the G6) by a comfortable margin. However, I'd take these results with a pinch of salt. A final phone equipped with the 835 may not garner the same results. Reference devices are designed for peak performance -- they don't run any bloatware, for example, and they're bigger. This means their insides run cooler, which helps efficiency. And just because the 835 has many new features, it's up to the phone manufacturer whether or not to use them all.
Unless you want to be on the absolute edge of technology, the idea of being saddled with "last year's" processor shouldn't be a huge deal, and the advantages of the 835 isn't that dramatic on paper. In the real world, the usual differences between one superfast processor and another are hardly discernible. And during my time with the G6, it didn't feel any slower than any other premium handset available now.
Second, the G6 does not have a removable battery. Waterproofing and removable batteries don't tend to go together these days, so omitting one of LG's trademark features was kind of a given. Still, to longtime LG fans, this might come as a disappointment. LG has been one of the few holdouts to feature swappable batteries in its flagship phones, so buyers can switch a drained one for a charged one or replace an old battery with a fresh one.
Not having that advantage is a bummer. But it's not a deal-breaker for everyone either. LG also hopes that the G6's increased battery capacity and new wireless charging feature -- just for the US -- can offset the benefits of a swappable battery. (And check back soon when our lab tests for battery life finish for complete results.) The phone can also wirelessly charge when wet.
The Galaxy S8 doesn't have a removable battery either. Samsung ditched that for its flagships years ago. And while its 3,000mAh battery is the same as last year's, it may last for a longer time.
LG is closer than ever to being a real threat to Samsung. The G6 may not be as experimental or quirky as its G5 predecessor, but that's not a bad thing. Other than having an "older" processor, it can rival the S8 spec-by-spec because it's playing it safe.
By going with a simple, sleek design, a water-resistant body and a feature-packed camera, LG is giving phone users what they want. Covering the basics may be boring, but it works when you do it right (and even better when you can do it for a cheaper price). In the case of the G6, while it doesn't have anything novel or buzzworthy, it's LG's most marketable and widely-appealing phone yet. Look for my full review of the LG G6 soon.
|Display size, resolution||5.7-inch, 2,880x1,440 pixels|
|Pixel density||565 ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||5.86x2.83x0.31 inches|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||148.9x71.97.x7.9 mm|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||5.7 oz, 162g|
|Mobile software||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Camera||13-megapixel, 13-megapixel wide|
|Processor||2.35GHz Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 GPU|
|Expandable storage||Up to 2TB|
|Fingerprint sensor||Back cover|
|Special features||18:9 screen ratio, wireless charging, IP68|
|Price off-contract ($)||AT&T: $720, Sprint: $708, T-Mobile: $650, Verizon: $672, U.S. Cellular: $598|