LG G7 ThinQ review: Does everything right except excite you

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The Good The waterproof LG G7 ThinQ has an AI camera that gives your photos a boost before you snap them. The phone has a secondary wide-angle rear camera and a headphone jack.

The Bad The phone has a familiar design, its Google Assistant button isn't reprogrammable and battery life is unimpressive.

The Bottom Line The LG G7 ThinQ is a really good phone, but one that fails to distinguish itself from more compelling offerings from Samsung, OnePlus and Google.

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

LG is exasperated. Currently splashed across its page for the G7 ThinQ in bold purple letter reads, "WHAT'S IT GONNA TAKE?" Though the sentence ends there, you could guess that the second part of the question continues as, "FOR YOU TO BUY OUR PHONE OVER SAMSUNG?!"

It's a fair question. Time and time again, LG has made generally excellent premium phones that are slightly cheaper than the concurrent Samsung flagship. And yet, LG still experiences stagnant sales that are far behind that of Apple and Samsung. Even worse is that people are buying fewer phones in general.

And so it goes again. The G7 ThinQ (pronounced "thin-kew") carries over a lot of things I liked from last year's flagship: 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 excellent-ness of the G6, the G7 feels like more of the same. And 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.

In addition, at $750 to $790 (prices vary by carrier), the G7 is pricier than past LG flagships -- about $80 to $150 more depending on the carrier. (UK and Australia pricing hasn't officially been announced, but that converts to about  £559 to £589 and AU$978 to AU$1,030, respectively.) That may be because the G7 starts out with more internal memory than previous LGs. But that price range now puts the phone closer to Galaxy S9 territory, slashing one of LG's most notable advantages: cost-savings.

For $50 more, the Galaxy S9 serves up a longer battery life, a fantastic camera and a sleeker design. If both are out of your budget, the OnePlus 6 delivers much of the same specs (except water resistance and wireless charging) for $200 less. I also heartily recommend the $650 Pixel 2. Though it came out last year and the Pixel 3 is expected this fall, Google's phone still has one of the best cameras on the market.

Editors' note: This review was originally published on May 7, 2018 and has been updated with final ratings.

The G7's optional-ish notch


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

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Read: Why Google makes Android phone notches now  

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" 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 text messages, Calendar, 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.

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.

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 dunk 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.)


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, like with books and albums. 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.


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.