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

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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.)

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.

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.

LG V40 packs in a bunch of cameras and a big screen

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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.

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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.

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

Lynn La/CNET
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Photos of a dimly lit bar taken on (from left to right): the V40, the Note 9 and iPhone XS Max.

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A macro, closeup shot of a geode.

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Compared to the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max, this picture taken on the V40 had the best white balance.

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Portrait photos taken on (from left to right): the V40, the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max.

Lynn La/CNET

Other camera features

  • Triple shot allows you to take three photos on each of the rear cameras with one tap of the shutter. The phone will save three images and stitch together the pictures in an animated, zooming GIF. This feature is useful if you're indecisive about what kind of shot you want to take or if you want to cover your bases quickly (like, say, when taking pics of children running around). But given the different focal point of each lens, your composition might be misaligned in a few shots. Also the GIFs I ended up with didn't come out all that elegant sometimes.

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    My animoji Shiba Inu attempting to wink.

    Lynn La/CNET
  • Cine shot makes cinemagraphs, wherein a portion of a "still image" is repeatedly in motion while the rest of the picture remains static, resulting in hypnotizing and surreal images. Though LG has streamlined the process as best it can in the V40, the cinemagraphs do take some effort to make depending on the complexity of your picture. The shots are also saved at a lower resolution, so they can look patchy and disjointed. 

  • Animated emoji and face filters are tucked in the front-facing cameras. The former is a rip-off of Apple's Animoji feature, complete with the animal faces. But while LG's version isn't as smooth and responsive as Apple's, they look much less creepy than Samsung's AR emoji. (They're actually quite adorable!)

  • AI Cam optimizes camera settings by recognizing what you're shooting, similar to some Huawei and Samsung phones. The tool identifies more than 1,000 objects and images, then groups these things into 18 different categories, such as a person, cityscape or food. It'll then autoadjust the camera settings accordingly, often boosting color vibrancy, and suggest filters.

  • Google Lens calls up information on objects right from the V40's camera lens using Google's vast search database. It's a lot like Samsung's Bixby Vision app on the Note 9. With Lens you can scan business cards, brush up on architectural landmarks and even look up bird species (with varying success on the latter).

If you're into photography, having this Swiss-army-knife style set of options at your disposal is useful. And it was fun, as well as impressive, capturing a variety of shots in a single device. But if you're more of a casual photographer, all the camera features on the V40 can get overwhelming. There are two AI systems baked-in, for instance, and you may end up using some tools, like Cine Shot, only once in a while. Also, when it comes to image quality, a phone like the iPhone XS Max takes comparable and at times superior photos with a more straightforward interface.

A cinemagraph made on the V40.

Patrick Holland/CNET

LG V40's design and software

While the V40's expansive 6.4-inch screen rightly fits it into LG's V-family, the phone has more in common with the G7's design than the V35's. Both have physical buttons for Google Assistant, both have screen notches (more on that later) and both separate their power keys from their fingerprint readers (the V35 combines them into one).

But unlike the G7, the V40 has an OLED screen. Whites don't look as intensely bright as they do on the G7's LCD display, but other colors are still vibrant and the V40's blacks are especially inky and dark.

Though the V40 doesn't serve up anything aesthetically unique or novel, its design does offer one thing: comfort. I struggle with big-screen phones in general, and I'm not saying I navigated the V40 easily with just one hand or I could fit it into my pants pocket effortlessly. But it's noticeably lighter and narrower than the Note 9 and XS Max, and I had an easier time holding it. And while it's no official lab test, I did accidentally drop it waist-length onto a marble floor. In another instance, it fell from a bed onto a wooden floor. Both times the phone ended up unscathed.

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For a phone with such a large screen, the V40 is comfortable to hold.

Josh Miller/CNET

Other design takeaways

  • There's a hideable notch: If you don't like the V40's screen cutout, you can blacken the sides that flank the tab to have a traditional-looking alert bar. With certain apps though, like the Chrome browser, the notch reappears for whatever reason and hides again when you return to the home screen.

  • It's water resistant: With an IP68 rating for water resistance, the V40 can survive in 1 meter (about 3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. After my dunk tests, when I submerged the phone for 28 minutes in a 5-gallon bucket of water twice, the phone kept on ticking fine.

  • It has a headphone jack: A rare find in premium phones these days, the V40 has a port for your wired headphones. No need to carry a dongle or connect via Bluetooth.

  • There's some fancy audio tech: The phone has a built-in DAC, which improves audio for your headphones -- especially with high-end lossless audio like the tracks Tidal streams from its music service. The V40 also supports 7.1-surround audio via DTS X support. This gives you the option to tweak how songs sound from multiple directions, as if the source was coming from in front of you or side-to-side, on your wired headphones.

Besides the bevy of new camera features, LG didn't add much in terms of new software tricks compared to last year's V30. (Read more about Android Oreo here.) With Google Assistant, you can set reminders, check the weather and carry out some more specific actions, like taking a photo with the wide-angle camera or launching the AI camera. Unfortunately, short of toggling the hotkey off altogether, the button isn't reprogrammable. There's also an optional "floating bar" tab for quick access to your contacts, music player and more on your home screen.

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Up close with the V40's notch.

Josh Miller/CNET

Performance speed and battery life

Equipped with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, the V40 is as fast and responsive with day-to-day tasks as other top-tier phones. That includes calling up the keyboard, scrolling through webpages and launching and quitting apps. There are some camera tasks, like autofocusing and Triple Shot, that requires a beat or two for the phone to carry out.

On paper, the V40 scored just as well as the Note 9, Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T on our benchmark tests. Compared to the iPhone XS Max, however, Apple's phone beat out both devices comfortably in all tests except one.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

LG V40 ThinQ 5,371Samsung Galaxy Note 9 6,344Google Pixel 3 XL 5,946OnePlus 6T 6,590Apple iPhone XS Max 4,279
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

LG V40 ThinQ 59,503Samsung Galaxy Note 9 59,436Google Pixel 3 XL 62,199OnePlus 6T 64,993Apple iPhone XS Max 77,200
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

LG V40 ThinQ 2,409Samsung Galaxy Note 9 2,406Google Pixel 3 XL 2,386OnePlus 6T 2,384Apple iPhone XS Max 4,774
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multicore

LG V40 ThinQ 8,798Samsung Galaxy Note 9 8,827Google Pixel 3 XL 8,388OnePlus 6T 8,853Apple iPhone XS Max 11,191
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

The V40's battery life is middling for a big-screen phone. During our lab tests for continuous video playback on airplane mode, the V40 lasted an average of 14 hours, 24 minutes. Though that's a decent time, the Note 9 had a 19-hour run by comparison. And the Pixel 3 XL, OnePlus 6T and the previous V35, which has a smaller screen and the same battery capacity, all clocked over 16 hours.

Anecdotally, the phone nearly lasted the weekend, starting on Friday evening, with mild to heavy usage without a charge. But by Sunday afternoon, the battery was at 12 percent and needed to be plugged in.

LG V40 ThinQ specs comparison


LG V40 ThinQGalaxy Note 9Pixel 3 XLOnePlus 6TiPhone XS Max
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch OLED; 3,120x1,440 pixels6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels6.3-inch OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels6.5-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels
Pixel density 537ppi516ppi522ppi402ppi458ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.25x2.97x 0.3 in 6.37x3.01x0.35 in6.2x3x.03 in6.20x2.94x0.32 in6.2x3.0x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.8x75.4x7.6 mm161.9x76.4x8.8 mm158x76.7x7.9 mm157.5x74.8x8.2 mm157.5x77.4x7.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.96 oz.; 169g7.09 oz.; 201g6.5 oz; 184g6.53 oz; 185g7.3 oz; 208g
Mobile software Android 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 9 PieAndroid 9 PieiOS 12
Camera 12-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (wide) and 12-megapixel (telephoto)Dual 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)12.2-megapixel16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto12-megapixel standard, 12-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel (standard), 5-megapixel (wide)8-megapixel8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle16-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)2.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8452.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Apple A12 Bionic
Storage 64GB128GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB128GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM 6GB6GB, 8GB4GB6GB, 8GBNot disclosed
Expandable storage Up to 2TB512GBNoneNoneNone
Battery 3,300 mAh4,000 mAh3,430 mAh3,700 mAhNot disclosed
Fingerprint sensor BackBack of phoneBack coverUnderneath displayNone
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-CLightning
Headphone jack YesYesNoNoneNo
Special features Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, DTS:X 3D Surround, Quad DAC, AI-enhanced camera, Cine Shot Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S-Pen with Bluetooth connectivity; Iris and facial scanningWater resistant (IPX8), wireless charging, Pixel Buds USB-C headphones includedIn-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM, Dash Charging, notifications toggleWater resistant (IP68), wireless charging, dual-SIM (nano-SIM and e-SIM), Face ID scanning
Price off-contract (USD) $950$1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB)$899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)$549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB)$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
Price (GBP) Converts to £724£899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB)£869 (64GB), £969 (128GB)£499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB)£1,099 (64GB), £1,249 (256GB), £1,449 (512GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,306AU$1,499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB)AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (128GB)Converted: AU$774 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$817 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$887 (8GB RAM/256GB)AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)
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8.8

LG V40 ThinQ

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Camera 8Battery 9