For $1100, you could pick up the Razer gaming phone, the new Sony Xperia flagship, an iPhone 8, or even a Huawei P20 Pro. For the exact same price, you could also buy the LG G7 ThinQ, and that's kind of the problem.
For better or worse, I've had an extensive history with LG phones over the last few years. I've owned and lived with an LG G4, a G5, the maligned but quietly decent LG V20, and most recently, the G7 ThinQ. LG has chopped and changed a lot with their designs over that time.
Something I still miss, for instance: the LG G4's leather back. Or the LG V20's second screen, a small strip at the top where the timer, SMS's and apps could be quickly viewed. Neither of these features proved to be particularly popular, and the LG G7 ships with a relatively unexciting design, a fingerprint sensor on the back, rounded corners, and everyone's favourite, the notch.
Screen: 6.1-inch 19.5:9 Quad HD+ (3120 x 1440) LCD display (564 pixels per inch)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor
Cameras: 16MP super wide angle (f/1.9, 107-degree field of view) and 16MP standard angle (f/1.6, 71-degree field of view), 8MP wide angle (f/1.9, 80-degree field of view) front-facing camera
Storage: 64GB of internal storage and microSD expansion
OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
Other: Dedicated Google Assistant button / AI CAM / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 / Qi-compatible wireless charging / IP68 water/dust resistance / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / VoLTE / super bright camera / HDR10 / Boom Box speaker
The big marketing hook with the G7 is in the ThinQ branding, which is becoming a catch-all across LG's lineup. It's a single platform using AI that goes from their phones, TVs, washing machines, and so on, although on the G7, you're really just dealing with Google Assistant. There's a dedicated button for that, although you can disable it if you so choose.
For most people, AI will come into play whenever they open LG's camera app. When you first launch it, you'll get a choice of three options at the bottom: Google Lens, Google's AI powered app that uses the cloud and machine learning to detect the content of an image; portrait mode; and AI Cam, which leverages AI to fine-tune an image on the fly.
Your success with AI Cam, however, will vary wildly. I found it works best in bright daylight, with landscapes and architecture. Compared to a regular photo, the AI Cam will boost the saturation up a touch - but not too much - and fix the white balance tastefully.
But when people or food got involved, for instance, the AI Cam takes the saturation several notches too far. Take this shot of brisket, captured at a wonderful all-you-can-eat American BBQ joint south of Sydney:
As a thumbnail, there's a lot of pop and the brisket looks wonderfully salivating. But look closer, and you'll spot problems all over the place: the pickles have adopted a unsightly yellow tinge, the aioli has lost that off-white colour, and the edge of the brisket has a gloss that's almost like tarmac.
Here's a shot of the same meat, without the AI Cam's assistance (while still using automated settings):
There's much less vibrance throughout, firstly. And despite being in the middle of the day and reasonable lighting conditions, there's still a good bit of noise in the shot. That pink/reddish edge around the brisket is more life-like, though. You can see the AI Cam also applies stronger post-processing, with greater noise reduction across the shot.
In some instances the AI Cam actually does quite well. Another shot of food, compared against the iPhone X, illustrates one instance where it works:
Above you've got a shot from the iPhone X's default camera app, compared against the LG G7's AI Cam. The texture of the pastry is a bit nicer here, as is the colour of the chocolate sauce in the pot. The iPhone did capture a more natural image, and there's more detail - you can notice it particularly in the icing of the filo triangles - but between the two shots, the G7 is more appealing.
Two annoyances worth pointing out here: you can't shoot RAW photos in the AI assisted mode, only the manual mode. And when you do switch into manual mode, it automatically resets all of the settings (even if you haven't closed the camera app). It'd be nice if LG's app was smart enough to at least remember settings if you've only switched between modes, rather than closed the app altogether. Alternatively, introducing an aperture/shutter speed specific mode (like DSLRs/mirrorless cameras, and some phones, now have) would help.
The G7 also comes with a special pixel-binning feature for taking photos in super low-light. What it does is basically bin three out of every four pixels from the 16MP rear cameras, allowing you to take a brighter photo at the cost of quality. Unfortunately, the quality hit is so great that you'll pretty much avoid using these photos completely.
Still, the results aren't bad for a $1100 phone compared to a $1579 flagship. The G7's 3120x1440 screen is worth calling out too: it includes a fourth white pixel, along with the usual red, blue and green pixels, that helps boost maximum brightness.
In practical terms, that means a peak brightness of 1000 nits — although there's very, very few situations where you'll need a screen that bright. You do notice the benefit on something like the morning commute though: I've had no troubles coordinating with colleagues in the morning, or knocking out a quick mobile game while being hit by the glorious glare of Cityrail windows.
The G7 will only stay at peak brightness for a couple of minutes maximum, mind you. But in ordinary situations, you're looking at about 650 nits of brightness, which is still fantastic.
Other basics that are handy to have: a Snapdragon 845 CPU, 4GB RAM, Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and wireless charging. The phone ships with a 3000mAh battery, which is a little on the low side. In Geekbench's battery test, the G7 lasted 6:11 (hours/minutes), hitting around 20% just after the five hour mark. Outside of Geekbench, our colleagues in the US found that the G7 only lasted just under 9 hours in real world testing (browsing while connected to a 4G LTE network), while the Pixel 2 XL and Huawei P20 Pro both managed over 11 hours. On the higher end of the price spectrum, the iPhone X ran for almost 10 hours streaming a YouTube video over Wi-Fi until the battery drained.
Even without using the AI Cam, the G7 still has a tendency to oversaturate colours a little further. Here, it gave the roasted cauliflower a much yellower texture. The chickpeas and beans towards the bottom right of the image are also completely blurred, but not with the strong bokeh-like effect that the iPhone X had. The overall colours are more tasteful on the G7, although the iPhone X's offers a more accurate starting point if you like editing your images in post.
The supplied fast charger from the box will get you almost full charge within an hour, and about 50% in half an hour. That's Qualcomm tech, however, not anything proprietary from LG.
The G7's other bells and whistles are nice to have, but how much you'll actually use them varies widely. The Boom Box speaker feature essentially uses the entirety of the G7 chassis as a resonance chamber, boosting the sound. That's nice if you're in the kitchen listening to a podcast while you cook, or putting someone on speakerphone in a conference room. Similarly, the far field voice recognition technology is useful, letting the phone (and Google Assistant) recognise your voice from up to five metres away.
The fact that the G7 looks like the iPhone X might appeal to some people, too. LG has gone with the notch, but the G7 also has that chin at the bottom. That said, the G7 does still have a headphone jack, which absolutely matters to a lot of people.
And if you're the kind of person who uses wired headphones a lot, then the G7 is something you might want to seriously consider. The Hi-Fi Quad DAC and DTS:X surround sound audio only work when connected to the 3.5mm jack, and the sound is substantially richer and deeper as a result. LG supplied a pair of B&O H3 headphones to test, but you'll get even better results with some over-ear headphones.
Another feature that's become a staple of LG phones: the extra-wide lens on the rear, instead of a telescopic lens like other manufacturers are angling towards. I was a huge fan of the LG V20's wide angle camera, and the G7's f/1.9 wide-angle lens doesn't disappoint. The wide-angle doesn't get you that fisheye look that you might get with a proper fisheye lens, but if you're taking shots with your camera a lot, it's super handy when you're in very close proximity to your subject.
All in all, the LG G7's problem is that it doesn't shine in one area strongest enough to differentiate itself at its price point. The strongest claim to fame, if anything, is probably the sound quality: while other manufacturers have saved chassis space by ditching the headphone jack, LG retained it with features that audiophiles will appreciate.
But that's not the phone's big calling card. The AI-powered support is. But the AI that most people will interact with in the ThinQ is Google Assistant, and the far field recognition and a separate Google Assistant button isn't a strong enough calling card to pay for LG's implementation of AI over Google's. (Of course, the Pixel 2 costs a few hundred dollars more, but it's been available intermittently for about the same as the LG G7 when discounted.)
Around the same price point, other phones have more standout features: the Huawei P20 offers better battery, a flashier design (particularly the Twilight model), and a triple-camera setup that includes a 40MP RGB sensor and a 20MP black-and-white sensor, compared to the dual 16MP f/1.6 and f/1.9 sensors on the G7.
In the other direction, Aussies also have the Razer Phone. That doesn't have the latest Qualcomm CPU, and the cameras are nothing to write home about. But the in-built speakers won't get muffled by your hand, the 120Hz screen is delightful, and the 4000mAh battery is nothing to scoff at. There's also the iPhone 8 64GB model to consider, the Nokia 8 Sirocco, and the good Sony Xperia XZ2.
The G7 doesn't really stand apart from the pack. It does everything reasonably well, but it's not outstanding in any one area, and the battery life is a little too low for a $1100 phone. It's a phone lacking an identity. Funnily enough, that's an issue the LG V series never had, which makes you wonder whether the company should just double down on that instead.