LG G8s ThinQ review: A good phone muddled with silly gimmicks

Posted: 1 August 2019 1:44 pm News

LG's lower-cost flagship has impressive overall performance, but its insistence on extra gimmicks doesn't do it any favours in the competitive premium phone space.

The good

  • Solid battery life.
  • Nice OLED display.
  • Good standalone audio output.
  • Premium Snapdragon performance.

The bad

  • Low light shooting isn't great.
  • HandID fails to work most of the time.
  • Gesture control is likewise too erratic to be worthwhile.
  • Slightly bland design.

LG has substantially changed up its release pattern for premium smartphones in 2019. We used to wait months between the camera-focused V series handsets and the more generalist G-series models. This year, we've seen the generally good LG V50 ThinQ land exclusively at Telstra, and then rapidly followed up with the LG G8s ThinQ.

Where the LG V50 ThinQ is LG's premium 5G effort, the LG G8s ThinQ fills a more "affordable" space in LG's premium line-up, and is pretty clearly pitched to be compared against phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 or Apple iPhone XR.

LG G8s ThinQ: Design

  • 6.2 inch OLED display, but we get the lower-resolution version.
  • Super-wide notch is almost a bezel in itself.
  • Visually bland.

If you're a fan of LG's phone designs and you've already seen the LG V50 ThinQ, then you've essentially seen the LG G8s ThinQ's design. It features smooth rounded corners, with a power button on the right-hand side and volume and dedicated Google Assistant buttons on the right-hand side. In Australia, it's available in black only, and this can't help but feel a little ordinary.

Ordinary is rarely what you should want when you're being asked to drop north of $1,000 on a phone. Everything is where it should be, but nothing really stands out at first glance.

In one respect that's a little unfair to the LG G8s ThinQ, because it's the first G-series phone to make the switch from an LCD to an OLED display. LG has used OLEDs for its V-series phones for some time, but not on the G-series models.

Again though, there's a slight sting here. LG produces the LG G8 line in two variants. There's the LG G8 ThinQ, which features a 6.1 inch display with a resolution of 1,440 x 3,120. The display on the LG G8s ThinQ is 6.2 inches, so it's marginally larger, but it's only at a resolution of 1,080 x 2,248 pixels. It's lower resolution on a larger screen, so it also carries a lower pixel per inch rating too.

That doesn't matter massively in day to day usage for most purposes, to be fair, but then the LG G8s ThinQ doesn't exist in a vacuum. Plenty of phones at similar price points carry better resolution displays.

Then there's the question of the notch. Some folks love them, some hate them, but LG's gone all-in for the notch on the LG G8s ThinQ. Where we've seen reduced notches on plenty of phones, the notch on the LG G8s ThinQ is massive, leaving only the smallest sections for time and network notifications. It's honestly at a level where I'm not sure it wouldn't have been smarter simply to opt for a full screen bezel instead.

The design is very much an LG design, which means there's plenty of similarity with the LG V50 ThinQ. One area where the LG G8s ThinQ outdoes its sibling is at the rear. Without the dual screen accessory, the slick back of the V50 has a tendency to slip out of pockets or hands. The ridge around the camera array on the LG G8s ThinQ stops that problem entirely.

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LG G8s ThinQ: Camera

  • Triple lenses for plenty of flexibility.
  • Annoying stepped switching between lenses.
  • Low light shooting isn't great.

LG can claim to have been the first of the big manufacturers to step up to the trend of adding wide angle lenses to its phones, having done so for years on G-series handsets. For the LG G8s ThinQ, you get a 12MP f/1.8 standard lens, 12MP f/2.6 telephoto lens and 13MP f/2.4 136 degree ultrawide lens. Again, predictably, that's a little less impressive than the full fat LG G8 ThinQ that we're not seeing here in Australia.

Still, it's a good mix to encourage creative photography, and LG does make it easy with a very simple camera app that switches between Studio, Portrait, Auto, AI CAM and Manual Camera modes. Studio mode lets you have some creative fun with lighting and stage effects, although rather predictably, the selfie stage mode cuts off parts of my head I'd probably rather keep. That's not unique to the LG G8s ThinQ, mind you, as most edge detection for this kind of work on smartphones is pretty poor if you don't have a full head of hair.

The LG G8s ThinQ isn't quite the flagship of LG's range – that's the LG V50 ThinQ – but it's within flagship pricing, which means that low light performance is also an important factor in play. To put that to the test, I grabbed the LG G8s ThinQ and my current best-of-breed low light performer, the Huawei P30 Pro and put them to the task of photographing a local sports field. The LG G8s ThinQ is cheaper than the P30 Pro, but I was hopeful that it could at least come close to Huawei's exceptional flagship in this respect.

Here's how the P30 Pro's sensor saw the field, which was in full darkness. Predictably, it's quite an incredible light pick-up, even if it's not a stunning subject.

Here's how the LG G8s ThinQ compares with the same shot:

This rather encapsulates the issue I had with the LG G8s ThinQ's camera prowess. In most circumstances, it's a very adequate and often fun camera with plenty of flexibility across its multi-lens array. However, in comparison to the quality that I can get out of similarly priced flagship phones – or even cheaper fare such as the Nokia 9 Pureview – it just doesn't compare all that well.

LG G8s ThinQ sample photos

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LG G8s ThinQ: Performance

  • A very powerful phone.
  • LG's UI could use a little freshening up.
  • Hand ID almost never works.
  • Air Gestures are super frustrating.

The basic recipe for the LG G8s ThinQ isn't dissimilar to any other flagship 2019 Android phone. It runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with 6GB of RAM and just 128GB of onboard storage. MicroSD expansion is supported if you need more.

All of this adds up to a phone that benchmarks and performs very well in a comparative sense. Here's how it compares against other flagships using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

And here's how it works out with 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme benchmark:

There's a very good smartphone under the bland design, in other words. The other factor to bear in mind here is LG's own launcher, which hasn't substantially changed in quite some time. It's very bright, and it does come with a smattering of LG's own installed applications, although not to quite the same annoying level as on competitor phones from Samsung or Huawei.

With many Android manufacturers opting for a near-pure Google experience it's not exactly clear why LG wants or needs its own launcher in place. Being Android, of course, it's trivial to change it up.

One feature that's been part of the LG story for the past few generations is the inclusion of really good onboard audio. Your tolerance for folks blasting out their tunes from their phones in public may vary, but if you're a fan, the LG G8s ThinQ delivers really solid sound with more stereo separation than you'd think possible on a device this size. I've been using it on and off simply as a small office speaker during testing, and it's really very good.

The headline feature for the LG G8s ThinQ when it launched back at Mobile World Congress 2019 was the inclusion of a front camera capable of sensing both gestures (LG calls this Air Motion) and unlocking by reading your palm's unique vein patterns, a feature LG calls HandID.

As you might expect, HandID requires you to enrol your palm by showing it a bunch of times to the front camera. In theory, then all you need to do is show it your hand and it'll magically unlock.

Now, that's the theory, but either it just flat out doesn't like me, or I'm the least magical person on the planet. Despite going through the enrolment process multiple times in different lighting situations, I rarely hit the sweet spot for unlocking with any degree of accuracy better than 10%, if that. Meanwhile, the fingerprint sensor on the back worked 100% of the time. It's neat technology, but LG's implementation needed a lot more work before it was ready for prime time.

The same is true for Air Gestures. You're limited to just a few gestures to start with, and by default they're all disabled. That's smart too, because again they don't often work all that well. The tutorial takes you through what you need to do, but in real world use, it's just not accurate enough at all.

It's frustrating, because I can very much see the potential here for situations where handling your phone isn't feasible or wise, or indeed for folks with specific motion disabilities. Google clearly sees the potential, with its own similar Project Soli set to debut on the new Pixel 4 phones, but the LG G8s ThinQ's implementation is nowhere near good enough for reliable usage.

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LG G8s ThinQ: Battery life

  • 3,500mAh battery gives more battery power than expected.
  • Wired or wireless USB C charging.

The LG G8s features a 3,500mAh battery, which places it in the solid but not spectacular category, especially given the number of flagships packing in more than 4,000mAh batteries these days.

With that in mind, I didn't figure that the LG G8s ThinQ was going to particularly impress me in either real world or benchmark tests.

Here's how the LG G8s ThinQ performs using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

While it's not up there with the best in breed phones, all of which have much higher capacities to draw from, it's a very good performer for a phone in its battery class. The Geekbench test makes it easier to compare against other phones using a predictable battery draw, but even in day to day usage, I had few complaints. You'd have to push the LG G8s ThinQ fairly hard to exhaust it within a day.

When you do, there's support for fast USB C charging via the supplied charger, or slightly slower wireless charging if that's your passion.

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LG G8s ThinQ: Should you buy it?

  • A good phone but not a great one.

The LG G8s ThinQ has some truly great features. It's powerful, its battery life is really very good for its capacity, and it's got the best OLED display LG has put into a G-series phone to date.

Weighed against that are the gimmicky Air Gestures and HandID features which essentially don't work, and a camera array that's functional but not exciting in a market where that extra dose of pizzazz is so vital.

LG has produced its best G-series phone to date in the LG G8s ThinQ, but it's still trailing its competitors at this price point. If you're a big LG fan, the LG V50 ThinQ remains the phone to buy.

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LG G8s ThinQ: Pricing and availability

The LG G8s ThinQ sells outright for $1,200, or on a range of contract plans through Telstra:

LG G8s ThinQ: Alternatives

Within the LG family of phones, for a little more money you could score the 5G-capable, dual screened LG V50 ThinQ.

If what you want is a good-all rounder phone with great camera capabilities, consider the Huawei P30.

It's a little more expensive than the LG G8s ThinQ, but a little shopping around should be able to score you the Samsung Galaxy S10 for a similar price, or you could dip down into the Samsung Galaxy S10e pretty easily.

Specifications

LG G8s ThinQ Specifications

OS Android 9
Display size (inches) 6.2
Display resolution (pixels) 1080 x 2248
Pixels per inch (PPI) 401
Processor Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
Height (mm) 155.3
Width (mm) 76.6
Depth (mm) 8
Weight (g) 181
Battery size (mAh) 3,550
Wireless charging Qi
Internal storage 128GB
MicroSD expansion N/A
Fingerprint scanner Yes
RAM 6GB
Water resistance IP68
Rear camera (1) resolution 12
Rear camera (1) aperture 1.8
Rear camera (2) resolution 12
Rear camera (2) aperture 2.6
Rear camera (3) resolution 13
Rear camera (3) aperture 2.4
Front camera (1) resolution 8
Front camera (1) aperture 1.9
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 21
NFC support No
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