“I have been living with a shadow overhead
I have sleeping with a cloud above my bed…”
Those lines are from the 2007 Hugh Grant – Drew Barrymore starrer “Music and Lyrics” could well describe the state of LG when it comes to mobile phones over the past four years.
“Trapped in the past
I cannot seem to move on…”
The Korean giant seemed to have arrived as a challenger to Samsung with its Nexus 5 and the G2 scoring heavily in terms of design and functionality – the G2 was actually one of the first high-end devices that attempted to minimize bezels and also tried rather innovatively to place some controls on the back of the device. Life seemed good for LG, pun intended. And then things stagnated with the G3, G4, and G5 somehow losing out on the innovation and design game and seemingly trying to fight on pure specs with their most prominent rival.
The shadow LG’s G series has been living with over the past four years has been that of the Samsung S series. The annual clash between them used to a matter of interest some years ago but of late seems to have become a bit of a walk in the park for the Samsung device, especially after it revamped design dramatically with the S6 and Edge series.
The G6 attempts to turn that around and get LG back into phone love land. And to an extent succeeds.
Benefiting from a style change…and an absence
We think Samsung did LG a massive favor by not launching the Galaxy S8 at the Mobile World Congress this year. The device’s absence allowed the G6 to get more of the spotlight than it would otherwise have.
The G6 looks very different from its predecessors, eschewing the curved sides for a slightly more boxy look that will remind many pleasantly of the Nexus 5’s straight sides. We got the black model of the device, and it was certainly a handsome one with its narrow bezels on the sides and even relatively small “chin” below its 5.7-inch display (although there will be some who will frown at the on-screen navigation touch buttons which take up the lower part of the screen). The device is easily the most compact 5.7-inch display device we have seen (it is much smaller than the 5.5-inch display toting iPhone 7 Plus), just as the Nexus 5 remains one of the most compact 5.0-inch (well, 4.95 inches, if you want to nitpick) displays devices we had used in its time. Yes, at 163 grams, it does have some heft, it is more reassuringly solid than the jewel-like Galaxy S8, even though it too comes encased with a glass front and back.
Speaking of the back, LG has clearly not given up on the idea of having controls on the back of the device – the fingerprint scanner below the dual cameras on the rear backs up as a display/power button as well (you can double tap to wake up or turn the screen off, though), and reduces the button count on the metal sides of the device to two: volume up and down on the left. All in all, this is a compact, smart and solid device. The black model sits on the table like a slab of ebony, which is not an unpleasant sight at all. It is like a well-tailored suit, designed to blend in elegantly rather than scream for attention – dust and water resistant too.
In spec terms, the device is definitely high-end with its quad-HD 5.7-inch display, dual 13.0-megapixel cameras, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage (a hybrid SIM slot gives you the option to use a memory card if you wish – just remember, the phone restarts every time you insert a SIM into it), Android Nougat, a 3300 mAh battery with support for Quick Charge, and all the connectivity options you could want (NFC, Bluetooth, 4G, Wi-Fi, GPS, although the absence of infra-red might annoy some). Where it hits a slight plateau is in its processor, which is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, which in spite of being the most powerful chip officially available in the Indian smartphone market, has since been superseded by the Snapdragon 835. That said, the 835 has not been released on any device in India at the time of writing (the Galaxy S8 in India is powered by the Exynos processor), so even though some geeky noses might be turned up, the fact is that the LG G6 comes packed with power. We would have preferred dual speakers and a selfie camera with a slightly higher megapixel count than five, but that is just us being picky (you can get a more detailed look at its design and features in our first cut).
Lights, camera, action…and sound too – scoring on multimedia!
It might have borrowed a page from its design book and like it might be packed with high-end specs, but where the LG G6 entirely differs from the Nexus 5 is in terms of multimedia. Whereas that worthy lugged multimedia around like a burden, the G6 wears it proudly on its head like a crown.
The display has a rather unusual 18:9 aspect ratio, which makes it taller than wider (16:9 is the more commonly seen ratio) – LG has thrown in an option to adjust the screen size of the apps in settings to prevent “bands” appearing above and below them. The execution is good – we never felt the apps were “stretched.” And the display is an excellent one – not only is it sharp and handles colors well (none of the crazy over saturation that some AMOLED clad worthies inflict on us), but it is very visible in daylight. It is great for viewing videos and playing games. LG has added Dolby Vision HDR (the first smartphone in the world to feature it) which comes with better colors, contrast, and highlights, for compatible videos. The demos we have seen look staggeringly good, but take our word for it; even regular videos look awesome on that display.
Then there are the dual cameras. Truth be told, we are still not sure whether two cameras are definitely better than one, but after its experiments with the G5 and the V20, LG seems to have come out with its most solid camera combination yet on the G6. We had loved the dual shooters on the G5, although their inconsistency had annoyed us a bit. Well, the G6 scores in the consistency department, with one camera letting you get 2x optical zoom (enabled by default) and the other giving you a 125-degree wide angle for landscapes and the like. You can switch between the two in the camera UI, which in our opinion, gets a little overwhelming. LG has also kept the default image size at 8.7-megapixels, which we think is a trifle odd – yes, the viewfinder covers the entire, rather dishy, display, but why give users a lower resolution when your camera is capable of one that is almost a third higher? There are also a number of modes out there, including “Square” in which you can preview a snap you have taken in a square, while you get a “live viewfinder” right next to it in another square – it is a great way to showcase that display, but not much else, to be honest.
There is also a manual mode for the setting tweaker crowd, but you do not really need to go there for great photographs. For, even in auto mode (yes, and 8.7 megapixels too), the G6 takes some excellent pictures. Just remember not to go for the wide angle lens in low light, and you will get shots that have got realistic color and decent detail. Some shots might look a trifle overexposed (slightly washed out) in bright sunlight, but by and large, these are a pair of shooters that are as good as any at their best. The front camera performs well enough for simple selfies but is slightly off the pace when compared to other flagship shooters, although LG has thrown in options for skin tones, brightness, and live filters. If you love taking pictures of food and people, the G6 is a terrific camera.
Rounding off the multimedia department is the matter of sound. And here the G6 delivers a – well – sound performance. The single speaker is impressively loud, and things get better if you have a decent pair of headphones. The G6 also carries forward the V20’s endeavor to not just play high-quality audio but also record it – it comes with an HD audio recorder with “normal” and “concert” settings. The recorded Audio was not on par with what we had seen from the V20 (which remains the holy grail in that department, we think), but still very good quality.
A great performer with a slightly complex UI
Multimedia might be the ace it has up its near bezel-free sleeves, but the G6 is very well equipped in other aspects as well. The Snapdragon 821 allied with 4 GB RAM ensures that almost everything that you throw at the phone from high-end games like the Asphalt series and Hitman: Sniper to high-end multitasking (more than a dozen apps) runs without any hitch. The fingerprint scanner works smoothly both as a home button and a display unlocker.
Call quality is very good indeed, and battery life is impressive – with careful usage, you can make the G6 last a day and a half, and if you want to go crazy walloping the camera and display, you still should be able to see out a day without too much sweat.
What might, however, make you sweat just a little, is the UI. Like most Android manufacturers of late, LG too has attempted to walk the line that separates being genuinely helpful to your users from loading them with bloatware. On first glance, the company has done well in keeping the UI relatively clean – there is no app drawer, and LG has placed all its apps within another folder, so you basically get two homescreens on the device out of the box, which feels nice and uncluttered.
Beneath that uncluttered surface, however, lurks some complexity. To be fair, a lot of it comes because LG has tried to pack features into the device. We had referred to it in the camera app, and even the Settings have four panels. Hidden in these panels are some genuinely useful features. There are Smart Settings which makes the phone do certain tasks depending on its location (switch to Wi-Fi when at home, automatically connect to networks in office and so on); Shortcut Keys which allow you to launch the camera by double pressing the volume down key twice even when the display is switched off and launching the Capture+ app (which takes a screenshot and lets you scribble or draw on it). You also have the option of having up to six navigation buttons on the base of your display – apart from the regulation Home, Back and Recent Apps, you can also opt for QSlide (which gives you direct access to specific apps at a button press), Capture+, a button for switching between SIM connections and rather strangely, a button that pulls down the notification bar. You can also search for information on your phone by just swiping down from the home screens, which is kind of handy, and also have a Smart Bulletin, which is an additional home screen that shows select information (health, music, etc.) if you prefer that sort of thing. LG also has a dedicated app for health, a file manager, a memo app and much more on board. If you are willing to invest some time learning the ropes, there is a fair lot here. We just wish it had been better organized and presented.
Still under the S8’s shadow?
It has a handsome design, rock solid build and is a very good performer. But for many people, the real ace up the G6’s sleeve as far as it comes to the Galaxy S8 might be its significantly lower price tag of Rs 51,990 – the S8 in India starts at 57,900 and in India, cannot claim to have a newer Snapdragon chip either. In fact, as this is being written, the G6 is available for as little as Rs 41,990 (or $499 unlocked in the US), which makes it perhaps the most attractive “premium flagship” out there (in terms of flat out performance, we would rank it ahead of the OnePlus 3T, which is the only device with a Snapdragon 821 chip at a lower price).
No, it does not come supported with the kind of “high-profile and everywhere” ad campaign that the S8 does, but in terms of sheer performance, the G6 in our opinion does enough to make people wonder whether it might not offer more bang for your buck than some of the other Android flagships out there. And in that regard, it has definitely made a move in the right direction.
“All I want to do
Is find a way back into love…”
Sing Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics. They do so in the end (hey, it was a Rom Com). With the G6, LG might just be making its way back to phone love as well…
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