Smartphone makers walk a perilously thin tightrope when it comes to dreaming up killer new features, and throwaway gimmicks still vastly outnumbered game-changing design quirks. The result has been an almost universal safe and familiar approach for fear of outright rejection by phone buyers (remember Amazon's Fire Phone?).
Credit to LG and its G range of smartphones –a series that has thrown the rule book out with curved screens, rear-mounted keys and, in its last iteration, a modular device aimed at the mainstream. Unfortunately for LG, that last experiment with 2016's LG G5 prompted a significant critical backlash that was compounded by a dearth of support for said modularity.
LG's response to those critics is the LG G6, a device that is easily the least inventive flagship Android smartphone the South Korean company has built in years – it's also its best.
LG G6 review: Display
While it's true that the G6 largely does away with the range's renegade ethos in almost every department, its eye-catching, extra-long display offers the kind of wow factor that would make its predecessors proud. The sheer volume of screen here takes a minute or two to get used to, but once the adjustment period was over we were smitten.
Much like Samsung's Galaxy S8, the LG G6 has an elongated 18:9 aspect ratio screen which it calls "FullVision". While it lacks the satisfyingly slick "Infinity Display" curvature of its Android rival, the 5.7in panel packs a hefty Quad HD punch.
The decision to stick with an IPS LCD display over an OLED results in a few minor contrast and black level complaints when stacked up against the competition (notably the Galaxy S8 and Google's Pixel phones), but it's capable of delightfully vibrant and crisp images without risking oversaturation.
Shunning OLED means no Daydream virtual reality fun, which is a real shame, but LG has made the most of its LCD heritage by including Dolby Vision and HDR 10 support. Trying to find Dolby Vision-graded content on mobile is something of a fool's errand at this time, but with both Netflix and Amazon Video promising some level of support in the future, it'll be interesting to see if the G6's imitation of a cinema experience can get anywhere close to the real thing.
LG G6 review: Design
In terms of form factor, this is the first LG phone since the G Optimus that would be hard to recognise as a G-range device if you removed the logos.
Rather than plaster the phone with goofy rear-mounted volume rockers (mercifully on the left side here) or faux-leather backs, the G6 opts for a more subtle approach. This quite rightly presents the sumptuous display as the centrepiece, which is largely uninterrupted under the glass front panel and enhanced by small bezels.
The glass finish on the rear is equally pleasing, with the lightly curved corners falling neatly into the metal frame and taking sharpness away from the minimal grooves. It's odd that the front panel offers the lower grade Gorilla Glass 3 protection while the back is Gorilla Glass 5, but there's a chunkiness and heft (while still weighing just 163g) to the G6 that is immediately satisfying.
On the whole, the unassuming aesthetic and broad build won't be for everyone, but it exudes the class and confidence that was missing from LG's recent phones.
Underneath the flush dual-camera module on the rear sits a fingerprint sensor and power/home button which is the only real carry-over from LG's former obsession with back-mounted keys. The placement may bother those with smaller hands, but otherwise it settles nicely under your index finger.
As a means to unlock the phone it's… acceptable. The circular sensor is just a tad too small for our tastes, although as a depressable lock key it works perfectly.
LG has also refused to give in to the headphone jack-removal epidemic, with the 3.5mm port located on the top right of the device, while a USB-C port and single bottom-mounted speaker (which is loud enough, but lacks the clarity bass and tweeter speaker set-ups from HTC) round out the sparse external feature list.
LG G6 review: Camera
For all the LG G5's faults, it's dual-lens camera was its saving grace. The LG G6 makes minor tweaks to the hardware, but sensibly sticks with the established formula – one regular shooter and one wide-angle lens for GoPro-like shots.
The most notable change is resolution parity, with both standard and wide-angle photos both shot through 13 megapixel sensors. The secondary lens may not be quite as practical a feature as the iPhone 7 Plus' optical zoom, but flicking between the two image types within the app is fast, effortless and frequently entertaining, while the improved sensor ensures that the image quality is up to snuff.
Wider-field-of-view snaps are more of a bother in low light, however, as it lacks OIS and the wider f/1.8 aperture of the main shooter - instead a narrower f/2.4.
For general photography the regular lens is quietly impressive, producing highly detailed images that keeps the noise levels down for nighttime shots. It doesn't quite live up to the luminous punch of the Pixel and the image processing software tends to oversharpen images from time to time, but this is every bit a top-class smartphone camera for 2017.
Alongside the usual suite of filters, time-lapse shots, Full HD, 4K and slo-mo video options, LG has made use of the longer FullVision display to add a handful of functions.
The most useful of the new features is the Preview mode which creates a thin, secondary window to view existing snaps while still aiming the viewfinder. The "Square Camera" though – which is hidden in the Widgets menu for some bizarre reason – is entirely superfluous unless you have a burning desire to stitch photos together into one image on the fly.
Finally, the 5 megapixel 'selfie' camera has its own wide-angle mode, but on a much lesser scale due to the single, low-resolution lens. It'll do fine for savvy social types.
LG G6 review: OS and performance
Prior to receiving our review unit we spent some time with the LG G6 at Mobile World Congress 2017 and were left nonplussed by the busyness of UX 6.0 – LG's next iteration of its proprietary Android layer. Admission time: We were categorically wrong.
Coming off the back of spending a few weeks with the Huawei P10, this particular writer was dreading sifting through another bloated, cumbersome skin masking the benefits of Android Nougat underneath, but UX 6.0 is a gigantic leap forward for LG and offers enough customisation to almost rival the stock Android experience.
As an example, the app drawer is absent out of the box, but a quick menu selection later and hey presto. Not keen on LG's squared icons for all of your apps? Poof, gone. The highly touted integration of Google Assistant prior to launch may have been slightly undercut by a wider rollout, but seamless access to Google's digital butler is symbolic of the OS's relative purity.
There are a few LG-specific apps that clutter the experience – as well as few duplicates, if you're heavily embedded in Google's ecosystem – but those that can't be deleted can be hidden from view with ease. The notification bar is equally dynamic and is a far cry from the screen-filling monstrosity that plagued previous LG smartphones.
Everything zips along under the finger too, with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM keeping stutter at bay. Number-crunchers may scoff at the last-gen processor and its lesser benchmark scores compared to the Galaxy S8's Snapdragon 835 or the P10's Kirin 960, but performance is close to flawless and entirely lag-free.
The G6 also finally sees LG embracing expectation when it comes to waterproofing, as the phone is IP68 certified for dust and water resistance. The victim of this overdue change is the battery, as for the first time since the LG G2, the 3300mAh cell here is not removable. It does perform admirably though – we found that even after an hour or two of YouTube and Spotify streaming it would still linger around the 50% mark by 5pm on most days.
In fact, the only major bugbears we have with the LG G6's feature list – aside from the paltry 32GB internal storage – is actually what isn't here. Despite wireless charging and HiFi Quad DAC audio tech featuring heavily in pre-release hype, the European market misses out entirely on both (the US gets the former, while the latter is exclusive to the South Korean model).
Considering that the LG G6 retails for £649 – just £40 less than the flashier and more powerful Galaxy S8 – it's hard to understand why LG hasn't stacked its flagship with every weapon it has in its arsenal, especially with the anniversary iPhone also looming beyond the horizon.
The LG G6 is an all no killer, no filler smartphone that sees LG going back to basics with resoundingly positive results.
Any initial pangs of disappointment at seeing the G series' rogue instinct tamed to such a harsh degree in the design stakes are immediately swept away by the beauty of its elongated display, not to mention the adaptable dual-camera and the improved software experience.
The G6 is a bonafide prize fighter gunning for the Android crown, and while it may not snatch gold from the likes of Samsung and Apple this year, it puts LG back in contention in knockout form.