It's easy to be jaded with smartphones these days, with most handsets looking the same. The LG G7, with its slab-like design, does trend toward the ordinary at first glance. What saves it for me, though, is that it comes in colors more interesting than the standard black or grey. The one I tested is "Raspberry Red," and I absolutely fell in love with the bright rosy pink hue.
Yes, it's still a thin rectangle with rounded edges, much like lots of other handsets out there, but I still think it looks pretty good. The G7's sides and back are subtly curved around the edges for a smooth and comfortable feel in the hand, and the display on the front curves slightly into the metal frame for a softer overall look.
Instead of going with an OLED screen like Samsung's Galaxy line of phones, LG stuck with LCD. I don't mind this decision at all, as I found the 6.1-inch QHD+ display to be stunning all the same. The screen is crisp, vibrant and saturated with vivid color and I love the way photos and videos look on it. According to LG, this is thanks to an additional white sub-pixel that helps to increase the overall brightness.
But what I found especially compelling is the phone's "Super Bright Display" mode that ratchets up the brightness to a whopping 1,000 nits -- supposedly the highest ever on a smartphone. This is especially useful when trying to look at the display in bright sunlight, which often washes out most smartphone screens. To activate this "Super Bright Display" mode, all you need to do is hit a "Boost" button next to the screen brightness slider, and it'll crank up the brightness to full blast.
Not only did I find this tremendously useful for viewing the screen in daylight, I found that sometimes the Boost mode came on automatically, especially during really sunny days. That said, this Super Bright boost is not a permanent setting; it gradually returns to normal brightness after three minutes to preserve battery life (and prevent overheating). Still, I found I only needed a minute or so to check my phone when I'm outside, in which case that boost does a great job at making the screen more legible.
Speaking of the display, we have to talk about that notch. Yes, just like on the iPhone X, the Essential PH-1 and the Huawei P20, the G7 has an obnoxious black notch (housing the 8-megapixel camera as well as the phone's speaker) that peeks out from the top bezel. I get that this is something of a trend -- some people even seem to think of it as a status symbol -- but the look of the notch, sullying the beauty of the display, was initially upsetting.
Fortunately, LG has something of a workaround called a "New Second Screen." This is LG's name for that little slice of display either side of the notch. Similar to how the so-called second screen works on LG's previous phones, the one on the G7 is home to notification symbols along with the usual phone indicators like signal strength and battery life. You can use the "New Second Screen" as a way to "hide" the notch, by filling up the area with either a black bar or a gradient, thus blending it into the background. You also have the option for rounded app corners for a look that seems a little more natural.
I know it's a bit of a gimmick, but I love this "New Second Screen" option. With a completely black background, it really does look as if the phone's screen is edge-to-edge, with no notch at all; It's only if you squint a tiny bit that you can still make out the offending protrusion. But, unfortunately, this feature doesn't work with all apps. Right now, it only works with the home and menus as well as the web browser; in almost all other apps, the black background is gone and the notch reappears.
At first, this bothered me quite a bit, but the more I used the G7, the more I got used to it. I still don't like the notch, but since I could hide it most of the time I grew to ignore it. It's also not a problem when watching videos, because most of them don't make use of the full screen anyway.
The other big highlight of the LG G7 is its "Boombox Speaker," that supposedly makes it one of the loudest (if not the loudest) smartphone out there. I blasted a few Spotify songs on it at max volume and, sure enough, the G7 reverberates with plenty of power. It's so loud that I could even feel the table vibrating underneath from the thumping bass.
The G7's speaker takes advantage of the "resonance space" inside the phone's chassis. Because most of the internals are wrapped in a waterproof seal, LG chose to expose the speaker driver to the entire space within, resulting in this super loud sound.
But, volume doesn't equal depth. As loud as the music was, I still found the quality to be lacking. Songs still had that slightly tinny and hollow quality common with most smartphone speakers. LG suggests placing the G7 on various surfaces -- on a dining table, a kitchen counter or computer desk etc. -- can change the sound but the differences were pretty minor. While I think the LG G7 sounds decent enough (for a smartphone), its speakers definitely won't replace your Hi-Fi any time soon.
Thankfully, the LG G7 comes with another audio option: A 3.5-mm headphone jack! Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer wired headphones to wireless ones, and a 3.5mm jack means I can charge my phone while listening to tunes at the same time. The G7 has a 32-bit Hi-Fi quad DAC with DTS:X for virtual 3D surround sound, which should please most audiophiles. When I plugged in my pair of Sennheiser Momentums to the G7, the audio was so much richer and rounder than what I heard from those speakers, that I really wouldn't have it any other way.
As mentioned above, the G7 is the first Android phone with a dedicated Google Assistant button, although it's similar to the built-in Bixby button on the Samsung Galaxy S9s. The idea is that instead of saying "OK Google" to wake the phone, you just press a button. You can also press and hold to talk to Google Assistant like a walkie-talkie and double-click to trigger Google Lens, Google's image-recognition feature.
Pressing a button isn't ideal if you need to be in a hands-free situation like when driving, but for most use cases, I preferred it. It just feels more straightforward, and answers come a touch faster. Of course, you can still use "OK Google" as before, and in fact, the G7's dual far-field microphones mean you can use it from about 16 feet away. I yelled at my phone from across my living room, for example, and it works just as it does when I'm right next to it.
I should note that while the Google Assistant button can be disabled, it can't be remapped. So either you use it, or you lose it. Like the Galaxy phones and the recent Pixels, the LG G7 has a fingerprint sensor on the back and, thankfully for the clumsy among us, it's also IP68-rated to be water and dust resistant.
As great as the rest of the phone's features are, the stars of the show are the cameras. The LG G7 has dual 16-megapixel shooters on the back -- one is wide-angle while the other is telephoto -- and an 8-megapixel camera on the front.
Let's start with the front-facing camera, which is a lot better than the 5-megapixel version on the G6, especially if you're a selfie fanatic. With the AI Cam enabled (more on that later), it recognized that I was a person and automatically switched to "person" mode (that highlights facial features and skin tone). The result was an incredibly sharp and crisp image that I thought was almost too detailed (you could see the fine lines around my eyes and the large pores on my face!). Thankfully, there's also a beautification mode to blur some of those flaws away.
Alternately, there's a "Portrait" mode, increases the bokeh so your face stands out more. The fascinating part of "Portrait" mode though, is that it lets you adjust the focus after the fact -- similar to how you can on the iPhoneX and the Galaxy S9+. Portrait mode works with the rear-facing camera, too, and you don't just have to use it with people's faces -- it works on any scene where there's depth between the foreground and background.