This odd, screen/speaker/amplifier combination is supposed to help when you're listening to music without headphones or watching a YouTube video, too, but it doesn't really. LG's approach here was clever: By working together with the single speaker etched into the phone's bottom, the screen is supposed to help deliver balanced stereo sound. Instead, what I got was loud but hollow and unsatisfying audio. For those keeping count, this is the first time we've discussed an ambitious feature on the G8 that didn't live up to expectations. It won't be the last.
If nothing else, the G8 is plenty fast, thanks to the Snapdragon 855 chipset and 6GB of RAM inside. Over the past week, I've put it through the wringer as my daily driver, which involved lots of work-related multitasking and killing time in Fortnite, PUBG and Into The Dead 2. Thankfully, I didn't notice as much as a dropped frame or a performance hiccup, even when I was specifically trying to push the G8 hard. That's no surprise though: Every other flagship phone we've tested this year with the same components has been just as speedy. When we're talking about flagship phones like this, exceptional performance amounts to table stakes.
I've had my issues with LG batteries in the past, but the G8's 3,500mAh cell held up quite well. In general, I've been able to count on it for close to two full days of fairly consistent use on a single charge. Even on heavier days, like that Thursday I was running around Chicago testing a 5G network, the G8 still had enough juice to last well into the following morning. That's considerably better than what my colleague Nicole got when she reviewed last year's G7, so at least LG got that right. To be clear, the G8 is the result of some peculiar decisions and is far from perfect, but at least there's more than enough power for just about anyone.
The G8's camera is pretty solid too, though it might feel familiar to some. That's mostly because the main 12-megapixel camera (with an f/1.5 aperture, OIS and a 78-degree field of view) and the 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera (with its 107-degree field of view) feel like they were plucked right out of last year's LG V40 ThinQ. In general, that's not a bad thing; the sample shots I've taken so far largely look bright and nuanced, no matter if you're looking on a phone or a computer. Color saturation is generally quite solid too, especially when LG's AI Cam is around to recognize the scenes in front of it and make fiddly tweaks when appropriate.
Considering how good some of the cameras we've seen this year have been, though, the G8's camera can't help but come up a little short. The dynamic range you'll find in these shots pales in comparison to what devices like the Galaxy S10 are capable of, and the wide camera seems especially prone to overexpose photos taken in broad daylight. And no matter which camera you use, LG's software occasionally goes overboard with the processing. Most often, that results in unnaturally sharp looking edges where they shouldn't be (like, say, among a bed of flowers).
There are a few helpful new flourishes here, like a Night View mode that stitches together multiple exposures to create brighter photos. Those Night View photos are indeed better than ones taken in the dark without it, but not dramatically so -- the feature mostly seems to help draw out some additional detail. It's handy, but not enough to rival the Pixel 3.
I also can't help but be disappointed that the version of the G8 we're getting in the US only has two cameras. The flexibility that the triple-camera system offered in last year's V40 went a long way in helping me overlook some of its inherent issues, so LG's decision to only go with two main cameras here feels surprisingly restricting. That's especially true when you consider that some versions of the G8 that are available outside the United States actually have a triple-camera system. In fairness to LG, I personally don't find telephoto cameras on smartphones nearly as useful as I find ultra-wide cameras, but making that third long-range camera available on all G8 models would certainly have made it a more credible threat to devices like the Galaxy S10.
The eight-megapixel front-facing camera produces similarly adequate selfies, and it's a little better at telling a photo's subject from its background than the V40. That's all thanks to the other camera LG built into the G8, which also happens to be the phone's most interesting feature. LG calls it the Z Camera, but some of you might know it a little better as a time-of-flight sensor. Here's the gist, in case you're not familiar: Time-of-flight sensors emit and capture infrared light to figure out their distance from a subject and generate depth maps. Those maps are used to make your portrait selfies better, but more importantly, they also allow the G8 to recognize hand gestures you make in front of the camera.
See, with the G8, LG wanted to explore the idea of a phone you could control without having to touch it. It's a tantalizing concept, especially since we're starting to see phones move beyond the standard slab designs, and LG's work here represents the first step down a potentially game-changing path. All that said, though, actually using LG's so-called Air Motion commands is... pretty bad.