Our usual springtime smartphone showdown between Samsung and LG is coming a bit later than usual: The Galaxy S9 debuted back in February, but the LG G7 has been M.I.A. since.
Well, let the battle begin: LG just took the wraps off of the curiously-named LG G7 ThinQ, and with the later-than-usual launch, they're trying a few new things to help their premier flagship try to take over the smartphone chart for the first time in years.
We already know that the Samsung Galaxy S9 is a stunner, since it sits at #2 on our list as of this writing, but the G7 ThinQ seems like a plenty compelling alternative. Here's how we think this battle will shake out after going hands-on with the G7 ThinQ, and we'll update it with a final verdict once we've given LG's phone a proper review.
Design: Sleek beasts
The LG G7 ThinQ has a familiar face: it adopts the same kind of notched design popularized by the Apple iPhone X, then seen on the Huawei P20 Lite and Asus ZenFone 5 and also coming on the Nokia X and OnePlus 6. It's going to be everywhere.
Unfortunately, that doesn't give the G7 ThinQ the most distinctive allure, although a full-face screen is a plenty appealing approach if you can deal with the notch, and the chin at the bottom is smaller than on last year's LG G6. The glass backing looks a bit plain in our view, though; it's lacking the kind of visual pop seen on the back of the Twilight edition Huawei P20 Pro.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S9 is still a pretty sleek and distinctive-looking handset… except that it's identical to the Galaxy S8. Samsung didn't do much this time around aside from moving the awkwardly-placed fingerprint sensor to a better spot, but we're still pretty pleased with the curved glass and slim build. We'll have to see how these handsets compare side-by-side.
Screen: Notch... or not?
More and more flagship phones are going the way of punchy OLED screens, but not the LG G7 ThinQ: despite the V30's OLED display a few months back, LG is sticking with LCD here.
Luckily, it seems like a rather excellent LCD. It's a 6.1in QHD+ display, extra-tall and with the notch of course, and it looked fantastic in our initial use. A Super Bright mode can also kick the brightness up to 1,000 nits as needed, which should be handy in direct sunlight and other odd lighting scenarios.
Also, note that the notch can be "hidden" via software, with the option putting black bars on either side of it to look like there's just extra bezel at the top... extra bezel with the time, battery indicator, and other status details. It's still physically there, of course, but at least it's obscured.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S9 houses the current best smartphone screen on the market: a 5.8in QHD+ Super AMOLED display that is wonderfully bright, crisp, and vibrant. LG's screen might be darn close, but we have to think OLED gives Samsung at least a sight edge here.
Camera: More is more
Here's where LG has an opportunity to pull ahead of Samsung. The standard Galaxy S9 sticks with a single 12-megapixel back camera, and it's excellent. Samsung's big trick this time around is a variable aperture that swaps between the default f/1.5 setting and f/2.4, allowing for extra detail when you have plenty of light to work with.
Honestly, it doesn't make a huge difference in the daytime, but low-light shots do see some nice upgrades. And overall, this is a really great camera, taking crisp photos with loads of detail and well-judged exposure.
Like a lot of flagship makers these days, however, LG has added another back camera: it has two 16MP shooters, one standard (f/1.6) and the other wide-angle (f/1.9). More isn't necessarily better, but it's definitely more: dual-camera tricks should be appreciated, plus the ThinQ A.I. assist automatically switches shooting modes to maximize your results.
Our initial shots looked quite nice, including low-light shots using the automatic Super Bright mode. We'll have to put them head-to-head during review testing to see which really takes the lead – although, to be fair, we suspect the triple-camera Huawei P20 Pro will still reign overall.
Performance: Serious speed
Things ought to be pretty equal in this department: both of these Android phones use top-of-the-line processors, and can capably handle any type of content or request thrown their way.
On the Samsung side, you'll find an Exynos 9810 CPU in the UK and elsewhere, or a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU in some territories. LG uses the Snapdragon 845 everywhere. Both of these phones have 4GB RAM to help move things along, although a 6GB version of the G7 ThinQ will also be available.
The Exynos chip shows improvements on benchmark tests, providing a bit more processing power for developers to play with, but the Snapdragon isn't far behind. And in day-to-day use, both of these Android Oreo-packing phones are blazingly fast.
Battery and perks: Similarities and differences
Both phones feature a 3,000mAh battery pack, and both offer wireless charging. The Galaxy S9 lasts a strong day with solid usage, and the LG G7 ThinQ should do about the same.
Both also offer 64GB of internal storage in the base model, with expandability via microSD. Nice one. Samsung also just released 128GB and 256GB models of the S9, while LG will offer a G7 ThinQ with 128GB storage and 6GB RAM (but not in the United States).
Otherwise, the perks vary significantly based on which handset you opt for. The Galaxy S9 offers the fun Gear VR headset, as well as a PC-like desktop mode via the incoming DeX Pad and an external monitor.
The LG G7 ThinQ, on the other hand, puts a big premium on audio: the Boombox speaker setup creates a resonance chamber to blast out much louder sound, plus the phone has a Hi-Fi Quad DAC and DTS: X 3D sound functionality. We didn't get to try out the latter portions, but the Boombox speaker lives up to its name: it's super loud.
Both phones have a dedicated button on the side for virtual assistant access, with the Galaxy S9 going for Samsung's underwhelming Bixby and the G7 opting for the Google Assistant. Not only that, but this version of the Google Assistant has extra, exclusive abilities and will hear you from a distance thanks to far-field microphones. If you're a big fan of talking to your phone, then the G7 ThinQ could have some nice advantages.
Thankfully, both of these phones preserve the 3.5mm headphone port. Phew.
Initial verdict: Tough call
In some ways, these Android flagship phones are alike: they're sleek, powerful, have beautiful screens, and are probably both pretty expensive.
But the differences are key: LG went for the notched screen, a dual-camera approach, audio perks, and a focus on A.I. assists. And the Galaxy S9's curved Super AMOLED screen, adjustable aperture, and Gear VR support are all perks in Samsung's direction.
We already know that the Galaxy S9 is wonderful at ₹57,900. But we don't know how great the LG G7 ThinQ is – and we don't know the price point just yet. If it comes in significantly less, like upwards of £100 or more, then that could be a huge difference-maker. If it's similar in pricing, however, then you'll need to have a good think about what exactly you want from a phone.
Samsung has consistently won this battle over the last few years, but as of now, we're not ready to make a call here. However, once we have a final LG G7 ThinQ in hand and put it through our review process, we'll loop back with a final verdict.