LG V40 ThinQ Review

Compromise (verb): Settle a dispute by mutual concession. Accept standards that are lower than is desirable.

When we're picking out a new phone to spend our hard-earned money on, we're normally excited about the new tech. We're not thinking about the compromises we have to make when we use the phone. Maybe it's not the fastest thing out there or doesn't have as much storage as another phone. Perhaps the camera or display just isn't up to par.

No matter which phone you pick, there are always compromises. There isn't one "best" phone out there.

But, with the LG V40 ThinQ, LG is really getting close.

Previous LG V series devices have always had drawbacks, but as the series, and LG as a company, have matured, the phones keep getting better and better. Long known for their photography and video exploits, the V series is now something more. A phone (almost) without compromises.

What we love

Display

I'm going to start out this LG V40 ThinQ review by talking about Samsung. To look at a phone in a vacuum is almost impossible and it's definitely impossible to ignore the industry leader.

Samsung has long been known for its displays. It's the market leader and even has rival Apple buying its displays for the iPhone. Beautiful OLED displays dot the market and have become a staple of Samsung's successful Galaxy lineup.

LG is trying to catch up. Last year was a disaster for Samsung's display division. The maligned Google Pixel 2 XL used LG panels and they had a ton of issues. The LG V30 didn't fare much better. Our own Donovan Jeska who reviewed the V30, called the display "a mess" and many agreed.

"On paper, the V30's display is a beast; a 6″, 18:9 OLED panel with QHD+ resolution and HDR10 support on a screen that covers 80% of the face of the phone. It sounds like a phone-nerd's dream, right? Unfortunately, all dreams must end – and in reality, the V30's display is a bit of a mess."

But 2018 is a new story. LG got back up off the dirt, dusted itself off, and came back to the table with an almost class-leading display. The LG G7 has a fantastic LCD display that shows off the best parts of the technology. The LG V40, on the other hand, features LG's own Plastic OLED (P-OLED) display. Much like Samsung's Super AMOLED technology, the P-OLED panel has fantastic color reproduction, deep blacks, and really good peak brightness. This is not a phone you will struggle with on a bright day.

If you're not happy with the display out of the box, LG gives you options. There are seven Screen color modes including Auto, Cinema, Sports, Game, Photos, Web, and Expert. There aren't a ton of differences between each mode, but enough to matter. Expert allows you to manually adjust the saturation, hue, and sharpness, a feature we wish we had on all phones. There are also sliders to adjust color temperature and RBG levels.

In LG's world, the display is what you make of it and we love that.

Build Quality

I've owned or reviewed every LG flagship since the LG G Flex and the LG G2. A funny thing happened once LG decided to redesign its devices, starting with the LG G6— they just felt hollow.

Read more: The LG G6: One year later

I don't know what the difference is between the glass LG uses and someone like Samsung or Google, but LG's devices always just felt hollow when I touched the glass, whereas other OEMs knew how to make their devices solid.

Luckily, LG figured it out because this is one of the most solid phones I've ever used. Yes, there is still a slight knock when touching the back of the phone, but it is much improved even over the LG G7. It now feels like you're picking up a $900 device.

But, the positives don't stop there. LG uses an aluminum frame that feels fantastic. The 2.5D curved glass display melts into the frame much like the way a Samsung device might. The curve of the display is far more gradual, but it also feels more natural. There's almost no flex to this phone and it just feels good.

Audio

The LG V40's speaker is unremarkable base on the metrics we normally look at. It's a single downward-firing speaker that (normally) doesn't get very loud.

But, like many aspects of the LG V40, the spec sheet doesn't tell the whole story. That single speaker gets LOUD when placed on a flat surface. The Boombox feature allows the audio to bounce around in the phone and get much louder than you'd think you'd get from a phone not named the HTC One. Not only is it loud, but it sounds pretty good too. It's great in a pinch when you don't have a Bluetooth speaker.

But the real star of the show is the integrated DAC. Not only has LG not removed the headphone jack, but it has also doubled down on its importance. LG offers an unparalleled audio experience with wired headphones. If you're an audiophile, this is probably near the top of your list unless you want to carry around additional audio accessories.

And all that is wonderful, but we're left wondering if it really matters. Most streaming services don't stream music at a high enough quality for the DAC to matter. Plus, a large number of consumers are perfectly fine sacrificing audio quality for the convenience of Bluetooth audio and no cables.

This is a feature we love, but we're wondering just how long it'll stick around.

Camera

If you're even remotely aware of the LG V40, you're probably also aware of the camera setup. LG went large on cameras this year, including five separate cameras on the V40. Three on the back, two on the front.

Dual front-facing cameras is a rather new trend and LG is fully embracing the trend. Two shooters sit in the phone's notch and provide users with an option for normal selfies or a more wide-angle affair. In practice, this works really well. While the pictures don't rise to the level of something like the Google Pixel 3, they're perfectly fine for social media, where most of them will be posted anyway.

The rear of the device is an entirely different story. LG has long been using a dual regular + wide-angle lens setup on its flagships, but this year it added a zoom lens as well.

To support the cameras, LG also added some pretty interesting shooting modes like Triple Shot, which takes pictures from all three lenses and makes a little zoom-in montage with them. I've never gotten a good experience using this mode, but LG is thinking outside of the box here and that's what I appreciate. I feel like LG can refine over time and make this a better experience than is currently available right now.

Pictures from the rear cameras are surprisingly good. I've always been high on LG's cameras, but I feel like this year is its best iteration yet. Low light pictures are a real standout. As you can see in our photo samples, the camera pulls out a ton of light in challenging situations. Sure, there are some issues around grain and some loss of detail, but that's pretty standard for smartphone cameras. If you're looking for a great photo experience for sending pictures to friends and family members via messaging apps and on social media, the V40 is a fantastic choice.

So, do you really need three lenses? Well, probably not but this phone is all about choice. The wide-angle lens really is a treat for landscapes and cityscape shots. I'm a terrible photographer but it makes me feel like I can get something artsy once in a while.

Click here to view the LG V40 ThinQ Camera samples

The zoom lens, on the other hand, I am not a huge fan of. I don't think it takes fantastic pictures, like the stand and wide-angle lenses. Colors don't look great, there's a lot of detail lost as well. This is one of the only subpar things on the phone in my opinion and it truly feels like a first generation feature for LG, which it is. I have zero doubt that by the time we see the LG G8 or LG V50, this is going to be a massive improvement.

The camera app is another standout. Again, I've always been a fan of how LG approaches the camera app and this year is even better. There are ten different modes including manual pictures and video, Cine video, Cine shot, and some other specialized modes like Food mode and Slo-mo.

The camera apps is really easy to use and I love how easy it is to get a great shot quickly. But, if you want something more, you can fine-tune your photos to perfection. This truly is the intersection of simplicity and creativity that I think all camera apps should strive for.

Design

Whether you're a fan of the trend of glass sandwich phones, you have to admit that the LG V40 ThinQ just looks good. Yes, two panels of glass meet at an aluminum frame but this year, the panels have a subtle curve near the frame. This differs from the flat panel of the LG G7 and the very curved panels on the Samsung Galaxy lineup. This a nice compromise that I find to feel really nice in the hand.

The black version of the device is fantastic at hiding the incredibly small bezels on the device. The side bezels are some of the smallest on a flagship phone today. Sure, they're still there but I have zero problem with them. You need somewhere to hold the phone, right?

The top and bottom bezels are a bit more concerning. The chin is about on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, but the problem is the notch + top bezel combination. If there's a notch on the phone, I don't want top and bottom bezels, it is as simple as that. While the top bezel isn't huge, it's there and it annoys me. When you hold something like the OnePlus 6T and the LG V40 ThinQ up next to each other, it becomes very apparent that LG still has some work to do here.

Despite my bezel issue, I really love how this phone looks. From the display that melts into the frame to the small things like how antenna bands look on the bottom of the phone, it all comes together in a fantastic package. If the notch doesn't bother you, this might be the best looking phone on the market right now.

Room for improvement

Software

For as long as I've been reviewing LG phones, the software has always bothered me. I'm not a stock Android fanboy, but LG's approach just misses the mark for me. The heavily skinned phones it produces often feel bogged down by unnecessary software features, obnoxious themes, and laggy performance.

Luckily for potential customers, LG seems to be moving in the right direction. While I don't think the recent changes to the skin are moving more towards stock, I do think they're moving away from LG's current design language. No longer are there loud colors everywhere distracting you while you're looking for settings. Now, we have a clean pallet and even support for a dark mode in the accessibility settings. It's a weird compromise, but one I'm fully in support of.

There are still a boatload of features packed into this phone. Some are redundant, some are just not needed, but most are nice. It always cracks me up that Samsung gets the bad rap for packing its phones with useless features when LG is neck and neck with Sammy.

Look, if you want the best bang for your buck, I completely understand why this would be attractive to you. When you're shelling out $800 to $1000 for a phone, you want to make sure you're not missing out on anything. LG goes directly after these consumers. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it just is what it is.

But, I don't use 90% of the features on this phone. Producing a custom ringtone for your contacts when they call is pretty cool, but I can certainly live without it. The ability to fill in the notch area with pretty colors is interesting, but something I'd never use.  I can see why someone would, but I don't know if it's enough people to justify putting it in the phone.

These are just a few examples of what I think is a directionless software experience. Look at Google and tell me they don't have an idea of what they want the user to experience. It's clean, smooth, and requires almost no effort to get up and running. It's the same with Apple, and hell even Samsung has made strides in this area.

And I'm not saying it's all bad here. This is one of the smoothest experiences on a phone not named Pixel. I had almost no stuttering, quick app load times, and little issue keeping those apps in memory. But, when the stuttering did show up, it was in instances like scrolling through my app list or through the Google feed. Why? I have no idea. There are other phones on the market that cost far less and perform more consistently with the same hardware.

Battery life

This has been my biggest struggle with the LG V40. I was initially optimistic about battery life because of my experience with the LG G7. I got "okay" battery life (around four hours of screen on time with heavy usage) with the G7. The fact that the V40 had an extra 2 GB of RAM and an AMOLED display led me to believe it would be even better here.

To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement.

I'm on my second review unit of the V40 because I thought my first unit had a defective battery. There were days where I was reaching for the charger between 1 and 2 PM after not touching the phone much in the morning. After multiple factory resets and a second unit displaying the same issues (my replacement is only marginally better), I'm left frustrated and annoyed.

I really don't know how to recommend this phone when the battery life is this bad. The most screen on time I've ever gotten out of it is about four hours and that was doing some light browsing on Reddit, checking emails, and sending a few texts back and forth. Most days I got about three hours of screen on time and had to charge up in the afternoon or kept the phone on a wireless charger.

Other reviews like the one from Droid-Life point out the stellar battery life of the V40. I have no doubt that Tim, who is an excellent reviewer, got great battery life. But that leaves me wondering how the experience can vary so drastically. I've never uninstalled apps and removed synced email addresses from a phone before to pinpoint a battery problem. I never could find out why my battery life is so bad.

I'm not saying this will the case on all V40's, but I would caution you to pay close attention within your return period. If you aren't getting a great battery life, don't wait to bring it back to the store and exchange or return. You don't want to spend almost a thousand dollars on a device that can't get through the day.

Conclusion

I always feel a little bad about ending these reviews on negatives because I feel like it leaves a bad taste in people's mouths. The truth about the LG V40 ThinQ is that it is a fantastic phone with a few flaws.

The areas where the V40 is strong, it's absolutely great. I can't overstate just how surprised I am with how good the display is here. The V30 was such a disappointment that when I heard LG was using its own AMOLED panels on the V40 this year, I almost swore the phone off. But, this is a great display and I say that as someone who also has a Note 8 and Galaxy S9 kicking around the office.

The camera setup really is nice too. Sure, a penta-cam setup is probably a little gimmicky and designed to just move units under the "more is better" banner, but LG delivers. You're not going to get Pixel performance, but you're also not going to get a three-inch notch like the Pixel 3 XL. I like what you can do with the cameras here and I think LG can refine over time with software updates to make this an even better package.

But where LG is weak, it really falls flat. The software is really unappealing and makes me want to run into the arms of Nova launcher as soon as I turn the phone on. LG still does dumb things like removing the app tray from the default launcher. Why? Literally no-one asked for that. You're not Apple and you're not going to convince someone to buy your phone by doing that. Embrace being different.

So, at the end of the day, can I recommend this phone? Sure. Despite its faults, it does many things right and has enough features to keep you busy, if that's what you want. It's a fantastic intersection of excellent hardware with okay software. It truly is a compromise.


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