It’s Mobile World Congress, which means it’s time for LG to unveil its latest flagship phone: the G8 ThinQ. Although this year it’s been accompanied by a second flagship device – the 5G-capable LG V50 ThinQ – the G8 is arguably the more interesting phone.
That’s because it’s the first to feature LG’s new ‘touchless’ controls – an undeniably silly gimmick – and the related Hand ID unlocking tech – an equally silly gimmick, but one that might actually be a major step forward for device security.
Price and availability
This we don’t know much about. LG hasn’t announced any price for the G8, or any release date – though it’s probably fair to expect it to arrive within the next month or two, with a likely release in April 2019.
The G7 started at £599/$599, and we’d hope to see the G8 hit a similar area, if a little high – so look for it around £649/$649, or perhaps £699/$699.
Can’t touch this
Let’s get straight to what’s inarguably the most interesting element of the G8: the new camera tech that enables ‘touchless’ controls and handprint unlocking.
Driven by the ‘Z Camera’ – silly LG marketing speak for a time-of-flight (ToF) camera on the front of the phone used for depth sensing – the G8 can detect your hand in front of the camera, letting you control the device just by waving your hand about.
Pinch your fingers together to take a screenshot, twist your hand around to raise or lower volume, or just swipe to the side to decline an unwanted phone call like the Jedi you were born to be. The controls are limited to specific apps and features – phone calls, alarms, and media playback for now – but LG says it’s working to develop more uses.
In practice it works surprisingly well – coming from someone who was truly sceptical at first – and it seemed both responsive and reliable, though it’s still hard not to worry about sleepily turning an alarm off by mistake because you waved your arm the wrong way. Still, it’s hard to resist how cool the core tech is – inspired in part by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, according to our briefing.
Tom Cruise inspired the tech’s other use case too – though this time it was Mission: Impossible that did it. Hand ID uses the Z Camera to measure the unique pattern of veins in your palm, letting you unlock the device by simply hovering your hand a few inches from the phone.
It works almost instantly – and registering a handprint only took a minute or so too – and because it uses infrared it should work great (and perhaps even better) in low light too, unlike face unlock. More importantly it should be secure – your vein pattern is unique, and as the LG reps cheerily informed us, it will only work if your hand is still attached to your body.
Sound and vision
Moving on from hand stuff, the rest of the LG G8’s interest lies in its camera and audio tech.
Cameras first: the aforementioned Z camera can also be used to take portrait mode selfies together with the 8Mp main front camera. You’ll be able to adjust depth of field as you take photos – and after they’ve been taken – and can even apply the bokeh effect to video.
That’s true for the rear cameras as well, and just like the touchless controls, it works better than we’d expected. If either the camera or the subject moves around too much then the focus begins to shift around a little, but for fairly static videos of people the bokeh is smooth and even does a decent job of catching the hairline.
Otherwise, the rear camera setup varies. There’s a 2-lens model which includes a 12Mp standard lens and a 16Mp 107-degree wide-angle, while a 3-lens model throws in a 2x optical zoom telephoto lens too. LG is still figuring out which models will arrive in which markets though, so we don’t yet know which versions will be available where.
What about audio? LG has always pushed sound quality in its flagships, and it’s taken that to the next level by taking the speakers out of the G8 entirely. Well, sort of – there’s no speaker grille any more, because the G8 reverberates the display itself.
Sound quality seemed solid, though I’d want to test it more thoroughly before giving a proper verdict, and especially see how it interacts with LG’s Boombox tech, which has been in its phones for a little while. Oh, and one reassuring note: because it’s the display itself that vibrates, not the glass, it should still work even if you smash your screen.
The G8 also retains a headphone jack using LG’s always great 32-bit Hi-Fi quad DAC for awesome wired audio.
Flagship all over
As for the rest of the phone, it’s about as slick as you’d expect from a top-end LG device. It’s the first G-series phone to pack an OLED display – 6.1in of 564ppi loveliness – with a now-familiar notched full-screen display.
The whole thing is coated in Gorilla Glass – front and back. As for colours, it comes in a restrained black or slightly more exciting red and blue options.
It’s all powered by the Snapdragon 855, backed up by 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, so it should be a nippy little thing. At 167g it’s fairly light, despite the decent 3500mAh battery, though at 8.4mm it’s not the thinnest phone around.
Finally, Android 9 Pie comes as standard, which is pretty much a given for Android flagships right now.
With 5G support, the V50 may seem like the more exciting LG flagship this year, but for our money the G8 looks like where it’s at.
Compact, colourful, and just as powerful as the V50, it should boast better battery life and features the brilliantly bonkers Hand ID and Air Motion controls – and probably for a lot less money.
LG’s flagships have struggled to crack the UK market of late, and we’re not convinced that the G8 is likely to break that trend, but it’s a welcome reminder that the company is making some of the best high-end phones out there – if you can get your hands on one.