2018 is not shaping up to be a shocking year for smartphones. Like its competitors, the LG G7 ThinQ is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Compared with last year’s G6, it brings the processor up to date, improves the camera, and pumps up the volume on the speaker. Despite the lack of any blockbuster new features, we got a chance to spend some time with the phone ahead of LG’s launch event and think it just might be able to surpass the Galaxy S9.

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Yes, There’s a Notch

The G7 looks a lot like a lot of other smartphones right now. LG has softened the G6’s edges, giving the metal surrounding the screen a smoother feel and accentuating the prominent notch at the top of the display. At 6.0 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches (HWD), it’s smack in between the size of Samsung’s Galaxy S9 (5.8 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches) and Galaxy S9+ (6.2 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches), and the 6.1-inch, 3,120-by-1,440-pixel LCD is in between their sizes, as well. Like the high-end Samsung and Apple phones it competes with, it’s waterproof, and its 3,000mAh battery is sealed in. It comes in black, blue, gray, or rose.

The display is extra bright, with what LG says is a 1,000-nit maximum brightness and dedicated white pixels to go along with the traditional RGB. The notch can be turned into a black, dedicated status bar through settings, though it doesn’t have the sort of extra alert capabilities we saw on the “second screen” status bars on the LG V10 and V20.

“We know that there are people who feel, who actually are violently opposed to this [notched] design,” LG’s director of PR and brand marketing Frank Lee said. “However, it’s all an evolution, right? To some extent, we’re at the cusp because all of the premiumnot even just premium, the mid-tier phones, they all kind of look the same. Within what, aggressively 18, realistically 24 months, we might see a major change in what a smartphone looks like. I’m alluding to a rollable, bendable phone. But right now, based on what we have today, how do we stretch the screen so the front of it is mostly screen? This is our approach right now.”

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port, a single speaker, and a headphone jack. There’s a dedicated Google Assistant button on the side, which you can’t remap. Hey, at least it isn’t Bixby. LG says that the phone’s far-field mics can pick up the “Hey Google” activation phrase from 16 feet away, which makes me wonder why the button is needed.

“That’s not to say that we will not find another use of that button outside of just Google Assistant,” Lee said.

Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage, plus a memory card slot. The phone will support all of the latest LTE standards and carrier bands, although it’s yet to be seen how that will shake out between various carrier and unlocked models. LG didn’t provide us with details about the radios before launch.

Audio quality is a strength here. With its discrete DAC (digital-to-analog converter) in a number of recent phones, LG has been carving out an audiophile niche recently. The G7 has a discrete DAC and a standard headphone jack, making it a good pick for people with high-end analog headphones.

LG has also pumped up the speaker here. While the G7 technically only has one, bottom-ported speaker, it uses the phone’s body as a bass chamber, giving it the kind of deep, powerful sound that you usually associate with phones that have dual front-facing speakers. The phone also vibrates a lot when it’s playing music, which is effective, but feels a little odd.

Smart Camera

The camera is where the G7 can outpace the S9, if LG is smart. We love the Galaxy S9’s camera hardware, but found that its software tends to oversharpen images, leaving the door open for LG to get both sides of the equation right.

The G7 has two 16-megapixel cameras on the backone standard-angle f/1.6, and one wide-angle f/1.9as well as an 8-megapixel, front-facing f/1.9 camera. The cameras are where the whole ThinQ thing comes into play. It’s the name for LG’s AI camera software, which we first saw on the V30S+ at Mobile World Congress.

ThinQ software tries to pick the best shooting mode for your content, using algorithms entirely on the device—there’s no cloud-based aspect. As you pan around your subject, little words pop up on the screen showing what the phone is guessing you’re seeing. After a few seconds, they lock in: Our test phone got people and food correct, after about five seconds each.

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The AI also enables a low-light mode, which uses four-pixel binning to create much brighter, but lower resolution shots in very low light. In a nearly dark room, the shots we took with the G7 looked much more colorful and saturated than shots we took with a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, although they weren’t necessarily sharper.

The phone also has bokeh mode with both the front and back cameras, although it’ll be better with the dual rear cameras, where it uses one to create a grayscale depth map while the other one captures the full-color image.

Getting Even Smarter

LG is committed to improving its phones over time, something else that might set it apart. Lee said the G7 will get Android P, but also that it will get functionality upgrades over time. Some of them could be new camera modes, for instance, or LG could enable new things to do with the Google Assistant button.

“We want people to understand that LG, when you own an LG product, that it does get better over time. It doesn’t depreciate or become commodified as quickly as most phones do,” Lee said. “There has to be enough room, enough capability left that we can leverage it later with a software update. This is going to be separate from bug fixes, security patches, OS updates.”

The next few years are going to be big ones for smartphones. Next year, 5G will launch, enabling new applications and new form factors. We might see foldable phones, or AR- and VR-focused devices. But for now, we have the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the LG G7 ThingQ, which make everything a little bit better. We’ll see by just how much when we get the G7 in for review. Check back soon for more info, including pricing and availability.

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