A year ago, it felt like LG was at the forefront of the next big movement for phone design. After handset sales had been dominated by models with 16:9 screens for so long, the G6 introduced us to the brave new world of 18:9 displays. And in the time since, we've seen manufacturer after manufacturer update their own lineups with similar phones featuring ultra-wide screens.

So while the G6 had a pretty compelling hook, not only have a lot of other players embraced that new screen shape in the time since its launch, but they've also been iterating around towards the next big evolution in screen design — the notch. And while the G7 is among the many handsets embracing that new look, the game's now a matter of “catch up” rather than “set the pace.”

How do you make the latest notch-phone on the street stand out from the competition? With the G7 ThinQ, LG is banking big on the appeal of artificial intelligence and machine learning, both in the form of its AI-enhanced camera, as well as a dedicated hardware button for accessing the Google Assistant. Does any of this pay off? Let's take a look.

The Good

Display Gets incredibly bright, notch execution isn't half bad.
Design LG brings us a phone with a larger screen without making it feel much bigger than the G6.
Audio Those quad DACs really shine with a nice pair of wired headphones.
Storage Our prayers for 64GB internal storage have finally paid off.
Battery Wireless charging sticks around, and capacity remains workable.
Camera Flexible, solid performer, with pretty nice low-light operation.

The Not So Good

Pricing Not only more expensive than last year, but lacking any singular compelling feature worth paying so much for.
Design Some people won't miss it, but that clicky fingerprint button was really satisfying to use.
Audio Boombox speaker may be loud, but quality suffers at high volume, and controls need to be more granular.
Carriers AT&T has turned its back on the G7 in favor of the V35, which no one needs.
Battery Giving this phone a 3,500mAh battery would have really removed a lot of needless worry over it lasting long enough between charges.
Camera LG's AI software is nothing special, and front-facer performance takes a nose-dive in dim environments.
Software Not a lot of useful extras, and the look of LG's UI lacks style.

Design

A lot of people didn't love the look of the G6, but I really found it to be one of the most handsome phones to emerge last year. Much of that had to do with its relatively squared-off edges, bucking the trend of curves, curves, curves that seems to be on page one of many phone-makers' design books. After the V30 went all curves and chrome, though, I was ready to be disappointed by the G7 — but I'm happy to say that LG has not fully moved away from the G6's aesthetics, and instead the G7 feels more like a mash-up between its direct predecessor and the V30.

Sure, the edges here are still curved, but as they transition their way from phone-front to phone-back, they flatten out just enough to offer that secure, satisfying in-hand feel that I missed with the V30. I would have preferred the same flat front glass as on the G6, but once again we've got a compromise between that and the curvier V30 — the glass is mostly flat, with a subtle hint of curve at the edge that's pretty tastefully executed.

The G7 measures 71.9mm wide and 7.9mm thick, two figures taken verbatim from the G6's blueprints. But in order to accommodate this year's tweaked screen geometry, the handset's quite a bit taller, coming in at 148.9mm — even taller than the V30. Despite the bigger size this year, LG's managed to keep weight the same. That's not a decision without its consequences, though, as the G7 packs a battery that's nearly 10% smaller than on the G6.

LG's also made some changes to its button layout for this new generation. The volume buttons are once again on the left edge, implemented as two discrete switches rather than a rocker. Below them is the new Google Assistant button, which we'll talk more about later. On the right edge is the new power button, which last year was baked right into the fingerprint scanner on the G6. Honestly, this is a move I don't love, as I really enjoyed the clicky nature of that prior strategy. The scanner itself is once again housed in the center of the phone's back, just below the camera package.

Instead of the side-by-side SIM and microSD tray of the G6, LG's gone with the more traditional top/bottom stacked arrangement for the G7, while also moving the tray from the right edge to up top. This feels like a step in the right direction. For one, the construction seems a bit more solid — I managed to snap the tray on the G6 last year. And by narrowing the tray on the G7, the waterproofing gasket is also much smaller, reducing the risk of errant liquid penetration.

LG has thankfully kept the stalwart headphone jack around, but moves it from the phone's top edge to the bottom. This I do not love, especially if I'm on a trip and want to watch some movies on my phone — having both headphone and power on one side feels a little unbalanced, and I greatly prefer to space them out.

This year the G7's available in gray, black, blue, and rose. I got to spend a fair amount of time with those first two options, which just happen to be the same G6 colors I have on hand (well, silver instead of gray, but close enough). The black G7 is now black all around, whereas the black G6 retained a gray edge. While I think I prefer the old look, the new one's not too objectionable.

With the gray model there's a much more pronounced departure, as the G7's bezel is now totally black — the silver G6 retained its rear-panel color for the front bezel, as well. Some critics quite disliked that choice, but I'll miss the extra dose of contrast. For now, I'm still OK with the idea that the screen is just one part of the larger phone, rather than a phone needing to look like it's basically one big screen.

Speaking of which...

Display

Just like an increasing number of companies making phones with ultra-wide screens — and in the case of the G7, we're talking about a panel with an aspect ratio of 19.5:9 — LG has given the G7 a notch. Now, depending on where you're sitting, that could mean one of several things. Is LG just flagrantly trying to make an iPhone X knock-off? Is it giving users as much screen real estate as utterly possible? It's a heated issue, and one that the existence of the G7 is not likely to do much to bring to a resolution.

What I can say, subjectively, is that the notch here isn't bad. It's not great, for reasons I'll detail momentarily, but it's also not an overtly terrible implementation. LG calls the areas to the sides of the notch its “new second screen,” referencing that old V-series look, and gives users some decent software options for controlling its appearance — either camouflaging it with colors (and even more successfully, gradients), or treating it as just another part of the screen. Sadly, those color options don't apply system-wide, and many apps override them.

Last year the G6 introduced LG users to rounded screen corners, and with the G7 LG continues down that same route. This time, though, the curves are more properly rounded, with seamless transitions to the straight parts of the panel's edges. While more aesthetically pleasing, the larger diameter of the curves on the G7 also means more lost screen space.

At least if those curves were consistently applied, the G7 might have a really nice, balanced look to it. But as things stand, the curved corners at the top and bottom of the notch match neither the diameter of the screen-corner curves, nor each other — all different sizes. It's just a minor issue, but one that also has an ongoing, low-level way of making the G7 look worse than it otherwise might.

The G7 uses an LCD panel equipped with special white subpixels for what LG calls its “Super Bright Display” — by using those additional elements in concert with the regular RGB subpixels, LG gives us a screen it claims is capable of 1,000 nits of output — a figure that would make the display seriously bright.

There's no denying that it's an exceptionally bright panel, and at 100% brightness it's noticeably brighter than the G6. But for its highest output, you need to manually engage the G7's boost mode, which really pushes luminosity up over the top. While that helps in bright outdoor environments, I wish LG just gave us a regular slider with 100% being the actual highest level, and forgetting all this boost-mode business.

Like past LG phones, color temperature is a little on the cool side here — sometimes more than a little. There are multiple options to adjust color output, but even with the manual slider set to its warmest position, the screen looks more pink or purple than the orange we'd expect.

Finally, I've got to nit-pick about the G7's bezel. I don't at all mind the presence of a bezel around the screen, but I don't love how it's black on the gray G7 — while I know it's controversial, I really liked the way LG gave the silver G6 a matching silver front bezel last year, and am sad that hasn't returned. Beyond the coloring, I'm also frustrated that top bezel is thicker than the side bezels. Bottom not matching, I can live with, but when you're going to the trouble of making a notch, I sure expect the non-notch bits of that top edge to look as good as they possibly can.

Battery life

With only a 3,000mAh battery, the G7 takes a capacity hit from the 3,300mAh G6. That coupled with the physically large LCD, especially when running on the upper end of its brightness scale, definitely has a toll on the G7's charge-to-charge longevity.

It's nowhere near so bad as to be unusable, but I found myself spending much more time manually tweaking screen brightness to squeeze as much as I could from the phone's battery. Four hours of screen-on time is possible, but by then you're pushing the limits of the G7's endurance.

The good news is that LG hasn't skimped on recharging options, and in addition to the phone's wired fast charging (which is Quick Charge 3.0 compatible), we also see the return of wireless charging — and that's far from a certainty in today's smartphone landscape.

What's so frustrating is that it seems like LG had ample opportunity to give the G7 a bigger battery. Not only is it a larger phone than last year, but in talking about the G7's “Boombox Speaker” LG even brags about all the leftover space inside the phone for big resonance chambers. Personally, I could live with less speaker “oomph” if that resulted in more room for a bigger battery.

Storage, wireless, and reception

LG is finally giving its flagship the deep well of storage it deserves, outfitting the G7 with 64GB flash memory. That's up from a 32GB base level last year, and should prove more than adequate for most users' storage needs. MicroSD expansion is always available if you need to push beyond even that, and the most storage-hungry users always have the option of attempting to track down the LG G7+ with its big 128GB capacity (if you're in the right market).

Wireless operation presents no real problems, and while we had a few issues maintaining a strong Bluetooth connection with the G6, the G7 doesn't appear to share a similar weakness, holding up its signal to headphones even as we walked rooms away from where the G7 rested, going up and down stairs in the process.

Call audio quality is solid, and while that sounds easy enough to get right, occasionally an otherwise well-done phone still manages to let us down here — but the G7 manages to stay on the right side of things.

Audio and speakers

LG's been positioning its flagship smartphone hardware for a few years now to appeal to users who value audio performance, with an emphasis on high-quality reproduction. While some of its efforts in this direction are more successful than others, overall we like what LG is doing with the G7 and sound.

The phone's hi-fi quad DAC is once again available as an option when plugging in wired headphones (and of course, LG's resisted the industry-wide bad joke that's stripped otherwise perfectly functional phones of their analog headphone jacks). Toggling this on and off in A/B tests, it's clear that the quad DAC really does produce some pleasing output, but maybe not so much better than the default — we'll turn it on if we remember, but you're not going to kick yourself for forgetting and leaving it off.

Support for DTS:X 3D Surround Audio is less impressive. While perhaps some users will be intrigued by its audio-processing trickery, to me it just sounded “fake” and “wrong” without really adding anything of value to my listening pleasure.

How about the speaker? This year LG isn't just emphasizing headphone performance, and has upgraded its speaker tech for a “boombox” experience. And as is perhaps quite fitting for that name, it is indeed loud. The biggest problem here is that while the G7 has plenty of volume, it's not really a satisfying loudness, instead sounding quite flat and lifeless.

It's also really hard to get that boombox effect dialed-in to a comfortable volume level. As you crank the phone's volume up, it's business as usual until the last two notches on the slider — the second-last suddenly gets a big boost, and then there's another big boost at max volume that's just uncomfortably loud. Even if the speaker audio quality was where we'd like it to be, a little more granularity (or a more subtle ramp-up of the “boombox” effect) would be greatly appreciated.

Camera

LG is not reinventing the wheel with the cameras on the G7, and performance isn't too far removed from last year's flagships. We again get a nice choice of standard and wide-angle lenses (both 16MP cameras), and while images from them can appear very nice, there's an unmistakable “processed” look to much of what you'll shoot.

While some users won't love that, LG seems to unabashedly embrace this direction, and its camera software is all about filters. This is especially true when using the AI CAM mode, which attempts to analyze the scene before you and suggest some appropriate camera settings (including the use of a variety of filters).

We've talked before about how silly this feature can seem in operation, spitting out a bunch of random words onto the G7's viewfinder as it “thinks” about what it's seeing — and all too often, suggesting a number of words that have precious little to do with the scene in question. Sometimes this is frustrating because the camera clearly recognizes some of the objects before it, but never ends up spitting out filter suggestions. And even when it does present you with its curated set of four shooting options, there's no way to identify what it's actually doing — you tap which of the four you like best, but you can't see what options each of these choices reflect, if you ever wanted to try manually recreating their effects.

Really though, this is a rehash of LG cameras we've seen before. We've got some of the same complaints (like conflating the differing field of view of the two lenses with a “zoom” effect — while digital zoom looks lousy) as on the V30 and G6, but at the same time if you enjoyed what those cameras were doing, the G7 pulls off a slightly tweaked, evolutionary improvement on those.

Performance and stability

Last year, LG made a big sacrifice with the G6 — in order to be among the first 2017 flagships to land, and to introduce users to the world of extra-tall 18:9 screens, LG didn't wait for the year's hot new Snapdragon processor to land, and went with a slightly aging previous-generation chip. Thankfully, in 2018 there's no similar compromise, and the G7 runs the same 845 as the rest of the season's heavyweights.

The G7 we looked at was equipped with the same 4GB of RAM as last year, but really this phone is hurting for more. We found consumption to regularly float well above the 3GB level, and seeing apps reload as we switched between them became an all-too-common occurrence. The situation's not so bad as to make the G7 feel particularly slow (and it certainly is not), but it also feels a step or two removed from the behemoth it has the potential to be.

Software

The familiar UI here continues in LG's tradition of trying to balance between changing just enough to add value, while not going so far as to feel isolating to users coming from other companies' Android phones. To an extent, that's successful, but it's still easy to find yourself digging through phone settings looking for an option that's not where you'd expect it to be.

I've touched upon some of the interface elements that crop up thanks to the G7's new form factor — like the ability to control what's going on to each side of the screen-top notch — but I've yet to talk about the phone's Google Assistant key, perched on the left edge just below the volume buttons.

Now, the button itself may be hardware, but it's the software that responds to this button I'm most interested in. Some companies do this sort of “feature button” better than others — BlackBerry does it great, as does Samsung on its Galaxy Active phones. But here, it's extremely limited.

You can press that button once to bring up the Google Assistant, double-press it for Google Lens, or press-and-hold for a walkie-style quick command. If none of this sounds any good, you can disable the button, but that configuration option is all or nothing — there's no way to enable only some of those features, nor to remap what the button does.

Of the three interactions possible, the one that has the most potential to be useful is the press-and-hold mode, where you should be able to press the button, speak your Assistant request, then release to get your result. And maybe that would work, if the software weren't so slow.

Even after pressing the button, it takes a moment or two for the phone to start listening, and for the Assistant to start treating that audio as input. For instance, I pressed the button and started counting down from 10, but it took until 7 for Assistant to start hearing me.

For a feature built around a physical hardware button, that's unacceptable; it needs to work right when you press it. While I can appreciate that there's probably a lot of glue logic here, and it takes a moment to pipe that audio where it needs to go, I'm distressed that LG didn't optimize its software better. At the very least, the G7 should start recording the moment you press that button, and buffer your audio for when Assistant's finally ready.

Value

Smartphones are getting more expensive. If this is a bubble or a long-term trend, it might be too early to say, but while you could easily pick up a G6 for between $650 and $700 when it first came out, this year the G7 will set you back a solid $100 more, ranging from $750 to $800 depending upon your choice of carrier.

With a big, face-filling screen and top-shelf performance, maybe a fair portion of that price hike is justified, but even if the G7 were easily worth $750 on its own (and I'm not yet willing to fully concede that point), there's some seriously fierce competition out there.

When carrier discounts can score you a Galaxy S9 for under $550, or you can easily pick up a new OnePlus 6 at that same level, it's hard to justify shelling out $200 extra for the G7. None of the G7's missteps are so large as to recommend against buying the phone, but at the same time, it's not really doing anything particularly special to demand premium pricing — short of just being a generally nice phone.

But when other equally nice (if not slightly nicer) handsets can be had for significantly less, why would anyone pay so much more for LG's offering? Right now, there really isn't a satisfying answer to that question. We'll probably see some big discounts pop up over the months to come, at which point the G7 will feel like a much more competitive phone. But where we stand here, as sales have just begun? There's not a lot of compelling reasons to seek out the G7.

Conclusion

The G6 was one of my favorite phones of 2017, so will the G7 fill a similar role this year? While we've got another good half-year of phone releases to go, right now I've got to say that the outlook doesn't seem great. How did LG get so far off track?

Well first I've got to reiterate: This isn't a bad phone. For the most part it's smartly constructed, has a solid feature set, and while a few functions are let-downs to various extents, on the whole the G7 is a successful, powerful, capable smartphone.

Personally, I don't care for the styling. I bet that a lot you will, so I'm not holding that too heavily against the G7, but I could seriously do without all these curved edges. Yes, your manufacturing process is very impressive; I don't particularly care. Just give me something clean, and flat, and utilitarian. The notch, I'm fine with, though I'd give up selfies in a heartbeat just to have a properly rectangular screen.

The biggest problem for the G7 is that this is a premium-positioned phone without any compelling hook. You may have noticed me avoiding the ThinQ branding for much of this review, because LG's clumsy attempt at “AI” adds precious little to the G7's package. And even the bits that are done quite well aren't so head-and-shoulders above the competition — there's not really any situation where I can see myself saying, “Oh, you really care about a smartphone with the best camera/battery life/design around? Go pick up the LG G7!”

If you're already a fan of LG's software and like the general feature set and look of the G7, by all means go ahead and pick one up — you're not going to be particularly disappointed. But if your enthusiasm isn't quite at that level, wait a little for someone to offer the G7 for a hundred or two less than it's going for now. Because with just a slightly more agreeable price tag, the LG G7 starts looking a lot more attractive.