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LG V50 ThinQ 5G review: Two bad
Prepare for trouble and make it double
- Clean Android skin
- Good performance
- Poor battery life
- Dual-screen case is bad
- No in-display fingerprint sensor
- Unremarkable camera
It feels like you really have to go out of your way to make the LG V50 ThinQ 5G work for you and, even if you can stomach the premium price-tag, that’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
Price$ 1,799.00 (AUD)
The LG G7 ThinQ was far from my favorite smartphone of 2018.
To put it politely, I wasn’t thrilled by it. At every turn, the LG G7 ThinQ was almost-painfully conventional. Where other brands strove to be innovative or iterative, it came across with singular dedication towards being uninteresting. Writ long, my review said as much: “LG's G7 ThinQ is a by-the-numbers hardware play that - while perfectly adequate - utterly fails to be anything more than a raw, arithmetical, sum of its parts.”
And while I definitely have problems with the new LG V50 ThinQ 5G, I will happily bestow upon LG the credit where it’s due.
The LG V50 ThinQ definitely isn’t boring.
Display size: 6.4-inches
Display type: P-OLED
Processor: Snapdragon 855
Operating System: Android 9.0 Pie with LG UI
Fingerprint Sensor: Yes, rear-mounted
Micro SD slot: Yes
Ports: USB Type-C + 24-bit audio DAC
Connectivity: CAT 21 LTE, 5G, Bluetooth 5, NFC, Wi-Fi (802.11ac)
Rear Camera: 12-megapixel (f/1.5) standard lens + 12-megapixel (f/2.4) telephoto lens + 16-megapixel ultrawide (f/1.9) lens
Front-Facing Camera: 8-megapixel (f/1.9) standard + 5-megapixel (f/2.2) wide-angle lens
Dimensions: 159.2 x 76.1 x 8.3 mm
In Australia, LG are bundling in their unique dual-screen display case for the V50 ThinQ for free. Overseas shoppers have to buy the second-screen case separately, so it’s a nice bonus. And given how heavily the case is playing into their marketing for the device, this makes a fair amount of sense. Australia is a competitive market and, even at the best of times, a $200 add-on for a phone you’re already spending more than a grand on is a hard sell.
Still, there are two versions of the V50 experience on offer. One without the case. One with it. Let’s start with the former.
Without the Case
Sans the secondary display, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G comes across like a more premium version of the G7. Like that phone, it’s got a gorgeous OLED display that stretches across most of the front of the unit. It’s also slightly larger at 6.4-inches.
And both to hold and to handle, the V50 is not all that dissimilar from the feel-factor you’d find in Samsung’s Galaxy S10. However, by comparison to other flagships, the bezels here look kinda chunky and there’s also a pretty conventional wedge notch at the top of it - which doesn’t help the V50 ThinQ come all off from many comparisons as the better buy.
Even if I personally hate and revile the Galaxy S10’s hole-notch, most will probably find that eyesore less obnoxious than the wedge that crowns the top of the V50’s display. In fact, weight (158g v 162g), battery size (3000mAh v 4000mAh) and RAM (4GB v 6GB) aside, the V50 ThinQ shares most of its qualities with the G7.
It’s got the same wireless charging. It’s got the same IP68 water resistance. It’s even got a Google Assistant button clinging to the left hand side of the device. But although the V50 ThinQ matches its predecessor in some ways, it’s worse in orders. Specifically, it opts for a 24-bit DAC over the 32-bit one found in prior V and G-series handsets.
This feels like a weird step backwards, though whether it’s a full-on deal-breaker is probably come down to whether you cared that much about the feature to begin with. LG have stuck for a high-end Hi-Fi input as their point of difference over other smartphones for years and it seems strange to seem them back off that front now - even if it was never a massive coup to begin with. I’m honestly surprised we didn’t see Samsung steal the feature first.
Still, used without the case, the LG V50 ThinQ is a fairly typical flagship smartphone. It’s lacking in character and unique features but, in most ways, it’s probably fine. It doesn’t have an in-screen fingerprint sensor but it does have pretty much all the other bells and whistles you’d expect from something of its weight class. It's what you'd call technically competent. Of course, at an RRP of $1799, you'd hope it would be.
With the Case
Then, in a drastic contrast to this, you’ve got the dual-screen experience.
When worn, this add-on brings a lot of bulk to the overall physical footprint of the V50 in a major way. It goes from feeling like a less elegant Samsung Galaxy S10 to something else entirely. If anything, it feels like you’re holding and using a Nintendo DS.
And it doesn’t take much using before the problems of the dual-screen setup begin to emerge. Even if you’re just checking a notification, the two-fold process of unfolding and unlocking your V50 feels cumbersome and tedious. Typing on it with the second screen attached is a nightmare. You can turn the phone sideways and use the second display as a keyboard. Unfortunately, doing so means locking yourself into LG’s proprietary keyboard over better alternatives like G-Board, which can then lead to other issues.
And, without getting ahead of ourselves and talking about the software experience, there are so many problems here that you can only really tackle them in isolation.
The secondary display isn’t as sharp, bright or even aligned with the primary one. The glass front-cover here doesn’t have a clear purpose and the secondary display itself only has a tenuous sort of utility. Like ZTE’s Axon M, it just acts as a second screen. You can’t have apps that stretch from one screen to another but you can easily swap applications between the two using a small widget that lurks towards the edges of the interface.
LG might claim that this faux-foldable approach is better but I say nay. Sitting down and going through each use-case that the manufacturer are pitching for why you’ll want to have a bolted-on secondary display, and the problems become readily apparent. My biggest takeaway from my time with the V50 ThinQ 5G was that LG just haven't thought things through nor put in the work to make the dual-screen form-factor more a boon and less a curse.
Watching videos on one display while you check emails on the other sounds like a neat idea. However, in practice, it’s problematic as hell and it overlooks the existence of picture-in-picture playback - something your Android phone can probably already offer. If you’re watching the videos in portrait mode, you’re only using about half of that extra screen space - which isn’t great. If you’re watching in horizontal mode, you have to deal with the hurdles of navigating Android in horizontal mode - which hurts the multitasking potential of the V50 in a big way.
Even reading ebooks on the V50, which I assumed would be a natural fit for the device’s unique form-factor, doesn’t work as it should. There’s no way to get two pages spread across both displays and to use the V50 like a book.
With apps like Chrome being the exception to the rule, you can’t have multiple instances of the same app running on the V50 at once - so the number of situations where having that second screen provides real value end up are much more limited than they initially appear to be.
As for gaming, the specs inside the V50 are good but the idea of actually playing in dual-screen is remarkable half-baked. Only a handful of games seem to support the LG gaming controller - and even using stuff like emulators, I wasn’t able to get the custom inputs on the LG Controller app to be recognised at all. It might look like a Nintendo DS but it’s safe to say that the LG V50 ThinQ 5G isn’t going to cut it as an emulator.
I don’t want to be too hard on the LG V50 ThinQ 5G here but, it should be said that, for a phone with five cameras on it, there’s remarkably little that sticks out when it comes to the portable photography experience side of the product.
As mentioned, the V50 has five cameras on it. There are two on the front (8-megapixel + 5-megapixel) and three on the back: a 12-megapixel (f/1.5) standard lens, a 12-megapixel (f/2.4) telephoto lens and a 16-megapixel ultrawide (f/1.9) lens).
And with all that hardware, it’s hard to go wrong. The V50 can take pretty decent portrait shots and it doesn’t hurt that it’s got the same sort of got AI optimisation tech that Huawei’s P-series popularised.
In terms of its shortcomings, the V50 lacks any sort of extended zoom or super night mode. Still, it does come with neat set of videography shortcuts. You can create “flash-cut” style gifs and stream straight to YouTube Live. I wish more devices had these things but not as much as I wished the V50 ThinQ had a better (or at least more interesting) camera.
The Nokia PureView has just as many lenses on it but commits to using them in a way that stands out and produces images that look like nothing else on the market. The LG V50 ThinQ has five cameras on it but can’t seem to think of anything interesting to do with them.
Still, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care that much about your phones camera, they’ll probably suffice. However, if you’re spending this much on a phone and expecting the best, the V50 ThinQ just doesn’t come close to photography powerhouses like Huawei’s P-series or the Google Pixel (and it's more expensive than both).
Performance - Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
The LG V50 ThinQ runs on a version of Android Pie that’s flavored by LG’s own LG UI skin.
It’s been a while since I spent much time with an LG smartphone but I can’t say that I noticed that much that was different about it. There’s a version of the “pill” navigation system - but that’s kinda the only new feature that’s worth walking about. Everything else is very so-so and as stock-standard as these things come.
Likewise, when it comes to benchmarks, the LG V50 ThinQ fared well but failed to surprise us. It runs on the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855 processor, so it’s probably going to deliver steady and snappy performance for most users. Still, I was thrown off to see it lag behind heavier duty options like the Nokia 9 PureView and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 when it came to GeekBenches’ Compute test.
In terms of playing graphically intense stuff, games on the V50, I did find that things were a little bit smoother but not quite as game-changing as the hype around 5G might lead you to believe. It handled regular matches on Call of Duty: Mobile (on the highest settings) like a champ and battle royale matches did play notably smoother on the V50 than they did the mid-tier Google Pixel 3a.
As for battery life, this proved one of the LG V50 ThinQ’s biggest drawbacks.
With a secondary display attached, I’d only get about three and a half hours of regular use screen time out of a full charge. I was hitting absolute zero around 6PM every day. Without the case attached, the V50 ThinQ fared better - but not by much.
Either way, the regular day-to-day battery performance I got out of the V50 represented a significant step backwards from what a modern flagship from Samsung, Huawei and Oppo will get you. Even on days when I wasn't hunting for 5G connectivity, it still felt like this device under-performed. Your individual mileage may vary but I doubt you’ll come away impressed with what the V50 has to offer when it comes to battery life.
...About that 5G...
Under the hood, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G comes equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 modem, which means you’ll be able to connect to Australia’s emerging 5G networks.
At the moment, that means you have to sign up through Telstra and you have to be in the right place. Telstra’s 5G network will surely eventually get better. But right now? It kinda consists of a couple of blocks scattered across each of Australia’s major cities. It’s far from what it could be. See below:
Tested within the confines of Telstra’s own 5G-ready HQ in Sydney, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G was able to chase download speeds close to 1Gbps. However, taken out into the wild, I was barely able to get a third of the same performance in other 5G zones around Sydney.
Whether that discrepancy comes down to issues with Telstra’s network or Qualcomm’s modem is is hard to tell but either way, the 5G aspect of the experience of this device feels unfinished. It’s closer to something like an open beta than it is ready for prime-time and certainly not a strong enough reason to purchase this device on its own.
Gaming experiences were a little more reliable than 4G but they still very much held to the limits of the hardware and software more than they did the connectivity.
Downloading 4K movies in seconds is an example that gets thrown around a fair amount when it comes to 5G fanatics. However, the reality fell far short. During our testing, downloading a 600MB HD movie via Netflix took about 2 minutes 30 seconds over 5G.
A 10-episode series on Amazon (set to Good quality) was a bit faster - taking only 1 minute and 50 seconds to pull down. However, again, the download speeds I was able to get here were far less than the numbers that Telstra and others are quick to throw around when they talk about the potential of 5G as a technology.
On paper, 5G should allow you to download a 4K movie in seconds - even if we’re talking about a tenth of the theoretical maximum. In reality, the V50 never came close - and, even if the 5G network itself becomes more capable over time, the amount of people on that network is also going to go up.
The highest download speeds we were able to get on our own was around 200Mbps but most of the time I found the V50 floated closer to 25-50Mbps. That’s faster than an NBN connection, to be sure, but only a tenth of the numbers that Telstra are throwing around and only in very specific places across Sydney.
The Bottom Line
The term 5G means lots of different things to lots of different people. However, one thing that most people share is the idea that the arrival of 5G represents a threshold.
A new era of mobile connectivity. 5G lets us do things we haven’t done before - and, in some ways, the V50 ThinQ lives up to that mythos. It does feel like a device that you haven’t necessarily seen before. Unfortunately, it’s not a device you’ll want to see again after you’ve spent a few hours with it.
The two pillars that the LG V50 ThinQ 5G is built around - 5G and the second display - feel irreparably compromised. One is a gimmick and the other is still under-construction. With devices like the Google Pixel 3a pushing the boundaries of value and Oppo’s own Reno packing in much more tech at a cheaper price-point, the LG V50 ThinQ feels like a failure to launch at $1799.
Even if it got everything right, it’s still too expensive. It's not without highlights but it feels like you really have to go out of your way to make the LG V50 ThinQ 5G work for you and, even if you can stomach the premium price-tag, that’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
LG’s first 5G handset tells a familiar story but it’s more of an obnoxious big-budget remake than a cult-classic. It's less Suspiria and closer to the recent live action take on Dumbo. When it comes to the price, this thing sits towards the top of the smartphone totem pole but the gulf between LG and the other brands playing in that range feels like it has never been larger.
Look - I don't know if this is the worst phone I've reviewed this year but it's certainly a contender and miles from the point where I'd readily recommend it to anyone who doesn't want to burn money and make things more difficult for themselves. At the price it currently commands, it just doesn't make sense to buy this phone.
True to the form of the brand involved, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G is far from my favorite handset of 2019. It's technically competent on some fronts but that's about the only nice thing I can think to say about this walking disaster of a flagship smartphone.
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