Monday, 28 October 2019
LG V50 ThinQ 5G
It's another glass/aluminium sandwich but it's a real beauty. The glass very subtly curves around the edges, front and back in symmetry, to meet the metal band. On the right is the power button alongside the very broad SIM Card/microSD Card pokey-hole Tray, nothing much up top and volume buttons on the left beside the dedicated Google Assistant button. On the bottom is a 3.5mm audio-out socket, USB-C port and one of the two 'faux' stereo speakers. On the front we have two selfie cameras and the other speaker. On the back, three cameras and an LED flash buried under the Gorilla Glass and just below them, a capacitive fingerprint scanner. Down towards the bottom are the three metal connectors which enable communication with the DS.
The phone is IP68 rated (and MIL-STD-810G compliant) which gives protection against dust and 1.5m of water for half an hour. The overall footprint is about the same as my Pixel 2XL in all aspects. The glass is super-smooth and slippery, which means it'll certainly need a TPU at least, not supplied in the box. I wonder if they really think that users will have the DS in place all the time! It's not the lightest of phones at 183g and with that DS in position, it really comes up quite heavy.
The screen is a gorgeous P-OLED panel which can be cranked up very brightly indeed, ensuring no problems outdoors in sun. The default resolution out of the box is 1080p so users have to know to switch manually if they want the full 1440 or power-saving 720 and this, incidentally, can't be independently controlled for the main screen and DS. Furthermore, the main screen is auto-switched back to 1080p even if you change it, once a session with the DS has been completed. The screen is 6.4" with a ratio of 19.5:9 - all of this producing 538ppi. It really is a lovely bright screen with oodles of options to change the colours via RGB and temperature controls and even 6 user template options and an 'expert' set of tools. You really can have this screen set however you want it to look. There's a substantial notch around the cameras and speaker but this can be hidden in Settings.
There's also an Always On Display, much like the Samsung version with options to change how it looks, pictures, signature, clocks, notifications, colours - and when it pops up on the screen, a scrolling bunch of controls when swiped left and right. Music controls, power percentage, torch, bluetooth, DND, WiFi, camera and even a shortcut to QuickMemo+ almost emulating the S-Pen Samsung Note functionality. The camera will fire up from here and let you shoot and save, but want to get any further, you need to get past lockscreen security if set. Every phone should have a good quality AoD like LG and Samsung provide - for some of us, it's a big purchase-influencing feature.
The lockscreen security includes all the usual options including LG's Knock-Screen (a variation on pattern) and face unlock, which works very, very well indeed. Very little lag, which I experience with some others, and straight in. Registration is simple and quick (even with my full face beard) with an option to add additional data to heighten that security. By switching this on, you're warned that it might take longer to unlock with a face, but I have found it to be pretty much the same time. The old-fashioned capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back works even more quickly and is a solid option if the phone is in-hand. So much better than under-screen in terms of performance.
The phone comes as standard with 128GB storage, 6GB RAM and a SnapDragon 855 chipset. I have not been able to slow things down, even when using the second screen and flying about the interface. I have found that plenty of apps can be held in RAM without shutting down - much more than the average user would demand. I have tested the storage options in my usual ways and can report that the 128GB is fast enough for read/write, the phone supports USB OTG and read/writes very quickly to my 2TB External SSD. HDMI-Out is working perfectly well hooked up to a TV or monitor. One caveat is that unlike some others, the Qi charging can't be used when HDMI-Out is being employed. Tested here with a pass-through dongle instead, with a power-input and it works perfectly well. The microSD Card slot performs just as well and is a very welcome feature, as always.
I've not been able to test the cellular connectivity speed and reliability here as, badly equipped reviewer as I am, I don't have a paid-up EE SIM Card. Sorry! I can report that connectivity apart from that is excellent, however, by WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. Very solid and good quality. The earpiece speaker I have tested with VoIP calls and it sounds like it is very good quality, strong and loud. I'll try and do better next time with a SIM Card and contract/PAYG for every UK network! There is Dual SIM here for those who need it - at the expense of the microSD expansion.
Android 9 is present with September 2019 Google Security. It seems that LG, like others armed with the benefits of Project Treble, are getting better with updates, though I do wonder how long they'll take to get Android 10 in place. LG UX 8.0 is the launcher/homescreen/front-end present and actually, it's much more Vanilla-feeling than some and certainly more so than their previous versions. Wallpapers and Themes are app-add-ons from LG mainly, Widgets pretty standard, Homescreen options include app-drawer or no-app-drawer, iOS-style, adjustable grid layout, icon shape and Google Feed to the left on/off. There's even a swipe-down on homescreen, again iOS-style, for a search engine. There's a generous seven spaces on the Dock for apps, which is most unusual outside of Nova et al. There's an option of Navigation controls between the three standard ones or Google's (last year) gestures with the two. Colours of buttons can be changed and there's also a setting to auto-hide the controls when not in use if System isn't smart enough to beat LG to it! The launcher and front-end, I think I could live with now, without installing Nova - the point I got to with Samsung's OneUI recently.
The Google Assistant hardware button on the left gets you with a single-press to the Assistant, awaiting your command or a double-press for your Google App Cards (if phone is unlocked). Generic searches work with the phone locked but personal data is not revealed until unlocking is done. I can't seem to find any way to reassign that button (which suits me fine) but maybe with a SIM Free version of this phone, it's possible. This button is a fabulous addition for me - and it makes me much, much more likely to use the Google Assistant and talk to my phone than other methods used elsewhere to invoke the function.
However, all is not quite so peachy when you start to look at the other bloat that LG has doubled-up with Google on (which is strange, given that it's even got a Google Assistant hardware button). Gallery, Contacts, Clock, Calendar, Tasks, Music, Health, Email, Update Centre and File Manager alongside their own acceptable Game Launcher, QuickMemo+, HD Audio Recorder and SmartWorld. What is less forgivable is Facebook and Instagram (which can, thankfully, be fully deleted) and Amazon Assistant (which can only be disabled). At £800+ do they need to further grab at cash from other firms and bug (many) users, I wonder. To be fair, I don't know how much of this is EE and how much is LG, but I do know that this has been typical previously of the latter. More worrying is that apps baked into the ROM have already been assigned open access permissions to suit them, not the user. Settings, by default, are arranged in four tabs, which unless you're going to use the search function - or stick with LG longer-term - is just confusing. Thankfully, they've provided a switch to make it one list. Phew! Inside Settings, there's loads of bells and whistles to play with, OnePlus style, and like the latter, the options mostly feel like useful additions rather than fluff and bloat.
The 'faux' stereo speakers which, outside of a very few phones these days, don't offer true stereo, but rather a mix of sounds and frequencies coming from two speakers, are present here. Much like the LG G7 BoomBox experience, the sound does to some degree rely on being placed on a surface to resonate. In my review of the G7 I was very impressed with this and the same thing seems to be present here - with BoomBox mentioned in the Settings too. The phone, when held in the hand, produces a good sound with excellent stereo separation and surround features, even when some way from the head. LG quote DTS:X 3D Sound and this can be toggled in Settings. The difference is marked and can be switched between Wide, Front and Side-to-Side. By doing so, the sound is thrown out in different ways but greater changes can be achieved by using the Equaliser, available for speakers as well as earphones. Default sound at maximum volume is a little tinny, but very loud. Fortunately, customising the output with all these tools can achieve significant improvements and enhancements. Then put the phone on a surface and hear it spring to life. I do find it impressive and would be very happy using this phone for my music and video. There's even some far-east style visualisations for some reason, not only on the screen but also optionally flashing the camera's LED on the back of the phone in sync with the music's peaks! Good grief!
The 3.5mm audio-out socket allows us all to plug in whatever sound peripherals we fancy and here I'm testing the 32-bit built-in DAC with my AKG K701 reference headphones. Immediately I can hear the amazingly loud and qualitative output. Furthermore, if you then turn off the DTS:X 3D you get access to the Quad DAC extra settings which change the sound and enhance different frequencies markedly more. There's even a balance control for each earpiece, which is great for my wonky ears! Switch back to DTS:X 3D's side-to-side setting for a real treat in soundstage listening to media which exploits stereo. Bluetooth 5 is present, supporting aptX HD and again, sounds staggeringly good. Not only that, but the pairing process for new BT devices is the simplest, quickest and most straightforward I've ever used. As soon as you hit the BT icon in the system tray it pops up a dialogue inviting you to select or pair - and pairing is then a snap of the fingers away. Done! As with previous LG phones, this is another in the V-series which is an audiophile's delight. I fail to see why I don't have one as my main phone!
The camera options on LG phones have always been fun to play with for me, even if results may not be in any way market-leading. You'll need to check The Phones Show 378 for a more in-depth feel about that with Steve Litchfield, while I just play! Firstly, there's 3 cameras on the back - a 12MP f1.5 standard lens with OIS, a secondary 12MP f2.4 2x telephoto, again with OIS and a 16MP f1.9 wide-angle shooter but with no autofocus at all. I guess they reckon most wide-angle shots will have huge depth of field anyway. There's an LED flash on the back for anyone who wants to use it outside of the DISCO(!) and round the front, two Selfie cameras - an 8MP f1.9 standard lens and 5MP f2.2 wide-angle, to get all your snowboarding mates in! When shooting video with the main camera on the back there's 24-bit audio recording available and HDR10 compliancy.
The manual controls are available to use with the main and wide-angle cameras and have the usual plethora of options to tweak and adjust, much like a stand-alone compact camera. There's Triple Shot and Penta Shot which will automatically take a photo with each camera on the back or further to include the two on the front. Not sure what use this is, but seems like fun! There's a range of other stuff which people will muck about with like Story Shot - placing a portrait in front of a separately taken background - just in case you need to fool your boss that you're in the office and not at the beach, no doubt! We've seen Cine Video before which, using all the HDR10 and smart audio, does produce 'surround' sound video akin to Nokia's OZO - and is equally as impressive. There's loads more, as you'd expect, particularly with AI, Night Sky, Night View, Food, Stickers, Slow Motion and so on. Fun, as I say - but many that won't be used beyond testing. Bottom line is that the results I have got from the camera are excellent and as I always say, will more than please 95% of users looking to post to social media. Just to note that the camera lenses on the back are all situated under the back Gorilla Glass. People not trusting that to not get scratched will need to be very careful about casing options.
Another box to tick here is the 4000mAh battery (used away from DS), supported by 10W Qi charging and 18W QC3, providing a 50% charge in just over half an hour. Using the phone away from the DS, the battery is very good indeed - my 10% test returned about 1hr 40mins, which is up amongst the leaders for me, though the playing field was not quite level there - there's no SIM Card in the phone looking for even 4G, let alone 5G. On a daily test, again with no SIM Card, I'm very comfortably getting through a day and a half or more (with my average - as it can be - use). Add the DS, however, and the story is a very different one.
I now come to the bolt-on Dual Screen and have to admit that I'm struggling to see past the novelty/gimmick factor here. It's true that content can be displayed on the 'other' screen and I guess that's all well and good, apart from the limitations, which I'll come to. If you're watching a film in one window you can have IMDb open in the other for quick reference. Or research something with two instances of Chrome open. Or Chrome in one and some sort of note-taker on the other. But then you'd really need a stylus because actually, the way that the second screen folds and is made, you just can't hold it comfortably in order to execute those actions. Hold it folded out like a book and your thumb is in danger of touching both screens the whole time. The screen will only fold'n'hold at certain angles where it 'locks' (and not very securely). It's either closed, sticking up (laptop-style) at just over 90 degrees, wrapped round the back (in which case it's off) or 'flat'. And flat is not really flat, so that it's actually flat on a desk - the second screen sits 'up and away' so the whole rig 'rocks' left to right on a table. Handling is a bit of a mystery really. Incidentally, Chrome is one of not-that-many apps which allow two instances open at the same time. Mostly I found that on attempting a second opening, the other screen dumps the app in favour of the new command.
You have access to various settings for the second screen - including a switch to allocate any app or service you like to launch when it's fired up, independent (or auto/matching) brightness, different wallpaper and homescreen options. The auto-start-app option would be great for a student, set to QuickMemo+ or OneNote - if there was a pen! Of course you can use your finger or a capacitive stylus, but this whole experience would be so better with a Samsung-style S-Pen. Notes taken can be saved in the usual way to various places of course, but it's just fiddly to use - and actually holding the device, as I say, is horribly awkward while you're doing it.
OK then, how about using it in laptop mode? Well, yes, that works in some ways. You can get the 'main' screen to display the on-screen keyboard, emulating the form of a Nokia E90, Gemini/Cosmo or a small YogaBook, but you'd have to take a great deal of time getting used to typing on that relatively small QWERTY on a smooth glass surface. I guess over time you would - as long as the payoff (of being able to use the screen for other things) is worth the cost. You can certainly get note-taking apps onto the second screen to enable this functionality.
The other thing to note is that many apps are not designed to run under Android in landscape, so often present a kludge - if they work at all and switch from portrait. To be fair, most of the Google apps switch around once signed in - but many often present content down the middle of the screen in a central column, not making use of the width. Some, like Google Drive intelligently switch the main screen into the keyboard when needed with content on the other. Others won't let you get past the 'setup' screen and dialogues in portrait but switch when up and running.
It's a shame in a sense that the two screens don't work together more so that content can move between them efficiently even though there would be a big gap in the middle. Apps can be 'thrown' from one to the other by a three-finger slide across the screen but it's a bit clunky in practice. Maps comes to mind as an app which would benefit from sharing its 'total view' across both screens or perhaps a large spreadsheet, giving the user more data and information via a more productive overview.
Now, I'm not much of a gamer - in fact, I'm nothing of a gamer! I tried to install a few games and run them but couldn't find any that run with the LG Game Pad on the main screen in action. The pad comes up and it looks lovely, but you'll have to look elsewhere in gamingland out there to watch proper gamers using this. Apparently the number of games that work with it are limited and who knows whether more developers will buy into this and code their games to work. There's also a recurring issue here that some of the games I installed and got running on the second screen in landscape actually presented themselves upside-down and I couldn't see a way to even get them up the right way! But to be fair, for those with more patience and an understanding of gaming, I'm sure they'll do better. I have certainly seen videos of enthusiasts making it work with their big-loading and online games. As for the QWERTY above, I'm not sure if game controls on a flat-glass screen is going to be anything like the experience and physical presence of a proper hand-held PlayStation-like controller.
In camera mode, when the 'zoom' buttons are long-pressed, this gives a preview of the image of the three lenses on the second screen and you can tap each to switch the camera's settings to use any of them. This works in landscape and portrait but for me, it just looks a bit odd to be holding the whole device up as a camera, big and wide, almost like taking a photo with a tablet - and we know what most people think about folk doing that!
I suppose you could argue that with the ability to display one app on one screen and one on the other, the world is your oyster in terms of creative use and different users will find thousands of combinations which might suit their way of working or playing. It's great to see a phone manufacturer doing something different, so don't get me wrong and think that I'm overly negative about the device. It's just that for me, it's heavy, clunky and without a dedicated stylus and supporting software to make that smart, it all feels like a bit of a gimmick. Going back to the battery, which, at 4000mAh sounds like it should be more than adequate - as soon as you put that second screen in place it drinks large gulps of that juice and it's not long before you're looking for power. This can be plugged in of course whilst you're using the device.
The case itself is made of plastic and glass, the screen, which is slightly smaller in height than the main screen, providing no symmetry, is also a P-OLED one and there's a cutout at the top so that the top speaker's sound can escape and the telephone can be used with the case closed. However, it would also appear to be the case that when a phone call is incoming the user has no option but to open the case up to answer, before closing again to speak. The buttons on the left of the phone (for volume) become all-but inaccessible when the DS case is fully open, rendering you forced to use on-screen controls. There's a giant hole on the back which allows the cameras to see out, the flash to fire, access to the fingerprint scanner and the LED Notification light (in the shape of "5G")!
Forget about the Dual Screen, is what I say - or at least, only attach it when needed. Forget about the 5G which nobody needs (anytime soon) and let's have a V50 stand-alone for £549 instead of the £800+ which this whole outfit is going to cost apparently when available SIM Free. The phone is more than capable, up to date, the closest to Vanilla Android that it's ever been from LG and with amazing sound options. I would certainly buy one of these at that price, but you can keep your DS/5G! It does however, enthuse me about the Microsoft Surface Duo next year - for me, so far, the most attractive dual/fold/wrap-screened option currently on any radar. This LG V50 though, highly recommended - with reservations.
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