LG G8X ThinQ full review

LG has already launched two flagship phones this year - the G8 and the V50 - and so it’s perhaps fitting that it’s third, the G8X, borrows a little from both.

The LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen - to give it its full name - borrows its name from the G8, the second screen add-on functionality from the V50, and mixes and matches some core specs from both. Fortunately it also costs less than either, and on the whole feels like a much better bet to buy.

Price and availability

As is often the case with LG phones these days we can’t be absolutely sure that the G8X will come out in the UK. The G8 never hit British shores, but the 5G V50 did - it’s available from EE - so hopefully the G8X will follow in the latter phone’s footsteps.

It is at least out now in the US. It's already available to buy from AT&T, while Sprint has opened pre-orders and begins shipping the phone on 8 November. While LG itself has set the MSRP for a bundle of the phone and its Dual Screen attachment at $699, AT&T lists the SIM-free retail price as $779, and offers the second screen as a free add-on "for a limited time" - or you can get both at no up-front cost, but you'll be locked into a $26 monthly contract for 30 months.

Similarly Sprint will let early buyers get a mail-in rebate for the value of the Dual Screen, and is offering the phone SIM-free for slightly less, at $749 - but you can get it for $15 per month on a Sprint Flex lease, over an 18-month loan period, though there's still an extra fee to pay at the end if you want to keep it.

So pricing is a little confusing right now - but either way it seems cheaper than both the V50 and the first G8, and actually undercuts most of the best Android phones, hitting a similar price point to the likes of OnePlus. 

It's also an awful lot less than the $2000 Samsung Galaxy Fold, while offering essentially the same form factor split across two screens. Yes, there's an awful lot less wow factor to the G8X, but if foldables have caught your eye for their split-screen possibilities, the G8X is a much cheaper way of getting the same functionality.

Dual Screen 2.0

Before I get to the rest of the phone, let's tackle the G8X's headline feature: the separate Dual Screen add-on, an optional attachment that gives you a fully functional second touch screen in a laptop-esque clamshell design. If you're going to buy this phone it should probably be for the sake of the Dual Screen, so if that doesn't appeal you can kind of tune out now.

This isn’t exactly the same Dual Screen that we saw earlier this year though, as LG has packed in a few upgrades and refinements that fix some of the first iteration’s biggest failings and should help convince naysayers that this form factor is novel, but not a mere novelty.

The 6.4in OLED display (up from 6.2in) is now the same size as the main phone, which makes moving windows between the two feel much more natural - though it’s clear that once again display quality is not quite at parity, so you will notice slight variations in colour and brightness as you flip between the two - but they are only slight, and you'll probably quickly stop spotting it.

More importantly, the new 360-degree ‘Freestop Hinge’ is a fancy name for a simple function: it’ll let you rest the Dual Screen display at any angle, just like on a laptop - a near-essential upgrade from the previous design, which only let the screen rest while parallel to the main phone.

The Dual Screen also technically ups the screen count to three: a 2.1in black-and-white OLED panel on the front offers a simple monochrome display of the time, date, and a few notifications, saving you from opening up the Dual Screen every time you want to check for new messages in the group chat. It's not touch-sensitive though, so you'll always have to open the phone to do anything about the notifications.

The final tweak is that the phone connects to the Dual Screen using USB-C rather than unsightly magnetic connectors on the rear of the phone, though in turn it blocks the phone's USB-C port with a new magnet connector - the Dual Screen ships with an accompanying dongle that you can attach to the end of your USB-C charging cable.

There are pros and cons to this - having what's essentially a budget MagSafe connector is actually a pretty handy way to charge the phone, saving you from fumbling around with the port in the dark. On the other hand, the connection is a little weak, so picking the phone up while charging tends to be enough to knock the cable out. You're also probably going to want to leave the dongle connected to whatever charge you normally use, meaning if you ever want to top the phone up elsewhere (say, with a battery pack) you'll need pop it out of the Dual Screen to do so. Hardly the end of the world, but it's definitely a tradeoff.

Of course, all these upgrades and tweaks won’t mean much if you don’t ever use the Dual Screen in the first place. I tested the V50 too, and quickly found the second screen an irritation... which is why I was so surprised just how quickly I got used to having an extra panel this time around.

It’s most useful for multi-tasking between apps - letting you watch a movie on one screen while browsing the web on the other; reply to emails while keeping your calendar up on the second screen; or just mainline Instagram and Snapchat simultaneously in case you really can’t bear to disconnect.

LG is clearly trying to build some third-party app support, but it's limited - Korean web browser Naver Whale is basically it for now - but LG's own software often surprises you with great little touches. Tap on the last photo thumbnail in the camera app and it automatically opens the gallery on the other screen for example, freeing you to check if you got your shot or not without ever closing the camera.

Gaming is probably the other big non-productivity use case. The Game Pad app returns from the V50, letting you turn the main screen into a touchscreen controller while the other runs the game. It includes a range of different controller setups, but now also lets you build your own custom gamepad and save your settings for specific games.

You’ll probably know already if any of these sound like ways you might want to use your phone - and for many people, they really won't be. But if you already use your phone for multitasking, or wish it was good enough that you could, this is undeniably the best multitasking phone on the market except for the Galaxy Fold.

Design and build: Phoning it in

I don’t want to suggest that outside of the dual screen the G8X is a bad phone - it's not - but it’s probably fair to say that without the double display it wouldn’t be an especially exciting one.

Aesthetically it’s incredibly similar to LG’s other two 2019 flagships - a slim slate of glass and grey metal that’s attractively functional. It’s not ugly, but it’s certainly not striking. It looks like a phone, one that could comfortably be mistaken for any number of other devices released in the past year or two. It’s absolutely fine, but no-one’s likely to buy one based on how it looks.

Slim side bezels and slightly chunkier top and bottom ones surround the screen, which is intruded on slightly by a tiny notch for the 32Mp selfie camera (confusingly mirrored on the Dual Screen for symmetry, even though that display doesn’t pack a camera).

There are no colour options, and the phone comes in black all over. You get a power button, volume buttons, a dedicated Google Assistant button on the left, and a headphone jack to join the stereo speakers. The back of the phone is also the height of simplicity: a couple of logos, together with the dual camera module (and flash) which are totally flush with the body, in one of the few design touches where LG is consistently trumping competitors.

Depending on your outlook, the G8X either looks boring or minimalist. It won't appeal to fans of the recent wave of brightly coloured and patterned devices, but on the flipside will appeal to anyone who wants a device that looks more stripped back or professional.

Naturally the look changes a bit once you factor in the Dual Screen. It adds about half the phone's thickness on again, but it isn't too chunky. The back has a grippy, textured plastic finish, while the front is reflective to the point that it can genuinely double as a mirror - though I wish it didn't sport the 'LG Dual Screen' name across it. The Dual Screen still gives you access to the buttons, speakers, and headphone jack - though the latter is through a small hole in the plastic, meaning only fairly slender headphone leads will fit, and likely not any L-shaped ones.

Specs and performance:

Core specs & display

In terms of core specs, the G8X is basically straight down the line for a 2019 flagship. At the heart is the Snapdragon 855 (but not the newer 855+), and 6GB of RAM paired with 128GB storage.

Still, that's more than enough for almost any use case really, and even holds up well to the dual screen multi-tasking that's the phones selling point. I never experienced any slowdown with apps on both screens or while gaming, and that performance is borne out by our benchmark results, in which it pretty much holds its ground against the biggest phones on the market.

I was worried that the 4,000mAh battery would struggle to keep both screens going all day, but in fact it did one better. Even using both displays all day, and the outer display for always-on, I never even hit 50 percent battery by the time I went to bed. That means this offers about double the battery life that the more expensive Pixel 4 delivers while powering only one screen - and a smaller one at that. If picking on the Pixel is unfair, it's still enough to make this one of the best battery phones around, which I did not expect to say about a phone powering two panels.

The battery score in our benchmark above is based on the phone alone, for reference. Keeping the second screen on drops the score by about half to 5 hours 51 minutes, which makes sense - though even that isn't an unreasonably low score (it still beats the Note 10) and I'd say real-world usage is better than the two-screen benchmark suggests.

The 6.4in FHD+ OLED primary panel is a highlight, as you’d expect from an LG phone - the company still offers some of the best screens in the market - and a new night-time mode provides gamma adjustment to lighten dark scenes in video or games and in theory ease eye strain. The company has also finally offered an in-display fingerprint scanner, though it's a little sluggish.

Cameras

While most of the G8X's core specs deliver, things fall down a little when it comes to photography.

The two rear cameras are 12Mp and 13Mp respectively - with the latter a wide-angle lens, though there's no zoom here. The main lens handled itself perfectly capably, with crisp shots that are maybe a little under-exposed, but deliver plenty of detail even in low light.

The wide-angle suffers by comparison. Colours are much more vivid - the difference is pretty stark - but images are almost completely devoid of detail and seemingly over-sharpened to compensate. The wide-angle shots are actually so bad that I hope there's a software issue at play that LG can patch, because otherwise you'll probably want to steer clear of this second lens altogether.

The selfie lens does better though. It's 32Mp, but by default delivers 8Mp shots with pixel binning. In bright light it has a tendency to really blow things out, but there's plenty of detail packed in to make up for it. You can also use the second screen to display a block of white, with adjustable colour temperature, to brighten your face subtly in selfies.

Additional photo modes include a passable portrait that struggles a little with hair outlines, studio lighting options, and a 'Night view' mode that makes so little difference I think I understand why LG relegated it to the 'More...' section of the camera app.

Finally, video. The main lens packs what LG brands ‘extreme’ image stabilisation for shooting video, along with the option to shoot 4K timelapse footage and an AI action cam mode that will adjust shutter speed based on how fast subjects are moving.

LG G8X ThinQ camera test

Charging, audio & software

18W wired fast charging (I got 37 percent from empty in half an hour) and Qi wireless charging make the battery side of things even better, while IP68 water- and dust-resistance paired with MIL-STD-810G military drop testing certification mean the G8X is one of the sturdier Android devices around, and probably even more so if you have it strapped into the Dual Screen case the whole time.

LG always makes a bit of a fuss over sound, and this is no different, though there’s equally nothing too new either: a headphone jack and stereo speakers come as standard, with a 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC driving the audio. Basically if you care about audio quality the G8X delivers, and if you don’t know what a Quad DAC even is then you probably shouldn’t worry about it.

It’s also worth pointing out what the G8X doesn’t have. This isn’t a 5G phone - the V50 remains LG’s sole 5G handset - and it drops the gimmicky Hand ID and Air Motion controls that plagued the regular G8. 

Finally, the G8X sees LG introduce LG UX 9.0, the latest version of its Android software, though this will hopefully make it onto other recent handsets soon enough anyway. It brings chunkier fonts, a night mode, and better one-handed use features, but doesn’t radically change the LG software experience, which is still pretty middling by Android OEM standards.

Most frustratingly it still insists on the old three-button navigation system, with no option at all to turn them off and switch to gesture controls, an issue LG is behind just about every other Android manufacturer on.

Verdict

If you’re not sold on the Dual Screen attachment, then the G8X is a fairly dull flagship for 2019 - decent specs and drab design combine for a handset that shouldn’t disappoint but won't do much to excite either.

For those intrigued by the possibilities of a second screen however, the G8X Dual Screen proves that LG might be onto something here. The bigger panel, better hinge, and front-facing notification display fix almost every pain point from the original design that accompanied the V50, meaning there’s less to get in the way of getting on with two things at once. It's great for multi-tasking and productivity, and helped by a brilliant battery life.

The camera is undeniably a disappointment - especially the blurry, borderline broken wide-angle lens - but fast performance, great sound options, and two beautiful screens pick up the slack. Throw in wireless charging and waterproofing, and the $700 price point begins to look like a steal.

It may not be as fancy as a folding phone, but LG’s on its second dual screen and so far only Samsung has put a foldable in people's hands - and for almost three times the price. Folding may be the future, but until then the G8X proves that the second screen has its place.

Specs

LG G8X ThinQ: Specs

  • Android 9.0 Pie
  • 6.4in 19.5:9 FHD+ OLED
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 octa-core processor
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • microSD
  • 12MP rear camera with 13MP wide-angle lens
  • 32MP selfie camera
  • In-display fingerprint scanner
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 4G LTE
  • USB-C
  • IP68 water and dust-resistance
  • 4000mAh non-removable battery
  • 159x76x8.4mm
  • 192g

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