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Remember when, for some inexplicable reason, football players and hipsters nationwide suddenly had top knot haircuts, despite there being nothing obviously good about them?

Some would say there’s a similarly bewildering trend taking hold of the smartphone world at the moment, but rather than man buns, it’s notches. The latest to rock one is LG’s G7 ThinQ, but it would be unfair to judge a device with this many features on fashion sense alone.

While it might look like an iPhone X copycat at first, there are far more interesting features to get stuck into here, like that brilliantly bright 6.1in display, the thunderous speaker setup, and the clever AI camera.

But does any of it mark the G7 ThinQ out as a serious contender to Apple, Samsung and the three-eyed Huawei P20 Pro? I gave one a quick spin to find out.

Design: notch and learn

I should probably start with the most immediately noticeable design feature. Like the iPhone X and its many subsequent imitators, the G7 has a notch.

As someone who doesn’t actually mind them, I can’t see it bothering me at all, but if you’re staunchly anti-notch, you’re going to find this one difficult to ignore. There is at least an option to hide it with a more traditional black bar in the settings.

The notch’s inclusion allows the G7’s 6.1in LCD (more on that later) display to spread nearly edge to edge, although there is a mini bezel - noticeably slimmer than the G6’s - on the phone’s chin.

The phone’s perfectly rounded edges make it an iPhone X lookalike in more ways than one, but I have Apple’s phone with me at the briefing and the G7 is more of a presence in the hand.

Both back and front are supported by Gorilla Glass 5, which should mean it can withstand the odd knock. I chose not to launch it across the room on this occasion, though.

As well as the standard volume/lock buttons, you’ll also find a Google Assistant hotkey mounted to the side of the phone. For those not interested in face scanning, there’s a fingerprint sensor on the back, just underneath the cameras, as well as a headphone jack on the bottom. You know, for old times’ sake.

The best thing I can say about the phone’s design is that I’d be reluctant to wrap it in case, as the thing just feels nice to hold in one hand. Whether you’re a fan will ultimately depend a lot on your tolerance of notches.

Screen and sound: it might get loud

Mario, Soaker, Man: it’s fair to say they all live up to their Super monikers.

LG has boldly dubbed the G7’s huge screen “Super Bright”, owing to its 1,000 nit peak capacity. Perhaps the eye-searing brightness is to distract you from the fact it’s not an OLED, with LG preferring to opt for a QHD+ (3120x1440) LCD.

While we’re getting used to the most desirable phones having the most premium OLED panel, I thought the display here looked fantastic. Colours are rich, everything on screen pops, and a burst of sunlight shouldn’t wreck your Reddit browsing. Know that you won't be using the Super Bright mode all the time, though; it disables after a three-minute burst. 

You can tweak the screen setting in much the same way you would an LG TV, flicking between Auto, Eco, Cinema, Sports, Game and Expert settings. I didn’t have time to experiment with them all, but we certainly will do when it comes to doing a full review.

Appropriately, LG is making a lot of noise about the G7’s audio credentials. There was no opportunity to test the Hi-Fi Quad DAC and impressive DTS: X 3D sound functionality, but I did give the new “Boombox’ speaker a healthy blast.

Because the space inside the phone is used as a resonance chamber, LG reckons it has double the bass performance of your average phone, delivering even more boom on a solid surface.

Safe to say, I didn’t have any problems hearing the Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer (a film that LG is partnering up with to coincide with the G7’s launch) from a good distance away, and it certainly outperforms any phone that I can think of in this department. This thing is loud.

Whether that means you can ditch the Bluetooth speaker when you’re cooking up something in the kitchen remains to be seen, but it certainly feels like a considerable upgrade on puny smartphone offerings of the past.

Camera: the future's super bright

 

LG has armed the G7 ThinQ with a pair of 16MP snappers on the back, while an 8MP sensor takes up selfie responsibilities.

You should notice improvements on the G6 in standard mode and when using the wide angle cam. More significant are the AI additions. Building on the V30S ThinQ’s foundations, the AI cam now offers 19 best shooting modes.

When activated, you’ll see words popping up all over the frame as the G7 works out what’s being shot. It’s similar to when Sherlock Holmes is deep in thought, only less smug and more prone to the occasional error.

AI can also control brightness, provide filters and switch between modes on the fly. I don’t want to pass judgement on how well it all works in practise before giving it a thorough test, but the tech is definitely interesting. The risk with all this clever processing is that your shots can look unnatural, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The G7 also supports Google Lens, which feeds you information on landmarks, objects and living things as you encounter them with the camera. I didn’t use it during my hands-on, but it’s another worthwhile addition to the phone’s AI arsenal.

Then there’s the 'Super Bright' camera. Designed for use in dimly lit areas (and activated automatically when you’re in a dark room), it uses a combination of pixel binning and software smarts to make your shots four times brighter than is typical with the lights off.

I had a play around with this feature (images 4 and 5 in the above box were taken with it turned on) and the results were impressively clear. I can’t wait to pit it against the current low light heavyweight champion, Huawei’s P20 Pro.

Performance and software: finding its voice

An up-to-date Snapdragon 845 keep everything zipping along under the hood, which is complimented by 4GB of RAM as standard.

If the G6 was hampered by its processor power, its successor certainly felt lightning quick to me. OS is handled, as expected, by Android 8.0 Oreo. A 3000mAh battery should comfortably see you through a Netflix binge or two, something you might be more inclined to do if the Boombox lives up to its billing.

The final thing to mention is Google Assistant integration. Give the dedicated button a long squeeze and you’ll enter “Walkie Talkie” mode, bypassing the forever annoying “Ok Google" command.

As someone who has finally submitted to using voice assistants in public, I can see myself using this. Far field voice recognition up to five meters allows you to summon Assistant from across the room, too. We look forward to impatiently demanding weather reports during testing.

LG G7 ThinQ early verdict

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for smartphones to stand out from the crowd. The G7 ThinQ is certainly guilty of following the herd on the design front, but LG is betting on its sunlight-defying display, clever clogs camera and excellently-named Boombox speaker setup to mark it out as a smartphone worth considering.

And it could be onto something. While it’s hard to ignore the omission of an OLED, you’re going to appreciate every one of those 1,000 nits - plus LCD hopefully keeps the price down.

The audio stuff is interesting for its design if nothing else, and I’m looking forward to testing it in different rooms. Add to that the heavy dosage of AI assistance, and LG might just have a winner. We’ll bring you a full review as soon as we get our hands on a finished sample.

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