At the end of 2016, I reviewed the LG V20 smartphone, which was one of my favourite smartphones of the year. A mix of great features, an audio solution worth noting and a competitive price to match.
In 2017, LG seemed to have priced itself out of the market with the V30, having pushed too close to the premium smartphone price range to compete for customer attention, despite having introduced even more features of the previous model.
For the latest iteration, LG announced the V40 ThinQ back in October 2018, which launched in South Africa some three months later.
While LG has created a host of competitive smartphones, you wouldn’t necessarily consider it as well marketed. With almost 20 smartphone releases under its belt between the V30 and V40 ThinQ, to which I could only confidently name one, there’s quite a huge disconnect between the brand and consumer, especially in South Africa where the likes of Huawei and Samsung have pretty much owned the upper mid-range market for quite some time now. In the V40 ThinQ, LG has created yet another competitive smartphone in its category, but have the lessons been learned from the releases of the two previous models?
Build and Design
If you were a fan of the LG V30, or the V20 before it, you won’t have any qualms about the design of the V40. The design is very similar to the previous iterations, minus the biggest change, which is that of the screen itself. In terms of its dimensions, 158.8×75.7×7.6mm, the V40 is taller, wider and thicker. It also weighs 11g heavier than its predecessor. All things considered, however, it isn’t a step backwards. Quite the opposite. Overall, the unit packs quite a lot more under the hood than the previous models, which we’ll unpack further down in the review, so it justifies the extra bloat, so to speak.
For further similarities, you simply have to turn the phone around. The unit looks near identical to its older brother, except for the addition of the triple-lens camera, compared to that of the dual-lens setup on the V30. The unit sports a Gorilla Glass 5 panel on the rear, with a fingerprint sensor smack in the middle near the top. The branding below the fingerprint sensor and towards to bottom end also haven’t changed much.
The right-hand side of the smartphone houses the power button and SIM tray, with the left-hand side sporting the volume rocker, as well as a dedicated Google Assistant button. This performs a function similar to Samsung’s dedicated Bixby button, apart from the fact that it doesn’t open the Bixby app. The bottom of the unit includes a Type-C port, a 3.5mm jack and a downward firing speaker grille. The speaker grille, however, isn’t your conventional setup, with LG including a “resonance chamber” boombox speaker for better music reproduction on the loudspeaker. Being a media-centric device aimed at audiophiles, I’m glad LG has added more in the way of support for various types of audio to experience in different settings.
The phone is built atop an aluminium frame, which is most evident on the sides of the unit. Despite this, however, the phone feels a little on the cheap end, as it could easily slip out of your hands if you’re not careful. I’m not entirely certain where the “ThinQ” moniker comes from or why it’s been bolted onto the V40, especially when you consider it’s both heavier and thicker than the previous model. That said, I don’t mind the additional bulk, having been a long time Galaxy Note user through many of the different iterations. In fact, I appreciate the sturdiness it provides and a sense that the device won’t simply buckle under the slightest of pressure.
Screen and Display
As already mentioned, the V40 has made the most improved changes over the previous model in the screen department. The V40 ThinQ is equipped with a P-OLED panel, which measures 6.4” diagonally. Where the stats really stand out is in the form of the 83.6% screen-to-body ratio, a jump of over 2% increase over the V30. In the global world of the smartphone industry, it is interesting to note that the majority of the flagship devices are dependent on Samsung for their AMOLED panels. These include devices from Apple, Huawei, Google, OnePlus and numerous others. It’s a bit refreshing, then, when we run into a non-Samsung panel, as fitted to the V40. In previous years, LG has struggled to compete against Samsung in both their range of distribution of their panels, as well as delivering the quality to compete at the same level and pricing. On the V40, however, there is a marked improvement over the, often times, blurry LG OLED panel, also known to suffer from blue tinting when viewed slightly off centre.
The latest LG panel has introduced a much cleaner looking panel, with better sharpness and colour saturation to boot. What’s intriguing about the setup of the screen is that LG offers an overkill of seven different colour presets to choose from. This is both good, as it provides more flexibility, and bad, as it introduces an element or two of doubt in the user’s mind not knowing which to choose. Overall, however, the default selection is more than adequate for most users, producing great colours, deep blacks and brighter whites. The device also supports HDR for apps that support it, which adds greater detail in colour balance.
The LG V40 ThinQ is quite a bit larger than the V30. With the additional real estate to work on the V40, LG has increased the resolution of the display to a generous 1440x3120px, at a 19.5:9 ratio, which has a pixel density of 537ppi. The OLED panel also means that users could choose the option of having an “always-on” display, but that’s all a matter of preference in the end.
As with many other devices from 2018 and early 2019, the V40 also includes the dreaded notch display. Unlike the others, however, LG doesn’t take up as much of the screen, allowing for that little extra when it comes to overall viewing. In addition, LG has also offered a variety of options when it comes to dealing with the notch. Users can choose between the standard notch, or have it removed by blacking out the top of the display to blend in better. Furthermore, you can also choose how you’d like it to blend in at the top and which colour patterns to use in doing so. If you’re going to have the notch in place in the middle of the screen, it’s best you offer some nifty ways of making it less unsightly. LG has done just that.
Performance and Battery
The LG V40 ThinQ is no slouch. In fact, its Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset was the benchmark for many mobile devices in 2018 and features on a number of flagships including the Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Note 9 variants, Sony Xperia XZ3, Razer Phone 2, OnePlus 6 and many more. The SoC sports an Octa-core processor with x4 2.7GHz Kryo 385 Gold and x4 1.7GHz Kryo 385 Silver, as well as an Adreno 630 GPU. The unit comes in two variants with an option of 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, both of which include 6GB RAM. On paper, then, the unit should be able to hold its own against the likes of the Qualcomm variant of the Note 9 and many of the other listed devices as well.
In terms of real-world tests, the unit performed great, with no lag, jitter or interruptions on any of the load testing and the likes. Comparing benchmarks scores and the tests continue to impress, with only a few points shy of the Note 9 and OnePlus 6 units. With a Geekbench multi-core score of 8,787, it’s quite an impressive result for the V40, which isn’t exactly playing in the same space.
Where the V40 does disappoint just a tad is in the 64GB internal storage on the base model. With more leading smartphones sporting at least 128GB at a minimum, it would have been a better choice for LG to do the same. With the recent advances in camera technology, 4K video and HDR, you’re definitely going to need the additional capacity approaching the end of year two on your contract.
The LG V40 ThinQ has a relatively diminutive battery, with just 3,300mAh of charge to keep you powered throughout the day. Again, many flagship units are pushing towards the 4,000mAh mark and beyond, so while this isn’t a train smash for some users, it may be a turn off for power users that need to be assured of all-day battery life. The battery seems to be a concession as a result of the design, but, in my opinion, it would’ve been best served to forego another millimetre or two for the sake of a better battery.
LG has taken some steps in getting the most out of the battery capacity, introducing limitations such as peak brightness, which peaks at 600 nits, compared to LG’s own G7, which peaks around 1,000 nits. On an average day, the battery last through the standard working hours, although wouldn’t easily make it to the end without reaching for a charger. On days with heavier usage, I found that the unit would need to be charged before leaving the office or arriving home. The additional stress of not knowing whether your device will have sufficient battery capacity throughout the day is not something buyers of a premium smartphone should have to contend with.
Software and Camera
The delay to release the LG V40 ThinQ into the South African market has put LG in an awkward position in terms of the software release. For an average user, the fact that the V40 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo may not be a train smash. For the more advanced users, this may be a bit of an issue, especially given that there’s a good chance they may have experienced an Android 9.0 Pie-sporting smartphone in recent months. In addition to this, there hasn’t been any concrete plans in place to upgrade the OS to the latest version, or at least not publicly.
That isn’t to say that the user experience with on LG UX 7.1 isn’t a bad one. With numerous features and options to support a high level of customisation, there’s a lot to love about the OS. LG has already implemented some of the Pie’s features into its firmware build, one of which being the notch customisations, as mentioned previously. There are some additional bloatware apps and kids’ games, but nothing that cannot be uninstalled. The list of apps preinstalled also includes LG’s productivity suite in the form of QuickMemo+, Messaging, LG Health, HD Audio Recorder, File Manager and Calculator, as well as a few Google apps as per the norm. All of these, however, are fairly useful and wouldn’t warrant a quick removal.
The V-series lineup has always provided some of the more interesting and better hardware and features when it comes to camera capabilities. The V40 is no different. LG has fitted a triple-lens camera on the rear and a dual-camera on the front for best results. The setup of the triple-lens camera, however, has drawn some curiosity. The unit sports a 12MP lens with f/1.5 aperture and 78° field of view, a 16MP wide-angle lens with f/1.9 aperture and 107° field of view, as well as a 12MP 2x telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture and 45° field of view. The features packed in alongside the camera is also quite impressive, with users being able to view all three camera angles in order to choose the best shot before committing to a photo. And if you’re unable to choose between the three, why not choose all of them? The V40 allows users to do just that. Best results would be to choose a single option and fine-tune the image, but these work great when you’re undecided. Additionally, LG’s post-snap features also allow users to do some fancy editing of the triple-image by creating a short movie, panning from one end of a shot to another to give the greatest field of view from a single shot. It’s very similar to taking a panoramic image or video, but without the fuss of having to manually pan across the view. And there’s a host of other features and add-ons to try out from the camera app and editing software if you really want to get your hands dirty.
The two, front-facing cameras also offer a decent mix of options with its 8MP lens with f/1.9 aperture and 80° field of view, and 5MP lens with f/2.2 aperture and 90° field of view. The difference between the two lenses allows users to switch between a single person selfie shot and a group selfie. There are also additional features added to the front-facing camera, which are commonplace for rear-facing units. This includes features such as bokeh, where users can also set the level of background blur for their selfies. Additional supported features on the front and rear cameras includes Google Lens, AI scene optimisation and many more.
The main camera produces great photos with good clarity and colour reproduction across multiple shots of different objects and backgrounds. Where the camera does tend to stretch beyond its reach is the comparison of photos from the main camera and the rest. The optical zoom lens doesn’t have the clarity for its 2x zoomed capabilities as it lacks overall clarity of a standard photo. The wide-angle lens also produces great colour and clarity, but has a small bit of distortion that is noticeable to someone who knows what they’re looking at. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it can be annoying at times as it depends heavily on the subject matter and the distance from it when taking the photo. The unit also doesn’t perform very well in poorly lit environments and cannot compete against the likes of Samsung and Huawei that dominate this area of camera capabilities right now.
As with the previous models in the V-series range, the LG V40 ThinQ has a bag of features to keep one entertained for a while. Things become a little trickier for the device when the fun and games end and it’s down to serious business. That said, it could handle almost anything that was thrown at it while also offering a fresh take on the conventional. As was also the case with this range, there’s a lot to assist content creation, although users will have to work out some of the kinks to perfect their end product.
At a retail price of R12,999, it goes beyond the upper mid-range category and crosses over into the flagship space, which is highly competitive. Unfortunately, while it does manage to go the distance in the fight, competing like for like across the various hardware and software features, by round 12 it would have taken some beating.
LG V40 ThinQ
There’s a lot to love about the LG V40 ThinQ. It improves on the V-series range where the V30 (or V35) left off. It may not be able to compete at the very top but does enough to satisfy content creators on a slightly smaller budget.