(Pocket-lint) - While folding phones flaunt their expensive designs, LG's approach is a lot more practical: it has a case with a second display in it.
It was an approach first seen on the LG V50 ThinQ, but now we have an updated LG G8X ThinkQ – an evolution of the G8 ThinQ – and available with the screen-doubling case, which has been improved over the original V50 effort.
But does the LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen fulfil the big screen dream?
It adds bulk, but not without merit
- 159.26 x 75.69 x 8.38mm, 193g (without case)
- Gorilla Glass front and back
- Dual Screen case
The advantage that folding phones will offer is a bigger screen without necessarily adding extra bulk. LG's accessory approach is inherently bulky, because everything is in addition to the phone itself – although it has the advantage that you can take the phone out of the case if and when you want to return to normality.
The LG G8X is actually a fairly slim phone at 8.4mm; there's some forehead and chin bezel, but the move to a dewdrop notch means a little more of that screen space is being used than previous LG devices. Certainly, moving along from LG's Air Motion gesture controls – as found in theG8 ThinQ – means there's no need for those additional sensors at the top of the display.
The G8X doesn't really shift up smartphone design too drastically – there are no fancy finishes to the rear or anything else – but we'd say that if you're buying the Dual Screen version, then you're basically never going to see the phone itself as it's always going to be in the screen case. That's why you'd buy this phone.
The case is black, plastic, and occupies the USB-C on the bottom of the phone to power the display. That means there's a move over to a pogo pin charging arrangement for the phone when it's in the case. It's very much like Apple's MagSafe charger, but in this case there's a small adapter you connect to your USB Type-C charging cable so that you can connect to the phone.
The case adds protection around the rear, although the "cover" for the display in this case contains the second display. That's backed by another glass panel, so the front of the phone – when "closed" – is glass, housing another little mono display for notifications on the front.
The overwhelming sense from the LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen is of that case. It adds heft and bulk, increasing the package to some 13mm thick and weighing some 331g all in. The size might mean it's not quite as manageable one-handed and typing isn't as fast and fluid as a regular-sized phone.
Fortunately the second display will fold all the way around to the back when you're using your phone one-handed, but it does have the downside of blocking the rear cameras – so taking photos means holding the phone open, unless you're taking selfies of course.
What does that second screen do?
- 6.4-inch display, 2340 x 1080 pixels
- Offers independent app opening
- Takes power from phone
Before we talk about the LG G8X ThinQ side of deal, let's take a closer look at what the second display brings to the party. The screen is 6.4-inches on the diagonal – the same size and resolution as the main display – with a Full HD resolution. It can be set to mirror the brightness of the main display, but we found the colour balance to be slightly different – but you only really notice if you're looking at the same thing on both screens.
First of all, if you love multitasking then you're in luck. Both screens can work independently and you can access your apps on either and open them wherever you want. That means you can have Slack on one side and Twitter on the other, you can have Maps and Messenger open – and there's none of that silly split-screen or picture-in-picture stuff needed – as both sides run independently.
The big Eureka moment really comes when you set the phone up and have to sign into all those different services you use – and you can basically go through all your apps sorting them out two at a time, or be doing something else while you're waiting for a page to load. Of course, accessing lots of information is key – like having Calendar open while selecting dates for a holiday, or checking other information. This all works very well.
LG then gives you a little floating control that you can open up from the right-hand side of the main display that will let you turn the second display on or off, switch the content, or in some apps open an expanded view (Chrome being one example). This expanded view is basically the same content flowing across both displays – but you'll always have that big gap in the middle.
It's not as bad as it might sound and if you're viewing a website that doesn't work in mobile well, then you get more play space.
But this is an odd arrangement for Android and not many apps are designed to use two screens. You can't, for example, have a keyboard on one screen and a message window on the other – which would be a significant boost for productivity. And that's one of the problems with this setup – there aren't many instances where the displays work together to give you more space, as if you're using a tablet.
There are some specifics you can't do too: you can't play two video streams at the same time, so you can't have Netflix in one and YouTube in the other – when you press play the other will pause – and this also applies to in-browser video streams too. This is probably sensible to avoid an audio-visual clash, though, but you might want the footie running on one and the news on the other.
There's some support for games, too, allowing a controller on one screen and the game in the other, but this is mostly limited to games that will work with an external controller. Some come preloaded: Asphalt 9, Fortnite, Sniper Fury, Modern Combat 5. You need to head into the game launcher to launch the gamepad and the game to get it working, and it works well enough, but so many mobile games are designed as mobile games with onscreen controls that we wonder about the value of this option.
For games that are not designed to work with a controller you can create a custom controller. However, this is limited to buttons in different positions on the screen, and you can't really setup a complex interactive system as you might need for something like PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty: Mobile. Yes, you can have a go, but those games were designed to play through touch and they feel more natural as so.
But there are cracks in the experience too. We've been left with the Dual Screen controls floating at the edge of a movie when we didn't want them, we've found the controller and the game opening on the wrong screen and having to switch things around, we've had one screen inverted and the other not, suggesting some gyro somewhere has got confused. Overall, despite its positives, the experience could be better still.
Performance and hardware
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage + microSD
- 4,000mAh battery and Quick Charge 4 fast-charging
The LG G8X ThinQ runs on some of the latest hardware, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage. That's not a bad loadout.
Support it with a 4,000mAh battery and things are a lot more compelling. There's no separate battery for the Dual Screen, however, so if you're using both at high brightness then you'll see the impact that will have on the phone.
Generally speaking the battery life is good: on light days we've got to the end of the day with 70 per cent battery, on more intense days with lots of gaming we've been charging the phone early evening, but it's not a bad overall experience.
So there's plenty of power and we've found the intense games like Call of Duty: Mobile run perfectly smoothly. Even with the bulk of the case folded back on itself we've continued our winning ways on that game – the impressive stereo speakers also add to the experience.
Boosting the audio is a 3.5mm headphone socket – a rare thing on flagship phones these days – with Quad-DAC and options to adapt the sound to your hearing. Those using Bluetooth don't get the full audio experience, but the service for the wired headphone user is better.
It's pretty much a flagship experience, but it is hampered in some areas. There's an in-display fingerprint scanner used for unlocking the phone, but also for biometric security in Android apps. Unlocking the phone seems a little more prone to failure than unlocking apps using the same scanner, suggesting that LG's software isn't as good as it might be here.
That's something that's reflected elsewhere across the device. LG has never been the strongest on software optimisation and you really feel it on the LG G8X. Scrolling through the app tray isn't smooth, opening folders is pretty slow too – and there are changes that don't add a huge amount to the experience of Android.
The changing of icon shapes is one example: where you have the option of round and rounded square as well as cylinder, none of which are actually round. It's effectively three different squircles. LG's UX 9.0 sits on Android 9 Pie and LG's track record of updating Android isn't strong, but like other LG devices we've seen recently, we can't help feeling that a move towards less customisation and more native Android experience would be for the better.
A dual camera experience
- Main: 12MP, f/1.8 aperture, 1.4µm pixel size, optical stabilisation (OIS)
- Wide-angle: 13MP, f/2.4 aperture, 1µm pixel size, OIS
- Front: 32MP, f/1.9 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size
There are two cameras on the rear of the LG G8X ThinQ which, as we've mentioned, you can't use when the screen is folded back on itself, meaning the "cover" needs to be open.
But you can use the second screen to prop the phone up on a table, so it's easy to take selfies without holding the phone, using the supported clench-fist gesture to grab the shot you want. For the main camera you can easily setup group photos using the self timer with either the normal or wide-angle camera, again, with the second screen supporting the phone.
The Dual Screen can also be used as a "reflector" for selfies, using the screen's light to shine warmer tones on your face to give you some illumination. We say "can be used" as we've only managed to get it to work once. Again, LG's software isn't the best and once you add in an extra screen, things get a little more confused.
The main camera is a 12-megapixel with f/1.8 aperture, supported by LG's AI system (artificial intelligence) that will attempt to recognise the scene and optimise the photo. It supports full manual control and there is a night mode, but you'll have to dig it out in the options to use it. There's portrait mode to add some background blur to images, but again, it doesn't seem quite as smart as rivals – and you'll find some edge details blurred away.
The cameras on the LG G8X are pretty good, although the results don't have the sort of pop that the best camera phones out there will give you. The Google Pixel 4 or the Huawei P30 Pro will easily out-perform the G8X, but it's not a complete loss, the LG is just better suited to well-lit conditions.
There's also the wide-angle camera on the back, but no zoom on this model. The wide-angle camera is something that LG has been doing for a few years now and we've always enjoyed the options that it brings for getting a unique shot – it's just not that unique any more. Still, it works well enough.
On the video front LG is moving with the times and offering an ASMR mode; this is a huge trend on YouTube and the LG G8X has mics that will really boost the audio capture. There's also good stabilisation of video and HDR10 capture, so there's a lot on offer from this video camera.
While the overall camera experience isn't the best – and can be slightly awkward thanks to the Dual Screen – there's still a lot on offer.
While we've spent most of the time talking about the Dual Screen of the LG G8X experience, there's still a full standalone smartphone underneath that prospect. It's just that the LG G8X ThinQ is only really interesting because of its Dual Screen; it's something other obvious flagship choices lack, such as the OnePlus 7T or the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro.
But this is one of the great things about Android right now: there are options to get something a little different, which is what the LG G8X Dual Screen is all about. It's a step towards the Samsung Galaxy Fold proposition, but with an affordable price and some flexibility. And, no, you're not going to get the killer seamless big screen view that you'll get from a true folding phone.
The LG G8X gives you much that's comparable to other flagship phones, with the extra display as a unique feature. It's just all let down a little by a software experience that should be better.
This review was first published on 5 September 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status
Much more conventional and offering you a lot of phone for your money, the OnePlus 7T offers similiar power, but a much smoother software experience.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Samsung Galaxy Fold is the folding phone right now. It moves some of the barriers presented by the LG G8X ThinQ, with a big seamless display, while retaining the ability to open several apps across the screen at the same time. Once folded, it's a lot more compact than the LG – but it's also much more expensive.