LG V40 ThinQ review: Savvy Note 9 rival wields 5 versatile cameras

Often, LG phones sound second or third to the iPhone and Galaxy brands. But with the LG V40 ThinQ, the Korean tech firm is making headlines as the first mainstream phone to have five (yes, five) camera lenses dedicated to taking better and more creative photos than the iPhone XS Max or Galaxy Note 9 – three on the back of the V40, two on the front. (Technically the Amazon Fire Phone also had five cameras, but those were used for motion tracking and not photography.)

But despite this impressive amount of hardware, I wouldn’t call the V40 the best phone to take pictures with. The V40, Note 9, and iPhone XS Max all have different strengths. And if we’re considering the best phone to simply take and start taking great photos, the Pixel 3/3 XL gets my vote, even if it only has one back goal.

So should you get the V40? It’s definitely worth considering if you see yourself using the wide-angle lens often – taking extended photos with a wide field of view and putting lots of content into each frame. It’s a defining feature of many LG phones, and the company has been repeating and improving it for years.

It’s also one of the few premium phones that still has a headphone jack, which can be a problem for some. Additionally, the price of the V40 ranges from $ 900 to $ 980 depending on the US carrier and $ 950 unlocked by LG. (We’ll update with UK and Australian pricing when we get it, but for now this converts to around £ 724 or AU $ 1,306.) That means you can save up to $ 100 compared to more expensive big-screen phones like the Notes 9 and new iPhones.

But if you don’t need all that photographic hardware or already have one of the V30s ($ 200 on Amazon) models (including i V30S and V35 ThinQ ($ 900 on Amazon)), it is better to skip this phone. In addition, Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T have great cameras, although both lack headphone jacks or expandable storage. The Pixel 3 XL starts at $ 900, £ 870 and AU $ 1,349, while the OnePlus 6T costs $ 549 and £ 499. Australian prices for the 6T have not been released, but are converted to AU $ 774.) Note that while Pixel 3 XL starts at a cheaper price, its lack of expandable storage complicates the overall value.

During the launch of the V40, LG also unveiled a smartwatch. It is the first smartwatch to run Google’s Wear OS and to have mechanical hands like an analog watch. Click here to read all about the LG Watch W7.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on October 3, 2018 and was updated on November 8 with an additional analysis of the Pixel 3 XL and OnePlus 6T.

Five cameras, many options

While there are many phones with dual rear cameras, is future phones should add even more – the recent Huawei P20 Pro has four, for example: the V40 is a rarity with five. The rear camera setup includes a standard lens with optical image stabilization, a wide-angle lens, and a 2x zoom telephoto lens that captures spectacular bokeh-style portraits. LG has also loaded the camera with a number of portrait lighting tools, almost identical to those of the latest iPhones, which adds studio quality to your photos.

Photo quality on the V40 is excellent: images taken in brightly lit environments were sharp and vibrant. Compared to the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max, however, the V40 faded the cooler hues slightly, although it made the whites purer than the other two phones. But when it came to red tones or skin tones, colors were more accurate on the V40 than on the iPhone, which had a tendency to over-warm oranges and reds.

For low-light scenes, the V40 easily illuminated a dark bar. However, the iPhone XS Max provided more detail, while the Note 9 handled different exposures better and had a wider dynamic range.

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The three rear cameras of the V40.

Josh Miller / CNET

The LG V40 also handled portrait photos well, and the drop-off between the foreground subject and blurry background looked smooth and natural. Of the three phones, I liked the Note 9 the most in this case for how well it handled white balance and skin tones. As for studio lighting features, the V40’s image looked flat, while the iPhone’s image had a lot more depth and shading.

As the only phone of the three with dual front cameras, the V40 took the best selfies. Skin tones were true to life and faces looked sharp. The bokeh effect also didn’t look as erratic and over-processed as the others, and it even recognized my fluttering hair as part of my head rather than blur it.

In this indoor shot, the colors are vibrant (especially the red tones) and the objects are sharp and in focus.

Lynn La / CNET

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