LG G7

In a highly competitive smartphone market dominated by Apple's iPhone X and Samsung's Galaxy S9, it's not easy to create a stir. But LG’s latest flagship phone hopes to do just that with a few uniquely compelling innovations.

The list includes an extra-bright display, an AI-assisted camera that senses what you’re photographing and adjusts the settings accordingly, and a “boombox” sound system designed to provide more volume and bass.

The electronics giant officially announced the LG G7 at a media event in New York Wednesday. But I got some hands-on time with the phone at an April media event and on Tuesday when LG officials brought it to Consumer Reports’ labs for a sneak peak.

LG has not yet announced the price of the G7 or its on-sale date.

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From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint, the LG G7 features a 6.1-inch screen—assuming you leave in place the adjustable iPhone X-like "notch" that houses the front-facing camera. It also contains the same top-of-the-line Qualcomm processor used in the latest Samsung phones.

On the flip side, the G7 sports a slightly smaller battery than the previous generation of the phone—3,000 mAh, down from 3,300 mAh in the LG G6—though the company says the shift will be offset by the more efficient and speedier processor.

But the latest version of the phone isn't so much about power as it is about fun, with cutting-edge features focusing more on extras such as thumping, bass-heavy audio and nifty camera tricks.

LG views artificial intelligence—AI—as a crucial next step in the evolution of the smartphone, says William Cho, president and CEO of LG Electronics North America. “AI is a broad approach to making consumers' lives even better,” he explained on Wednesday while unveiling the phone, adding that the company introduced similar "ThinQ" AI technology to its smart TVs and connected home appliances earlier this year.

AI aside, if the G7 is as well-made as the G6, it may well end up among CR's top-rated smartphones. We'll buy the LG G7 and test it in our state-of-the-art labs when it goes on sale to the general public.

Here’s a look at the new phone’s most interesting features.

AI-Assisted Camera

The LG G7 provides the photo options we've come to expect in a premium phone. It has dual 16-megapixel rear cameras, with close-up and wide-angle lenses, along with an 8-megapixel front selfie camera.

But a handful of new features, including AI capabilities, make the model unique. And those AI capabilities are powered by Qualcomm’s speedy Snapdragon 845 processor.

When enabled, the LG G7's AI can analyze and identify the subjects in your frame, and then, using machine learning, suggest optimal color settings or the use of the wide-angle or close-up camera.

As you compose the shot, little text boxes pop up on the screen, telling you what the camera thinks you’re taking a picture of. If there's a paper cup in the foreground, for example, it might suggest "beverage." You can then tap on the text box to emphasize that item.

In the limited time I had to play with the feature, I got mixed results. The camera had no trouble identifying a bowl of lemons as fruit, boosting the contrast in the picture to make the yellow pop more, but it also identified objects such as chairs as poodles.

In the end, you don't have to use the AI. If you decide you don’t like it, you can turn the feature off. It's worth noting, though, that LG claims all the AI processing is done on the phone itself, instead of in the cloud, which potentially makes the G7 more appealing to those concerned about digital privacy.

The phone has other AI-related features, too, including AI-assisted voice recognition, which LG says will let you summon Google Assistant from farther away and under noisy conditions like, say, when there's music playing in a car.

The phone also has a dedicated button you can use to activate Google Assistant, much like the one that summons Bixby on Samsung's phones. But you can't program it to perform other functions (like, for example, activating the flashlight) as you can with the Bixby button.

Better Low-Light Photos

A new super-bright mode in the G7's camera system automatically detects low-light situations and gives you the option of brightening the shot.

LG says the mode works by "bending" the pixels to effectively quadruple them and increase the camera's light sensitivity.

I gave it a try by taking pictures of brightly colored flowers in a dark room. I couldn’t fully see what I was photographing, but the camera could. While the lighting in the image did improve, the resulting photos were still a little grainy, so it's hard to say without further testing just how effective the feature is.

The new phone also boasts an improved portrait mode that lets you blur the background not only in real time but after you take the picture. And LG says it has improved the phone’s wide-angle camera to reduce the “fisheye” distortion effect on the perimeter of its shots.

Boombox Sound

an LG G7 in the hand of Consumer Reports writer Bree Fowler
The LG G7's new "boombox speaker" lets you feel the good vibrations from your favorite music in your hand.

LG tries to set itself apart from other smartphone makers by striving for better sound. In the case of the G7, it has unveiled a new boombox speaker that uses the whole body of the phone to boost the volume and the bass of the audio.

When you crank up the music, you can actually feel the vibrations bounding from the phone. And when you place the G7 on a thick wooden table, the sound is truly striking.

We’re looking forward to experimenting more with this feature when we test the G7.

And don’t worry; LG hasn’t done away with the traditional headphone jack. It’s still there. But don't be shocked if you don't get headphones with the G7. It's currently unclear whether U.S. phones will include them.

Super-Bright Display

Bree Fowler of Consumer Reports looking into the screen of an LG G7
The super-bright display may improve visibility on the LG G7's screen when you're snapping photos on a sunny day.

Using a smartphone, even one with a high-end display, can be very frustrating in bright-light conditions. It's hard to see what's on the screen through the glare.

LG is trying to fix that with one of the brightest smartphone displays on the market and a feature that allows you to turbo-boost that brightness without significantly draining your battery.

LG says the G7's display can reach a maximum brightness of 1,000 nit, an output on par with the most premium smartphones, while still reducing power consumption compared with the G6. And with just a tap, you can turn on the phone's super-bright mode, temporarily boosting the display's brightness.

When I tried it, I noticed the difference right away. It’s a minor feature, but it could come in handy if you take a lot of photos outside in the summer.

Good-Bye, Notch Feature

the LG G7 screen without the notch the LG G7 screen with the notch

Like other high-end phone manufacturers, LG tries to provide as much screen as possible by extending the display right up to the ultra-thin bezels. And much like with Apple's iPhone X, this creates a notch at the top of the screen where the front-facing camera is located (shown in the "before" photo in the sliding photo feature above).

As many iPhone X owners will acknowledge, the notch can drive you bonkers at times, especially when you're using apps that still aren’t optimized for it. But unlike Apple, LG gives you the option of removing the notch from view via the phone's settings—though that does mean sacrificing a bit of the real estate on the display.

Toggling from the notch view to the traditional view essentially blacks out the very top of the display (shown in the "after" photo above), creating an uninterrupted straight line along the upper edge.

With the notch, you get 6.1 inches of viewable screen. Without it, you have to settle for 5.9 inches. But both options are bigger than the 5.7-inch screen on the G6.

For some people, just having that option could be a big sanity saver.