Two of the biggest smartphone showdowns of 2018 so far are naturally the best of what Samsung and LG have to offer. That is, the Galaxy S9 and LG G7 ThinQ (which we will now just refer to as “LG G7”). While Samsung is more revered, these two top-dogs are more than ever neck-and-neck, with very distinct advantages and disadvantages. Let’s break it down.
Since last year, LG has been matching Samsung’s IP68-sealed glass and metal form. The same is true with the Galaxy S9 and LG G7; with both devices in-hand, they can almost be called relatives. However, there’s now a stark difference between the phones from the front. LG opted for the 2018 trend of a notched display, while Samsung stuck to its uniform guns. There are other significant differences, but that take a close look, like the LCD vs AMOLED display tech and telephoto (on the S9+) vs wide-angle secondary cameras.
- About the same aspect ratio, ~ 18:9
- Snapdragon 845 octa-core chipset + 4GB RAM
- 8MP front camera
- 64GB base storage + microSD expansion
- 3,000mAh battery capacity
- Wireless charging
- IP68 Waterproofing
- Dedicated virtual assistant button
- Rear, centered fingerprint scanner
- Android 8.0 (Oreo) software
- About the same +$700 price
LG G7 ThinQ
- Sweet-spot screen/phone size
- Beefier sides, better grip
- Better fingerprint scanner shape/size
- Cameras have high 16MP capture resolution
- 107-degree secondary wide-angle camera
- Dedicated HiFi audio DAC and aptX HD support
- LCD tech instead of more efficient OLED
- Notched display doesn’t equate to better screen-to-body ratio
- Mono external speaker
- Camera is noticeably slower than the Galaxy S9’s
- LG’s UI is still dated and stutters more than Galaxy S9
Samsung Galaxy S9
- Two size choices: 5.8″ S9 or 6.2″ S9+
- Brighter and more brilliant S-AMOLED screen
- Dual, stereo external speakers
- Very quick camera experience
- 2x telephoto secondary camera (S9+ only)
- Fast wireless charging
- Very smooth software response
- Curved display a novelty, and tapered edges compromise grip
- Standard Galaxy S9 doesn’t have 6GB RAM or secondary camera
- Images at main camera’s f/2.4 aperture can be over-exposed
- Samsung’s UI is heavy and imposing
- Samsung’s Bixby assistant is forced
Differences in use
- As implied by our opening comments about the close physical similarities between these two phones, they feel subtly different in-hand. They both exhibit thorough slipperiness, given by the predominant use of glass. But their frames feel equally slippery (despite the S9 using a matte finish as opposed to the G7’s glossy, they feel the same).
- However, the G7 has a significant edge when it comes to grip. Its back glass panel curves but not its front (unlike the S9’s glass, that is symmetrically curved). This means that there’s noticeably more grip area on the sides of the G7 for a more secure hold.
- The layout of the physical buttons is the same on both phones (LG dropped the fingerprint scanner power button), but a subtle difference is that LG doesn’t use a volume rocker (just two adjacent buttons for volume up/down). This seems like a moot point, but we find ourselves often clicking the wrong volume button. We prefer the rocker.
- While Samsung’s flagships last year did away with the camera hump, it was re-introduced with the S9 (very slightly). The G7 has the same almost-flush protrusion, so you have to be equally mindful of the surface when setting both devices down.
- One of LG’s new features was increased volume headroom of the external speaker. It certainly is a big difference compared to the preceding V30. Not only does it get loud, but the phone’s chassis utilized as bass-boosted resonance chamber is catching (both to the ear and to the hand, as the chassis strongly vibrates as a result). But it still falls short of the S9’s stereo speaker setup (combo output from the earpiece and bottom speaker). Two speakers is just better.
- While the placement of the fingerprint scanners is the same on both phones, the shapes aren’t. We much prefer LG’s larger, circular area, rather than the narrow, rectangular one on the S9.
- To our dismay, LG opted to follow in the footsteps of Apple and many other new Android phones in 2018 with a notched display. We understand that the notch is a matter of opinion, so we won’t dwell too much on it. However, we will knock LG in not realizing the purpose of a notch (as well as many other new Android phones). Per the iPhone X, the notch is for components you just can’t get rid of when you’re eliminating the bezel. In other words, if you’re not going for zero bezel, utilizing a notch is fruitless. And that’s exactly the case with the G7, which has a relatively sizable bottom chin. It actually results in less screen-to-body ratio than the non-notched Galaxy S9. Fruitless.
- Interestingly, LG went back to LCD tech for the G7’s 6.1″ screen (a failed P-OLED was utilized in LG’s preceding flagship). LCD has its disadvantages compared to OLED (especially Samsung’s unbeatable S-AMOLED tech), but the G7 at least has a clear improvement in quality from the G6. It’s a sharper, clearer, and brighter display than before, and colors have a great balance between the natural and vibrancy (not dull like some LCD smartphone displays). The brightness shift at angles has also noticeably been minimized. In addition, there’s a setting to boost the brightness way up for times you need it.
- With all that said, Samsung still has the edge in display quality (though, the gap isn’t as large as before). Its screens are brighter still, and the pop of colors and crispness of images are satisfyingly eye-catching. Contrast is naturally way better on an OLED screen, and blacks noticeably darker than on the G7.
- The Galaxy S9+ has the more direct comparison to the G7 in the camera department. The standard S9 doesn’t have the secondary, 2x telephoto sensor (see our synopsis for more details). Compared to the G7’s wide-angle option, these are two different approaches, which both have merit. However, it’s our opinion that the wide-angle view is more different from what the primary camera provides. 2x zoom isn’t much, and you don’t lose much clarity from just digitally zooming by 2x on the main sensor. Additionally, LG’s secondary camera has a larger aperture (f/1.9 vs f/2.4) and more resolution (16MP vs 12MP) than Samsung’s.
- However, Samsung has the clear advantage when it comes to raw performance. Its speedy Dual Pixel AF system focuses in lightning speed, and you can blast away with pics faster than on the G7 (not just quicker AF but also capture speed). LG’s camera interface also isn’t as quick to boot up or respond.
- The angles of the main lens are different. The G7’s camera has a closer view and the S9’s is wider. Samsung actually calls its main shooter “wide angle”, but its 77-degrees pales in comparison to LG’s secondary 107-degree lens.
- The LG G7 has a “Portrait” mode, but it isn’t as robust as Live Focus on the S9+. It’s hit or miss quality is comparable to Samsung’s “Selective Focus” on the standard S9, which gets the job done, but the quality (blur, depth, and subject isolation) is noticeably a step behind Live Focus.
- Samsung’s main shooter utilizes a variable aperture system (switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4), where the G7’s is just fixed at f/1.6. Low light performance is close between them, but the S9 takes the clear cake (the G7 has noticeably more grain). Being that the G7 is fixed at f/1.6, shots have more depth of field in well-lit conditions (the S9 only switches to f/1.5 in low-light conditions). The S9 at f/2.4 overexposes at times, allowing the G7 to sometimes come out on top.
- You would think that LG’s shots would be sharper, having 4 more megapixels to work with, but this often wasn’t the case. In ideal conditions, the primary cameras are fairly neck-and-neck, having us prefer one or the other depending the pic. Generally, the G7 results in a cooler reproduction and Samsung a warmer one. The S9 often has better contrast (resulting in a richer image) and handles trickier spots better (when high dynamic range is a significant factor) – we noticed a trend of the G7 struggling more than the S9 to maintain details with shadows or bright areas (i.e. blown out sky on a sunny day). See our camera image comparison further down.
- Both LG and Samsung have done very little to their software from last year. They’re both updated to the newer Android 8.0 (Oreo) build, but navigation, aesthetics, and ultimate experience are virtually the same as their preceding counterparts.
- This fact is less critical for Samsung than LG. Samsung revamped its UI with last year’s Galaxy S8, while LG is sticking to the same dated software as basically from 2016’s LG G5. This would be okay if the software was good, but it left a lot to be desired even back then, and LG has done very little to improve it.
- Samsung, on the other hand, has very noticeably optimized its heavy software. Therefore, the difference in experience between the two is stark. Samsung’s UI is very smooth and thoroughly quick to respond in comparison. LG’s UI stutters here and there, and pauses sometimes with an execution (i.e. opening apps) that should be super quick being driven by the powerhouse Snapdragon 845 processor. In scrolling, we also see framerate fluctuate. There’s no excuse for not being buttery smooth in this day and age.
- Both phones have the ability to allow the bottom navigation buttons to hide, having apps utilize that space. However, on the S9 it’s a global on/off, whereas on the G7 you select it on a per app basis.
- LG uses Google services for some things despite having a heavy custom UI, such as the Google panel on the most left and Google Lens in the camera app. Samsung is almost all proprietary.
- For those of us who actually use our phones for phone calls (go figure), there’s a noticeable difference in earpiece volume, where the Galaxy S9 comes out on top. It has a couple notches of more headroom than the G7. It’s not much but is critical in noisy environments, where we have to dig the G7’s earpiece into our ear to be able to hear.
- Both phones have the same 3,000mAh battery capacity, and despite the G7 having a larger screen than the S9, battery life is virtually the same (in our experience). Unless you’re doing a lot of intensive tasks or utilizing high brightness constantly, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get through an entire day starting with a full charge, but not really past that (like with the Galaxy S9+).
- Like typical, LG continues to have the upper hand when it comes to audio quality, in both wired and wireless. The G7 has the dedicated HiFi 32-bit Quad-DAC internally that powers the 3.5mm jack, and aptX HD (up to 576 kbps, 24-bit) support for wireless, whereas the Galaxy S9 uses the chipset’s integrated DAC and the vanilla aptX (up to 352 kbps, 16-bit). The extra detail and depth is noticeable on high-end headphones, but the reality is that average users wouldn’t hear a big difference.
- Both phones have a dedicated button (underneath the volume buttons) to launch the supported virtual assistant. Where Samsung developed its own and infamous Bixby assistant, LG opts for the Google Assistant. You cannot remap the button to execute something else on either phone (a big Boo). Because the placement is the same, you have the same frequent accidental pressing of the button on both phones.
Camera Sample Comparison
*All pics shot in Auto mode and unedited
There’s a lot to consider when choosing between these two behemoths of the 2018 smartphone battle. The LG G7 ThinQ and Samsung Galaxy S9 have their very distinct lists of pros and cons, making the decision that more challenging. It really comes down to what matters more in your smartphone usage. But we must say that the Galaxy S9 and S9+ definitely edge the G7 when it comes to overall quality (namely, Samsung’s unrivaled display tech, camera performance, and software speed).
If HiFi audio, that stellar wide-angle shooter, or the better ergonomics may matter more to you, then the G7 should be a serious consideration. It’s not a perfect smartphone, but no one can deny that LG is great at what it’s good at.