Updated May 30, 6:38 p.m. ET: We've had the chance to test the LG V50 ThinQ on Sprint's 5G network and have added more 5G test results to this hands-on.
At long last, 2019 is shaping up to be the year when we’re finally seeing 5G smartphones. A few weeks after Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G made its debut on Verizon's fledgling 5G network, the LG V50 ThinQ has arrived, initially as an exclusive with Sprint.
We first saw LG's 5G phone at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona this past February, and at the time, the V50 looked a lot like the V series phones that came before it. But now we've had a chance to see the phone's flagship feature — the ability to connect to faster 5G speeds — using Sprint's newly launched network, and the LG V50 is making a more distinct impression.
Armed with three cameras on the rear, two on the front, a Snapdragon 855 chipset under the hood and 6GB of RAM, LG’s V50 doesn’t appear to be terribly different from the LG V40 ThinQ, especially when you stack the specs side by side.
|LG V50 ThinQ 5G||LG V40 ThinQ|
|Display (Resolution)||6.4-inch POLED (3120x1440)||6.4-inch POLED (3120x1440)|
|CPU||Snapdragon 855||Snapdragon 845|
|Rear Cameras||Triple: 12-MP standard (ƒ/1.5), 16-MP wide angle (ƒ/1.9), 12-MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)||Triple: 12-MP standard (ƒ/1.5), 16-MP wide angle (ƒ/1.9), 12-MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)|
|Front Cameras||Dual: 8-MP (ƒ/1.9) and 5-MP wide angle (ƒ/2.2)||Dual: 8-MP (ƒ/1.9) and 5-MP wide angle (ƒ/2.2)|
|Battery||4,000 mAh||3,300 mAh|
|Size||6.27 x 3.0 x 0.33 inches||6.27 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches|
Price and Availability
For now, Sprint's the only place to get an LG V50 ThinQ, though eventually the phone will be coming to Verizon. You can buy the phone from Sprint starting May 31, where it costs $1,152. Lease the phone on an 18-month Sprint Flex plan, though, and you can pay $24 a month for the phone, which is a discount from the actual lease price. Sprint is only offering the phone in cities where 5G service is available, which is limited to Dallas, Atlanta, Houston and Kansas City at the moment. More cities will follow, though.
While $1,152 is a lot to pay for a phone, the V50 doesn't cost as much as the S10 5G. Samsung's phone starts at $1,299 when you buy it through Verizon.
Design and Display
LG has essentially stuffed the V50’s 5G running gear and new silicon into the body of the V40, while also bumping up the battery size from 3,300 mAh to 4,000 mAh. The result is a device that is almost imperceptibly thicker, and the only way you’d be able to tell is from the fact that the V50’s triple-lens housing doesn’t protrude from the handset’s glass back like it did on the V40.
Below those rear cameras, you’ll still find a rear-facing fingerprint sensor. Above that sensor, however, is where things get a little more interesting. LG has baked an LED-powered 5G logo into the back of the phone that lights up in trademark Sprint yellow when the device is in use. If you feel compelled to advertise to friends and strangers that you have one of the first 5G phones in the world, this might interest you. Personally, I find it gaudy — and it’s certainly not helped by the fact that the logo itself is pretty ugly.
The display remains LG’s best — a 6.4-inch POLED panel with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 3120 x 1440. We were impressed by the V40’s implementation of this screen and found it to be a formidable opponent to the Galaxy Note 9’s display — though how it compares to the Dynamic AMOLED panel in the new Galaxy S10 series remains to be seen.
After launching in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City at the end of May, Sprint's 5G network is expected to come to five additional cities soon: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. We got a hold of the phone in Dallas after Sprint launched its 5G network there. So how does the LG V50 perform?
First, don't expect the gigabit speeds commonly associated with 5G, but that's largely because of how Sprint built out its network. Sprint is going with mid-band spectrum for its initial 5G launch. That allows it to offer wider coverage but at the expense of peak speed.
Still, where 5G is available, you won't mistake the speeds the V50 cranks out with LTE. In our testing around Dallas, the top speeds we saw ranged between 300 and 600 Mbps on average, which is much faster than you'd expect from an LTE network. (And much faster than you'd expect from Sprint, which fared poorly in our recent round of LTE testing when we stopped in Dallas.) It's not as fast as what we saw from the Galaxy S10 5G on Verizon's network in Chicago, but the V50 remained more consistently connected to 5G network in this round of testing.
That said, a few stops around Dallas delivered some underwhelming results, with the V50 sometimes struggling to crack 200 Mbps download speeds. Some of that can be attributed to a lot of testers hitting Sprint's network at the same time, but even Sprint's engineers told us they usually topped out at 400 Mbps at some of the carrier's recommended test sites.
The LG V50 had some mixed results in real world use cases. At it's best, it took us just 1 minute, 30 seconds to download the massive PUBG Moble game over 5G — an impressive result. Downloading a 24-episode season of Parks & Rec on the LG V50 took a little less than 8 minutes on Sprint's network, but that wasn't much of an improvement over how long it took on an iPhone XS using AT&T's LTE network.
You can read our full report on 5G testing with the LG V50, but so far, the phone is improved faster speeds (though not eye-popping numbers) with a few inconsistencies typical of a new network.
Old Cameras are New Again
The V50 inherits the triple-lens rear camera LG introduced with the V40 late last year. You get a 12-megapixel main shooter with a pretty generous ƒ/1.5 aperture that lets an abundance of light into the sensor, aided by an ƒ/1.9 12-MP wide-angle camera and ƒ/2.4 telephoto lens for more zoomed-in portraits with a shallow depth of field effect.
We weren’t terribly impressed with the V40’s camera when we reviewed the phone last year, but LG has assured us that the V50’s hardware, recycled though it is, is still backed by the company’s latest image enhancing software. That includes AI scene recognition, a new Night View mode that intelligently combines 10 frames for one evenly-exposed image, and an assortment of creative features and effects like Cine Shot for cinemagraphs with partial motion.
Still, the V50 misses out on the LG G8 ThinQ’s real party piece: its 3D-sensing, time-of-flight-enabled front-facing Z Camera, that enables Air Motion gesture controls and Hand ID authentication. While the V50’s selfie camera array is still dual-lens, the secondary camera is of the conventional, wide-angle type, unlike the G8’s sophisticated 3D depth sensor.
Also absent from the V50 is the G8’s new Crystal Sound OLED technology, which uses actuators bonded to the display to transmit sound through the face of the phone. This negates the need for a dedicated earpiece, and improves the clarity of incoming calls because you no longer need to place the device over a specific part of your ear. It proved to be one of LG’s more successful gambles with the G8 during our limited hands-on time with that device, and it would have been nice to see in the V50 as well.
Finally, LG is launching a curious add-on for the V50 in select markets — a second screen, called Dual Display, that clips onto the phone and functions as a cover case when closed. The panel is 6.2 inches in size, and is built to accommodate running multiple apps at once, or use as a controller while playing certain games. The accessory won’t see release in the U.S., and LG is still keeping quiet on pricing for now.
With the V50 ThinQ, LG is one of the first phone makers to offer a 5G-ready device in the U.S., trailing Samsung by just a few weeks. The V50 might not be an eye-catching or even entirely new device in the same vein as the Galaxy S10 5G, but that might not matter much to LG, so long as the V50 delivers fast, reliable performance in cities where 5G is available.
LG should be commended for shoehorning the guts of a 5G phone into the V40’s body — no small feat, as Samsung’s 6.7-inch monster 5G phone proves. But aside from that technological achievement, the V50 appears all too familiar.
For years, LG has unnecessarily split its premium customers between its G- and V-series lines, restricting features to one model or the other, rather than pooling all its efforts into a single flagship statement that really moves the needle. And for better or worse, it would appear that’s exactly what the company intends to do yet again for 2019.
If you’re really excited for 5G and you’re a Sprint customer living in one of the carrier's early 5G markets, you should keep an eye out for the V50. But if you want LG’s most experimental ideas, you might have to give up on that 5G dream and spring for LG’s other high-end handset, the LG G8 ThinQ.
Credit: Tom's Guide