BARCELONA—The LG V30S ThinQ unveiled at Mobile World Congress is a bunch of cool camera modes disguised as a new phone. The good news is that LG is offering significant software upgrades to existing V30 and V30+ owners, as well as two elegant new colors of its 2017 flagship phone. But those positive steps are clouded a bit by LG’s insistence that this is a new phone, and its attempt to make “ThinQ” a thing.
New or Not?
Let’s get the hardware out of the way: The LG V30S ThinQ, a phone clearly named by committee, is just an LG V30 with 6GB rather than 4GB of RAM, 128 or 256GB of built-in storage, and nice shimmery new blue and gray colors. Those are the only hardware changes here, and they certainly aren’t worth a new name. (Two new names, actually: The 256GB version is the LG V30S+ ThinQ, which is the one we saw.)
“The overall hardware design is exactly the same; the color is the difference,” said Ji Youn Lheem, chief strategic designer at LG’s design lab.
But the software is pretty cool—and even cooler, it’s coming to existing V30 units, although LG wouldn’t tell us exactly when. The major changes are in two new camera modes, Bright mode and AI Cam, both of which we tested for a little while at LG’s launch event.
Bright mode appears as a button on the screen when you’re in a very dark location. It groups together sets of four pixels to reduce the V30’s resolution from 16MP to 4MP while significantly brightening photos. Although focus lag was sometimes an issue, it definitely works. We compared the V30S+ with an iPhone X, and found that the V30S’s images were significantly brighter and less noisy. That said, both the V30S+ and iPhone’s images improved by quite a lot with a little bit of in-phone image editing. After applying some filters, the iPhone’s picture had better colors, while the V30S+ picture was less noisy and compressed.
Note that this was all on a pre-production unit (so pre-production, it dosen’t even have the phone’s name on the back), so the software could further improve before launch.
(That image above shows photos on the V30S+ and the iPhone X before we did any retouching or filters.)
AI Cam, which comes from third-party vendor EyeEm, tries to ID elements in a visual scene to lock one of eight photo modes, such as food or portrait mode. It’s kind of hilarious because when you turn it on, you see the AI churning, in little white subtitles, through guesses about what’s on the screen: fish? hand? close-up? before locking into its mode after 5 to 10 seconds. It identified people and food correctly.
“This is done inside the phone, not in the cloud,” Ian Hwang, LG’s product expert said.
A third photo mode, QLens, combines a QR scanner and image search engine for shopping or image identification. We’ve seen this in a lot of third-party apps and on Samsung and Google phones. It identified several products correctly enough to deliver Amazon links for them.
The V30S is also extending LG’s existing list of device-specific Google Assistant voice commands to be able to trigger the new camera modes. (LG lists the full set of new voice commands here.) The phone will also have new Google Assistant voice commands to control LG appliances and home entertainment devices, such as “Hey Google, check the time remaining on my washing machine.”
Because LG is invested in the slightly quixotic idea that the V30S+ ThinQ is indeed a new phone, it didn’t spend enough time playing up the fact that AI Cam, Bright Mode, and the new voice features will be back-ported to existing V30 devices. This is great news in an Android world where phones all too often don’t get upgraded.
What The ThinQ?
We have to talk about this ThinQ thing. It’s LG’s attempt to wrap up and brand its smart home and AI technologies. Apparently, it’s pronounced “thin queue,” which makes no sense because as an AI brand, it should probably be pronounced “think.” The concept is fine, in that it’s an attempt to bring together AI features in all of LG’s home electronics brands. But the brand itself is just not very good.
If there was any new hardware in here to accelerate AI, maybe, just maybe, there would be a faint justification for the branding. But whereas Apple and Huawei are touting their AI hardware components, the AI here doesn’t even run on the Hexagon DSP in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (which would be Qualcomm’s equivalent in terms of AI hardware)—it’s just a routine run on the CPU.
“We are attaching ThinQ to the end of the name because AI is going to be an important part of our product strategy,” Hwang said. That really makes it sound like someone at HQ is tacking the word on because of some perceived corporate initiative, not because of anything specific about this product.
LG wouldn’t commit to whether or not the V30S+ will be released in the US. It will launch in Korea in “a week or two,” LG spokesman Ken Hong said. Check back soon for more details.