But onto the phone itself. Physically it follows LG’s recent design but a bit more refined across the board. Its a familiar curved glass and aluminum frame combo, which is classy if a bit generic. Bezels are tiny around the gorgeous 6.4-inch OLED, save for the ever-shrinking display notch up top that houses a pair of selfie cams and the earpiece. The display runs at a super-sharp QHD resolution and does both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and it’s up there with the prettiest you can get.
Around back are a trio of cameras and a regular fingerprint scanner. There’s also a notification LED on the back, which I like because you can tell if you’ve missed something even when you don’t want to be looking at the screen. I’m less enthused about the fact that the flashing light is in the shape of a great big “5G” logo, but I guess if you’re paying extra for it you might as well flaunt it.
This glass in use here is incredibly slippery, to the point that I always have to remember to remove the phone from my pocket when I sit down or it will slide out. My house has a pretty uneven floor, and there are even surfaces I can’t place the phone on because it will gradually slide right off.
One other quibble about the design is the dedicated Google Assistant button that sits below the volum controls, on the opposite side of the power button. There are so many ways to summon the Google Assistant that this button is superfluous, and I found it hard to avoid pressing it accidentally. Elsewhere there’s a headphone jack and, like other recent LG phones, both an IP68 water resistance rating and a military standard durability rating.
Inside, the V50 is every bit a 2019 flagship phone, with a Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM, plus 128GB of storage expandable by microSD.
All that power is backed by a nice take on Android 9 that makes getting around fast and fluid. Everything’s a lot easier on the eyes than the bubbles and lurid colours of some of LG’s past UX iterations, and I really enjoy the system’s new “seamless” themes, which come with animated transitions between always on display, lock screen and home screen. It’s a shame, however, that there’s no system-wide dark mode. Themes and other customisations are handled by LG’s daggy SmartWorld service, which is the one aspect of the phone’s software that doesn’t seem modern and cool.
And speaking of cool, the Dual Screen accessory is sure to turn some heads on the bus. Snap the V50 into it and the second display will come to life, making for a book-style device on a hinge. The second screen isn’t quite as nice as the primary one and, annoyingly, it’s a slightly different shape, but it draws power from the phone itself so you don’t need to charge it.
The second screen comes with its own home screens and app drawer so you can optimise your space for dual-screen use, it’s simple to send apps to either screen and it doesn’t take long to get used to browsing around in the unconventional format. The best use I found was to put something I only needed to glance at on the second screen, like a video or a map, so I could keep reading or texting on the main display. You can use both apps simultanously, but you’d have to be very dexterous.
There are few opportunities to spread apps across both screens. Obviously it would be great to have Kindle expand to act like an actual book, or let Gmail open a message on one side and compose on the other, but it doesn’t work at present. LG has included a game mode that turns one screen into a virtual pad for games that support controllers, and it works well.
The phone is bulky and heavy with the accessory attached, but less slippery, and it’s certainly a less ellegant (though probably more stable) solution than an actual folding phone. You can close it like a book, which means no screens are accessible but you can still talk on the phone if you like, or you can wrap the second screen around to the back which turns it off but lets you use the phone as a fat but single-screen device. Of course the advantage over a true foldy phone is you can just take the Dual Screen off whenever you like.
And finally there’s the cameras. On the rear the V50 sports a pair of optically stabilised 12MP shooters, one of them set at a 2x zoom, plus a 16MP ultrawide. Shots from all three are excellent and clear, with good colour in bright conditions that can turn a bit muddy in low light. Extra modes that require the phone to separate you from the background, like portrait mode, are a mixed bag. There’s a portrait video mode that’s especially janky, while one bizarre option takes a selfie of you with the front camera and superimposes you against a background from the rear camera.
Overall this is an excellent 2019 flagship that, for all its strengths, struggles to live up to its $1728 price tag on its own. It has a good battery life, great cameras, superb screen and some very nice software features, but it’s almost a full $1000 more than the LG V40 from October. Those who are really into 5G or the idea of a dual display certainly have something to consider here, but if that’s not you it will be hard to justify.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.