LG K61 Review: Learning patience with penta-cameras

We’ve said it multiple times and we’ll say it again – good phones are getting cheaper and cheap phones are getting better. If you ignore flagship devices which seems to be skyrocketing in price, high-end phones have been getting cheaper, offering almost everything that flagships do at a lower price. And cheap phones, that were traditionally nearly unusable, are becoming viable options for most. The LG K61 walks the line between the two categorisations. It is definitely an affordable device in a crowded market, so it needs to set itself apart somehow. It leans heavily on the fact that is has five cameras (with four at the back), but needs to make some other sacrifices to offer it at this price point.

Read: Samsung accidentally leaks the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

In our in-depth LG K61 Review, we take a look the compromises the device makes to offer this array of cameras and whether the photos it delivers makes the device worth the price.

Design and Build

When it comes to budget-friendly devices the build quality is often ignored. You pay for what you get, right? In recent years this has changed and we are warranted in our expectation for a more premium feeling device. Sure, you shouldn’t expect a finely crafted device of aluminium or chamfered steel, but neither should it flex and creak.

Here the LG K61 does really well. It feels higher quality than the price would suggest. Because it is a pretty large device, it adds the impressive heft of the phone. It gives you a sense of confidence that it won’t be damaged with accidental drops, which turned out to be the case when it fell from a desk.

On the right you have only the power button and tray housing the SIM slot and microSD slot. They opted to put the volume buttons on the left, with two separate buttons, interestingly. Below that you have a dedicated Google Assistant button, which launches the digital assistant from anywhere in the interface.

The buttons have a heavy feel to them when pressed, meaning you won’t click them accidentally. But they don’t have a lot of travel and are very shallow, which will cause you to press them harder than you need to from time to time and not press them at all other times. It may sound like a small gripe, but as they’re the only buttons you interact with every day it is very disappointing.

On the back you have a large camera bump that houses the four cameras (we’ll get to them later) and a flash. Luckily it is centred at the top of the device, so you don’t get a lot of wobble if sat on a desk.

You also have a plastic back on the device with a good old-fashioned fingerprint scanner below the cameras. While the plastic is of good quality, it does of course gather fingerprint smudges faster than a buttered bullet.

The front of the device is mostly screen, with minimal bezels on the sides and the top. The bottom of the device has a very large chin, however, which is unseemly in this day and age. The display has a hole-punch selfie cut out – a new standard in the mid-range market.

Generally speaking I wouldn’t call the LG K61 a handsome device. It is a brick of a smartphone (you could probably use it for self-defence), but it won’t win any design awards. The shallow buttons also makes it feel less premium than LG would hope. Other than that, the build quality it really good.

Display

The LG K61 has a 6.5-inch HD display (2,340 x 1,080) with a tall 19.5:9 ratio. It is an IPS panel of the same ilk as on the LG Q60 we reviewed last year. As it did in last year’s device, it delivers really impressive performance when compared to other IPS panels.

Of course we would have loved to have an OLED display, but this is a tall ask in this budget-friendly segment of the market. It is no bother, though, with a marked improvement over last year’s display. The viewing angles are impressive and it gets very bright (for an IPS display), so you’ll have no trouble when using it outside.

We found the auto brightness to behave strangely at time, especially in changing conditions. We had to manually tweak the brightness every now and again to compensate.

Otherwise it is a great IPS panel, one of the best in the segment actually. It’s right up there with the Huawei P40 Lite and Samsung Galaxy A31.

Software and Performance

The LG K61 runs the MediaTek MT6765 Helio P35 processor, which is the new mid-range chipset from MediaTek with eight cores. It is accompanied by 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Other competitors like Huawei and Xiaomi also use this platform, but most in the market tend to use the mid-range Snapdragon chipsets.

Like we saw in our LG Q60 review, it does come with drawbacks. While it performs generally well with benchmarking tests, in the real world the picture is very different. It is one of the slowest devices we have used in ages. It runs Android 9.0 out of the box, and once you’ve installed a marked amount of apps the device struggles to keep up.

Scrolling through home screens feel like a chore for the K61, something we haven’t seen in ages. If you try to multitask, switching between apps or opening a process intensive app while others are still open, it bogs down to a crawl.

It handles everyday tasks pretty well, albeit slightly slower, but it is switching between the various tasks that is extremely frustrating. It is most a likely a software optimisation issue with the MediaTek hardware.

The bloatware included also doesn’t help – there are several apps that are duplicated, with an LG version over and above the standard Android version of the app.

The performance of the camera app is perhaps the largest offender here. It is really slow to change between modes and when taking a snap you don’t know at times how long you need to keep your device still as it may not be done capturing the shot.

The performance of the device is our biggest let down. It’s not often that you get through a couple of basic tasks without feeling the software dragging.

Camera

As mentioned before, the standout feature of the LG K61 is the inclusion of four cameras on the back. At this price point it is unheard of, and could convince many to take the plunge into the LG ecosystem for the first time.

The main camera is a 48MP f/1.8 aperture lens, alongside an 8MP ultra-wide with f/2.2 aperture, a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens with f/2.4 aperture. The selfie camera is a 16MP camera that can shoot video at 1080p at 30fps.

It aims to deliver the most diverse and customisable camera experience for budget-friendly devices, and it mostly does that well. The main camera sees a sizeable megapixel bump from last year’s equivalent and shoots relatively good picture with decent lighting conditions. As you would expect, it starts to struggle significantly with darker situations.

It comes with that macro lens, which we still find baffling. It is a new trend that is proliferating throughout the mid-range devices this year and has an extremely niche use case. Not only is it niche and will almost never be used, but the quality is generally bad as is the case here. It almost feels like manufacturers are simply adding it to boast the additional camera in the spec sheets, or in this case, call it a penta-camera.

The ultra-wide is a good addition, though. Seeing as LG spearheaded the ultra-wide movement in smartphone cameras, this is no surprise. The quality isn’t that of the main camera, of course, but it still delivers decently sharp images. The colour balance isn’t perfect, but for most it will still be a very usable shooter. The depth sensor is mainly for portrait modes and does a passable job.

Conclusion

When looking for a decent mid-range device, you have a lot of options. And that is perhaps the LG K61’s biggest problem.

It suffers bad performance in general, which honestly diminishes its longevity if you factor in that you will probably only receive a single year’s major Android update.

The biggest selling point of the LG K61, the camera setup, is decent enough but it suffers as a result of the bad performance as well. The several weeks we spent with this device was an exercise in patience, even though that penta-camera setup should have delighted us.

Unlike with the LG Q60, you are better off going with the Huawei or Samsung counterparts if you are looking for an affordable device with a flexible camera experience. At R6,299 there are several better options out there.