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LG V20 review

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Update: Sadly, the LG V20 never made its way to regions outside of the US. But there’s finally a bit of good news if you were wanting to get your hands on one, or at least something like it.

LG is releasing the LG Q8 in European regions. It’s a smaller, water-resistant version of the V20. It features the same innards, though strangely, it’s said to cost nearly $700. Regardless, this novel device is finally making its way to new land.

Updated review follows below.

LG V20

The LG V20’s greatest claim to fame is that it probably has whichever feature it is you’re looking for – and some that you didn’t know you wanted until now.

Like its predecessor, the LG V10, it’s a total Frankenstein of a smartphone. Around the body of the V20, you’ll find two screens, three cameras and an abundance of other awesome hardware and software features that you likely won’t find elsewhere.

Additionally, it offers the drop-friendly qualities of its predecessor that we loved, but replaces the rugged design that we didn’t love so much with a more refined look. Its signature second screen is back, too, with more options for customization than before.

For those looking for a capable Android smartphone, the V20 answers the call and sits comfortably in the league of some other powerful options out there, like the short-lived Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and even the iPhone 7 Plus. However, the new Google Pixel outruns the V20 with its Snapdragon 821 chipset.

But outright comparing LG’s latest to more traditional smartphones is a bit unfair. After all, the V20 offers things that these phones, and many others, do not. Where else can you get a Nougat phone with a removable battery, four DACs, multiple wide-angle camera lenses and two displays – oh, and a 3.5mm port?

2016 was a strange year in smartphones, wherein flying with one of the most-hyped flagships was outlawed. We also saw options like the iPhone 7 and Moto Z lopping off the 3.5mm – a divisive move against the legacy feature that has turned away many.

So, it’s only fitting that the LG V20 – one of 2016’s strangest phone in terms of its looks – is also one of the most inventive and feature-rich releases – even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing on some of its marquee features.

Price and release date

  • The V20 retails unlocked for $799 (AU$1,099)
  • Carrier promotions are a cheaper way of getting the V20
  • The LG V20 is currently not available in the UK

The LG V20 is now available unlocked and can also be purchased through several carriers in the US, including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and US Cellular.

It costs anywhere from $28 to $33 a month on contract in the US, but can also be bought unlocked at full price for $799. That makes it one of the most expensive Android phones of 2016.

Purchasing the phone from a carrier might lock you in for a few years, but keep in mind that this is a global phone (supports both GSM and CDMA out of the box), and thus, barring any contract restrictions, you’ll be able to use it on most carriers around the world with no issue – even if the phone hasn’t been released in your region.

As previously mentioned, the V20 retails unlocked for $799 (not available in UK, AU$1,099), but in many cases, buying it through a carrier is the cheaper option.

For example, Verizon is charging $672 unlocked or $28 per month. The carrier is also throwing in a $200 prepaid Visa gift card with purchase of the V20.

On AT&T, it will cost $829 unlocked or $27.67 per month. If you sign on with a 2-year contract via AT&T Next, the carrier will toss in an LG G Pad X 10.1-inch tablet.

While the carrier promotions do a lot to allay sticker shock for those who want the phone, LG is going a bit higher than the Google Pixel, which came under fire for its $649 launch price. For an extra $100, you can even nab Google’s Nexus-killer upgraded to 128GB for $749 – still less than the V20 unlocked at most places.

Price aside, the two phones are more different than they are similar, so there’s little reason to compare them too much. Still, Google just made it that much more difficult for LG to compete at a high price point.

Design

  • The military-grade build is back and looking better than ever
  • LG has made a whole lotta screen feel surprisingly compact
  • Audience pleasers are here, like a removable battery and 3.5mm port

From a distance, the LG V20 doesn’t look all too different from the vast selection of flagship-quality Android smartphones out there. But, as you know, it’s the details that work to set a product apart from the rest. And this phone has a lot of them.

First off, the phone’s measurements come in at 159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6mm, and it weighs about 174g, which makes it a slimmer, lighter phone than the V10. Compared to the Google Pixel XL, which ranges in thickness from 7.3mm at its bottom to 8.5mm at the top, the V20 sits near the middle of that range, but weighs roughly eight grams more.

And just because LG got rid of the V10’s textured back doesn’t mean it’s any less resilient to drops. The V20 boasts a military-grade build and is made up of a removable aluminum back panel that yields a smooth look and feel (that’s right: swappable batteries, Samsung).

The top and bottom areas of the phone are made of silicon polycarbonate, a tough material that LG is confident can take more than a few blows. Now that we have a final retail unit in office, we’ve tried it ourselves and are pleased with the result. From a waist-high drop, the V20 landed face-first onto cement and surprisingly, it came away without a single blemish.

Like the Sony Xperia XZ, LG has once again combined the fingerprint sensor and power button into one. Just hold a finger up to the sensor to activate it. It might take a little getting used to, but the sensor/button combo is responsive, tactile to press and works just like Apple’s TouchID-enabled Home button – except it’s on the back of the phone.

You won’t find much on the phone’s top, other than the IR blaster, and a microphone that assist in capturing 24 bitrate audio at 48kHz – a mighty impressive feature for a smartphone and a testament to its knack for audiophilia.

On its bottom, you’ll find this year’s hottest talking point, the 3.5mm headphone jack, featured alongside a USB-C charge port, microphone and bottom-firing speaker. Lastly, its volume buttons sit slightly recessed into its left side and are distinguishable enough to feel without having to hunt for them.

At first glance, the LG V20’s screen is just as stunning to face head-on as the one found in the V10. That’s because its 5.7-inch Gorilla Glass 4-covered screen is still pushing a 2,560 x 1,400 (QHD) resolution with 513 pixels per inch (PPI), and stretches up to 5.9-inches of diagonal real estate once you add on the 160 x 1, 040 resolution 2.1-inch-wide second screen. If you’re used to a smaller phone, like the iPhone SE, this will be quite the adjustment.

Why didn’t LG opt for Gorilla Glass 5, as seen in the late Samsung Galaxy Note 7? No reason in particular was given, but LG stated that it made it a little thicker than normal to ensure its durability. Regardless, it has held up just fine during our testing.

The chin area of the bezel is just about the same size as it was in the V10, though more of it is glass this time, which offers nothing in the way of capacitive button hardware – just an LG logo.  If anything, it makes the V20 look a bit more mature.

About that second screen

In case you’re unfamiliar, the LG V20 and its predecessor are in a class of their own: phones that have two screens. The main display operates as you’d expect, but the always-on second screen is reserved for notifications, quickly launching into your favorite apps, and showing extra bits of information, like the time and date. You can also toggle quick settings here, like turning on the flashlight, and customize the default signature to show a personal note, like a mantra or a reminder.

Improvements over the second sliver of screen found in the V10 are minor, but welcomed, and include brighter visibility at 68 nits (up from 35), as well as support for longer, scrolling marquee signatures. The V10 topped out at 14 horizontally-scrolling characters, but you can do more here.

Depending on the size of the font you choose and the length of the words, you’re looking at between 24 and 30 characters. That’s the difference between “Please buy gro” and “Please buy groceries! :)”. In addition, the second screen can be programmed to switch off and turn back on at user-specified times.

Being the first phone with Android Nougat pre-installed, the multi-window feature is the perfect compliment to the second screen. Now, you’ll be able to get even more work tasks done without an on-screen interruption, or enjoy a full-screened game without notifications getting in the way of the heads-up display.

The second screen might first seem like a gimmick, and your mileage may vary, but it’s truly handy to have a dedicated place to view essential info without popping out of an app, or even waking the phone, for that matter.

Interface and reliability

  • One of the first non-Google phones to feature Android Nougat
  • LG’s UX5.0+ offers some useful features, but many are forgettable
  • Buying through a carrier? Beware of bloatware

The LG V20 is the first Android smartphone outside of Google’s family of Nexus devices – and the new Google Pixel – to receive Android Nougat. As such, the multi-window feature, as well as the improved Doze functionality for battery life savings are available out of the box.

LG’s latest also features Google’s new In Apps search. The function operates a lot like Apple’s iOS search does: combing through your contacts, apps, messages and the web to help you find what you’re looking for. In short, it’s handy, clean, and should’ve been a part of Android a long time ago.

This phone runs with LG’s new UX5.0+ software on top of Nougat, and is an updated and slightly more refined version of what’s found on the LG G5. LG provides three different home screen options: two of which feature the app drawer and one that doesn’t.

As far as what Android Nougat offers up with the LG V20, it’s more or less just as it is on the Nexus 6P: fast, but with a thick interface layered on from LG. There’s an LG-flavored setting, app or shortcut to be seen at nearly every turn. Some of them are super useful, like the QuickRemote app that can essentially turn the V20 into an all-in-one remote for all of your entertainment devices. QuickMemo+ app – a Google Keep-like app, is also handy. We loved comfort view, a mode that turns the screen a hue of calm yellow instead of the harsh blue that can make falling asleep difficult after use.

Its Smart Bulletin feature is particularly handy as it occupies a home screen slide and smartly aggregates all of your to-dos and calendar events in an easy-to-digest manner. Lastly, users will appreciate the knock-to-wake and knock-to-sleep function, as well as the fact that the music app allows users to send music wirelessly to an Android Wear device. If you do find yourself using LG’s collection of apps, your bases will be covered.

However, people who have an allegiance to a set batch of apps likely won’t be lured by LG’s suite of basics, especially its messaging app, Calendar and e-mail substitute.  Its SmartWorld app is a lot like Sony’s Xperia Lounge: a portal for exclusive wallpapers, font types, ringtones, and not a whole lot else.

Another thing worth noting: if you purchase the LG V20 through a carrier, you can expect to be met with a ton of bloatware – about 2GB worth. For example, Verizon has loaded the device up with its own messaging app, a collection of account management apps, as well as Kindle, Audible, IMDB and a few games. These can be removed from the home screen, but unfortunately, not uninstalled.

Lastly, we’ve noticed in comment threads that many people have encountered a boot loop issue with previous LG smartphones. I’ve you’ve been affected in the past, you’ll be pleased to know that we haven’t run into a single occurrence across three different LG V20 devices.

Music, movies and gaming

  • The V20 is second-to-none when it comes to multimedia playback
  • We’re still waiting to hear if Daydream will be supported

Multimedia know-how sits at the top of LG V20’s book of tricks. Focusing on music, this smartphone is stocked with more hardware than most. For starters, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack. It also has a toggle-able Hi-Fi audio mode that takes advantage of four digital-to-analog converters (DAC) powered by the ESS Sabre ES9218 to elevate the listening experience to new heights.

The tech makes even MP3s sound super-charged with depth and attack, and FLAC files sing as beautifully as you’d expect to hear out of a dedicated audio player, not a smartphone. Of course, you can choose not to use the DACs, but why would you do that?

The V20 is also stocked with a setup to let you relive your favorite concert recordings or personal jam sessions in high fidelity. With its three microphones, this smartphone can record in LPCM  – a 24-bit audio format with up to a 48kHz sampling rate – alongside your video. If you’re recording strictly audio, it can record to a 24-bit FLAC file with a sampling rate of 192kHz. It’s empowering to not only have a device that can play lossless files, but one that can record them, too.

Here are a few audio samples that we recorded. Obviously, the FLAC files have been compressed, but the three-microphone setup still shines in the recordings.

If you’re watching a movie or playing a game, you’ll be in for a treat with the 2,560 x 1,440 QHD IPS display. It pops with vivid color and crisp detail, both outdoors and indoors, and the second screen can keep you abreast of notifications while you’re enjoying a diversion. LG even included the ability to tweak the color temperature of the screen to make things easier on the eyes during extended use. One disclaimer: the V20 features a bottom-firing speaker grille, but it sounds rather uninspiring.

To top things off, LG is offering a complimentary set of headphones along with the V20 purchase for a limited time, the Band and Olufsen H3. Compared to normal pack-in earbuds, these are a huge step-up in quality and really help to show off the benefits of its DACs. Surprisingly, the V20’s hardware can make music sound better even with low-tier headphones you might already own.

Now, since LG’s runs Android Nougat, the topic of Google Daydream VR was bound to come up soon enough. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting to hear an official word from LG as to whether the V20 will support the new VR platform. It simply told us that it is being investigated.

Specs and benchmark performance explained

  • Stocked with a future-proof combo of Snapdragon 820 and 4GB RAM
  • LG doubled the amount of base storage and included microSD card support

The LG V20 is a design departure in more ways than one from the LG V10, and it has received a slight shake-up in terms of its spec sheet to mark the occasion, too.

Its chipset has been upgraded from the Snapdragon 808 to the Snapdragon 820, bringing the Adreno 530 along with it for the graphical duties. Unfortunately, it just missed out on the Snapdragon 821 chipset, which we’re seeing pop up in the Asus ZenFone Deluxe 3 and Google Pixel.

Just like we saw with the V10, the V20 runs with 4GB RAM, a count that should keep things running smoothly well into the next generation of mobile games and applications. Some more good news to consider here is the support for the cross-platform Vulkan API, which will usher in “console-quality” graphics to the mobile space.

The V20 doubles the V10’s baseline amount of onboard storage to 64GB and kept the microSD slot for additional storage. In terms of connectivity, you have the latest Wi-Fi AC protocol supported out of the box. There’s also Bluetooth v4.2, NFC for Android Pay and, as previously stated, USB Type-C for charging.

LG’s dual-screened phone is as snappy as we hoped it would be, delivering a consistently smooth experience. Even with its two screens, high-end audio hardware and wide-angle camera features, it doesn’t miss a beat multitasking between apps and games.

In GeekBench 4, the V20 rated highly amongst the competition. Compared to the Snapdragon 821-toting Google Pixel that earned a multi-core score of 4,029, LG’s latest earned an average 3,821 – a number that’s in the neighborhood of what the similarly-specced Samsung Galaxy S7 can put out.

  • Battery life is average and will last about a day, depending on your usage
  • QuickCharge 3.0 can fill up the V20 to 100% in just over an hour
  • Wide-angle shots aside, the unique camera features don’t live up to the hype

The LG V20 comes with a 3,200mAh removable battery, which is a smidge bigger than the one found in the V10 and the LG G4. Equipped with Nougat’s enhanced Doze mode, we found that this phone more efficiently discharges throughout the day in your pocket than a phone running on Android Marshmallow, which only Dozes at night.

We tested the V20’s battery drain rate by utilizing the phone’s normal features along with its noteworthy ones, like the second screen, Hi-Fi sound mode and its cameras. At most, the V20 lasts well over a day with mixed use, but if you’re really going hard with photo and video-taking, listening to Hi-Res audio tracks and playing games, the V20 – like any modern smartphone – will suffer more quickly. For example, our 90-minute HD video test drained the battery down to 71% with Hi-Fi audio mode switched on.

On the flipside, If you leave it sitting, this phone easily lasts a few days without needing a charge. But when it’s in need of one, QuickCharge 3.0 support helps it get back on its feet quickly. After we zeroed-out the V20’s battery, it only took a half hour to bring it up to the 50% mark. But it took around 80 minutes to fill the battery completely.

Camera

Shifting focus over to the camera, LG’s software is essentially the same (read: excellent) as you’ll find in its other recent phones. All the settings you’ll commonly utilize, like photo effects, flash and the front-to-rear camera swap button, are easy to find. What’s more, the easy camera swap gesture is back, along with the quirky vocal cues to snapa photo, like “Cheese!” or “Kimchi!”.

LG has made good use out of the second screen here, making it home to the high-level options for the camera app, like switching between auto and manual for taking pictures or videos.

While things haven’t changed all that much on the software side of things, its hardware, on the other hand, has. The main rear-facing sensor still shoots at 16MP, with an aperture of F1.8, but is now joined by an 8MP sensor with an aperture of F2.4 that is dedicated to shooting 135-degree wide-angled images.

As you might expect, the main lens, with its more robust specs, can provide more low-light detail – but not by much. Although the wide-angle sensor has a lower megapixel count and higher aperture, we found that the images it turned out were oddly more expressive, with better contrast and lighting.

LG stated that it has made significant improvements to its laser detection auto-focus to fine-tune its operation for low-light shooting. The rear lens is also said to take advantage of phase detection and contrast auto-focus techniques to ensure that the image or video is consistently clear.

Unfortunately, none of these improvements can easily be seen in the V20. In our experience, it isn’t particularly skilled at making regular on-the-go shots, whether it be an image or video, look like an instant classic in the way that the Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S7 can. However, if you can afford invest time in the manual settings, you can definitely work out a nice shot.

On the front, there’s a single 5MP lens, with an impressive F1.9 aperture – an improvement from the V10’s F2.2 front-facing camera. The selfie cam here one-ups the LG G5 with its wide-angle (120-degree) images in case you want to include a group of friends in a selfie or squeeze in an impressive vista. Again, the wide-angle effect is awesome here as well, but the image quality is only passable.

If you’re someone who likes to shoot video, LG has you covered with 4K and 1080p video recording support. Additionally, LG has improved its Steady Record feature that it debuted in the V10. Steady Record 2.0, as it is being called, utilizes gyroscope-based electrical image stabilization and digital image stabilization.

The idea is that you’ll get silky smooth video, even with the V20 being slightly shaken during the recording. However, it’s a let-down that Steady Record 2.0 will only kick in for FHD (1080p) video recording at 30FPS – and that it doesn’t really seem to work at all. We’ve provided a few clips below of Steady Record 2.0 in action – one during the day and one at night.

 

Oddly, we found that the Nexus 6P, which contains no image stabilization measures whatsoever, provided better results.

Here are a few photos taken with the front and rear cameras.

Here are a few more video samples from the LG V20. The first is a 60FPS FHD sample, while the second is another try at Steady Record 2.0. Lastly, the third sees the V20 faring decently at recording in a dark environment.

The LG V20 is a phablet-sized smartphone with ambitious features, just like its predecessor. Once again, the biggest selling point is that it proudly strays far from convention with a unique dual camera system on both the front and back, includes a removable battery inside and launches with Android Nougat before any other non-Nexus (or non-Pixel) device.

LG’s latest brings a lot of the same tricks back from the V10 – a good thing. It also improves upon that boundary-pushing device in small, but meaningful ways. If you’re looking for a downside, it’s the camera.

Who’s this for?

The LG V20 is suited for people looking for the best that Android has to offer, with a thoughtful list of features that you can’t find anywhere else. LG’s latest refuses to slouch when it comes to multimedia playback thanks to its lossless recording and playback hardware, and its wide-angle camera feature will impress endlessly – even if some of its marquee features don’t quite live up to their potential.

Should you buy it?

The LG V20 is a capable and exciting Android phone, as are many others, like the new Google Pixel, and even older ones, like the Samsung Galaxy S7. LG’s monster of a phone nails just about everything, but the camera performance is a letdown. Here’s to hoping that LG can improve that with an OTA update.

In terms of its sheer number of features, LG’s V20 deserves credit for raising the bar for what we should expect out of a plus-sized flagship moving forward. However, if you’re not easily swayed by niche features, you’ll likely be better served by the cheaper and more powerful Google Pixel.

By Techradar

 

 

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