Positives

-Fantastic build
-Removable back/battery
-MicroSD expansion
-Fast performance
-Android 7.0 Nougat
-Dual rear cameras
-QUAD DAC
-MIL-STD 810G durability

Negatives

-LG’s UI feels unpolished
-Camera is not strong in low light
-Light bleed from second screen

Rating
Battery
8.5
Display
8.5
Camera
8.5
Performance
9.0
Software
8.5
Design
9.0
Bottom Line
8.7
8.7
V20
by LG

With two screens, a QUAD DAC, and dual cameras, the LG V20 is a productivity and media powerhouse that can fill the void for those who want more out of their smartphone.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 fiasco has left a big gap in the market and one company that is primed to fill that space is LG, with the latest addition to their V series that was first introduced only last year. The new flagship features an all new design and build quality, while retaining some of the features that made its predecessor unique.

Editors-Choice-2016This year has seen the company struggle with its attempt at modularity in the LG G5 and the V20 drops this in favour of a more traditional smartphone experience. What does this smartphone bring to the table, and can LG take advantage of the opening in the high-end large display segment?

We find out, in this comprehensive LG V20 review!

Design

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The LG V20 may be succeeding the V10, but the former features a complete redesign and new build that makes it more alike the company’s other flagship, the G5, instead of its predecessor. Gone are the stainless steel rails and the DuraSkin material, with LG instead favoring a mostly metal build with polycarbonate found at the top and bottom chin.

The unique look of the V10 may no longer be available, and in fact, quite a few people I know who have come across the phone have mistaken it for an HTC device, but the V20 is still a good looking smartphone nevertheless, and feels great in the hand.

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Despite the change in build material though, what LG has retained is the MIL-STD 810G certification for impact and shock resistance. It’s great to see that LG has managed to keep the durability that the V series is known for, without it being obvious just by looking at it.

At first glance, it is easy to think that the LG V20 comes with a unibody construction, but that isn’t the case. There is actually a button on the lower right side that releases the catch mechanism for the metal back plate, and allows for access to the removable battery, the SIM card slot, and the microSD card slot that allows for expandable storage up to an additional 256 GB. When the back plate is in place, it sits completely flush with the body, and looks and feels just like any other metal unibody smartphone.

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The build quality is absolutely fantastic, and LG really deserves to be commended for managing the always figure out a way to offer a removable battery. LG has realized that there is still a big demand for this feature, and when it comes to high-end smartphones, the company’s flagships are the only options available. LG has shown that there is a way to have a removable battery with a metal phone twice now, and it would be great to see this available again from other smartphone OEMs as well.

Taking a look around the device, the headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and single speaker unit are all found at the bottom. The power button remains on the back, but as was the case with the G5, the volume rocker has been moved to a more traditional position on the left side, which I personally prefer.

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The power button and volume keys are easy to press and offer a nice tactile feel, and the former also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. There is also an IR blaster up top, which is another feature that is rarely seen nowadays, but allows for a nice way to control your TV and other peripherals.

Display

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Just like its predecessor, the LG V20 also comes with two displays. The main display a 5.7-inch IPS LCD screen with a Quad HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 513 ppi. The display is bright enough to allow for easy outdoor visibility, features good viewing angles, and the high resolution means that sharpness is of no concern.

The only complaint would be that the colors aren’t quite as vibrant as I would like. That said, it’s still a pretty good looking screen, just as you would expect from a flagship smartphone.

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The secondary display, which is a 2.1-inch screen with a 160 x 1040 resolution, is still at the top, and features a few improvements when compared to what was available with the V10. It is now slightly larger and brighter that makes it a bit easier to see outdoors, but not a lot has changed as far as functionality is concerned.

The secondary display shows a variety of different things like app shortcuts, recently opened apps, media controls, upcoming calendar events, your favorite contacts, and quick toggles for basic settings like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. When the screen is off, information like the time date, and battery life will be on this display. You can also set a custom signature, but because the screen is wider now, you can set signatures that are much longer, and you can also include a custom signature wallpaper to match.

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The second screen isn’t an entirely necessary feature, and it something that you may not use all the time. It is nice to have however, and if you do want to use it, it will prove to be really useful. There is a lot to like about the features it provides, with one of my favorites being the app shortcuts. You can customize up to five of your most commonly used apps, and the shortcuts will also show notification badges any time you receive a new notification, which is a really nice touch.

A minor issue with the secondary display is that because it is an LCD screen, it is really easy to notice light bleed coming from it when the main screen is turned off. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but is something that you will see, particularly when in a darker.

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I do however wish that the screen was AMOLED instead of LCD because it’s really easy to notice light bleed coming from the second screen when the main display is turned off. It’s not a huge deal but it is something you will see when you’re using the phone in a darker environment.

Performance

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Under the hood is what you would typically expect from a 2016 flagship, with the LG V20 also featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that is backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. Even with LG’s somewhat heavy skin, the performance has unsurprisingly been excellent, and handles everyday tasks with no issues.

Apps open quickly, the touch responsiveness is great, and multi-tasking is very smooth. The V20 also handles gaming extremely well, and because the device is running Android 7.0 Nougat, you get to take advantage of better graphics and gaming performance with Vulkan supported games.

Hardware

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As mentioned, the power button doubles as a fingerprint scanner, and it works extremely well. As expected, it is fast and accurate, and takes a short amount of time to set up. Unlike other smartphones that feature physical buttons with integrated fingerprint sensors, you don’t have to press the button down in order to unlock the device, which makes it feel much faster.

The LG V20 comes with a single bottom-mounted speaker, which isn’t going to be compared favorably to front-facing dual speaker setups. That said, when considering single speakers, this is certainly one of the better ones out there. The real audio experience with the V20 however is on the inside.

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The LG V20 has got a quad DAC built-in, and you can find out more about the specifics here, but what this basically means is that you are going to get much higher quality audio with less distortion and noise, and much better dynamic range. As long as you have a decent pair of headphones, you are going to hear a huge difference in how your audio sounds.

Because of the built-in DAC, the device is able to power much higher impedance headphones. It makes a pretty significant difference even with streaming audio, and you also have support for lossless audio like FLAC files, and 75 stage volume control with left and right balance controls, that let you really fine tune the audio to your ears.

Read more:
A closer look at the LG V20’s audio capabilities

A closer look at the LG V20’s audio capabilities

September 7, 2016

Something to be aware of is that the audio tuning for the LG V20 in Asian markets is done by Bang & Olufsen, while the audio tuning for the device in other markets like the US is done by LG. It’s difficult to gauge what the differences are exactly, or even if there is a difference at all, and while I haven’t heard the audio with the B&O version, I’ve had no complaints with LG’s audio tuning.

Not only is the LG V20 able to playback much higher quality audio, but it is also capable of recording it. The built-in HD Audio Recorder lets you record audio in 24-bit FLAC files, and it can handle really high inputs, which means you can capture audio in really loud and noisy environments like sporting events or concerts, without the audio clipping or sounding distorted.

The LG V20 comes with a 3,200 mAh battery, and for a phone that has two screens, a Quad DAC, and is capable of doing so many things with photos and videos, you would certainly expect a much larger battery than that. Of course, you do always have the option to swap out the battery and carry a spare around.

Despite the battery not being as big as expected, the capacity proves to be enough to allow a full day of usage that involved texting, email, social media, music streaming, a few hours of gaming, and watching videos on Youtube. There isn’t a whole lot of juice leftover however. The battery life should be good enough for most people, but don’t expect this phone to last all day if you plan on using its ivdeo and audio capabilities extremely heavily.

Camera

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With this being an LG flagship, the camera experience on this is going to be a pretty big deal. The V20 comes with a dual camera setup like what is also available with the LG G5, with a 16 MP main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and OIS, that is coupled with an 8 MP wide angle secondary sensor with an f/2.4 aperture.

As was also my experience with the G5, I absolutely love the wide angle lens on the V20. Granted, the quality is not as good as the main sensor, but the wide angle lens is just a lot of fun to use, and works perfectly in a variety of situations, such as when taking group photos or capturing landscapes.

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It makes a huge difference over the standard angle of the main sensor, and not only can you fit more into the frame, but the wide angle effect just makes the shot appear to be more dynamic. Making the switch between the two cameras is also very easy. You can do so by tapping on the two icons found at the top of the camera interface, or the device will automatically make the switch for you, as you zoom in or out.

LG’s camera app is packed with features, especially when it comes to manual controls for photos and video, and it’s actually quite amazing how much they’ve been able to pack into this camera. You have granular control over every aspect, including white balance, ISO, exposure, shutter speed, and focus, just as you would on a DSLR.

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One of the most useful additions to the camera is that it now has built-in focus peaking which makes it a lot easier to tell if your subject is in focus, and if you are a content creator, you will know exactly how useful focus peaking can be.

There are a plethora of settings that you can change on the video side of things as well. You can pick between a wide variety of video resolutions, including 4K, adjust the frame rate and bit rate, add film grade effects, and record Hi-Fi audio while recording videos for improved sound quality.

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The control isn’t limited to just video, but also the audio capture while shooting video, all of which you can adjust live while recording.  These include built-in controls for gain, a low cut filter, a limiter, a wind noise filter, and the ability to change the direction of the microphone’s sensitivity, and you can even monitor the audio levels directly through the viewfinder.

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The camera does come with optical image stabilization, but it doesn’t work very well when it comes to video recording, with casual walking also causing a lot of jerks. Smoother looking footage is possible with LG’s “Steady Record” software stabilization, which does make a significant difference, but is far from perfect. You will see some warping or the “Jello” effect, especially around the corners, and is far more noticeable when using the wide angle lens.

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Having all these manual controls at your fingertips is fantastic, but if you are purely looking to shoot in Auto mode, the picture quality is good, but unfortunately not great. There is plenty of color, saturation, and sharpness to be had, and you will be satisfied with the shot the majority of the time. Dynamic range isn’t the best though, and the camera always the tendency to overexpose the shot and blow out highlights. It also doesn’t handle bright colors like red, orange, and yellow all that well.

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Low light shots will show some noise, which is not unexpected, and the camera isn’t too aggressive with noise reduction, which helps preserve some sharpness and detail. The camera’s white balance is heavily influenced from surrounding light sources though, especially when using the wide angle lens. Shots will appear too cold or too warm, and just like in most shots, it doesn’t do well with properly exposing highlights.

It is pretty obvious that the real strength of the LG V20 camera lies in its manual controls, and as is the case with any camera, whether it be a smartphone or a DSLR, you will always get a much better shot if you are willing to take the time and dial in the settings yourself.

The front-facing camera is a 5 MP unit with a wide angle lens, and unlike last year, LG opted to stick with just one camera up front this time around. Even though there is only one camera, you do still have the option to switch between a wide angle and a standard angle.

LG V20 Camera Samples:

However, because only one lens is actually being used, switching to the standard angle essentially involves the image just being cropped, which deteriorates the picture quality. For the best results, it is definitely better to just keep it on the wide angle setting at all times, and if you want that close up shot, you can always just crop the image yourself after the fact.

Software

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On the software side of things, the LG V20 was the very first smartphone to ship with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, which is something that Google generally reserves for their own devices. This is definitely a big selling point for the V20 right now, given the fact that there aren’t many phones running Android 7.0 at the moment, but that is hopefully going to be short lived.

The V20 comes with all the latest Android features that were included with the update, including built-in Multi-Window support, the revamped notifications, direct reply, customizable Quick Settings toggles, and Doze on the go, just to name a few. The only Nougat feature that appears to be missing is the System UI Tuner. It is a useful feature on other devices like the Nexus devices and the Google Pixel smartphones, and is a rather surprising omission.

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On top of Android 7.0 Nougat is LG’s custom skin, and it looks and feels a lot like what was found on the G5. It is still really bright, colorful, and somewhat cartoonish, and the app drawer is missing by default, but now, LG has at least made it easy to get it back. There are built-in themes available that have been made specifically for the V20, which is useful if you aren’t a fan of the default color scheme. There aren’t a lot of choices right now though, but that is something that will hopefully change in the upcoming months.

The latest version of LG’s UI is a lot cleaner than previous iterations, and a lot less intrusive as well, but it would have been nice if LG had done more with it to make it flow better with Android 7.0 Nougat. Aside from the fact that we know that it is actually running the latest version of Android, the experience remains largely the same as before, similar to what was on the LG G5.

Specifications

Operating SystemAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Display (main)5.7-inch Quad HD IPS Quantum (2560 x 1440 / 513ppi)
Display (secondary)IPS Quantum display (160 x 1040 / 513ppi)
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 820
RAM4GB LPDDR4
Storage64GB UFS, microSD
Rear cameras16MP, f 1.8, OIS, Hybrid Auto Focus, 75-degree angle;
8MP, f 2.4, 135-degree angle
Front camera5MP, f 1.9, wide angle
Battery3,200 mAh, user removable, Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
ConnectivityX12 LTE (up to 600 Mbps LTE Category 12 with 3x Carrier Aggregation) / Wi-Fi (802.11 a, b, g, n, ac) / USB Type-C / Bluetooth 4.2 BLE / NFC
FeaturesHi-Fi Video Recording
Steady Record 2.0
HD Audio Recorder
Studio Mode
High AOP Mic
32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC
B&O Collaboration
Finger Print Scanner
Dimensions159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6mm
ColorsTitan, Silver, Pink

Gallery

Final thoughts

So, there you have it for this in-depth look at the LG V20! The V20 may share some similarities with the G5, like a metal build and a dual camera setup on the back, but the former does offer and feature a whole lot more. What makes the V20 so great is that it isn’t trying to do anything too different or crazy, but instead, focuses on being a good smartphone.

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The device comes with a new metal design that is great to look at, and comes without compromise in terms of durability, a big beautiful display, a very feature rich camera, and a fantastic audio experience. LG managed to do all this while still retaining staples like expandable storage and a removable battery, with latter being something you can only count on an LG phone to have in the high-end segment.

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of the picture, the LG V20 will have the entire spotlight to itself as the best big screened productivity powerhouse, and if that is what you are looking for, the LG V20 is primed to fill that Note 7 shaped void.