LG’s G5 smartphone absolutely failed thanks to its flop of a modular design. Moto dominated this category later in 2016 with the Z series, but this left LG kind of out in the cold and pretty much off the smartphone scene. But when Google was introducing Android Nougat, it was the company’s new smartphone – the V20 – that would be getting the software first and foremost. It even beat the Pixel and Pixel XL to the punch. That’s not to say the V20 did well on the market because it too dragged in sales, but it’s impossible to say it’s due to the phone being as bad as the G5. Why? Because it was out-shadowed by all the big boys on the court (i.e. iPhone 7, Pixel, Galaxy S7, Moto Z). You can think of the V20 as sort of an underdog because, in all reality, it’s a great smartphone. It just never got the attention it deserved.
But why does it deserve the attention it never got? That’s why you’re reading this review.
Let’s start with the body. The V20 has an all-metal enclosure which feels great in your hand even though it’s pretty big (it’s one of those two-handed phones, a phablet if you will). It has a detachable back plate meaning you can access a microSD card slot, SIM slot, and even a removable battery, something that’s not common as it used to be amongst smartphones. It’s also pretty durable, having passed the MIL-STD-810G Transit Drop Test. It’s “tough as nails,” claims LG. It’s pretty bland, but I’m still a fan since it feels sturdy and is even lighter than some might think at just 174 grams.
And since it’s metal, there’s no wireless charging. 🙁
As for the rest of the build, there’s volume buttons on the left, a button to release the back plate on the right, a microphone and IR blaster on the top (yes, this phone can control your television without an app), and a headphone jack, USB-C port, and speaker on the bottom. Around back, we’re looking at a fingerprint sensor that doubles as the power button alongside dual rear cameras (I’ll get to those later). On the front, you’ll find the main display, a secondary display, and a front-facing camera.
Touching on the displays, the main 5.7-inch Quah HD LCD panel looks great. It produces nice, vibrant colors, offers a decent amount of backlighting while being a bit dim in direct sunlight, and looks good off-axis. It’s also covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The 2.1-inch secondary display is unique to the LG V-series of smartphones and is similar to what we saw in 2015 with the V10. It has a resolution of 160×1080 and allows for quick access to recent apps, app shortcuts, quick settings toggles, calendar events, notifications, media controls, contacts, and your signature which is pretty useless unless you’re an aesthetic nerd like I am. It’s always on, so when it’s sitting on your desk, you can check the time, date, and your notifications. It’s also handy as it’s another place for your notifications to go while watching YouTube or a movie as your main screen won’t be interrupted. I’m a fan of this functionality as it provides a better multitasking solution, but it’s pretty high up on the phone and is really hard to reach with one hand. Again, you’ll be using this phone with two hands more frequently than you may expect, so take this into consideration if you wanna pick it up.
One more note on the secondary display: it doesn’t drain your battery like you think it might. Yes, this may be an LCD panel we’re dealing with here (LCD needs to have all pixels lit at the same time leading to greater loss of battery juice while an AMOLED will only light necessary pixels and maximize battery performance), but it never seems to sip much power at all. Sure, I’ll notice around 2% less battery when compared to other smartphones, but this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s a very small price to pay for having such a useful feature.
Next up, performance. The V20 has all of 2016’s specs built-in, like a Snapdragon 820 processor, Adreno 530 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. I’m able to have literally dozens of apps open at the same time and experience nice, smooth performance during my usage. This involves having multiple games, productivity apps, and heavier titles that would normally slow your phone down all open at once. Gaming is also smooth thanks to the Adreno 530 graphics chip, so games like Asphalt 8 and Super Mario Run work great. No dropped frames here either, thank God.
Unfortunately, in general use, the V20 performs well. It’s when you wanna demand more from the phone’s software elements where things start looking choppy. LG’s skin on top of Android Nougat is really heavy and definitely bogs down the experience. The default launcher tries to lay all of your apps in a single, continuous, scrollable list across multiple screens like iOS, but it flops like a dying fish in a boat. I dunno, those coming from an iPhone may like it, but I’m an Android user and I like a good ol’ fashion app drawer. Luckily, LG includes an alternative home screen with an app drawer, but its overall design is so unappealing that I just stuck with no app drawer.
Along with the home screen, everything else about the phone has also been redesigned to resemble stock Android in no way, shape, or form. Everything down to the lock screen has gotten a new look, and I hate to say it, but I’m not a fan. I kind of like the lighter color scheme LG is using since it feels a bit more refreshing than the grays and blues of stock Android, but it’s not my favorite UI to work off of. Oh yeah, and the keyboard is awful. Change it immediately. Now.
On top of that, there’s bloatware everywhere. We received our unit from AT&T (signal strengths and call quality coming right up!) who has decided to bog down the entire experience with several folders worth of just plain junk that you’ll never use ever. That’s not to say LG hasn’t taken this initiative as well. They’ve chosen that instead of letting users uninstall apps themselves, they should store uninstalled apps in another app so in case you accidentally uninstall an app, you can reinstall that same app. I wanna uninstall this app! It’s extremely frustrating!
There’s also a fair share of first-party utilities built by LG that have already been built by Google, so you’ll likely never use LG’s if you’ve ever used Android.
Fortunately, the poor software experience on the V20 is really its only downfall. I said I’d get to connections soon, and now’s a pretty good time. AT&T’s network covers a majority of South Jersey where I’ve been testing the V20, and in all reality, I usually got around 2-4 bars. Mind you, my house is covered by trees, so my connection here wasn’t all that great. But while out and about like at my radio station gig, my favorite pizza parlor, or just taking a car drive, my connection was pretty stable. Download speeds usually peaked at roughly 50Mbps, while upload speeds reached 8Mbps. Calls were also pretty stable with no dropped connections whatsoever. Everyone on the other end to whom I was speaking with told me they could hear me clearly, so take into account if you pick up the AT&T V20, you’ll get some nice network speeds and clear voice calls.
One of the marquee features of the V20 are by far the cameras. On the back, LG stuck a dual lens setup consisting of one main 16MP sensor with an f/1.8 aperture alongside an 8MP 135-degree sensor with an f/2.4 aperture. Each feature OIS (optical image stabilization), and laser autofocus.
Photos usually turn out pretty nicely, placing the V20’s cameras in the same ballpark as something like the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7 but not quite the Google Pixel. Saturation is pretty spot on for a really vibrant shot, contrast is on point, laser autofocus helps a whole lot in getting a clearer picture, and the secondary lens will get you a much wider-angle shot and get more of your surroundings in one photo rather having to resort to something like a panorama. The camera app is also great to use with pro modes available separately for taking pictures and recording video, but while it’s fun to play with, you may just wanna stick with the standard interface as it doesn’t overly complicate things and offers a great experience while shooting.
I wouldn’t recommend taking too many pictures in low lighting conditions, however, as the camera struggles to capture enough light to produce a quality image. Of course, pictures taken at night aren’t terrible, they’re just not the best.
Video wise, the V20’s camera can shoot in up to 4K at 30 frames per second. Recording clips is basically the same story as taking photos: clarity and contrast are well balanced, there’s extra saturation for a much-needed pop, laser autofocus helps a ton, and the secondary lens will get much more content in one single shot. The best part, I have to say, is the ability to switch continuously between the two cameras so you’re not restricted to just one lens while capturing your moment. Overall, I’ve been extremely satisfied with the V20’s rear cameras and what they have to offer.
Touching slightly on the front, there’s a 5MP f/1.9 camera sitting directly next to the secondary display on the V20. It’s fine for taking selfies for Snapchat or Instagram, and that’s pretty much it.
But it does this well, as there’s a wide angle view for this sensor, too. You just won’t get the same degree or quality as you’d find with a dual camera rig. But for the most part, it’s fine.
Now’s probably a good time to discuss recording video a bit more in detail regarding the V20. Specifically, recording the audio that coincides the video.
Inside the V20, LG built in a high-fidelity 32-bit custom quad digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Now I’m no audiophile, but I will say thanks to this DAC, I was able to record my sister’s piano concert at the Kimmel Center up in Philly in extremely high quality. It’s simply magnificent how well this thing records audio.
Playing audio is also pleasurable thanks to the DAC. The V20 will increase the quality of any headphones you plug into the 3.5mm headphone jack. This, unfortunately, doesn’t mean the same for Bluetooth headphones as custom DACs don’t work over this technology (yet), but with a slight tweak in the EQ settings, you can bump your wireless headset’s audio output quality up a notch or two as well.
In a nutshell, once you start listening to music, podcasts, movies, and more on the V20, you’ll wonder how you ever got by while streaming media on your previous phone. Now, I listen to all my music on the V20, no questions asked.
Oh, and the speaker on the V20 is fine. It gets pretty loud and isn’t tinny at high volumes, while it overkills things a bit in terms of bass and overall clarity. Nevertheless, it’s fine for listening to a little music or hearing notifications but not much else.
As for battery life, there’s nothing special here. The V20 has a 3200mAh cell that, like I said earlier, is removable, but while you may think this is pretty generous, it doesn’t exactly mean anything. I can get anywhere from 2-3 hours of screen-on time depending on how I use my phone. Normally, I use mine pretty heavily during the day so I get closer to 2-2 1/2 hours of use, but your experience may differ if you’re a lighter user. Luckily, if you start draining quickly during the day, you have Quick Charge 3.0 that can get you a full charge in around an hour and a half. Nevertheless, I wasn’t impressed with the V20’s battery life and you shouldn’t be either.
Overall, the LG V20 is definitely one of my favorite phones of all time. The display is beautiful, the functionality of the second screen will change how you use your phone, the cameras are great, the battery will get you through a day, and audio quality is seriously spectacular. And while the design may be a bit bland and the software isn’t all that great, at least it’s military-grade hardware and it runs Android Nougat. In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a smartphone that’ll meet nearly every single one of your needs while not meeting this year’s most top-of-the-line specs, the V20 should definitely be considered and sit atop more people’s radars.