LG’s V20 throws down the gauntlet as a performance flagship, but can this fierce contender rise above its rivals? We dive in with our in-depth review!
Here’s a problem – LG is a nice phone company. Traditionally, each year we get a plethora of LG-made handsets on our desks; and while some have landed up in our Hall of Fame (the LG G4, for instance), we sometimes feel that the South Korean company lacks bite to match its bark. The LG V20, then, is a refreshing change to the status quo.
Where the LG G3 was a simple, well-rounded handset, the G4 brought with it a stellar camera and (optional) leather back. The G5, though it failed, brought a friendly modular concept, and the G6 has an 2:1 Full Vision display. The LG V20, however, packs in a slew of features to tempt those wanting an all-out smartphone with no compromise.
Let’s run through those promises; above the norm, the LG V20 packs in a dual-camera array, second screen, removable battery, and a Quad-DAC for audiophiles everywhere. This is less of a smartphone and more of a platform for creatives and power-hungry professionals to get behind.
The question is, can the V20 shake off the niceties and operate as the unrestrained beast it is supposed to be? Let’s dive in! Read: Here’s how the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 will change the face of Android
Running on Android 7.0 Nougat (and officially the first consumer phone beyond the Pixel that users can get to experience the latest version of Google’s mobile OS), the LG V20 runs on a Snapdragon 820 chipset, sports 4GB of RAM, 32/64GB of storage, and a 3,200mAh battery underneath a 5.7″ 1440p display. The handset is replete with a rear dual-camera array that’s constituted by a 16-megapixel 29mm lens and an 8-megapixel secondary 12mm lens. The device bears a single selfie camera, with a 5-megapixel sensor.
The LG V20 has a peculiar design to accommodate all its features, and it is one that’s wonderfully controversial. The handset includes the metal body LG was so desperate to develop for the elder LG G4, and is wide, tall, and generally unwieldy unless you happen to have ginormous digits. That’s ok; though – this isn’t a phone one purchases for its looks.
Let’s start at the front. The most visible feature the V20 brings to market at face value is a small secondary display that can be used to show one’s name, toggle utilities such as the flashlight, open apps or shortcuts, or just show the time and notifications. This is a nice addition that will appeal to early adopters, though, generally, we found that the addition of the screen in itself makes navigating notifications a confusing endeavor, as one has to split their attention between the primary and secondary display.
Using always-on technology, the secondary screen is capable or remaining on to show salient information, which is a unique take on the capabilities first offered by the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5. The fact that the secondary screen can be used independently of the primary display is a bonus, and awards users a deeper level of contextual understanding across various features (such as toggling Wi-Fi on and off).
There are downsides, however – the screen is bright, and light often bleeds from the secondary display into the primary screen when the latter is switched off. This is more an annoyance than an impracticality; if you’re like me, you’ll simply turn the screen over at night to achieve meaningful sleep without the beacon of Gondor blaring.
The sides of the LG V20 are refreshingly chunky; and while there’s a sizeable amount of bezel present here, it’s not so ungainly as to be unattractive. On the rear of the handset lies an indented fingerprints scanner beneath the large dual-camera array.
The dual-camera array in itself might be an annoyance to some, considering the fact that it greatly disrupts the profile of the phone and can leave it unable to lie prone on a flat surface. The rear fingerprint scanner can be similarly difficult to locate, and one’s finger often needs to brush underneath the camera array to re-orient its position.
While there are some niggles here, the V20 is a beautifully unapologetic phone; a little like a bodybuilder who’s moved past the point of aesthetics into becoming a bonafide balloon animal, the V20 makes no apologies for its raw muscle. While there’s a certain amount of revulsion tied to the earlier concept in the physical world, in the smartphone realm this is a refreshing bout of honesty next to increasingly vapid panes of glass and metal.
LG’s software skin will be divisive under Android loyalists, particularly for its odd excision of an app launcher in favour of management tools to handle uninstalled apps. Fortunately, those among us who’re looking to purchase the handset will likely be adroit enough with Android to install a custom launcher and escape these niggles – beyond that point, the V20 is an enjoyable handset.
For the most part, LG’s UX flows brilliantly on Qualcomm’s silicon, and shows no visible lag or hesitation; under Android 7.0 Nougat, the device loads speedily and ploughs through any function it’s assigned.
Some of the more garish additions include the iconography on the secondary screen (if enabled) which disrupts the profile of an active display as we’ve come to navigate on Android. The addition of colourful app icons is particular jarring next to the black-and-white colour screen employed on utility icons, and as such might upset those who value the look and feel of their device.
There are some neat additions here; one can make a custom lock screen wallpaper using the first initial of their name, and the V20’s display pops with vibrant colours and masterful saturation.
The LG V20’s secondary display feels more akin to an Android experiment than a true execution of a meaningful feature, and as such users will probably proceed to customize their secondary display to best befit the features that benefit them most. In my case, I found myself seldom using application or contact shortcuts, and found myself leaving the secondary screen to show only the time while the primary screen was active. While the practicalities of showing one’s name one the secondary screen eludes me, the feature does amount to a nice level of personalization.
I found the secondary screen far more useful while the primary display was off, as in which case I employed it to not only show the time, but further offer toggles for utilities I use most often, such as disabling and enabling Wi-Fi connectivity.
For music lovers, a Quad-DAC is present for sublime music playback – and while the quality of output is largely dependent on the quality of the file type being played and the earphones employed, audiophiles will no doubt adopt this as their stand-out feature. Tonality is richer and far more enaging through the Quad-DAC, while the presence of HD audio recording serves for better voice memos or recording short musical ideas, but little else.
Here’s the major disappointment with the LG V20; despite the handset’s pedigree, the phone doesn’t have a reliable, dual-lens camera system. If anything, consumers will be forced to turn to manual mode to eke out the best shots possible – and, even then, that defeats the ready-to-go versatility and purpose of the V20.
While the primary 16-megapixel lens works best for on-the-go automatic shots – providing acceptable colour and a minimal amount of graininess – the wider 8-megapixel lens will disappoint in just about every circumstance beyond taking landscapes in broad daylight.
A factor which will frustrate mobile photographers is that the system requires at least half a second to switch between cameras, meaning that a fleeting moment which might require a user to engage the other lens could be lost forever. Swapping between cameras is fun for the purposes of a night out or controlled photography where time isn’t a factor, though it is otherwise a disappointing addition.
While the primary 16-megapixel camera understandably supports greater low-light support, the graininess found on the 8-megapixel wide-angle lens might well kill all potential for great nightclub shots. Whereas colour is acceptable and detail is well-rounded on the former, both of those elements lack on the latter.
The front-facing selfie camera is a mixed affair, leaving warm hues present in selfies even in shadowy environments. Colour reproduction is somewhat on the vivid side, while objects and persons in-frame tend to lack clarity.
The bonus of having a removable battery is having more time to play, and that’s something that LG has taken to heart. The V20 offers stamina in spades, and regularly lasted well into a second day of usage even when taxed beyond its normal limits.
The benefit of using a secondary display means that the V20’s secondary display doesn’t drain power as frequently, given that users can access certain features directly from the secondary screen while the phone is otherwise asleep.
The use of the dual-camera array or Quad-DAC functionality can quickly drain the handset, however, meaning that users might find it prudent to keep a second battery on-hand if anything else.
The LG V20 is intended to be the culmination of many things that LG has taken strides to perfect in recent years. For one, there’s the presence of a secondary screen; in others, there are features such as a removable battery, dual-camera array, and even the metal build the handset employs.
Does the V20 meet its brief of serving as the flagship of execution that LG has been working towards? The unfortunate answer is yes and no; while this is a powerhouse handset that will no doubt appeal to many in the Android world seeking a phone with no compromises, the sad reality is that LG has equipped it with sadly that.
While on paper the V20 is a rockstar affair with just about everything an Android acolyte should aspire to have in their pocket, the handset’s mediocre camera and software skin hold it back from certain greatness. The usability of the secondary screen will vary depending on who you talk to, and rather than giving comment on where it is holistically great or terrible, I’ll have to offer that users will need to make it work for them to bring any extra value to the handset.
Are their positives? Certainly. The chunky, no-compromises design of the V20 is a winner, and battery life alone makes this a handset to consider above the likes of Samsung’s elder flagships such as the S7. Further, the presence HD audio recording and Quad-DAC playback will make every audiophile salivate.
The LG V20 is intended to be a beast unleashed, and it is precisely that. There are no visual compromises here, and almost every feature one could wish for on an Android handset is present. However, not all of those features are of parallel brilliance, and the sad reality of the handset is that it is compromised through virtue of delivering on all of its promises, but not executing them well enough.
Still, if you’re in the market for something radically different and want a powerhouse phone that offers nearly every mobile feature or selling point you can think of, you’ll probably fall in love with the LG V20.
Score: 7/10 Read: LG’s G6 roars to life with an all-metal and glass build, FullVision display
Have your say!
What are your thoughts? Would you be interested in buying LG’s performance flagship, or do your tastes swing to the new LG G6? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA