Update: The LG V20 is confirmed for release on October 28 in the US for $799 unlocked, and November 8 in Australia for AU$1,099. Sadly, the UK is being left high-and-dry for this anticipated release – at least, until LG informs us otherwise.
We’ve spent the better part of a month with the LG V20 preview unit. As such, you’ll find that this hands-on is fleshed out with in-depth detail, but lacks benchmark scores and deep dives into the camera’s performance. We’re told by LG that final software and hardware will be coming very soon.
While we’re confident in our impressions, we’re holding back our final verdict and score until we can ensure that we’ve gotten a fair look at the retail-ready unit that will be available to you.Read more ↓
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.
After all, like its predecessor, the LG V10, it’s a total Frankenstein of a smartphone. Around its body, you’ll find two screens, three cameras and an abundance of other awesome hardware features that you likely won’t find elsewhere.
It still offers the drop-friendly qualities of its predecessor, but ditches the divisive design in favor of 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 sits comfortably in the league of some other powerful options out there, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and even the iPhone 7 Plus.
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?
Although the unlocked price is sky high at $799, the V20 could still come together as one of 2016’s most inventive and compelling smartphones – even if not all that much has changed on the inside from last year’s V10.
Price and release date
The LG V20 will debut unlocked and can also be purchased through several carriers in the US, including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and US Cellular.
Since this is a global phone (supports both GSM and CDMA out of the box), purchasing the phone from a carrier doesn’t lock you in forever. Barring any contract restrictions, you can sign it up to most carriers around the world with no issue – even if the phone hasn’t been released in your region.
But wherever you buy it, the phone isn’t cheap. The V20 retails unlocked for $799 (not available in UK, AU$1,099), but in many cases, going with a carrier is a much cheaper option.
For example, Verizon will put a $300 trade-in credit toward the cost of a V20, which will also include the Bang & Olufsen H3 headphones until November 20. The carrier is also throwing in the Mediatek-powered LG Stylo 2 V for $1 per month with purchase of the V20.
AT&T is hosting a similar deal, but offers $200 trade-in toward the V20, along with a free set of B&O H3 headphones until November 20.
Sprint and T-Mobile are running launch promotions that are identical to that of AT&Ts, with the exception of US Cellular, which is offering $100 for your trade-in toward the V20 alongside the limited time headphones offer.
This unlocked price point is, frankly, not cheap. While the carrier promotions do a lot to allay sticker shock for those who want the phone, LG is going higher than the recently released Google Pixel, which came under fire for its $649 price. For an extra $100, you can even nab Google’s Nexus-killer upgraded to128GB for $749 – still less than the V20 unlocked.
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 to compete at a high price point.
- The military-grade build is back and looking better than ever
- LG has made a whole lotta screen feel compact
- Wow, there’s a 3.5mm headphones jack
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 minute 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 7.7mm, and it weighs about 177 grams, which makes it a slimmer, lighter phone than the V10. Compared to Note 7, the V20 is just a tad thinner, but weighs roughly 10 grams more.
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).
Like Sony’s Xperia X, 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.
As far as color options go, the V20 comes in titan, silver (as seen in this review) and pink options. And just because LG got rid of the V10’s textured back doesn’t mean it’s any less resilient to drops. 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. But does it? We’re going to perform a drop test once the rest of our testing with the preview unit has concluded.
You won’t find much on the phone’s top, other than two microphones that capture 24 bit rate 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 commodity on a smartphone, 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, and stretches up to 5.9-inches of diagonal real estate once you add on the 2.1-inch-wide second screen.
The display has an advertised pixel density of 515 pixel per inch (ppi,) though our testing revealed it to be 513. Obviously not a huge difference, and one that could be due to our testing on a preview unit.
Why didn’t LG opt for Gorilla Glass 5, as seen in the 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, and perhaps to compensate for disappointment.
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 aids in making 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 24 here. That’s the difference between “Please buy gro” and “Please buy groceries! :)”
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.
Whatever the case, the second screen seems 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 turning on the phone, for that matter.
Interface and reliability
The LG V20 is the first Android smartphone outside of Google’s family of Nexus devices 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 is also the first smartphone to feature Google’s 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, an updated, slightly more refined version of what’s found on the LG G5. Just as the modular phone came under fire for at launch, the V20 doesn’t come with the app drawer switched on by default. Thankfully, LG has included three different home screen options, two of which bring back the app drawer.
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 relatively unobtrusive interface layered on from LG.
That said, there’s an LG-flavored setting, app or shortcut to be seen at nearly every turn. Some of them are super useful, like the QuickMemo+ app – a Google Keep-like app. Comfort view turns the screen a hue of calm yellow instead of the harsh blue that can make falling asleep more difficult, and lastly, the knock-to-wake and knock-to-sleep function.
For people who already have an allegiance to a set batch of apps, what’s less useful is LG’s suite of basics, like its music player, 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.
If you do find yourself using LG’s collection of apps, your bases will be covered. Its Smart Bulletin feature is particularly handy as it occupies a home screen slide and smartly aggregates and displays all of your info in an easy-to-digest manner.
Music, movies and gaming
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 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 heavenly 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 hardware to let you relive your favorite concert recordings or personal jam sessions in high fidelity. With two microphones on the top and one on the bottom of the phone, this smartphone can record in LPCM – a 24-bit audio format with up to a 48kHz sampling rate. It’s empowering to not only have a device that can play lossless files, but one that can record them, too.
If you’re watching a movie or playing a game, you’ll be in for a treat with the 2,560 x 1,440 display. It pops with vivid color and crisp detail, 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. Either plug in a set of headphones, or connect to a nearby Bluetooth speaker instead.
To top things off, LG is offering a complimentary set of headphones along with the V20 purchase, 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.
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 remembered the basics with microSD support and removable batteries
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. Just like we saw with the V10, the V20 runs with 4GB RAM, a future-proof count which should keep things running smoothly well into the next generation of mobile games and applications. Some more good news to consider here is the added support for the cross-platform Vulkan API, which will usher in “console-quality” graphics to 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 and, as previously stated, USB Type-C for charging.
We’re currently testing out the performance capabilities of the LG V20. It’s as snappy as we hoped it would be, delivering a consistently smooth experience even when switching through several apps. That said, we are going to wait to publish the results of our benchmark testing until we have access to the final software and hardware.
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 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.
Shifting focus over to the camera, LG’s software is essentially the same (read: excellent) as you’ll find in its other recent phones, the hardware, on the other hand, has evolved.
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 detail and contrast in images than the wide-angle lens is capable of. If you’re looking to compare the results, there’s no contest. But that doesn’t make the wide-angled images any less fun to capture. Most of the time, we were so impressed with just how much it can fit into frame that we didn’t mind a slight drop in image fidelity.
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 is able to capture normal and – to one-up the LG G5 – it can snap wide-angle (120-degree) images in case you want to include a group of friends in a selfie or squeeze in an impressive vista.
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 science of the technique is far less important than the result: silky smooth video, even with the V20 being shaken during the recording. However, the impressive Steady Record 2.0 effect will only kick in for FHD (1080p) video recording. Here’s to hoping that the LG V30 will bring Steady Record to 4K video recording.
LG has also made improvements to its laser detection auto-focus to fine-tune its operation for low-light shooting. The rear lens also takes advantage of phase detection and contrast auto-focus techniques to ensure that the video is clear and consistently. You can see the results of our low-light shooting on the camera samples page.
We took a few photos with each camera to show the differences between the capture modes and placed them in the camera samples page, but we look forward to taking even more pictures for the final review.
Each set of images begins with one taken with the standard lens, followed by the wide-angled result.
More samples are on the way…
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 phone.
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.
We’re still busy spending time with the preview unit and will update this review with any new findings. But, preview unit or not, things are looking promising for the two-faced, three-eyed Frankenstein redux.
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