I really like the LG V10, but I just can't love it.

Every year, I make sure I get my hands on whatever great phones LG puts out. I like the things it tries — like back buttons or flexible screens — and the V10 had me excited to try a phone that's built like body armor. It does not disappoint in that regard.

But there is more to a smartphone than Duraskin and a steel rib cage. These are my impressions after using the LG V10.

The best built phone ever

LG V10

Yep. This thing is built like a tank or a weapon. It's thick, heavy, precision machined and feels like something made by Smith and Wesson. And I love it.

In fact, the things that caught us off-guard a little in our original review — that it's big, bulky and heavy — are the things I love most about the V10. It's different from anything else you've used, and it's done extremely well.

It's different from anything else you've used, and it's done extremely well

At the heart of the phone is a steel frame that doesn't pretend to be lightweight aluminum or a fancy polymer. It's steel. That does three things — makes things a little bit thick, makes things a little bit heavy, and makes things seem extra-rugged and ready for the apocalypse. The removable back is covered with what LG calls Duraskin, which is a grippy textured rubber that feels great against your hand and is pretty resistant to tears and scratches we see in some other coated surfaces on phones.

I'm just a middle aged guy who needs a smartphone in his life. I'm not a superhero, or a big game hunter or anyone who does any of those extreme outdoor things. But the look and feel of the V10 ignites the part of me who wants to do those things, and that makes it appealing. It's a guy thing, I guess.

It's also worth noting that LG doesn't claim the V10 will take a ton of abuse or stop bullets or anything of the sort. It's built well, but you should still try to take good care of it.

In short, I really like the way the V10 is constructed, and I love the fact that LG made it the way it did. Big, heavy and industrial, with no apologies.

A killer camera

V10 camera

Take the camera hardware and base software from the LG G4 and add a bunch of extra controls and features to the app, and you get what I feel is the best package when it comes to taking pictures and shooting video with a phone. The G4 is still a better value, but the bells and whistles LG added to the V10 camera can't be ignored.

The G4 is still a better value, but the bells and whistles LG added to the V10 camera can't be ignored

The dual 80-degree and 120-degree front facing cameras make the V10 an awesome selfie machine if that's how you roll, and the multi-mode switching between lens and views is fun and can crank out unique images you just can't get from any other phone camera.

The manual controls are still the best from any smartphone, and with new ways to share and edit images, turning a RAW photo into an excellent snapshot is easier than ever. New manual video modes (you can shoot video in 24fps with OIS and pretend to be Peter Jackson) are great for folks who want to try pro modes while grabbing a clip or two, and Snap Movie lets you shoot, arrange and export "highlight" style videos with ease.

The best part is you don't need to use any of this to get a great picture or video. Use the automatic modes and scenes or filters and you still get excellent results. While the G4 offers most of the still camera features and a much lower price tag, the V10 makes good use of the extras, and you won't be disappointed with the camera on the V10.

High-end audio

LG V10

I'm not really an audiophile snob, but I do appreciate my music. I'm the guy who still uses a Walkman and HD audio files instead of streaming when I want to really jam out, and have different headphones for different styles of music on my home audio system. And I love that LG uses good audio hardware on the V10.

I love that LG uses good audio hardware on the V10

It put an ESS Sabre 9018 DAC (digital to analog converter) and ESS Sabre 9602 headphone amp to drive audio with a dynamic range of up to 127dB and a THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise) of -120dB. Support for most HD audio formats — FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV is built-in to the great audio player software, too.

Audio nerds know that this means better sound than most every other smartphone, and the V10 makes a decent replacement for a $1,000 Sony Walkman ZX2. Seriously. Combined with a good set of headphones designed to be driven by a small headphone amp (try these: Sony MDR7506 over the ears), high quality HD audio files, and the right player software (LG's player is fine, as is PowerAmp) and you'll hear the difference even if you're not into HD audio.

I've raved over the audio quality from the Alcatel Idol 3 (which also includes high-end audio components) for a while, but the V10 easily matches or bests it in most areas. Whether you're a true audiophile, or just want something that sounds better than the average stream, you'll love what LG has done here.

And a microSD card slot that can handle any SD card currently available means you can use it as intended.

The second screen

Second Screen

It's great when you're using the camera, because it's a spot for controls and buttons. They're not in your viewfinder if they are up and out of the way.

You can also set app shortcuts or quick contacts up there. Useful for some.

I'm still finding it more of a distraction that something useful though. Maybe I just haven't found the right use-case scenario for it, or maybe it's just not my thing. Either way, it's there and it works with the handful of settings LG has provided for it.

Hopefully it has more planned to take advantage of the second screen. For now, having it there doesn't take anything away from the experience.

Software woes

LG V10

Here's where the V10 just isn't for me, and what keeps me from loving it and using it as my everyday phone.

LG seems to be in a perpetual battle with Samsung over who can cram the most stuff into a phone

LG seems to be in a perpetual battle with Samsung over who can cram the most stuff into a phone. Its intentions are good — fill the phone with features that will appeal to folks in the market for a new device, make them bright and flashy so they get noticed, and hope that they will be appreciated. I get that. But for every person who loves QuickNote+ or LG Health or LG Tasks or LG Backup (there's a trend here) there is also a person who will never use them, didn't want them, and has to either put up with them or find a way to get rid of them. I find the included Facebook service the biggest offender here, as it routinely silently updates itself and doesn't offer any way to opt out of it or tell you what has changed.

We all use our phones differently, and I'm sure there are plenty of us who do use all those LG apps and settings and gadgets and widgets. If that sounds like you, you probably love the V10. I'm just finding it filled with things that use system resources that I would like to use elsewhere.

I also don't dig the user interface LG offers, but I do understand that's a subjective thing. I wouldn't let the changes made to Android stop me from recommending the V10, or even using it myself. But all that crapware is just too much.

T-Mobile apps

I'm using the T-Mobile version, which makes this issue even worse. More apps that run without me asking them to run, or telling me things I don't need to know or care about. My billing cycle ended today (November 23) and my status bar is quick to remind me that I've already used a tiny bit of data and that I used 3GB last month. Since I have an unlimited plan set up to auto pay the 15th of every month, I don't need the status bar to remind me. I also don't care about T-Mobile Money, or Name ID or T-Mobile TV. Some people do care, and they should be able to download the needed software for any of this from Google Play if they want to.

When these sorts of things are forced on me anyway, I look elsewhere. I don't want the modern-day equivalent of Norton 360 essentials pre-installed on my phone. The buttons to take me to Google Play or LG SmartWorld are a great way to get them if I want them.

And yes, I know that no matter how many times we talk about bloatware or crapola carriers add to phones, none of it will ever change. That doesn't take away the importance of having a choice to look elsewhere because of it, though.

My bottom line

LG V10

I like this phone. I love the camera. The HD audio hype is real and the results are fantastic. The LCD is beautiful, and it makes reading on my phone a better experience than many other phones. The construction ticks every box inside me that wants a "manly" phone. LG got so much right here.

But the software keeps me from loving the V10 and using it as my day-to-day phone.

Part of it is the interface, and I get that some people love the look here. I've no qualms with LG taking Android and making it look and act different. I'm just not into it. I want them to keep doing that, and anytime they think they can do something better than Google did it, get in there and make it better.

Mostly, though, it's the extra clutter I didn't want, never asked for and don't want to use. It makes me pass on the V10, even though there are things I really like and I think are done better than anyone else — back buttons, camera, audio and that sweet-ass rubber and steel.

I also realize that the LG HD audio player app, the camera app and software to use rear-button shortcuts and fingerprint scanner can be considered bloatware. The irony is not lost on me. But I'd be just as happy if they weren't pre-installed and a trip to LG SmartWorld would hook me up.


Should you buy a V10? There's nothing here that makes me not want to recommend the V10. Each of us has a threshold for extras and crap added to the software, and one mans trash is another mans treasure rings true. Here's my answers for anyone asking me if the V10 is a good phone:

  • Are you OK with big, heavy and rubberized? Hold the thing at the store until someone in a uniform tells you to stop holding it. You're spending a lot of money, and need to know if you like the design.
  • The above goes for the back buttons, too. I love them, but you might not. The only way to find out is to try them.
  • Will you find value in all the extras? If so, you're gold. If not, know that they're there.

I could use the V10 as my daily phone if I had to. Since I don't have to, I use something else. We're all different and have different wants and needs. The V10 is going to fill a lot of those for a lot of us.

Just not me.