What was originally its own line now looks far closer to a member of the G family of phones.
Less than a year go, LG launched a brand new and somewhat-confusing line with the V10. It was bigger and more rugged than the G series — at the time led by the G4 — and ostensibly pointed at content creation rather than just consumption. The LG V10 had a larger screen with a unique always-on secondary screen, better audio output and recording, new camera controls that you could tweak all day, and a removable battery.
There are LG V10 fans out there. The problem is there aren't that many, and certainly not enough to have warranted LG continuing in the exact same direction with its next V phone. While the LG G5 certainly isn't flying off the shelves, its more general appeal has obviously led to more success than the V10. For that reason, it would seem, we have the LG V20 in 2016 that integrates much of what the G5 offered earlier this year with some of the core thoughts from the V10 sticking around.
The LG V20 ditches its tough-feeling exterior for something a bit more svelte, and adopts most of the software experience developed for the G5. At the same time, it carries on from the V10 by keeping its larger display and removable battery, while also doubling down on robust camera capabilities, top-end audio and extra features. It is, of course, the first phone shipping with Android 7.0 Nougat as well.
LG is fighting an uphill battle with the V20, but it's putting its best foot forward with this top-end flagship. Let us show you know it all comes together.
LG V20 Video preview
Words and pictures are one thing, but wrapping up my thoughts on the LG V20 into a video can only add to the experience. Be sure to check out the hands-on preview video above, and when you're done with that continue on to the rest of the preview for all of the details and analysis.
Solid, not rugged
LG V20 Hardware
The LG V10 was an imposing device. The 5.7-inch screen size didn't immediately tip you to it (there are far bigger phones out there), but the stainless steel build and near-200 gram weight was an imposing force in your hand(s) and pocket. Keeping the same screen size, LG has considerably slimmed down the V20 — it's narrower, thinner and much lighter.
When you go thinner and narrower in the body there's bound to be a weight savings, but LG also made a complete switch in materials here. Gone is the stainless steel (which we really don't see in phones nowadays) body, replaced by AL6013 aluminum in every place possible — there's a bit of plastic at the top and bottom for antennas, as you'd expect. That full-on aluminum build means that the textured rubberized "DuraSkin" coating is also gone, which in my eyes is a plus — some liked it, but that wasn't a look that appealed to a wide audience.
At a glance, you immediately get notes of the LG G5. The flat back houses a familiar camera pod and fingerprint sensor, and smoothly curves over to the sides and into sculpted glass on the front, with minimal unnecessary cutouts or design "features." Everything else is as expected, with volume keys on the sides and a simple speaker, USB-C port and headphone jack on the bottom.
Underneath the finely sculpted and subtly curved glass on the front is a 5.7-inch QHD (2560x1440, good for 513 ppi) IPS "Quantum" display, the same size as the V10's (and Note 7's). In my short time using it the display seemed markedly nicer than the LG G5 I was holding next to it, so the first impressions are good — let's hope it has also improved daylight visibility and brightness over the lackluster panel on the G5 as well.
It's of course joined by the "Second Screen" up at the top, which is shoved over to the right to make room for the front-facing camera. The Second Screen is the same size as before, but nearly twice as bright now and with higher contrast, putting it more on par with the primary display panel.
The V20's whole hardware story is a dramatic departure from the V10, and it looks really great — to me, better than the G5 does. LG's manufacturing is perfect, and it means the V20 still feels substantial and solid, even though it no longer looks rugged and rough like the V10. And though it now looks similar to the G5, there's a notable improvement in the metal — though this is still a "coated" metal, it still feels like aluminum unlike the faux-metal feeling of the G5.
What makes the build all the more impressive is that LG has designed the V20 to keep a removable battery — while also bumping up to 3200 mAh — which instead of coming out of the bottom like the G5 comes with a fully-removable back plate (remember when phones had those?). Just press a button low down on the left side and the back lifts up and unlatches, popping off to reveal the battery and SD card slots (augmenting 64GB of internal storage). When you press it back on it feels as though the back isn't removable — the tolerances are just that tight, and the latching mechanism is strong.
When it comes to audio, LG already pre-announced things when it told the world the V20 would have a 32-bit Quad DAC. Those who are into hi-fi audio will know that's a great thing when it comes to audio output to headphones. LG touts numbers like having half as much noise and nearly double the dynamic range compared to the Galaxy S7, but most probably didn't think there was an issue with the audio quality coming out of their current phone.
Things get a little weird when it comes to branding, though. Every single V20 sold will have the same great audio capture and playback hardware, but LG's pre-announced partnership with Bang & Olufsen for the "B&O Play" branding will only apply to some markets like Asia — and not the U.S. Those models with B&O Play branding will have special audio tuning from Bang & Olufsen, a silkscreened logo on the back of the phone and include B&O in-ear headphones in the box.
What you're more likely to notice is on the audio recording front, where the V20's mics can take in sound up to 132 dB — perfect for taking video of concerts, sporting events or large crowds of any type. If you'd like it can also be recorded in LPCM 24 bit 48kHz uncompressed format, giving you great playback quality as well. That also pairs up with new video stabilization technology called "Steady Record 2.0" that hopes to smooth out handheld video clips even more thanks to extra live digital processing.
Heavy on cameras
When it comes to still photos, things are upgraded as well. The V20 has adopted the G5's dual camera setup on the rear of the phone, with 16MP f/1.8 OIS-supported primary camera sitting next to an 8MP f/2.4 super-wide 135-degree camera.
The one change here is in terms of auto focus, where the V20 has a hybrid system consisting of laser, phase-detect and contrast auto focusing, choosing the right system depending on the situation. I've been intrigued by the wide-angle secondary camera on the G5 and I'm happy to see it here — and while it's somewhat disappointing to see the same camera setup as the G5, it's still slated to be one of the best cameras available today.
Things have been upgraded a little bit on the front-facing camera, moving away from dual cameras to a single 5MP sensor with an ultra-wide 120-degree lens. Say goodbye to selfie sticks.
Say hello to Nougat
LG V20 Software
LG touted for weeks before the announcement of the V20 that it would be the first phone shipping with Android 7.0 Nougat installed out of the box, and with the storm of news surrounding the software's launch it set rather high expectations. But the V20 was never going to ship with an interface like you'll find on an updated Nexus 6P today. Truth is that what you find on the V20 is very close to what you'll see on the LG G5 today (which is much nicer than the V10's software), but with some Nougat underpinnings throughout.
The launcher experience in "LG UX 5.0+" is near-identical to the G5, down to the icons, lack of app drawer (by default) and animations. The notification shade has received a little bit of a tune-up with a simpler and flatter look, as have the settings, but you won't mistake this software for anything but LG. Nougat's new multi-window mode works as it does on the Nexus 6P in terms of switching apps, but interface-wise it's the same as what LG offered for a limited set of apps on the V10.
Despite the minimal interface changes coming from the G5, LG's accomplishment of shipping the V20 with the latest Google software is a notable one. Of course Nougat offers lots of changes that are very important, from under-the-hood changes like performance and battery life up to things you'll notice every day like multi-window, bundled notifications and direct reply notifications. Shipping with Android 7.0 puts it ahead of the pack that are still waiting on their own Nougat update, but it's also important that the V20 gets its own updates going forward. We'll see.
The V10's calling card Second Screen has made a return, unchanged in terms of size as noted earlier, but with a bit larger icons and fonts it should be easier to use at a glance or with a quick tap. You can still use it to check out notifications when you're doing something else on the main display, as well as use it for toggles or quick app launching. It took a while to get used to on the V10 and may not work its way into your daily routine, but there's really no downside to having it up there — the V20 doesn't seem to have a particularly large top bezel because of it.
Using a mostly-bare minimally configured V20 for a handful of minutes to get a feel for the software, it seems as though LG's done a good job having everything in tip-top shape performance-wise. And it should — that's the case on every high-end phone right out of the box. But with a Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM it should handle being loaded up with your apps as well.
Lots ot explore
LG V20 More to come
The total package the V20 is offering steps well beyond what the V10 was in its time, and that took LG changing much of what defined the V10 physically. Just as interestingly, in many ways the V20 is a better total package than the G5, thanks to its robust number of features and lack of a distracting modular system.
The top-end specs, high-resolution display, fingerprint sensor and USB-C port are all table stakes on a flagship today, but it's worth noting that the V20 doesn't seem to have any "gotcha" line items missing. The choice to go to a sleek solid metal frame, dropping the rugged design elements, means the V20 can appeal to many more people right from the start. Then you add in a big screen, an interesting camera configuration and a couple crowd-pleasing features like a removable battery and SD card slot, and the V20 starts to check a lot of boxes for people looking for a big, powerful phone.
The story of the LG V20 being for "content creation" is a bit overblown, especially considering its similarity to the smaller G5. But thankfully that narrative doesn't get in the way of the V20 just having the specs and features most people are looking for a phone today. On the face of it, with unforutnately limited time to experience everything the V20 offers, it looks like LG has pulled together all of the necessary components for a great phone. The V series is all of a sudden looking bright.