Forget what you think you know about dual displays on smartphones. Forget the failed attempts that have come before. (We're looking at you, Samsung Continuum, Kyocera Echo, and to a lesser extent even the Samsung Note Edge.) This is the LG V10. It's a new product line for the Korean manufacturer, with a number of new features — and, yes, a secondary display that actually doesn't suck. At least, that's our impression after a short time with the phone in a Midtown Manhattan hotel.
The V10 is the first phone in this new "V" series for LG, and it's going to live alongside the smaller (but no less capable) G phones. It's absolutely not replacing them, LG tells us.
So why would you want this dual-selfie, dual-display, fingerprint reaching phone?
Let's take a closer look.
The build: Steel and rubber
Believe it or not, LG's never really made a metal phone before. We've had tons of plastic. We've had "Crystal Reflective" glass in the Optimus G and Nexus 4. And now we've got stainless steel. It's Grade 316L, if you're into that sort of thing, and it's wrapped around the 5.7-inch Quantum IPS display in what LG is calling "Dura Guard." Combined with a silicone-based "Dura Skin" and you've got a shock-absorbing mix of metal and rubber that LG says will help alleviate smartphone death by gravity. (And its drop test videos are indeed impressive.)
It also gives you a good bit of grip on what is a decidedly large smartphone. That's a good thing. It's maybe not the most attractive back of a phone we've ever seen, but it feels surprisingly OK, and gives the phone a bit of a rugged build without looking like a tank.
Dual selfies: Kill the selfie stick!
We'll start our tour of LG's Believe it or Not! features with the two front-facing cameras. Yes, there are dual selfie cameras on the V10. But before you roll your eyes at them, know this: LG is hoping they'll render the selfie stick obsolete. (A world without selfie sticks. Think about that for a minute before passing judgment on this phone.) The gist is that one of the lenses shoots at a selfie standard 80 degrees. The other one, however, widens to 120 degrees to capture more of you and your selfie-fanatic friends. And LG's custom camera software lets you combine multiple selfies from multiple angles into one single selftastic selfie. We joke, but it's actually really well done and easy to use.
If that all seems a little silly to you, consider LG's purpose for this phone. It's a bit of a line, but LG now considers the G series for folks who like to consume content. The V line will be more for those who want to create content. Not that the G4 is any real slouch in that department, but the added emphasis on photos and video in the V10 — we'll have more on those changes in a minute — makes the line about content creators make sense. If you thought you had some serious manual control with the G4, hang on to your hat. LG's also making it easier to share right from the camera — simply slide in the quick share bar and you'll get on-tap access to sharing on your most frequently-used social networks and messaging apps.
Second screen: An always-on helper
Next to the peepers out front is the secondary display. Now we've seen companies try and fail at this before. Nobody — and we mean nobody — took advantage of the SDK hooks needed for the secondary display on the Samsung Continuum. It died on the vine. The two-screened Kyocera Echo — well, let's just pretend that one never happened. Heck, even the Samsung Note Edge seemed to try a little too hard to get anyone to use that edge display. (But you could measure things with the ruler!)
And so maybe that's where the LG V10's secondary display will work. It's not really trying to make you do anything new. It's just taking a few things you already do on your phone — launch apps, hit up contacts and get always-on information when the phone itself is resting — and it's not reinventing the wheel in the process. (Fun fact: the secondary display — it's technically a 2.1-inch diagonal at 160x1040 resolution — actually is the same panel as the main display, it just has a second controller and separate backlight.)
When the phone's asleep, you'll second a smattering of information up top there, akin to what Motorola has been doing with the "Moto Display" on its phones. So you can tell the time, for instance, without having to wake the entire phone. When the phone's awake you'll find more active options, and you can swipe through them at your leisure. Those options include a signature (leave yourself something inspirational, perhaps), recent apps, app shortcuts, music player controls, quick contacts and your upcoming plans. The settings are easily accessible and easy to pore over, and you can use as much or as little of all this as you like.
The best part, though, is that none of it really gets in your way. And if you're worried about battery life, LG says the secondary display only uses around 5 percent of the overall charge throughout a given day. (The battery, by the way, is a 3,000 mAh removable cell.)
Power button meets fingerprint scanner
The excitement continues around the back, too. LG's trademark rear volume and power buttons are there, of course. But new this time around — and we're a little surprised it took this long — is a fingerprint scanner built into the redesigned (it's now round) power button. And it works really well. Training the phone takes just a minute and then you'll be unlocking your phone with a simple touch. It's a great addition, especially with all the new focus on Android Pay and the new fingerprint features in Android 6.0 Marshmallow. (Erm, when the phone is updated later this year or in early 2016.)
Full Control: Manual Video Mode
Let's go back to the camera department for a minute. The rear shooter is the same 16-megapixel camera you'll find on the G4. You still have full manual control — but new this time around is some serious manual control for shooting video. You're not required to use it, of course, and auto mode works just fine. But if you want to control things like zoom, audio settings, white balance, focus, exposure, ISO, shutter speed and AE lock — and even video frame rate — then you can do it. You also have options to control the direction of the sound coming into the three microphones. It's some serious stuff here.
Another fun camera feature is more software-related, and it's not necessarily one that's unique to LG — but it's also one that we've absolutely enjoyed elsewhere in its other forms. LG now has a "Snap Movie" mode that's a lot like the original intention of HTC Zoe. You record three seconds at a time, in the order in which you want to present it — sort of like when you're recording video on Instagram, perhaps — and then the phone stitches it all together into something coherent. It might take a little practice, but it looks like it'll be fun little option. Because, again, this one's all about the content creators. The V10 also will peek at your videos and pull out 15-second video highlights that it thinks will be work well. (We'll have to see, won't we ...)
Finally, a few more technical notes on audio. LG's tossed some serious 32-bit audio playback tech into the V10. It's got an ESS Sabre 9018C2M digital to analog converter chip inside, as well as a 9602C headphone amplifier. (OK, so maybe the V10 is still a little bit about content consumption.) And the chips are positioned at the bottom of the phone, closer to the headphone jack, to prevent "crosstalk," or audio leakage from one channel to another, LG says. (I'm not sure that's going to make it any easier for me to stomach another round of anything from Walk the Moon, but whatever.)
Full specs for those who like lists:
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 Processor|
|Main display||5.7-inch QHD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440/513ppi)|
|Secondary display||2.1-inch IPS Quantum Display (160 x 1040/513ppi)|
|Memory||4GB LPDDR3 RAM / 64GB eMMC ROM/microSD (up to 2TB)|
|Rear camera||16MP with F1.8 Aperture/OIS 2.0|
|Front camera||5MP Dual Lens (80-degree Standard Angle/120-degree Wide Angle)|
|Operating system||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop|
|Size||159.6 x 79.3 x 8.6mm|
|Network||LTE-A Cat. 6|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, USB 2.0|
|Colors||Space Black, Luxe White, Modern Beige, Ocean Blue, Opal Blue|
The bottom line so far
So all things being equal here we've got a pretty interesting phone from LG. Again, it's going to live alongside the G line of phones. That's not going anywhere. And this sort of replaces the "G Pro" line that fizzled out a couple years ago. And after spending a little bit of time with the V10 — and we saw AT&T and Verizon models in both white and black; there will be a beige model and a couple shades of blue, too — there's a lot to like here. If the LG G4 was just a little too small for you, here's a bigger phone. If you loved the manual photo controls but wanted even more, there's that, too.
If you really love taking selfies, boom. (And if this phone really can get folks to put down the selfie stick, we'll have to give a few away.)
We don't have pricing just yet, but it'll be available on Oct. 8 in Korea, and thereafter worldwide. In the United States, look for it on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
Our bottom line at this point is that we're very much looking forward to spending some quality time with the LG V10. Expect some serious selfies to ensue.