As we reported yesterday, LG has made its new LG V10 phone official, so all the V10 specs etc.…. are out there. I had the opportunity to play with one, as described in the overview video below, and since I’ve added a great many hours of usage, so here’s my take on what the V10 is good at, and how it compares with other large-display phones currently on the market.
Context: How do I use my phones
It’s important that you understand how I use my handsets, in order to extrapolate how they may fit your own. Although I can only express my opinion through my own lens, I want to give you enough information to expectations that are as realistic as possible.
My devices are primarily used for (in order of frequency): email/chat communications, news apps, photography, web browsing and very limited multimedia (video/audio playback) and gaming. I probably install less than 25 apps, and I diligently uninstall those I don’t use on a regular basis.
What’s new in the LG V10?
Let me give you a lay of the land, here’s a quick overview of what’s new and/or important:
- Durable industrial design against scratches and drops
- Dual front-camera for wider selfies and multi-angle shots
- Removable 3000 mAh battery, MicroSD (2TB max)
- Manual control 4K video recording (and below)
- Secondary display for increased productivity
In some ways, LG has built a great phone which goes against the S6 Edge+, Note 5, iPhone 6s+ and other large-display phones. For one, most of them no longer provide storage expansion or removable batteries anymore. When compared to phones that do offer comparable functionality, the LG V10 is more durable and has a higher performing camera sub-system. On paper, this looks like a good coverage of a niche which has been neglected by others.
Let’s start with the most obvious: the look. You may have seen the LG V10 video trailer (Youtube link). It’s impressive, but the video also makes the phone look nicer than it really is. Not that the LG V10 looks bad, but it hasn’t been designed to win a beauty contest – especially if you compare it with something like the S6 Edge+. I find the V10 black / white version to look the best, but you’ll make up your own mind.
The left/right trims of the V10 are made of high-grade stainless steel. I looked up the reference and found out that it is the kind of steel that is used for watches because it is tough, but can also be polished to look neat. This steel provides the first line of defense in case of a drop. The steel can take an impact, and it can give slightly to absorb the energy of the collision.
The top and bottom are made of plastic (or “hard silicone” as LG would point out), and can also absorb shock better than an edge-to-edge glass design. What shatters screens is the fact that display glass can resist bending (to a point), but it can’t deal with lateral compression.
To that end, LG has left a small gap between the edge of the glass and the phone’s body. When a shock occurs, there’s more room for maneuver before the glass reaches a critical lateral compression point. This doesn’t mean that the glass is unbreakable or something, but it reduces the odds of cracking.
The back cover of the phone is made of hard silicone. It’s flexible, but highly resistant to scratches, provides very good “grip” and isn’t prone to fingerprints. This also reduces the chances of dropping your phone in the first place, and you don’t have to clean it often. The only downside is that this won’t look as classy as a nice metal/glass body – but on the other hand, you don’t need one of these ugly and thick cases that people put on their otherwise amazingly thin phones…
Since it’s new, let’s talk about the dual front-cameras: with 80 and 120 degrees angle, their combined data can be stitched to form a high quality selfie, or they can be used to snap individual streams. Add the main camera and the LG V10 is capable of capturing 3 streams simultaneously. “Why?” you may ask. LG says that users can capture “more views” of a single moment, so it opens new artistic options.
Note that the simultaneous capture only works in “snap” mode – a Vine-like short 15-second video capture. I have honestly not found a good way to use it yet, but maybe I lack artistic creativity, so I’ll leave it up to you.
The main camera is just as good as the LG G4’s which we all know to be in the top phones-camera right now (next to the Galaxy S6 and the new Google Nexus 6P). This is no small feat, but with its full manual control for 4K video recording (and still photos), the LG V10 can out-perform pretty much any other cameras when lighting conditions are challenging (strong backlight, extreme contrast in low-light).
You can check out the two videos below: one has been shot with a Galaxy S6 Edge+ without manual control, and the other was shot with the LG V10 with manual control. It’s pretty obvious that the contrast and brightness of the auto-tuned video comes out too dark. The V10 shot a video that represents what my own eyes could see.
Obviously, if the S6 Edge+ had manual control, it could also record such a video, so it’s really a software thing. You may be able to find a 3rd party app that helps, but in general the original camera app has more control over the hardware and can use things that are not exposed by standard Android APIs.
For still photos, the V10 is also among the very best handsets, although I don’t think that it is the absolute best. It is certainly extremely close to the top in terms of hardware. Again, the manual control will give it an edge in very difficult situations, and that is what makes it win in the end (at the cost of setting up for a few seconds before taking a tough shot). Just look at these pictures:
The secondary screen (2.1-inch IPS Quantum Display, 160×1040, 513ppi) is the new shiny thing on this phone. It is separate from the main 5.7” QHD (2560×1440, 513 PPI) IPS Quantum Display, but it is perfectly integrated, so the colors and pixel size are just the same. It has been designed as an always-on productivity booster, which works for two main use cases:
1/ the phone is OFF, the secondary screen is ON and shows: time, battery life, weather and potentially other kinds of information.
2/ the phone is ON, the secondary screen is ON and shows: apps or contacts, shortcuts, calendar events or other app-related notifications and information.
The content of the secondary screen is somewhat programmable. In the OFF position it saves both time and energy because users don’t need to fire off the main display (and main processor) just to check what time it is…
When it’s ON, the shortcuts save time because you don’t need to go back to the home page to launch one of them. Since it’s programmable, there is some built-in flexibility to adapt to your workflow. However, not all apps can access it at the moment, so plan on having only LG apps use it for now.
The main display is beautiful, and the effectiveness of the Quantum Dots is great. The black levels are impressive and the color rendering is beautiful. It’s an LCD display that looks nearly as good as an AMOLED one. There are things that it is better at, such as rendering white color as truly white and not with a slight tint of blue or yellow. Other than that, I still think that AMOLED display is a little better.
The main computing platform is nearly the same as the LG G4: the LG V10 uses a Snapdragon 808 SoC which provides a good ratio between cost, power consumption and performance. The V10 may not be the fastest “gaming phone”, but on the other hand, there aren’t a lot of people who are out to buy a “gaming phone”, so I don’t think that’s a big deal.
My specific unit isn’t a retail handset with final firmware, so it’s probably best to run benchmarks when the software is finalized. We’ve seen in the past that there can be large differences in performance between pre-release and retail devices.
Overall, I expect the performance to be similar to the LG G4, and we already know that the platform provides an excellent user experience in the real world.
The LG V10 comes with 4GB of RAM, which is nice if you have more apps running simultaneously. 64GB seems to be the only option listed in the specs, but this may change in the future if there’s pricing pressure on LG.
A 3000 mAh battery capacity is the norm for phones this big, but many will appreciate that they are able to quickly swap the battery out, or buy a new one if for some reason the original was to deteriorate. It used to be a huge deal for me, especially during trade shows like CES, but I have gotten used to fast-charging and USB battery packs. That said, it’s true that there is a high factor of convenience when you can simply swap a battery out and come back to 100% in one minute – that is completely true.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an integrated wireless charging, but my understanding is that this would come in the form of a back cover, so keep your eyes open if you really want it.
Finally, I was very glad to see that the LG V10 does indeed support fast-charging at top speed and becomes the fastest charging phone we have tested by reaching a speed of 52 mAh/mn of charge, which represents a bit more than a 50% charge in 30mn.
Conclusion: great for specific use cases
From what I have observed, many users absolutely love some of the things that the LG V10 offers, and in my opinion, there are a few reasons to go for it. First, the superb camera capabilities. Secondly the removable battery and MicroSD expansion. A third would like the extra durability very much, although it is a rare reason to pick a phone, when you can buy a case.
Of course, you must keep in mind that the rest of the phone (software, performance, overall quality) is already very good, so the elements that I just cited are considered “sway factors” against competitors.
I think that the LG V10 is nicely positioned to address the needs of a user group that has felt abandoned by Samsung and Apple. In fact, I bet that many Galaxy Note 4 users who were not really using the e-Pen may opt for the LG V10 going forward since the Note 5 no longer has the removable battery and the MicroSD slot.
Do you think LG made the right choices? Drop a comment below!