At long last, the LG V20 has officially launched. With leaks starting back in mid-July and LG starting to tease the device in late August there was a good hype build up around it. Most of the rumors (not all) turned out to be true, and the first image leaks were accurate. We now had the device on hand and were able to form an opinion based on a short, real-world experience. This is our first review, which will be updated as the retail units arrive and more time is spent looking at details. Let’s take a look.
Quick look at the tech specs
- Snapdragon 820 (2x 2.15GHz + 2x 1.6GHz)
- Android Nougat
- 5.7-inch IPS LCD Quantum Dot display (QHD 2560×1440, 513 PPI) display and second screen (160×1040, 513ppi)
- Main cameras: 16 Megapixel OIS (f1.8), 8 Megapixels Wide (f2.4)
- Front Camera: 5 Megapixel (f1.9)
- 64GB Storage UFS 2.0
- MicroSD (2TB max)
- 4GB RAM LPDDR4
- 3200 mAh battery, QuickCharge 3.0
- WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, USB 2.0, NFC
- Quad DAC audio output
Based on user feedback, LG has worked to improve the LG V20 to extend the spirit of the LG V10 by adding more of what worked and remove or diminish what was secondary to the users. As such, the LG V20 remains predominantly centered around three things:
- The camera experience
- The chassis design and durability
- The removable battery
We’ll get to the camera later, so let’s start with the chassis design. As you may recall from our LG V10 review, the LG V-Series is built to resist drops, but the V10 had an aesthetic that was a bit too “rugged,” according to LG.
With the LG V20, the design is going towards looking like a regular, premium all-metal phone, without losing any of the durability. The plastic back cover has now been replaced with a tough all-metal cover, which is removable at the touch of a button. That makes changing the battery very easy, without any nail action.
The LG V20 is also relatively light. That’s because instead of using steel, LG has used 6013 Aluminum, which is typically aerospace applications such as fuselage panels. It is popular because it is nearly immune to corrosion, is durable and relatively easy to form. Aluminum Alloy 6013 is an aluminum-magnesium-silicon-copper alloy.
At 7.6mm thick, the LG V20 is a little slimmer than the Galaxy Note 7 (153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm), but the Note 7 remains a little smaller overall. The LG V20 feels much thinner than the LG V10 (8.6mm)
Durability: MIL-STD 810G Transit Drop
If you are familiar with the visual aspect of the LG V10, you may think that the plastic seems to have disappeared in the LG V20, but it’s not completely the case. The top and bottom elements in the front are still made of very durable Silicone Polycarbonate (Si-PC) normally used for helmets. They are painted with a metallic color that makes them blend in near-perfectly. They will absorb shocks around the screen to avoid glass compression, which is the main cause of cracks during a drop.
The LG V20 will continue to pass the MIL-STD 810G Transit Drop Test, just like its predecessor. This particular test is one of many tests of the MIL-STD 810G certification, but to be clear, this is the only test that the LG V20 has been certified against. The LG V20 underwent 60,000 safety tests before entering mass production.
The MIL-STD 810G Transit Drop Test was originally designed by the military to ensure that equipment would reasonably survive shocks and drops during transportation/loading/unloading. It is important to notice that the drop landing surface is about ~2 inches of plywood on top of a concrete surface – because, during military transport, this is the most likely landing surface.
Each device needs to have all surfaces, edges, corners tested against a 4-feet drop. This means that 26 drops are required, and a visual inspection is performed to detect damage after each drop. The manufacturer can also ask the 26 drops to be split among five devices, so avoid cumulative damages.
Display: IPS+Quantum Dots
The LG V20 is equipped with a 5.7-inch QHD (2560×1440, 513 PPI) IPS LCD Display with Quantum Dots technology. If you’re not familiar with it, LCD IPS is a display tech that is older than OLED but proven for building a great display in a cost-efficient way.
Learn more: LCD vs. OLED, which is better and why
Quantum Dots is a material that can be embedded in LCD display in order to provide better control over the color spectrum. Usually, people think of Quantum Dots as a color-saturation boosting technology but one of its side effects is that it requires less backlight energy to provide the same level of color/brightness, so it’s a little more energy efficient.
As usual with LG, the display quality is very high, and the Quantum Dots are there to provide LG with an edge over the multitude of IPS Displays out there.
The V20 also keeps the secondary display (160×400, 513 PPI), a very visible feature of the original V10. The secondary display acts as an Always-On display, which can deliver basic information (time, battery life, notifications) to avoid having the user wake up the whole phone just to see what time it is, or what was that vibration/sound that just happened.
This has been proven to save time and battery life because as you wake up the phone, not only the full display comes online, but the main phone processor also has to wake up. In the past, the secondary screen worked well indoors, but was a bit faint outdoors. To remedy this, LG has doubled the secondary display’s brightness, which should be more readable outdoors as well.
Cameras: “wide angle” is the name of the game
One of the main selling points of the LG V20 is the camera. As you may remember, the V10 introduced the manual mode for video recording. The V20 keeps the same manual controls, but adds a few things, including the dual-lens setup of the great LG G5.
The main camera system is now composed of two cameras. One is a 16 Megapixel (f1.8) with a standard angle (75 Deg) while the other is a 8 Megapixels (f2.4) with a wide angle (135 Deg). As we have demonstrated during our LG G5, the addition of the wide-angle lens is incredibly useful in many situations, whether it is to capture a landscape from far away, or a large group of people in a small space. It gives you new options that are quickly addictive.
Low light photography
The LG V20 can stand its ground even when faced with the best phone camera of the moment: the Samsung 7-Series (S7/S7 Edge/Note 7). As usual, LG’s default settings favor what I think is a slightly over-exposure of the low-light photos.
They do look brighter than on the S7, even supernaturally brighter (more so than your eyes would see the scene). Some people will really like this, while others would prefer a more natural capture (what your eyes see) — but this is a matter of preference.
LG has improved the autofocus of the LG V20 from its predecessor by adding a hybrid autofocus (hybrid AF). Previous LG models relied on a laser AF, which was fast at deciding whether the subject was near or far.
In the middle, it had to rely on contrast AF, which is not as fast as Phase Detection. The V20 will be loaded with Phase Detection and Laser AF. Contrast-based AF remains there for the final tweaks and checks to make sure it’s all in focus.
The main difference between different phase-detection AF sensors is the number of AF points and how they are spread on the sensor. At the moment, we haven’t seen specific claims from LG, so it’s fair to assume that there are at most ~300 Phase Detection AF points (of AF pixels).
For reference, the Galaxy S7 has 4M phase-detect AF points at any given time, and all of the 12M sensor pixels are also potential AF pixels. This is made possible by Dual Pixel Diode AF, a technology imported from high-end DSLR cameras.
Steady Record 2.0
Since the LG V20 runs on a Snapdragon 820 platform, LG has worked with Qualcomm’s digital image stabilization system. Dubbed Steady Record 2.0 (the V10 had the 1.0 version), it is designed to provide image stabilization for movements such as walking.
It works by using data from the camera and the phone’s gyroscope, both sensors must be synchronized as well as possible. LG says that the synchronization lag has been reduced from 100ms to 50ms. This is different from the optical stabilization system which is there to compensate for minute shaking that happens when we hold the camera.
Learn more: What is Image Stabilization?
Steady record 2.0 was demonstrated by LG during its San Francisco launch with a side by side video. This kind of digital stabilization has long been proven to work. That hard part is to make it happen in real-time and to integrate it completely with the camera application. Steady record 2.0 also uses a multi-frame image analysis to stabilize videos even more.
For each frame, it looks ten frames backward and ten frames forward to see how the image is moving and compensate for it. This kind of technology was created for military aerial surveillance video applications. vReveal has demonstrated the usefulness of such approach back in 2009.
Hi-Fi Audio in Video Recording
During video recording, it’s possible to use high-quality Hi-Fi audio. With three Acoustic overload point (AOP) microphones, the LG V20 should be able to record in super-loud environments such as concerts, with much fewer distortions (or none) when compared to phones with ordinary microphones. It helps with wind noise as well. We haven’t had the opportunity to try this yet.
The front camera also comes with some significant changes. It is a 5 Megapixel camera with a wide angle lens. This means that wide selfies are now possible with a single shot. The camera is also capable of taking regular angle photos by cropping the photo and working out some post-processing algorithms. So far, the result is very convincing, but you do lose a bit of photo resolution. I suspect that not a lot of people use their front camera photos for something else than social media, so it’s probably not a problem at all.
Audio: Quad DAC, Hi-Fi
The LG V20 will have an even better DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), the component that converts digital music signal into an analog signal that speakers and other audio devices can play back: The ESS SABRE ES9218.
"THE LG V20 DAC PERFORMED ADMIRABLY"The DAC concerns only the 3.5mm audio output, so keep in mind that music sent over Bluetooth would not go through it since the BT headphones receive it digitally and has its DAC. If you have quality headphones with a 3.5mm connector, that’s the expected configuration.
If you have access to high-quality audio files and a good DAC such as this one, the quality of the output (good sound rendering, low white noise) will be noticeably better than on a regular phone. It’s usually noticeable if your headphones or earbuds are quality ones. When we tried the LG G5 “Friends” Hi-Fi Module, the difference was obvious. This is the same idea here, but built into the phone.
Back in the office, we put the LG V20’s audio system to the test, and the LG V20 DAC performed admirably. Easily besting the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in audio output quality (we tried many settings on both phones) and sheer volume power — beware, maximum sound can be pretty painful with earbuds!
Battery: 3200 mAh, RemovableThe 3200 mAh battery capacity of the LG V20 is better than the 3000 mAh of the V10, but falls a bit short of the 3500 mAh of the Galaxy Note 7. The LG V20 has something that fewer and fewer phones have these days: a removable battery.
For power users, this can be hugely important because going from 0% to 100% in 10 seconds will beat every fast-charging technology you can think of if it comes to that.
Fast-charging with Quick Charge 3.0
That is not to say that the V20 doesn’t support fast-charging. With Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0, this phone should be one of the fastest charging. If that’s any indication, the LG G5 is currently the fastest charging phone we tested with 54 mAh/mn (~50 mAh/mn is considered to be excellent).
Software: Android Nougat (7.0)
The LG V20 is officially the first Android 7.0 (Nougat) device to be announced, and LG has confirmed that it would also be the first such device to be shipped to customers. Android Nougat comes with some new features, the most important of which are improved power-savings, night mode, free form windowed apps and split-screen apps.
Read more: What’s new in Android Nougat? (7.0)
Note that running two apps in split-screen isn’t really “new”. Both Samsung and LG had implemented it in one form or another in their respective large-display phones. However, LG points out that now that it is supported natively in the OS, more apps are likely to support it – that’s a very valid point.
Android Nougat also has some security updates. This is something that doesn’t concern people that much – until their phone gets hacked, their data were stolen or their wireless account is bloated from illegal SMS usage.
System Performance: Snapdragon 820
Important: At this time, the performance numbers of the LG V20 should be taken with caution, since we do not have final retail units. The software is likely to be further optimized in the coming weeks.
You can check the numbers we currently have in our LG V20 specifications page (scroll down). We will update this review when the software is final.
The LG V10 didn’t use the high-end Snapdragon 810, preferring the Snapdragon 808 for some reasons, including that 808 was deemed “good enough” at a time when 810 was embroiled in an overheating rumor on the Internet.
The LG V20 does use Qualcomm’s best available chip with the Snapdragon 820. With it, it not only gets leading overall performance and commanding graphics performance, but it also gets unique features such as Qualcomm’s digital image stabilization system that uses advanced imaging techniques across multiple frames.
Regarding synthetic benchmarks, we expect the phone to perform in line with most Snapdragon 820 phones, although LG’s history has shown that it was willing to launch first then optimize later. Either way, it’s unlikely that users can perceive the difference – we certainly did not as we played with the units at hand.
Conclusion: designed with purpose
The LG V20 enters the market with a particular attention to its positioning. Once again, LG is carefully carving a niche where the LG V20 can sit at the top (large display, sturdy, removable battery). The LG V20 is built to be drop-resistant, has a unique camera experience thanks to 1/ its wide-angle real and front cameras and 2/ its exclusive access to Qualcomm’s digital image stabilization for videos.
The V20 could also be enticing for users who are currently willing to carry a secondary Hi-Fi audio device. Finally, it is one of the few desirable phones that have a large, removable battery which is hidden behind a very sturdy metal back cover. The LG V20 is truly a multimedia beast."THE LG V20 IS A MULTIMEDIA BEAST"
The LG V20 essentially aims for the same power-user crowd that loved the LG V10, but extends the potential of the V20 by making the hardware less rugged-looking and more business-like. In that respect, it is a total success.
We would have liked to see more structural improvements in the camera module, with notably specs that could challenge the Galaxy 7-Series, but this will be for another time. The LG V20 remains an excellent and unique camera experience, just like the LG G5 is (read our LG G5 review and our Galaxy Note 7 Review).
Update: it seems that 200,000 LG V20 have been sold in the U.S as of Nov 14 2016.