Whenever I review an LG flagship smartphone, I ask myself: Where do I begin?
It has always been the Korean brand’s conviction to jam as many features as technologically possible into its best handsets, in hopes of hitting it big with at least one target audience.
This way of thinking actually worked; the LG G3 introduced an overabundance of power to a fault, the G Flex was absolutely massive during its time and had self-healing abilities, and the V10 doubled the number of screens and cameras on its face.
Every attempt created cult followings for each device, but the constant envelope pushing failed to create a consistent design philosophy for LG’s best phones.
LG’s latest flagship, the V20, is no different, and once again overwhelms with features you didn’t think you’d need until you actually tried them. The best way to review it is by breaking things down to test notes.
The V20 is too big, even for a phablet
Yes, it’s supposed to be a handful, but even for a 5.7-inch smartphone, the body is far too tall and takes lots of finger stretching to properly use. Last year’s V10 did it right by at least covering the back with grippy rubber; the V20 has none of that. On the bright side, the Quad HD LCD screen is gorgeous, and doesn’t make me miss my beloved AMOLED displays.
I can live without the secondary screen
What distinguishes LG’s V series from the rest is the 2.1-inch secondary display on top for quick settings and glances at notifications. Unfortunately, like last year’s attempt, I rarely see any use for it, and I’d rather just swipe the notifications shade down and have everything at once. The annoying light bleed from the left of the screen is also still present.
Shock-proofing is a killer feature
Having a shock-proof shell is such an underrated feature for any smartphone; anyone who hates having to buy an extra case will agree. The only thing missing is waterproofing, which is probably a side effect of the removable back. This brings us to…
The rear cover’s eject button looks like a camera shutter key
I can’t count the number of times I accidentally reached for the eject button, thinking I could take a photo by clicking it. To everyone’s relief, however, swapping out the battery is so much more intuitive than the G5’s application, which was a multi-step chore.
This phone is fast
As in really fast. The V20 blazes through the interface and switching between apps. We can credit the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of memory, but the real star is Android 7.0 Nougat, which is still a rarity in the market — only 0.3 percent have it! The double-tapping action to quickly jump between two apps, in particular, is to die for.
I only wish LG’s custom interface were lighter
The user interface LG plasters over Android is once again a hot mess. Even though there are several smart design cues, such as removing the app drawer by default and allowing you to modify the on-screen navigation buttons, overloading the notifications shade and settings menu is a no-no.
Audio is both good and bad
The good: There’s a noise-cancelling mic for clear concert recordings and 32-bit Quad DAC for producing high-quality music playback through headphones. The bad: The single loudspeaker at the bottom chin is terrible at times. It’s best to have at least a portable speaker on hand when going on trips.
This is the most fun I’ve ever had with a smartphone camera
Unlike last year’s V10, the V20’s dual-camera setup is found on the back. It’s implementation is just like the G5’s, in which one 8-megapixel camera handles ultra-wide-angle shots, while the 16-megapixel shooter creates slightly zoomier, yet just as beautiful photos. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera has a single lens, and utilizes software magic to carry on the choice between wide selfies and extra-wide groufies. (Did I spell that correctly?)
Here are samples photos from all three cameras. Notice how punchy the colors are and how sharp subjects can get even when it’s dark outside, although the rear cameras had trouble figuring out the correct exposure under artificial indoor lighting. Believe me when I say the focusing speed and shot-to-shot times were speedy for both photo and video modes.
Don’t count on the battery life
Battery life was the primary weakness of the V10, and the same issue is back on the V20. With only a 3200mAh capacity to power two screens, it’s not much of a surprise. However, even with the secondary display turned off, there wasn’t a significant improvement in screen-on time. My average usage time on a single charge hovered below four hours, which is way below the five to six hours I’d get on similarly sized phones.
The upside is fast charging can bring the V20 to full in about two hours, and if you’re willing to spend for an extra battery, you can swap within a few quick steps.
This is odd
In a strange design decision, the power button is still located on the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Sounds convenient, right? Problem is, you could accidentally unlock the phone if all you want to do is turn off the handset while on the lockscreen. You can double-tap the screen to make it sleep, but it’s nowhere near as accurate as a dedicated physical key.
It doesn’t help that the button feels cheap; it wobbles when you click it at certain angles. I wish LG just stuck to leaving the power switch on the side, like every other smartphone in the market.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
I’ll be honest: I absolutely adored the V10, and it was my favorite smartphone of 2015 in a sea of boring choices. My expectations for the V20, in turn, were sky high, and sadly, all weren’t met.
I miss the rugged, rubberized look of the V10, its sharp corners, and well-placed rear volume controls. That’s the situation you must live with when loving a certain LG; its successor will most certainly look totally different.
Going back to the question: This is not a match for those who loved the V10, but it’s an excellent choice for those who love high-quality audio recording, removable batteries, and a collection of the most updated features.
With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of order and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus having the same design as its predecessors, the V20 with its plus-sized proportions stands out. It’s quite pricey, though; the unit I reviewed retails for PhP 35,990 (almost $740), but you get what you pay for in terms of premium components.