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LG V20

LG V20 review: the definitive live gig smartphone?

The LG G5 (review) was a rare misstep of sorts for the South Korean firm, delivering an innovative but ultimately flawed design and pricey add-ons that weren’t readily available at launch.

But the LG V20 seems to take a step back from the drastically over-engineered G5, being a refinement in many areas and introducing meaningful improvements at first glance.

Hardware

The biggest change is that LG has dropped the innovative but ultimately unpolished gun magazine slot seen on the G5. Instead, the phone mimics the Samsung Omnia 7 and uses a removable aluminium back that pops off thanks to a button on the side. And yes, hidden behind the metal back is a microSD slot, nano-SIM slot and removable 3200mAh battery.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a bigger version of the G5. So that means a similar design, from the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner (doubling as a power button) to the dual camera layout and side-mounted volume keys.

Look at the front of the device and you’ve got a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 LCD display, as well as the secondary ticker display that first made an appearance on the V10. The former is detailed indeed, although I do feel that it could be much brighter outdoors, being exacerbated by the auto-brightness not working properly at times.

LG V20

The ticker display is another interesting addition, but I wasn’t pining for it when I went back to my old phone. In other words, the ticker display does a solid job of showing app shortcuts, playback controls, quick settings and notifications on a dedicated screen, but it didn’t have the same impact as double-tap-to-wake had. Still, having notifications, extra camera controls and the like is a neat bonus.

As for I/O, you’ve got a USB Type C port and earphone jack at the bottom, volume keys on the left (I would’ve preferred them on the back, actually) and IR blaster on the top.

All in all, you’ve got a V10 with some G5-inspired aesthetics, along with a front that looks rather similar to the BlackBerry Z30. You can do far worse than this.

LG additions to the formula

LG V20

The South Korean firm’s Android skin seems like a cleaner version of previous skins, so that means an overhauled settings menu, an app drawer and an emphasis on neon blue/turquoise in system elements. It’s far from stock, but it’s closer than the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi. But if you don’t like things, you can obviously install a launcher to change most things (settings/notification menu aside).

The phone performs admirably too, launching and closing apps seamlessly, featuring little if any perceptible lag, returning home in no time flat and running the latest games smoothly.  We tried out the likes of Paper Wings, High Risers and Sara is Missing — all ran just fine.

Key information

Dimensions: 77.9mm x 7.62mm x 159mm
Weight: 174g
SIM Type: nano-SIM
Display: 5.7-inch, 1440×2560, IPS LCD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core CPU | dual-core Kryo at 2.15Ghz & dual-core Kryo at 1.6Ghz | Adreno 530 GPU | 4GB of RAM
Storage: 64GB expandable storage
Imaging: Rear: (Primary) one 16MP, f/1.8 aperture, laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, LED flash; (Secondary)  8MP, f/2.4 aperture, 135 degree wide-angle camera| Front: 5MP, f/1.9 aperture
Video: 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps
Battery: 3200mAh removable
Cool features: Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, always-on display, USB Type-C, HiFi Audio recording, HD Audio Recorder
OS: Android 7.0 with LG UX 5.0

In other words, the Snapdragon 820 and 4GB RAM combination work well, so those prioritising speed needn’t worry. And playback and recording of audio/video was smooth as well, especially given the phone’s hefty capabilities in the multimedia department.

LG has also opted for a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, but truth be told I still prefer Huawei and Xiaomi’s efforts. The V20’s fingerprint scanner doubles as a power button too, although I would’ve liked to see the button being used for customisable shortcuts/functions, like the Honor 8. The scanner doesn’t throw up fingerprint errors at all, but it does seem to be unresponsive at times when simply touching it rather than pressing it.

Anyway, the usual stuff is all here and accounted for as well, such as the always-on info (via the ticker display, by default) and double-tap-to-wake. So those coming from the G4 (review) or earlier will be in familiar territory.

Camera

left right

Lg V20 Sample 1

A wide-angle shot shows a rich blue sky in the early morning and a lovely reflection. Whites are super blown out here, and detail in general isn't great. But a pleasant shot anyway.

Lg V20 Sample 2

No fisheye effect here, but plenty of detail in the puddle. Still, the wide-angle version looks pleasant as well.

Lg V20 Sample 3

A standard 16MP shot at night. The candle behind the glass really brings out the detail in said glass, down to fingerprints. Then again, there's a lot of noise here anyway.

Lg V20 Sample 4

The wide-angle shooter should be noticeably worse to just about everyone. Noise everywhere.

Lg V20 Sample 5

Quite possibly my favourite V20 shot. Cheesecake and ice cream in low light. Despite the bar setting, the photo came out sharp, with loads of detail and a pleasant bokeh-style effect on the musician.

Lg V20 Sample 6

You generally need several shots to get a semi-decent mobile snap in a live gig environment. And the V20 was no different. The slower shutter and lack of OIS does mean that blur is inevitable though.

Lg V20 Sample 7

Use the wide-angle camera and it's clear that great colours are the only saving grace here, the photo being flooded with noise and blur.

Lg V20 Sample 8

An HDR shot taken with the 16MP camera. The level of detail isn't fantastic though, but bests the wide-angle HDR version.

Lg V20 Sample 9

The wide-angle HDR shot obviously lacks resolvable detail. But it packs much more of the scene into a shot, while the fisheye effect doesn't feel as pronounced here.

Lg V20 Sample 10

Another firm favourite, the flower has a ton of resolvable detail, such as the little speckles and pollen stalk things. The flower colours were kept in check too, despite being in direct, harsh sunlight.

Lg V20 Sample 11

I took several shots and this was the best I could get. Some lovely, sharp edges on the flower itself, but the fine hairs on the stalk aren't so fine. Overall, still a pleasant shot.

Lg V20 Sample 12

The V20's front-facing 5MP camera has a normal mode seen here, producing some solid results.

Lg V20 Sample 13

And you get a wide-angle mode, using the full 120 degree wide-angle shooter. It seems like the normal mode is merely a cropped shot of sorts. I'm not quite sure...

Lg V20 Sample 14

The blur is real when it comes to using the wide-angle camera (as seen here) and selfie shooter in low light.

Lg V20 Sample 15

Another example of the wide-angle camera blurring everything. Check the faces on the right.

Lg V20 Sample 16

And here's the standard 16MP shot. Blur is definitely present here as well, but there's a solid level of resolvable detail anyway.

Lg V20 Sample 17

Like many cameras, the V20 produces some great results if you experiment. Here, I used the candle in the background to light the drink.

Lg V20 Sample 18

Yes yes, the fisheye effect is very obvious here. But the overall wide-angle shot is still rather impressive.

Those expecting more interplay between the normal camera and the wide-angle camera will be disappointed though. Still, you’re getting some decent specs on paper here.

There’s a similar 16-megapixel, f/1.9 camera to the LG G5 and the G4 before it, as well as the 8MP wide-angle camera. The former is about on par with the G4, it feels, so that means it does a good job at night and captures sharp images during the day.

If we have one complaint about the main camera, it’s that it’s still not quite as “fire and forget” as Samsung and Apple‘s best. That is, you’ll need to take multiple shots to get a great picture, rather than just one or two and you’re done. I found that focusing could be a tad finicky at times, but otherwise, it captured detailed snaps with a fair amount of dynamic range. And you can always turn on HDR for more vibrant snaps with better dynamic range.

The LG V20 isn’t as great as the Galaxy S7 when it comes to the overall experience, but it’s good anyway

At night, it’s not quite as good as Samsung’s best, as the noise tends to creep up a lot and the camera is susceptible to blurring faces and the like. But you can still take some great bar shots nonetheless.

What about the wide-angle camera though? Well, those who hate the fish-eye effect will hate the wide-angle camera, as the effect is in full… effect… here. The 8MP resolution also means that images show a lack of detail when zooming in. But for social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, the shots are great. In fact, I found myself wanting to use the wide-angle shooter at every opportunity, often coming away impressed when using it in urban settings or with landscapes in general. Hell, you can get all your friends in a group shot without taking several steps back.

Oh yeah, the manual photo mode is in full effect here as well, offering some welcome features, such as focus peaking and more.

All in all, if you’re buying this phone for the photography experience, you’re getting a great but not quite excellent experience on the whole. But between the lovely manual controls and wide-angle camera, you’ve got a lot to play with.

Video recording

SAMSUNG CSC

When it comes to video recording, the V20 offers all the major bells and whistles. So that means 4K video, 60fps video (always a favourite), 120fps slow-motion and the usual 1080p and 720p flavours. In other words, there are plenty of options here, but it would be cool to see 240fps slow-mo become more commonplace though.

The V20 also notably offers the ability to change bit-rate (low, medium, high), effectively allowing you to make your own quality adjustments without changing video resolution/FPS. The overall quality is good but not great, being less Samsung and more Xiaomi Mi 5, if anything. Blue skies exhibit noticeable noise at times, while the actual image stabilisation (using Qualcomm technology) is still rather janky, to say the least.

The phone does a great job in low light though, featuring little noise, a smooth framerate and great colour reproduction in videos. So low-light recordings should hold up well enough.

But it’s the manual video mode, first seen on the V10, that makes for a unique selling point. In this mode, you can adjust bit-rate, white balance, exposure, ISO, shutter speed and manually focus (using the aforementioned focus peaking too). The biggest addition to manual video mode might just be the suite of audio settings though.

Audio recording

The V20 offers the most audio-recording options out of any smartphone on the market right now, which is seriously saying something.

Turn on the “HiFi Audio” setting and you can record video clips in crisp audio (well, almost), using three high-quality microphones to capture sound. Within the HiFi Audio field there are options to adjust mic directivity (you can set it to capture sounds from behind or from in front), gain, limiter and the low cut filter. There’s even a wind filter here that works well when trying to record interviews and general conversations.

So then, does it work? The simple answer is “sometimes”.

Half my recorded clips had a very noticeable crackling to it, no matter which settings I changed, it would seem. Whether I used the default settings, turned down the gain, turned up the limiter or messed with the low cut filter, it seemed to be a 50% chance of a lovely clip. Otherwise, crackling and audio “cutting” of sorts seems to be the case for the other 50%.

The LG V20 doesn’t always live up to its audio recording hype, to say the least

It’s a real shame too, because underneath all the annoying crackling and popping, it’s clear that there’s some lovely, rich sound underneath. Whether it’s acoustic guitar, cymbals, bass guitar or other instruments, they definitely sound “punchy”, for lack of a better word.

People with a lot of experience recording audio will most likely have a better go at it. But it’s really a pity, especially when the Lumia range and several HTC flagships tend to offer great results without tweaking.

To be fair, I didn’t take clip-by-clip notes to keep perfect track of which settings I changed. But I only messed around with mic directivity at the CrashCarBurn/Held On Till May gig and dropped the gain or increased the limiter for the Gangs of Ballet acoustic set. The FreshlyGround video saw me only adjust the gain downwards as well.

Here’s hoping LG cleans up the HiFi Audio recording with a system update, maybe even introducing a dedicated concert mode in the camera app.

LG V20

LG also includes an HD Audio Recorder app, faring much better but still occasionally prone to crackling and similar niggles. Despite these issues, the quality is still a giant leap up compared to the competition. The app delivers three modes for recording, in the form of a normal mode, concert option and custom mode. The latter offers a swathe of options, including file format (WAV, 3GP and FLAC), bit depth, sample rate and a few of the camera options (such as wind filter and LCF).

Again, these tracks aren’t perfect (occasionally having the same crackling and popping), but I found them to be great for interviews and live music most of the time. And the file sizes can be huge, to boot. For instance, a 3min30sec recording from the Gangs of Ballet live gig (in WAV) weighed in at a hefty 210MBs. Of course, I cranked up the sample rate and all the bells and whistles – listen to it below.

Overall, the V20 shows a lot of promise and when it delivers, it really offers a massive improvement. But this is unfortunately off-set by the finicky, unpredictable nature of the recordings. You’re never guaranteed amazing sound from a clip.

Music playback

Playback is another story though, as the quad-DAC hardware means that high impedance headphones can be used here. So audiophiles will absolutely want to keep this at the top of their wishlist (alongside the HTC 10, for one).

I’m an average Joe Nobody when it comes to audio playback though, using cheap but decent Xiaomi earphones for the job. I copied over some FLAC files and used both the optional B&O earphones and the Xiaomi headphones – the result?

True audiophiles will love the V20’s audio playback chops, but everyone else might struggle to hear the difference

I couldn’t pick up much of a difference, if any, compared to music playback on other high-end smartphones. But in saying so, the default music player app is very capable and aesthetically pleasing. Still, those who’ve got the requisite, pricey headphones will be happy with the sound.

Otherwise, the V20 has a single bottom-firing speaker that definitely sounds like a smartphone speaker. It gets pleasantly loud, but those hoping for HTC-like levels will undoubtedly be disappointed.

Nevertheless, if your life revolves around FLAC files and expensive audio gear, then the V20 is right up there with the Marshall London as being ideal for the job.

Battery life

LG V20

In terms of endurance, the V20 comes with a 3200mAh removable battery, being a welcome change from rival handsets. The device will easily last a working day, I found, as I used social media apps, emails, music playback and watched a few videos in a typical day. These scenarios still saw me having at least 40% juice to play with come home time.

Otherwise, a night of recording a live gig (about 12 video clips in two and a half hours), saw the phone dropping to the halfway mark by the time I got home. Not bad at all.

Still, those expecting a two-day battery life will need to take the usual measures – the Redmi Note 3 (review), this is not.

So close but so far

The LG V20 is undoubtedly a marked improvement over the G5, going a long way to being the definitive LG flagship this year.

Between the fantastic audio playback credentials, practical (albeit low-res) wide-angle camera and slew of recording features, the V20 makes for a standout proposition in the crowded smartphone market. The much-hyped audio-recording capability, while producing fantastic results for interviews and offering an unparalleled number of tweaks, is simply unpredictable for use as a live gig handset.

Verdict: The LG V20 offers a great but not excellent camera experience (in large part due to the extensive settings), rich audio playback and super-speedy performance. But those hoping to get some fantastic concert recordings will need to do just that – hope.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings almost seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • Antoine Swans

    I’m sorry to hear that was your experience! I always shoot in manual mode so i don’t have those problems which is why i won’t give up my G4. I think that the LG V20 is a phone that takes amazing shots if you can put in the time to accurately dial it in, but i think that most people don’t have the time for that which seems perplexing to me. I don’t know anyone who buys a manual mode camera then shoots in auto mode. Every photographer knows that your best shot has to be dialed in! That’s the part that kills me, the camera isn’t bad because it doesn’t take so called good picture, this camera is leaving it up to you, hence…content creator. It never said that best for point and shoot! So i think its really unfair to say the camera is just ok! I mean, if you only know how to drive a automatic transmission but the car you want is a manual transmission doesn’t make it bad, you just can’t drive it unless you are willing to learn!

  • Antoine Swans

    As a photographer i see the real problem! When digital cameras came in to replace film cameras you no longer had to know manual settings to get the best pictures because the work was done for you. Now if it can’t be done then it must not be good…bullshit! I don’t think that one real photographer has problems with the manual controls and getting what they want out of it. So people if you buy the V20 with a manual camera then don’t complain about a camera phone that you bought that doesn’t give you the results you want because you don’t know how to use them! If you take a little time to put in and figure it out its one of the best tools you can buy to teach you how and what to do because of the camera and videos real time! Take a little time and see what you can really do with the LG V20.

  • Hadlee Simons

    Hey Antoine, thanks for the comment.
    Most smartphones these days have manual camera options, so it’s not just limited to the V20. Hell, my Lumias had manual modes well before Android devices implemented it.

    The vast majority of people aren’t “real” photographers though, relying on the automatic modes to do the job for them. That’s part of the reason why the iPhone and Galaxy range are so popular.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to learn manual modes, and it’s something I enjoy working with to an extent, but more people rely on the phone to take care of the details. Especially in breakneck situations where you simply don’t have time to tweak anything.

  • Antoine Swans

    But what’s upsetting to me is that people keep saying that this phone should be more like an iPhone or Samsung when in actuality it is what it is. For Content creators people who like to take control of their situations but yet, LG advertises that and yet people still want to compare it to the other two popular phones when it’s all on its own. I can’t help people keep trying to buy something or review something that they know they don’t even know how to use.

  • john doe

    Hadlee, thx for your review and effort to record live gigs. Are there any tips you can share how to get better more reliable audio recordings.
    ?

    Will include a clip from YouTube here that has a good recording

    https://youtu.be/poVn9TKJL0Q