Monday, 7 November 2016

Review: LG V20, Android The Way It Used To Be


LG's recent financial results were something of a disaster. The modular G5 hasn't been the success the company hoped for and the V10 seems to have suffered both limited availabilty and limited take-up. So the arrival of the V20 is something of a watershed moment for LG's smartphone ambitions. 

The V20 is a special kind of phone, delivering the sort of Android experience that Google seems so keen to take away from Nexus / Pixel users. This is a phone aimed squarely at power users, those who value features and functionality above restrictions and vendor controls.

For all that it isn't a perfect device, the V20 was the best device I've tried this year for very different reasons.

The V20 is definitely a premium device, with enhanced drop resistance, its in the hand feel is excellent and visually its a treat too. Turning the screen on is a delight and aside from the Galaxy S7 Edge I don't believe there's a more impressive display out there. That there are two screens - one of which does the job of always on display - is a neat little trick that I felt worked well, even if it felt gimmicky. However once notifications start popping up there instead of interrupting your workflow you start to see the benefits.

The two screens added together effectively form a 5.9" screen, which explains why the V20 feels as big as the Nexus 6P.

Externally the features keep coming. There's the removable back cover, which hides a replaceable battery. That battery will keep the V20 running for a day and a half in normal usage. There's a USB-C port for charging and connectivity, with Quick Charge 3 giving flat to full times of around an hour and a half.

On the back of the V20 you'll also find the dual camera array and fingerprint sensor / power switch. The former has 16mp and 8mp lenses configured for standard and wide angle photos. Both performed well in good light, but quality quickly falls off indoors or as the light fades. The camera software offers a multitude of manual controls though, so a competent photographer should be able to address that issue easily enough.

The fingerprint sensor is poorly located in my view, however it works well enough. So if the V20 is laid on your desk you can only wake it up using the knock sensor and pass code combination.

Audio is where the V20 should be peerless, with integrated DACs and a multi microphone recording array, voice recordings in particular were of a very high quality.

Software-wise the V20 is the first phone released with Android 7.0, although LG has seen fit to top that with its own skin. That means out of the box you lose the app drawer - a hint that LG sees China as a big market for the V20. You can restore the app drawer by choosing a different home screen though.

The V20 packs the Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, so despite LG's skinning efforts it hums along nicely. There's an microSD card slot for memory expansion, NFC and fully up to date Bluetooth and Wifi radios. Which makes the absence of wireless charging all the more annoying.

All in the V20 reminds me of the Galaxy S5, a phone designed for users who want to be in control of their devices, rather than cede that control to the manufacturer or Google. For the most part its an excellent device, which makes the right compromises to create the best device of its type.

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