LG V20 long term review: is it still worth your money?

With the release of the LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 lineup, the LG V20 might not be the first name you think of when you walk into a carrier store right now, but you might want to consider it nonetheless. Released only about eight months ago, the V20 represents LG’s focus on the biggest screen, the best camera, and the clearest audio it could pack into a device at the time.

It’s big. It’s pretty attractive. While also having enough power to get through most any task without breaking a sweat.

You may have seen some commercials for the V20 when the device first released. In fact, they were almost inescapable. The ever-handsome Joseph Gordon Levitt on the drums and a band of characters that all look way too excited to be on television. These were designed to show us how amazing it is to record media on the V20. Because, as the commercial says, it was all filmed on the V20. That’s an impressive claim when you think about it – filming a commercial that will be seen by millions and played thousands of times on a phone.

But, every phone has an amazing camera right now. When you walk into a carrier store and look at the wall of phones, can you find even one that can’t take quality pictures? Sure, the V20 does an amazing job, better than almost everyone else on the market, but is doing something slightly better a true selling point? Are people willing to pay hundreds of dollars more for dual cameras, impressive camera applications, and quality 4K recording than phones that come with “just” really good cameras?

The LG V10 was a standout phone due to the construction of its body and its media features. The V20 is an evolution of the V10, but is it enough to justify purchasing it over other flagships of 2016? Is it enough to justify an upgrade from the V10? We look to answer these questions and more over the course of this review. But first, let’s take a look at what the V20 is packing under the hood.

Specs

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
  • GPU: Adreno 530
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Battery: 3200mAh (removable)
  • Storage: 64GB (expandable)
  • Display: 5.7″, 2560 x 1440p LCD with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
  • Software: Android 7.0 Nougat with LG UX 5
  • Camera (rear): Dual 16MP (f/1.8) and 8MP (f/2.4) cameras
  • Camera (front): 5MP (f/1.9)
  • Dimensions: 6.29 x 3.07 x 0.30 in (159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6 mm)
  • Ports: USB type-C, 3.5mm microphone, Infrared

As you can see, the LG V20 is an absolute beast on the spec sheet. It stands up to basically everything else released last year and is only slightly behind the flagships of 2017. The only discrepancy that one might come across is the use of the Snapdragon 820 processor instead of the newer Snapdragon 821. In reality, the chips are the same, just clocked at different frequencies. This thing still flies through tasks, no matter the model number associated with it.

It’s nice to see the inclusion of the microSD slot and a removable battery in the V20. As someone who has tried to target phones with these two features, I can tell you how much I miss them when they’re absent on a device I’m using. Almost every flagship device in the past few years has had some sort of quick charging capabilities (sorry Apple fans) so yes, it’s great to plug your phone in for 15 minutes and get several hours worth of battery life. However, nothing is quicker or more convenient than just popping in a new battery and being on your way.

The same goes for the microSD card reader. Pixel owners heap praise onto Google for giving customers unlimited space to upload their full resolution pictures and videos, but do you know what’s better? Not running out of space in the first place due to having 64GB of onboard storage and an almost endless amount of expandability.

What didn’t make this listed specs above, is the inclusion of the quad-DAC that LG heavily marketed. LG decided to go the opposite route of Apple. Not only did it keep the 3.5mm headphone jack, but it made it even better with the inclusion of a class-leading Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). If you’re the US, the V20 is your only choice right now to get this DAC since LG left it out of the US version of the G6. I’ll go into more detail later, but the audio experience with the V20 is astounding and one of the best features of the phone.

Physical Overview

The LG V20 is definitely a phablet. This thing is huge. While it’s not as big as some of the more ridiculous devices like the Posh Mobile 7″ LTE phone, it definitely will be a two-hand device for all but those with the longest of digits. I love big phones but even I found it just a little bit too big. If you hold the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and the V20 next to each other you’ll notice that while they’re about as tall as each other, the S8 Plus is much skinnier and that makes all the difference when trying to hold your device comfortably.

There are compromises you have to make for a device that big (like comfort) and if you’re not willing to make them, keep your money in your pocket because using a phone that’s too big can be extremely frustrating. With the release of the G6 and Galaxy S8 that both pack huge screens in small bodies, it hurts the case to pick up the V20 if something like this bothers you like it does me.

The inclusion of the second-screen ticker at the top doesn’t help keep the size down, either. I found that the ticker had little real functionality and actually made my experience worse. Often times I would end up swiping left or right on the ticker when I meant to swipe down from the top of the screen to open the notification shade. I also turned on the flashlight randomly and opened the Settings app more times than I can count. I applaud LG for trying to be innovative here, but I think the idea is better than the execution.

Just in case I forgot my own name

The bezels are pretty small and that does help cut down on some of the width and helps to make the phone look a little more appealing. I also appreciated how thin the phone is, as I’m unafraid to admit that the thinner the better for me. Sure, I’ll take a slightly fatter device for more battery life if the phone is severely lacking in that department, but otherwise, I want it as thin as I can get it.

The V20 scores highly here. It’s not only thin but also surprisingly light for how big the device is. Multiple people remarked at how they expected it to be much heavier when they picked it up for the first time. The weight distribution is excellent as it never felt top-heavy.

The USB Type-C charging port sits on the bottom of the device where you’d expect it to be and is flanked by three machined lines for the speaker to its right and a 3.5mm headphone jack with a microphone to its left. The headphone jack is becoming somewhat of a luxury now with Apple and Motorola removing it on its flagships. I agree with our friends over at The Verge that removing such a universally accepted port is dumb and hostile to consumers. I hope these Android OEMS get it together and stop removing features that people love. As we mentioned above, LG has doubled down on the jack by including a quad-DAC inside that makes the headphone jack a selling feature instead of a missing one.

Flipping over to the rear of the device finds…not much. We used to have the volume buttons and fingerprint scanner/home button combo back here, but only the latter combination has made it to the V20. Yes, the volume keys returned to the side of the device to make room for the new dual camera setup. Flanking the cameras are the flash and laser auto-focus sensors.

As we mentioned the volume buttons moved to the left side of the device, and pretty high up I might add. On the right side of the device near the bottom is the battery door release button that gives you access to the removable battery, SIM card, and microSD card slots.

Display

The V20’s 5.7″ display on my review unit is as good as you’d expect. The 2k display is an LCD panel that won’t give you those deep blacks of a Samsung AMOLED panel but will hold its own. It can feel a bit washed out from time to time but that may be because we’re used to looking at over-saturated displays. I’ve had friends complain about their disdain for this display but the longer I used it, the more I got used to it and wasn’t bothered by this like I was when I first got the device many moons ago.

A big advantage that the V20 has over opponents is just how bright it can get. I had no problem using the V20 outside during mostly sunny or partly cloudy days at max brightness. Only the brightest of days saw any issues pop up. Alternatively, the V20 also has a nice brightness floor. Reading in bed before I got up in the morning was an enjoyable experience, provided that I found the right way to hold the device.

Max brightness on a very sunny day. Not great, but workable.

With all the great things to say about brightness, this doesn’t mean the V20 is without issues. First of all, the auto-brightness is just not good enough. I’ve found this to be an issue in almost every LG device I’ve used in the last two years which includes the LG G4, V10, G5, G6, and the V20. Pulsing from dark to bright while sitting on a table is unacceptable. The extremely low brightness, when set to auto brightness, kills any hope that I can ever use it on any LG device. I hope that the unit that LG sent over was just having issues, but my past history with its other devices leads me to believe otherwise.

Another issue, as I mentioned above, is the second display. I hope that LG shutters the ticker for the V30. It provided almost no value other than sometimes giving me a notification that I’d normally have to pull down the notification shade for. I’m not a fan and I doubt it moves the needle in terms of sales. That real estate could be better spent on forward facing speakers. LG has the right idea with the always-on display of the G6, they don’t need an extra ticker display to do that.

Software

Samsung and LG have always been the two major OEMs that have the heaviest skins on their phones. Nothing has changed in that regard for the LG V20. While I do think that LG made some nice changes and added some improvements into Android, a lot of the software feels changed just so that LG can say it changed it. Sometimes putting a coat of paint on something is a nice touch, sometimes it’s just wasting paint. LG has done a little of both in the V20.

The most immediate and noticeable change that people will see in the V20 is the lack of an app drawer. It can be enabled, but it doesn’t come as the default selection. I’m not entirely sure if the motivation here is just to get a little closer to Apple’s design language so that the choice is a little easier for consumers or not, but that is entirely what it feels like. The app drawer is a staple of Android and one of the core features that give people a real choice between it and iOS. Removing it as the default option is confusing and backward thinking. LG did it with the G5, G6, and has now done it with the V20. Please stop it, LG.

There are some smart additions like a button to drop the notification window

I do, however, like what LG has done in the notification tray. We could classify this as a new coat of paint too, but I believe that the small icons and notification tiles are a step up from stock Android and something that both LG and Samsung are getting right. I love the quick toggles at the top of the default swipe down and while I’m not going to use LG’s QuickMemo or anything that it sticks in there, they do get it mostly right by giving users some customization here.

The Settings app comes by default in tab view and one of the first things I do is change it to the list view. Android, for the most part, pretty much nailed the settings application in Stock Android and I wish companies would quit trying to reinvent the wheel here. The tab view can be confusing when looking for a specific setting to change. I found myself using the search within the settings app more often in tab view than in list view.

Tabs. Ew.

LG’s software isn’t just what launcher but that is the most front-facing part of it. It’s what everyone sees when they get the device unless they install a launcher, and honestly, a fair amount of people who get a phone don’t know what a launcher is. Nothing LG did in its software made me think twice about installing Nova Launcher the minute I was done with the review process of V20.

You’ll get your usual bloatware apps installed by default like Facebook, Evernote, LG’s suite of apps, and whatever your carrier decides to stick on the device. I’m not going to ding LG for theses more than anyone else because they are not even close to the worst at it. There are some dumb apps like LG Friends Manager (no one uses LG Friends) but at most they’ll sit in your app drawer as you scroll past them.

A few apps, but not an overwhelming amount of bloatware.

LG continues to skin things just to skin them. Continues to trade Google’s apps for its own inferior apps. You have to wonder how much cheaper these devices could be and how much faster the updates would come if LG, Samsung, and the like didn’t spend time developing useless crap like this.

Speaking of faster software updates, I haven’t had one software update yet. The phone launched with Android 7.0 Nougat and the Sept. 2016 security update and that’s where it sits today. This, to put it mildly, is frustrating. LG must do better with software updates if it wants to keep customers who are more plugged into these issues happy. I want my phone as safe as possible. I use the fingerprint scanner, I have it encrypted, and I have a pin. LG, please help me make it safer by giving me security updates.

Performance

If you think you’re missing out by buying the LG V20 instead of the LG G6 or the Samsung Galaxy S8, think again. The V20 has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage in tow and it stands up to the flagships of 2017 in every way.

I don’t think this phone has lagged once. I’ll occasionally get some touch latency but that is about it when it comes to the V20. I’m not huge into games but the few I’ve played have looked beautiful and I can’t see any dips in frame rate. For day to day use, app loading times are quick and I don’t get any hiccups when scrolling through long lists of items like in a Reddit app or long menus.

I’m honestly very impressed with how the V20 has held up in comparison to 2017’s flagships. I would have expected the G6 and S8 to have at least some noticeable performance gains on the V20 but I’ve noticed none.

Battery life has been stellar and has actually gotten better the longer I’ve had the device. I get roughly five hours of screen on time and get through a solid day of use with it. I keep my brightness around 30% or lower (really, it doesn’t need to go any higher unless I’m outside) and generally check social sites, read emails from the four accounts I have synced and look at Reddit. Pretty standard stuff.

Camera

The LG V20 features a dual-camera set up with a 16MP main shooter and an 8MP wide-angle lens. The front of the device has a 5MP shooter capable of pulling off some pretty decent selfies (that I will spare you from seeing).

While the main 16MP lens is wonderful for your everyday shots, the 8MP wide-angle lens really comes in handy for group shots. While I do appreciate having it on the device, the fish-eye effect can be a bit much for me so I generally use the regular lens if I can.

You can shoot 4K video with the V20 or you can drop down the resolution to 1080p with 30 or 60 frames per second. Where the V20 really shines though is in manual mode. Most phones have a manual photography mode, but the V20 features a manual video mode and it’s awesome. You get the options to change the white balance, focus, shutter speed, ISO, and iris to get the perfect video. After playing with the manual video mode, I definitely believe that you can shoot a commercial with it.

Here are a few samples from the camera that we think give a fair representation of what the V20 can do.

LG V20 Review

Conclusion

So, how do I feel about the V20 after spending multiple months with it? Well, I’m not in love with it. Generally, when I find a device I love, I truly latch onto it and will think fondly of it even after I stop using it. I don’t feel that way about the V20.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good phone. If you’re into listening to high-quality audio on your phone, this is what you want to pick up. The quad-DAC truly makes a difference in what you’ll hear in your headphones. If you’re into capturing those special moments with your camera or on video, you should definitely consider the V20. There are other devices out there that may take better pictures but the V20 is in the top tier and the manual video mode is second to none on the market.

There is other, smaller, stuff that I enjoy too like the removable battery, the thinness of the device, microSD card slot, and a few smart software tweaks. But, it’s not enough to make me fall in love. The software is needlessly skinned and has LG apps where Google apps should be. The phone is just too big and the second ticker display up top is wasted real estate.

There are a lot of really good ideas that are realized in the V20, but there are also some really bad ones too. I don’t think it’s the best phone on the market, but that’s truly a subjective title. If you’re into what the V20 does best, I think you should definitely check it out. As one of the only phones out there with a removable battery, it’s a bit of a dying breed. But, if you want a smaller device with a large screen, good battery, an IP rating, and a great camera, you have other choices in 2017.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Build Quality
Display
Audio
Battery Life
Features
Camera
Software
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Matt is an avid sports and technology fan and Managing Editor for AndroidGuys.com. You can get in touch with him by email at [email protected]