When LG launched the V10 last year we were pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t just a bigger version of the company’s impressive G4, but a phone with a uniquely rugged design, a secondary screen, dual selfie cameras, and advanced multimedia features. Things are different this year. LG arguably missed the mark with the G5, a fine handset that was outclassed by the competition, especially in terms of materials and build quality. But now we have the V20, a phone which drops the G5’s gimmicky modular design and brings back some of the V10’s best features. So what’s this new flagship like? Is it good enough to bring the company back on track? Find out in our review.
Note: The V20 LG loaned us is a pre-production unit. As such, the software isn’t completely final, and the hardware isn’t optimized for the US market. We’ll update this review once we receive a final production device.
First, the bad news. The V20’s design is utterly boring and forgettable. Whereas the V10’s rubberized back and stainless steel sides gave it a unique look and feel (and made it genuinely rugged), the V20 looks like an oversized BlackBerry Z10 from the front, and some kind of generic phone from the back. Sure, LG gave the V20 the same dual-camera system as the G5, but that’s the only standout design element. At least it’s available in three colors — titanium, silver, and pink. Now for the good news: the V20 retains the V10’s secondary screen, advanced multimedia features, and removable battery. Build quality is excellent, and it feels great in hand. It’s also MIL-STD-810G certified, making it shock proof.
The V20 features a 5.7-inch main screen plus a second 2.1-inch display. At 159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6mm (6.29 x 3.07 x 0.30 inches), it’s slightly taller and barely narrower than the 6-inch Huawei Mate 8 — in other words, it’s rather big handset. On the plus side, it’s thinner than last year’s V10, and lighter too (174g). The front is Gorilla glass and the removable back cover is made of aluminum, with matching plastic end caps top and bottom. While some will appreciate the removable battery, it’s somewhat disappointing that LG — despite its vast manufacturing expertise — hasn’t (yet) crafted a unibody flagship to take on rivals Samsung, Apple, or HTC.
Let’s take a closer look. The 5-megapixel front shooter is nestled to the left of the second screen along with the light and proximity sensors, with the earpiece centered above. In the back, the power/lock key doubles as a fingerprint reader and sits below the camera pod, which hosts a 16MP primary shooter and an 8MP secondary, wide-angle camera. These are flanked by a dual LED flash and a laser AF module. We’re happy to report that unlike the G5, the V20’s rear shooters are slightly recessed to protect them from scratches. Another small, but unsightly detail is the antenna gap above the camera pod for the NFC loop.
The top edge is home to the IR blaster and secondary mic, while the mono speaker, USB Type-C charge and data port, primary mic, and headphone jack are located on the bottom edge. Like with the G5, the V20’s volume rocker lives on the left side. We liked it better alongside the power lock/key on the back, V10 style. On the right side is a button to release the rear cover. The 3200mAh removable battery, nano SIM slot, and microSD card reader all reside under this removable cover, which we found difficult to latch shut, at least on our review unit. Then again, it’s a pre-production device.
Like last year’s V10, the V20 comes with two displays. Technically it’s a single IPS touch panel with two pixel areas, each with its own backlight and control logic — a 5.7-inch 1440×2560-pixel (Quad HD) main area and second, 2.1-inch 160×1040-pixel area, above and to the right, next to the selfie cam. LG knows how to make a great screen and this panel is no exception. It’s bright and gorgeous, with saturated colors, deep blacks, and excellent viewing angles. While it’s not quite as mind blowing as Samsung’s AMOLED displays, it’s definitely the cream of the IPS crop.
The main screen works like you’d expect. LG uses configurable on-screen buttons instead of physical keys, but that’s about it. It’s with the second display that things get interesting. The V20 follows in the V10’s footsteps, offering an always-on panel that shows different screens, like a custom message (your name for example), shortcuts to toggle settings on and off (WiFi, Bluetooth, flashlight, etc…), favorite apps, media player controls, favorite contacts, recent apps, your next calendar entry, and even a condensed version of the notification bar (complete with time and battery status). You can decide which of these screens appear by default when the main display is on and when it’s off, and flick between them by swiping the panel. There’s also the option to turn the display off completely.
All in all, we feel that the V20’s second screen experience is better than Samsung’s edge UX. Nothing ever gets in the way, and you never find yourself accidentally tapping the edge of the panel when holding the handset.