LG V20 review: The Android phone for hardcore enthusiasts

Forget about LG's content-creation claims. The V20 is the phone for nerds who just want to play.

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v20 audio controls

When in manual video mode, you get access to a generous suite of audio controls. You can even adjust whether your mics pick up more sound in front of the camera, or behind the camera.

On the other hand, LG’s claims of superior audio recording are completely legit. Videos shot with the V20 sounded markedly louder, richer and altogether better than content shot with all the other phones we tested. And with the V20’s extensive audio recording controls—available to video recording in the camera’s manual video mode—you can really drill down and fine tune your recordings (assuming you know what you’re doing).

Check out our audio recording results in the video below.

The irony, of course, is that if you’re really serious about content creation, you’ll be using discrete microphones, and not rely on the mics on a smartphone. Still, it’s nice that LG adds these recording controls to the V20’s extensive toolkit.

The phone also comes with an HD Audio Recorder app that records in stereo, just like in the camera app. There are audio profile presets for “normal” and “concert,” or you can opt to adjust the Gain, LCF and LMT sliders yourself. The bottom line is there’s not a better phone for capturing bootleg concert recordings. Not that you’d ever do that.

v20 hd recorder Jon Phillips

The built-in HD Audio Recorder app lets you fine-tune your recordings—legal or otherwise.

Rounding out the audio story is Hi-Fi Quad DAC. Obviously, the DAC—literally, a digital-to-analog converter—won’t work with Bluetooth earburds, but if you still have wired earphones, you can toggle it on for potentially better sound. I only tested the feature with Spotify and Google Play Music playback, and couldn’t hear much improvement in audio quality. Nonetheless, I love the DAC’s volume controller, which lets you fine-tune 75 steps of loudness.

v20 hi fi quad dac Jon Phillips

Through November 20, you can get a free pair of B&O earphones when you buy the V20. And you’ll need wired earphones to use the Hi-Fi Quad DAC.

OS experience, performance, and the bottom line

Unfortunately, the V20 failed to run our standard PCMark battery benchmark. I gave up after three attempts, so I don’t have a specific battery score to share with you. I can tell you, however, that the phone’s battery lasted relatively long, even during extended video recording tests. So, anecdotally, I was quite happy with battery life.

lg v20 benchmark chart

We run 11 different performance tests, and they all tell the same story: In terms of raw benchmarks, the V20 and Pixel XL run neck and neck.

The V20 runs a skinned version of Android 7.0, making it the only phone other than the two Pixels to run a version of Nougat, Google’s latest operating system. In terms of core silicon, the V20 includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. All of this would pretty much be state-of-the-art for Android phones, if not for the fact the Pixels run a slightly more advanced Snapdragon 821 chip, as well Android 7.1.  

The Pixel XL feels palpably zippier than the V20, and this is a major reason why I prefer Google’s phone in a two-way battle. The Pixel’s OS and app behaviors just feel quicker and more fluid than the V20’s, perhaps due to system tuning on Google’s part. Our benchmarks didn’t expose dramatic performance deltas between the two phones, but everything about the Pixel XL feels faster, cleaner, and more modern—and that includes the vibe of the system software.

v20 back beauty Jon Phillips

Viewed from behind, you may not guess the V20 has a removable back panel.

LG deserves kudos for not junking up its UX 5.0 skin with a bunch of unnecessary apps and annoying interface decisions. Nonetheless, the V20’s system experience is simultaneously busy and clinical, at least relative to the Pixel, where Google has made strides toward simplicity and whimsy. From its app icons to its wallpapers to its weather widget, the V20 experience simply feels older—and that matters a lot when you're using your phone multiple times an hour, every day.

The V20 also lacks Google Assistant. So while it’s an awesome Android phone, it’s just not the most advanced expression of an Android phone, and all its sundry content-creation tools and extra little doodads can’t push past the Pixel on that score. 

This story, "LG V20 review: The Android phone for hardcore enthusiasts" was originally published by Greenbot.

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At a Glance
  • The V20 is packed with interesting features for hardcore enthusiasts, but the user experience feels stale, and camera performance doesn't meet LG's claims.

    Pros

    • Packed with interesting features. The perfect phone for nerds.
    • Removable battery and Second Screen: nice value-adds.
    • Best audio capabilities of any smartphone.
    • A true Swiss Army Knife of smartphones.

    Cons

    • Photo and video features don't live up to LG's claims.
    • Not the zippiest or refined Android phone available.
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