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Review: Can LG’s V20 handset put it at the front of the phablet pack?

LG’s release of the V20 could not have come at a better time – hot on the heels of the global recall of competitor Samsung’s Note 7 after reported cases of exploding battery. With its shock resistance, toughened build materials and an interesting design, can the V20 step into that now vacant spot as the front runner in the phablet race?

Design and hardware

At first glance, the V20 is a prettier but more fragile version of its predecessor, last year’s V10. No longer is it protected by steel rails or the shock absorbing rubber that covers the entire back. Instead, the V20 claims to have a US Military Standard 810G rating, which means the phone is shock/impact resistant.

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Though the top and bottom lip are made of polycarbonate and not aluminium, that doesn’t make it any more fragile. I have dropped the phone three times by accident, and each time the battery cover popped off but the phone itself was unharmed. Not a scratch.

Features

The V20 has a quad DAC (digital to analogue convertor) built in and supports 32-bit hi-fi audio. Audio files captured at 32-bit are high quality and “lossless”, meaning either there’s no compression or no quality is lost during compression. The proper way to enjoy this is with high-end earphones, and a pair of BO Beoplay H3 earphones are included, one of the fruits of LG’s collaboration with the Danish company.

With quad DAC switched on and a decent pair of earphones, almost any track will sound better. The sound stage is much clearer and you get to hear each instrument, each layer clearly. The only problem with the DAC is that it only works over wired connections, not over Bluetooth.

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The V20 features dual rear cameras. One is a normal camera and the other super wide angle. They don’t work together like the iPhone 7 Plus nor Huawei P9. Instead, they are separate sensors, toggled by the user when necessary.

Image quality really is nothing to write home about. Rear camera photos are fine during the daytime. The selfie camera is actually just one wide angle sensor, so non-wide angle shots are simulated. You might therefore notice some distortion to the selfies. Nighttime photos approach mediocre because of overly aggressive noise reduction.

Photos taken in manual modes are something else. While they don’t necessarily produce better results, you can save your photos in RAW and manipulate them later.

Manual mode is also filled with cleverness. For example, it’ll lay a green tint over objects when you’re attempting manual focus so you know exactly what will look sharp and what will be out of focus. Video recording in manual is just as powerful but marred by the inability for optical image stabilisation (OIS) to be active at the same time when shooting at a smooth 60 frames per second. When OIS is on, the resulting footage is fairly stable.

The built-in microphones are also quite amazing, as they clearly capture spatial detail very well. Regardless of whether you’re shooting a video, or recording an HD sound clip with the voice recorder, it’ll sound as though you’re right there, minus all the ambient noise.

LG’s custom user interface, known as the LG UX 5+, is slightly stuttery, especially when Wi-fi is saturated from downloading. The camera viewfinder clearly lags more than it should. It does have a few good features such as suggestions on where to share the photo or video you just snapped.

A second screen, in the form of a bar running at the top of the screen, is here to stay. It’s a very practical addition and provides a nice little area where you can keep frequently accessed shortcuts and recently used apps. Best of all, as notifications arrive, they don’t distract you by taking up one fifth of the screen. The only gripe I have is that it’s quite a reach.

Performance and battery life

Launching with the spanking new Android version – Nougat – is definitely a selling point. Out of the many new and improved features – the Doze battery optimisation, the split screen management, new actionable and redesigned notifications – the double-tap-to-return-to-previous-app has to be my favourite and most used feature.

The Snapdragon 820 processor provides a far more reasonable battery life to speed ratio than the Snapdragon 808 on the V10.

The 3,200 mAh high capacity battery provides the standard one day fare for most SD820 phones, and the V20 is no different. With medium use and no gaming, the V20 will last through a 14 hour day with perhaps 10-20 per cent to spare. By which time, low battery mode should have kicked in. Kudos to LG for making the battery removable, meaning you can simply carry a spare. Quick charge is also available.

Conclusion

All that power, and yet its weakest link is in its battery life. And the V20 is not waterproof. So it’ll survive many drops to the ground, but one accident plunge into the washing up bowl and it’ll die.

The bottom line is that if you need total manual control over your photos and videos, high quality audio recording in videos as well as voice recordings, top notch audiophile playback, wide angle photography, with a durable chassis, then you’re not going to find anything quite like the V20.

Price: HK$5,998

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Specifications

Dimensions: 159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6mm

Weight: 174g

Screen size: 5.7 inches

Screen resolution: 2,560 x 1,440 pixels

Battery capacity: 3,200 mAh, removable

OS: Android 7.0

Processor: Snapdragon 820

Camera: 16 megapixel with OIS

Memory: 64GB (expandable)

Colours: titan, silver and pink