LG V20 smartphone review: Great audio and large screen, but infrequent security updates

One of the wonderful – and horrible – things about cell phones is that there are so many to choose from. It’s wonderful because we have choice. It’s horrible because there are so many choices that the carriers can’t offer them all, so some excellent devices like the BlackBerry DTEK60 can’t be purchased from any carrier as part of a cellular plan, and others have only been picked up by sub-brands.

Case in point: the LG V20[1]. Last September, LG introduced its flagship V20 smartphone with great fanfare. It was the first phone to ship with Android 7 (Nougat).

But for one reason or another, the device didn’t actually hit the shelves here until November, and then only with Freedom Mobile (formerly Wind Mobile) for £299 on contract, or £999 if purchased outright, and Videotron, for £199.95 or £299.95 on contract, or £1029.95 if purchased outright. We’ve been playing with the phone, first in pre-production, then production versions, for several months. Here’s a look.

Handout / LG

The V20 is not a dainty phone.

At 6.28 x 3.07 x 0.30 inches, and weighing in at 6.14 oz (174 g) it’s definitely in phablet territory, of similar size to the iPhone 7 Plus, but 14 grams lighter. It boasts a 5.7 inch IPS LCD screen with excellent 2560 x 1440 (Quad HD) resolution, plus a half-inch deep secondary screen across the top. It has a respectable 4 GB RAM, 64 GB internal memory, plus a microSD slot that lets you bump memory up with an additional 2 TB.

It supports Quick Charge 3.0. At the launch event, LG’s Frank Lee said that the V20 was built with storytellers in mind. It has three microphones, high fidelity audio recording and Steady Record 2 image stabilization technology that analyses movement in real time and compensates to keep motion smooth.

It offers 4K video capture and playback, and can also capture individual frames when recording. To provide ultra-wide angle shots, the 5 MP front camera has a 120-degree lens, and the 16 MP and 8 MP rear cameras let you span 135 degrees. Physically, the device is solidly built, with a body made of aircraft aluminium and polycarbonate.

The screen is protected with Gorilla Glass 4, although my gorilla was apparently a feeble one – this is the only phone I’ve used (and they all live in my purse, not in a pocket) whose screen developed a scratch. A stroll around the device reveals two buttons controlling volume on the left side, an audio jack and a USB-C connector on the bottom, and a little button on the right whose function will be revealed momentarily. The combination power switch and fingerprint reader is on the back, under the dual cameras and right where your index finger naturally sits when you grab the phone.

It’s one of the most reliable fingerprint readers I’ve used. Now, that button on the right. Press it, and the back cover releases to reveal a removable 3200 mAh battery, plus slots for the SIM and microSD card.

Yes, this is one of the few remaining phones with swappable batteries. The downside, of course, is that the phone isn’t waterproof. It does pass MIL-STD-810G spec drop tests, though.

The dual rear cameras – a 16 MP camera with standard 75 degree angle lens and an 8 MP one with 135 degree wide-angle lens – take nice clear photos. They have optical image stabilization, manual mode, panorama mode, HDR mode, and you can click the shutter by tapping the screen, using a volume key, by voice, or via a timer, as you prefer. I was able to zoom in on a shot of a sleeping cat, taken in a not very bright room without flash, and see the individual hairs clearly.

Handout / LG

I initially had trouble with the rear cameras’ auto-focus, especially in lower light conditions.

It would flip in and out of focus while I was framing a shot, particularly when zoomed, generating properly exposed blurs most of the time. It took several software updates, some post release, before that problem got sorted out. Once they’re focused, though, the photos are sharp and clear, and the colours properly rendered.

The 5 MP front camera can auto-initiate a 2-second timer for selfies. There’s even a selfie light, and a “Beauty shot” setting that softens the focus. Audio recording is one of the V20’s strongest features, with multiple modes to capture the best sound in any situation.

It even has a studio mode to allow users to record vocals on top of a music track, as well as a concert mode, and “normal.” Its three mics let you record 24 bit sound. Playback is also good, reproducing nuances; in my favourite test video, the Som Sabadell flash mob[2], you can even hear the clink of coins landing in the hat, and there’s no distortion of the music at high volume. The half-inch wide secondary screen across the top can serve several purposes.

It can be always on if you so choose, so can display alerts, time, the state of the battery and wireless signal, and so forth, without unlocking the main screen. You can scroll horizontally to show icons for launching favourite apps and controlling music, or put five frequent contacts there for easy access, for example. It’s insanely configurable.

Despite the phone’s size, it sat comfortably in my hand and didn’t feel top-heavy, though it’s not really usable one-handed. The bonus is you have plenty of screen real estate to play with. Battery life will get you through most days, and Quick Charge makes a top-up easy if need be.

One thing I’ve found disappointing has nothing to do with the hardware. Unlike Google and BlackBerry (and some Samsung models), LG does not distribute Android security updates monthly. My unit is still stuck at the December 1, 2016 update level.

LG claims that it is at the mercy of the carriers, and the updates get pushed on their schedule. If that is the fact, carriers should be deeply ashamed (if not, vendors need to get their collective acts together). With today’s continuous barrages of attacks, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep devices patched.

It’s a major disservice to customers – in fact, it’s downright disrespectful – to leave devices vulnerable when there are fixes available, and it is not an incentive to enterprise adoption. That said, there’s a lot to like about the LG V20, especially if you have heavy multimedia requirements. There are tradeoffs, of course – the swappable battery means it’s not waterproof, for example – but on the whole it’s a good, albeit substantial, phone for almost any user, and that big screen provides plenty of room to view business documents.

However, given its limited carrier availability (Best Buy and Newegg offer it unlocked from third parties), you’ll likely have to buy it outright and get it unlocked.

References

  1. ^ LG V20 (www.lg.com)
  2. ^ Som Sabadell flash mob (www.youtube.com)

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