Home Mobile devices LG V20 – the best flagship phone with a removable battery (review)

LG’s V20, its uber-flagship, has what no other has – a removable battery in a svelte 7.6mm thin, MIL-SPEC-810G, aircraft aluminium case, and that is just the start.

The short version is that this has a 5.7” QHD IPS screen; a second “ticker” style notification screen; 4GB/64GB/microSD; dual 16MP/8MP rear cameras; four B&O Play certified DACs; dual SIM, and the kitchen sink. It is like a Rolls Royce – subtle, over-engineered and understated, but capable of 0-100 in 4 seconds.

But the killer feature is the removable 3200mAh battery via a cleverly concealed quasi-hinged rear panel. If LG can do this in a 7.6mm thin case, there is no reason others cannot. Coincidentally the excellent LG G5 flagship that sits below the V20 has a removable battery too. Please keep this up LG, and to our readers – please vote with your wallets to support this.

Spoiler alert – In theory, this was the most fully featured phone when it was released in November 2016. In practice, it deserves very high consideration against some other excellent flagships.

Review caveat

I am having a bit of a love/hate relationship with it – only because the review model is an F800S straight from South Korea replete with a two-pin charger, and lots of carrier customisation from SK Telecom. It means that I too often see Hangeul characters and Tphone customisations, including some bloatware and strange applications that I cannot remove.

In fact, there are several models depending on the region, carrier, LTE bands, and even some of the phone's internal features like different bootloaders, single and dual SIMs, carrier locking, quad DAC and camera implementations. Models include F800, F800S, F800K, F800L, (F series are for South Korea) H910 (AT&T), H915 (AT&T), H918 (AT&T), H990N (Hong Kong), H990T (Telcel Mexico), LS997 (Sprint), US996 (U.S. Cellular), VS995 (Verizon) and the model in Australia H990DS (also sold in Taiwan).

Clearly, that will not apply to genuine H990DS, Australian-sourced, unlocked stock, that covers 14 LTE bands so be careful if you buy this overseas.

Out of the box – LG V20 (Australian model LG-H990DS)

The phone, B&O premium buds, Qualcomm Quick charge 2.0, USB—C cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter.

Given that the review model was straight from South Korea is it to be accepted that there would be some firmware and OS updates – but not more than 2GB over four downloads. Early international reviews hinted at this and said that the firmware was a little immature especially in the camera and battery life areas. It is all fixed now.

At first, you can’t see the removable back until you realise the power button you have been pressing is, in fact, the rear AL6013 aluminium cover release and it elegantly opens up to reveal the battery and microSD and [dual] Nano SIM holder. The power button is a round fingerprint button on the rear.

LG Bridge software can be downloaded to facilitate copying from an LG G4 or later via a Mac or Windows device – not tested. There is also a PC Suite that may help copy from any OTG enabled device to the V20.

The 149-page manual shows many capabilities and complexities that other phones are missing.

LG V20 fullLG V20 back

Specifications

  • Screen: 5.7”, 2560 x 1440 (QHD), 513ppi, 16:9, 24-bit, IPS LCD covered in Gorilla Glass 4 with 72.04% screen to body ratio.
  • Ticker screen: 2.1” wide, 1040 x 160 pixel, on top right of the main screen.
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, MSM8996, quad-core, 2 x 2.15Ghz and 2 x 1.6GHz bigLittle with Adreno 530 @624Mhz (this is not the “lite” version used by many brands).
  • RAM/Storage: 4GB LPDDR4, 64GB UFS 2.0, with dedicated microSD slot to 2TB, OTG support.
  • Rear Camera: Dual 16 MP (29mm, f/1.8, 75°, Sony IMX298 Exmor RS, 1/2.6" sensor, 1.132um pixels) + 8 MP (12mm, f/2.4, 135°, 1/3.2" sensor), laser autofocus, HDR, OIS, dual LED flash, colour spectrum sensor, 4K @30fps record.
  • Front camera: 5MP, f/1.9, 120°, with auto shot, gesture shot and interval shot, screen fill flash, 1080 @30fps record.
  • Comms: Wi-Fi AC, dual band MU-MIMO, Wi-Di; DLNA; Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX; GPS; NFC; FM radio; IR port; fingerprint sensor; MHL/HDMI video output.
  • Sound: Sabre ESS ES9218 Pro quad B&O Play digital audio converter (DAC) for 32-bit/192kHz audio, 24-bit/48kHz recording, active noise cancelling mic, earpiece speaker, downwards firing speaker, 3.5mm audio.
  • Audio formats native: MP3, AAC, MIDI, EAAC+, OGG, AMR, AAC+, WMA, FLAC, PCM, ALAC, DSD.
  • Battery: 3200mAh removable, USB-C Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 compatible (note Quick Charge 2.0 adaptor supplied), endurance rating 68 hrs.
  • LTE: 4G LTE Cat 12 (600/150Mbps). 14 bands - B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20/28/38/39/40/41.
  • Size/Weight: 159.7mm x 78.1mm x 7.6mm x 175g.
  • Android 7.0 (and after more than 2GB of downloads it is up to date – 1 December patch).
  • Price: $1099

Missing is an IP rating (difficult with a removable back) and wireless charging, although I understand a wireless coil may be an aftermarket option.

Screen

I prefer AMOLED in flagships so I tend to compare everything to Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge 4K screen.

The LGV20 screen is sharp, crystal clear, and bright. Compared to other IPS, RGB screens like the Sony XZ, Apple iPhone 6S Plus and the LG G5 it is no better or worse. It is a good screen but its automatic brightness settings are best left off.

It does not have chroma adjustments but has a blue light feature. It does have a display size adjustment for text. Sunlight readability is on par with Apple but well below AMOLED.

The second colour ticker screen is used for an always-on display of various customisable items – mail/message/phone alerts, date/time, quick tools (like a flashlight) etc. You can also action directly from the screen e.g. respond to email etc. If you know about Samsung’s Edge screen and Always-On-Display, this ticker provides most of that functionality.

The phone can be woken (turned on) by a double tap to the screen. It also has a one-hand setting that shrinks the screen.

LG User Interface UX 5.0

It is a very light touch over Android 7.0, adding value like quick app switching and power/memory management and on the whole, it leaves Android features alone. It is fully themeable.

It has an extensive range of accessibility tools including TalkBack, Voice Message/call notifications, high contrast screen, and even captioning. It supports multitask split screens, up to 5 x 5 icon layout and up to five customisable control buttons.

The pull-down notification screen can show all notifications e.g. email etc.

Performance

The V20 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (full version) and as such performs very much like other flagships that use it e.g. Samsung S7, HTC 10, Moto Z, and LG G5. LG needs to do a bit more processor/OS tuning to get the most from this processor as it performs pretty much in the middle of test ranges and often below its sibling the G5.

Where the V20 shines is in graphics as it supports Vulkan 3D — to be precise, Android 7.x does — and many flagships still have Android 6.x.

Fingerprint/power key

The fingerprint/power key is on the back, under the camera. It is well located although it does take some getting used to. Fingerprint recognition can be used to unlock the screen, unlock content, encrypt the SD card, and more. You can register multiple fingerprints and associate actions with each. It Is accurate and very quick.

Battery

Removable, removable, removable – remarkable. If there is one outstanding reason to buy, this is it. Genuine spare batteries cost about A$60 but you can get a charging cradle and battery for not much more.

A Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 (not 3.0) charger is supplied with 9V/1.8A or 5V/1.8A. It dumps the overvoltage in first to do the Quick charge then finishes off the remaining 20% on a normal charge. With a V 3.0 charger, it will go from zero to full in about 1.5 hours and 65% in 30 minutes.

Initial firmware users reported higher than expected battery drain. In tests, it went from 100% to 79% overnight with NFC, Bluetooth, GPS (location) enabled. After 24 hours is was at 46% and 48 hours at 26%.

It is a big phone with a big screen – like most flagships you will get a full day and night but you should charge it at least once every 24 hours.

Phone/speaker

Cat 12 AWS-3 600/150 Mbps. In Australia and around Sydney on Telstra 4GX network it matched the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (Cat 9) bit for bit. It supports VoLTE, HD voice, and noise suppression.

Handsfree was excellent with both parties being able to hear clearly. The down firing speaker is loud and clear.

If you use the USB-C audio out feature it assumes the sound device has its own audio DAC. If you use Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack it uses the internal DAC for outstanding, clean, clear sound.

The LG HD Audio recorder is comprehensive and will produce uncompressed WAV files. Using custom settings gives manual control over gain, low-cut filter (75Hz/150Hz) and limiter (prevents clipping of low-frequency sounds).

Camera

This is a dual lens camera that uses two sensors and the lenses do different things – they are not interrelated like Apples iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei’s P9 or Mate 9.

I absolutely love the 135° wide angle lens for tourism shots. It takes in so much more vista often with a pleasing little fisheye effect but its limitations are an 8MP sensor and a f/2.4 aperture. It is best used in good daylight.

The 16MP, 75°, f/1.8 captures more detail and HDR and OIS make it a delight to use in almost any circumstances.

Optical image stabilisation is standard but it also uses Qualcomm’s gyro-based electronic image stabilisation (EIS) to minimise video stutter. It has laser and phase detection autofocus system and a colour spectrum sensor for more accurate colour reading of ambient light (produces more accurate colour in artificial light.)

Three microphones auto-adjust for directional audio and you can play with this setting. Apparently, it will record up to 132dB (akin to a big jet taking off).

Manual controls are extensive and include RAW or JPEG. In all its one of the best manual setups, I have seen.

All tests, however, are based on full-auto, idiot proof settings that 99.99% of us use. In auto, it faithfully reproduces the image – not adding to it.

Outdoor, bright daylight: Amazing, lifelike colours, good detail in shadows, one of the better 16MP (4:3) cameras of all the reference shots I have collected.

Outdoor, mixed to low light: Auto-HDR preserves details in shadows but adjacent highlights (say a bright sky) can be over exposed. This is a minor firmware issue and one that I am sure will be fixed.

Indoor, good mixed light. The automatic colour sensor adjusts for different colour temperatures and that helps achieve natural colours. Shutter speeds do slow a little with HDR and getting the most light out of the shot. OIS kicks in and the results are among some of the best I have seen with good colour and white balance.

Indoor, low light, flash, HDR: It produces some of the brightest low light shots I have seen. Exposure times can be longer and OIS helps here.

Panorama: With a 4300 pixel, vertical resolution it produces excellent stitched images under bright to dusk light conditions.

Selfie: Good, natural colours, normal and wide (groups) settings still give a 5MP image. It has screen fill flash.

Video: 4K @30fps and 1080 @60fps. Good detail, good colours, good contrast and great sound. But you can also do 1080 @30fps using the wide-angle lens and that gives great tourism videos.

DXOMARK  gave it 85 (Same as Huawei Mate 9, with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at 88 and Google Pixel XL at 89) and suggested that it was worth far more if not for some autofocus irregularities that will be fixed.

Summary: This is a camera that will produce idiot-proof shots and is well deserving of a recommendation. I currently have all four of the above DXOMARK phones on the test bed and frankly it is a flagship camera you would be very happy to use.

Conclusion

The LG V20 is an amazing smartphone with a sleek design, excellent audio quality, a fantastic pair of cameras and removable battery. It is perhaps the most technically advanced flagship at present.

I am going to give it 9 out of 10 stars – there is room to tweak some more firmware for slightly better performance as I know LG has done with its G5 (it is all about thermal throttling).

Pros:

  • Always on ticker screen – not a gimmick but a very useful tool.
  • No scrimping on quality components – LPDDR4 RAM, UFS 2.0 storage and more.
  • Even better camera if only for the wide-angle shots – but then it has great HRD, OIS, EIS steady record and so much more.
  • MIL-SPEC-801G, AL6013 aluminium case, excellent build.
  • Removable battery – yes, removable.
  • Very customisable UX yet a light touch over Android 7.x.
  • Seriously impressive, top-shelf audio, quad DACs – this is an audiophile’s phone.

Cons

  • No water resistance or wireless charging

Would I buy one?

There are so many good flagship phones at present, but in the end, it comes down to which two or three would I consider.

In the Android world in 2016 that was the Note7 and S Pen – best phone, I almost owned. Now it is the Samsung S7 Edge, Sony XZ, HTC 10 and the V20. With the removable battery, it is perhaps the most compelling choice.

You need to see them side by side, probably at JB. It may also come down to price – JB Hi-Fi has the Australian model for $899 (RRP $1099). It is even more compelling if you look online where — if it is the Australian model H990DS (Dual Sim) — you might see it around $700.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

 

 

 

 

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