LG V10 review: Raising the bar on camera control

Cameras and video

  • 16-megapixel rear-facing camera
  • Two 5-megapixel front-facing cameras
  • Can record 2,160p (rear) and 1,080p video (front)
  • Camera features include multi-view and Snap

Photo quality for the rear camera was great. I shot in Auto mode and images looked sharp with true-to-life colors and even lighting. Touch focusing was fast and I was particularly impressed with night time shooting. Even with the low light, the camera was able to capture images clearly, though there was some expected amount of grain and digital noise. For more about photo quality, check out the pictures below. And be sure to click on each image to see them at their full resolutions.

Video quality was also excellent. Both moving and still objects were sharp and nearby and distant audio recorded well. The camera adjusted quickly to different focus lengths and lighting situations and colors were accurate.

In this outdoor photo, the flower petals are in focus and its colors are true-to-life

Lynn La/CNET

Despite the low light, the camera managed to capture a lot of detail in this nighttime shot.

Lynn La/CNET

In this indoor image, the lighting both inside and outside the building is even and exposed nicely.

Lynn La/CNET

In our standard studio shot, objects are sharp and the flash didn't splash any unpleasant lighting or hue across the background.

Lynn La/CNET

If you're a photo enthusiasts and/or a budding cinematographer, LG has packed the phone with tons of photo and video features, with manual modes for each (which is a rarity when it comes to video for any mobile manufacturer). As someone who has a casual interest in photography, these tools still took time to learn and navigate through. While I didn't mind taking the time to grasp these functions, these features did seem daunting to learn when I first got my hands on the V10.

The controls include meters to adjust white balance, depth of field, ISO levels and shutter speed. For the camera, you can save photos in the standard JPEG format, or in the uncompressed raw format and shoot in three different aspect ratios: 16:9, 4:3 or 1:1. There are also on-screen controls for sharing a photo or video that appear just after you capture a picture or video.

Manual video mode has the same aforementioned meters, as well as an extra setting to adjust audio. You can control what direction (the front or back of the V10) that you want to record your audio from, adjust the decibel levels of the audio, and turn on or off the filter that reduces wind noise. In addition, there's also a sound level meter that's displayed on the upper left corner. The camera has optical image stabilization, which reduces blur in the case of an unsteady hand, and can record videos at one, two, 24 or 30 frames per second. You can adjust video quality by choosing a low, medium or high bitrate level.

If you want to shoot photos casually without digging through manual options, there's also a simplified auto mode. Here you can turn on high dynamic range and panoramic shooting and record slow-mo and time-lapse videos. There's also a multi-view option that creates photo or video collages using up to three cameras (there's the rear camera, and either one or both front-facing cameras).

With manual controls for both photos and videos, the V10 offers lots of camera features.

Josh Miller/CNET

Finally, there's Snap, a straightforward feature that stitches together up to 20 three-second videos to make a one-minute supercut video. Snap also works with the multi-view tool mentioned before, so you can shoot a Snap video using all three cameras.

Personally, I appreciate having these manual options. Yes, I did need to sit down and go through these tools, but it enabled me to learn and become familiar with the same kind of tools seen in a high-end camera, without having to actually purchase one. And if I don't feel like tinkering with these tools, I can always switch to the easier Auto mode, which is what I used most often anyway. As for the manual video mode, however, I didn't use it very much. As someone who occasionally shoots 30-second clips of concerts or family barbeques, I never had the desire to wield more control over my video settings.

If you're a director-in-the-making or want more control over your images and videos, you'll definitely get more use from the V10's camera. But for everyone else, the V10 can be overkill. For those who are satisfied with the standard cameraphone features, you'll probably rarely use these manual modes and likely be in Auto mode most of the time -- especially for those times when you just need to pull out your cameraphone for a quick snap.

Two front-facing cameras, twice the options

This device is unusual because it has two front-facing cameras. One includes the standard 80-degree angle lens, while the other has a 120-degree wide angle lens, which captures more space within a frame. This is beneficial when you want to include more people or background space in your selfies. Though I don't take a lot of selfies, I'm a "groupie"-taker with my friends from time to time. Having a wider front lens means I didn't have to try as hard to fit more people in my photo and when I'm alone, I was able to capture more of the scenic environment in back of me.

Taking a selfie with the phone's standard front lens (left) and its wide-angle lens. Notice that these pictures are saved as mirror images, an option that you can turn on and off in the camera's settings.

Lynn La/CNET

Switching between the two cameras is easy (just tap the icon with either one or three heads) and it only takes about a second for the handset to make the change. When shooting with the wide angle lens, however, you'll see some distortion with line curvatures, especially near the edges of the frame. This is a usual occurrence with when shooting with some wide angle lenses.

Photo quality for the front-facing camera was decent. As a 5-megapixel camera it isn't as sharp as the rear shooter, but objects are still clear and focused. And it does come with a "beauty meter" that softens the appearance of objects and faces. You can also turn on and off the option to vertically flip your photos. If you choose to flip it, your photos appear like a mirror image (like mine above), the way you're used to seeing your own face, reflected. The wide angle lens also worked well, and unlike the ZTE Grand X Max+ , which has an 88-degree wide-angle front-facing lens, the V10 captured even more content into my pictures.

Hardware performance

  • 1.8GHz six-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
  • 64GB of internal storage (with up to 2TB of expandable memory)
  • 4GB of RAM
  • Removable 3,000mAh battery

The phone's six-core processor can power daily and necessary tasks without any lag or stutter. Launching apps, calling up the keyboard and returning to the home page are done quickly and nearly instantaneous (for instance, it only takes a mere 1.16 seconds to open the camera app). Powering off and restarting the device takes about 30 seconds. Other tasks like unlocking the lock screen with a fingerprint and playing graphics-intensive games were executed nimbly as well. And for the latter, images and graphics were rendered crisp and smoothly with high frame rates.

Compared to its competitors, the handset scored the lowest benchmark scores across the board. Leading the pack was the Galaxy S6 Edge+ with its Exynos 7420 processor, followed by the Nexus 6P and its more advanced Snapdragon 810 processor. Rounding the group out was the Moto X Pure, which has the same 808 processor as the V10, and finally the V10 itself. But even though it was last, its scores weren't wildly far off from the other three phones. Benchmark-enthusiasts may takes these numbers to heart, but my day-to-day experience with the V10 has been swift and smooth.

LG V10 benchmark tests comparison

LG V10
18319
1139
3516
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+
24737
1466
4705
Google Nexus 6P
24224
1286
4313

Legend:

3DMark Ice Storm (unlimited)
Geekbench 3 (single-core)
Geekbench 3 (multi-core)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Call quality and data speeds

  • LTE Advanced, category 6
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

The unit I received is an unlocked global device and I used an AT&T SIM card (a US network that operates on the GSM standard) to test the handset's call quality and data speeds in CNET's San Francisco offices. Keep in mind, however, that because the phone isn't optimized for any US, UK or Australian carrier, the things I observed and the numbers I gathered may be slightly different from a V10 that's directly bound for your market.

In general, a call made to a landline was solid. My calling partner sounded clear without any noticeable buzzing or static. Audio didn't clip in and out and volume levels were appropriate -- max volume was especially loud. Audio speaker was good too. Though my partner's voice sounded sharper and thinner, I could still understand what he was saying and I could hold the device away at arm's length and still hear him well.

Though the handset I have is compatible with LTE Advanced technology, I measured 4G LTE data speeds since that's what is available in my area. Speeds were relatively fast -- according to Ookla's speedtest app, the average download and upload rate was 12.32 and 14.77Mbps, respectively. It took about 2 seconds for it to display CNET's mobile site and 3 seconds to load the entire desktop version. The 44.68MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in 58 seconds on average, and a one-time download of the 1.7GB movie "Gravity" in high-definition finished in 21 minutes and 50 seconds.

As always with data tests, speeds differ widely depending on several factors such as location and time of day. What I observed here is just a minuscule sample and may not be what you experience in your location.

LG V10 (unlocked on AT&T) average data speeds

4G LTE download rate 12.32Mbps
4G LTE upload rate 14.77Mbps
CNET mobile site load 2 seconds
CNET desktop site load 3 seconds
Temple Run 2 app download (44.68MB) 58 seconds
"Gravity" movie download (496MB) 21 minutes and 50 seconds

Battery Life

The phone has a removable battery has a satisfactory usage time. Anecdotally, it lasted throughout the work day with mild usage and didn't require a charge. During our lab tests for continuous video playback, it averaged 10 hours and 32 minutes. That's shorter than both the 15 hours the 3,000mAh battery on the Galaxy Note 5 lasted (which has the same battery and nearly identical hardware as the Galaxy S6 Edge+) and the 11.5 hours the 3,450mAh battery lasted on the Nexus 6P. However, it's more enduring than the 3,000mAh battery inside the X Pure Edition, which lasted 8 hours and 46 minutes for the same test.

Because the battery features Quick Charge 2.0 technology from Qualcomm, the included charger reups the battery in a short amount of time -- from completely drained to 100 percent in about an hour and 10 minutes.

Conclusion

With the V10, LG went all out with its new family of premium phones, decking the device out with two cameras, two displays and a fingerprint scanner. While the fingerprint reader is useful for security and authorizing purchases on Android Pay, the usefulness of the two cameras and screens land more on the "nice to have" side of the spectrum rather than the "have to have" side.

And while the manual photo and video controls work well, they appeal to a select group of users. If you're keen on having more control over your camera, the tools are a boon. But if you're like most average smartphone users including me, the Auto controls will be enough to satisfy your everyday video needs.

This is particularly important when considering the V10's steep price, which ranges from $600 to $700 unlocked (or about £392-457 and AU$833-973, converted). If the V10's goodies aren't essential for you -- meaning you don't need a wider view for your selfies or another screen to access your favorite apps and contacts -- it's best to go with something cheaper.

The V10 is full of nice goodies, but does the phone's high price justify their need?

Josh Miller/CNET

For example, there's the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition , which also has a 5.7-inch display and Snapdragon 808 processor. But it's customizeable and starts at $400, £399 and AU$1,992. Then there's the 5.7-inch Google Nexus 6P . It starts at $499, £499 and AU$899, has a fingerprint scanner as well and the latest OS version, Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Lastly, there's LG's own flagship, the G4 . True, it's a tad smaller than the V10 with its 5.5-inch screen, but has most of the same essential features including the expandable memory and removable battery. And while it doesn't have all those camera controls, its 16-megapixel shooter performs just as well -- all for about $120 less.