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LG V20 faces uphill battle against Google Pixel, iPhone 7 (hands-on)

LG's best phone brings it with Android Nougat, two rear cameras and a 5.7-inch screen. But is that enough to unseat its rivals?

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
4 min read

With the LG V20 rolling out to retailers this week, LG's most expensive phone has its work cut out for it. Not only did the Korean company unveil the V20 hours before Apple took the wraps off its iPhone 7 and 7 Plus in September, the device is also hitting shelves after Google launched its superb pair of Pixel handsets.

Amid all these competitor announcements and ill-timed releases, however, the V20 does have some things going for it. For one thing, LG hopes the phone is compelling enough to benefit from Samsung's $3 billion 7 recall. It's also packed with high-end specs, like two rear cameras, a removable battery you can swap when power gets low, and a stylish aluminum chassis. And while it lost the novelty of being the "first phone to ship with Android 7.0 Nougat" now that the Pixels have 7.1 out of the box, it's still great that it has a recent version of Android.

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Whether or not all these features is enough to bother its rivals (the Samsung Galaxy S7 in particular), remains the question -- and you can check back soon for CNET's full review. For now, here are a few things I like and don't like about the V20 after spending some time with it.

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Most promising V20 features

Chock-full of high-end specs and packaged in a sleek, metal body, the V20 is LG's highest-end phone. And while it retains some of its predecessor's most interesting features, the new V20 has a few tricks of its own too.

That secondary, always-on screen

The V20 has a secondary screen that sits on top of its regular display. Compared to the V10 , LG increased its contrast and brightness this time around so it's easier to read. You can choose to have this screen perpetually on (even if your device is sleeping), and it displays your custom signature or text greeting, favorite and recent apps, favorite contacts and notifications.

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The secondary screen keeps your apps and contacts right up top.

Josh Miller/CNET

Audio is huge

LG put a big emphasis on the V20's audio. It equipped the phone with three mics and four digital-to-analog converters (which help to reduce white noise). The V20 can record 24-bit sound (16-bit is common), meaning audio is more accurate and clear.

As a user, you can fine-tune your audio preferences in the Settings menu, like adjusting audio balance. There's an app for HD audio recording as well, and according to LG, the device can handle recordings up to 132 decibels, which is as loud as a sport stadium full of screaming fans.

I was able to hear the audio coming out of the V20 briefly, and it did sound louder and had more breadth than what I commonly hear from phone speakers.

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Tooling around with audio settings (left) and recording HD with LG's app (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Removable battery and expandable memory

You don't always have to offer the latest technology to keep the people happy. In this case the V20 has a removable battery and expandable memory. It's nothing new, but it's a rarity among flagship phones these days, and many people can't live without one, or both, of these features. Having a replaceable battery is handy when you're out and about -- you can easily swap in a new reserve. It's also useful if you plan to resell the device and are able to promise a brand-new battery. Expandable storage lets you snap and record way more photos and videos, without feeling restricted by the onboard storage.

What gives me pause

Those are the V20's strong points, but I noticed a few drawbacks too. I'll explore each of these in more detail in the coming days, but read on to see what I don't like about the phone so far.

The camera is underwhelming

LG is doubling down on its wide-angle endeavors by putting two wide-angle cameras on both the front and back of the V20. Like the G5, it has two shooters on the back that include a 16-megapixel standard lens and an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens that can capture up to 135 degrees. On the front is a single 5-megapixel camera that can switch between a 120-degree wide-angle setup and a narrower 83-degree frame. The phone also has advanced image stabilization technology, available exclusively from Qualcomm, to make it easier to snap clear photos even when you have an unsteady hand.

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Images captured by the 16-megapixel standard lens (left) and the 8-megapixel wide-angle (right).

Lynn La/CNET
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Some colorful fruit captured on the 16-megapixel rear camera.

Lynn La/CNET
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A closeup shot of soda bottles using the 16-MP lens again.

Lynn La/CNET
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Snapping a regular photo with the 5-megapixel front-facing camera (left) and using its wide-angle feature (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Though the wider lens is useful for fitting more content in each frame, photo quality itself was underwhelming, especially when compared to the Pixel. On the V20, colors looked washed out and flat, and low-light images weren't as clear. Closeup shots weren't as well defined or sharp.

Battery could be bigger

The V20 has a 3,200 mAh battery, which isn't as high as its rivals. In our preliminary tests, it clocked in about 12 and a half hours of continuous video playback on Airplane mode. I'll test this again for final results, but that isn't a very competitive battery time. It's OK, but the Google Pixel XL and Galaxy S7 Edge lasted over 13 and 19 hours, respectively.

It lacks water resistance

Creating a high-end phone that wasn't water resistant was acceptable a few years ago. In fact, if a mainstream handset did happen to be splashproof, it was merely seen as a goodie. But because Sony, Samsung and now Apple all have flagships that can survive being submersed underwater, it's disappointing that the V20 isn't as durable and loses an edge that others have. Check back for my full review soon.

LG V20 Spec Comparison Chart

LG V20Google Pixel XLSamsung Galaxy S7 EdgeApple iPhone 7 Plus
Display size, resolution 5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 515 ppi534 ppi534 ppi401 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.29x3.01x0.3 inches6.09x2.98x0.34 inches (at its thickest)5.9x2.9x0.3 inches6.23x 3.07x0.29 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 159.7x78.1x7.7 mm154.72x75.74x8.58 mm (at its thickest)150.9x72.6x7.7 mm158.2x77.9x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.24 oz; 177 g5.92 oz; 168 g5.5 oz; 157 g6.63 oz; 188 g
Mobile software Android 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.1 NougatAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowApple iOS 10
Camera 16-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide)12.3-megapixel12-megapixel12-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.15GHz +1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8212.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processorApple A10 chip (64-bit)
Storage 64GB32GB, 128GB32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB, 128GB, 256GB
Expandable storage 2TBNone200GBNone
Battery 3,200 mAh (removable)3,450 mAh (nonremovable)3,600 mAh (nonremovable)21 hours talk time on 3G, 16 days standby, 13 hours internet use LTE (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Back coverBack coverHome buttonHome button
Connector USB-CUSB-CMicro-USBLightning
Special features Rear cover release key; Both cameras capture wide-angle images; secondary screen on topGoogle Assistant built-in; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR readyWater-resistant, wireless chargingWater and dust-resistant, Taptic Home button, dual rear cameras, up to 10x camera zoom, Depth of Field mode
Price off-contract (USD) AT&T: $829; Verizon: $672; T-Mobile: $770; Sprint: TBD; US Cellular: TBD$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB)AT&T: $795; Verizon: $792; T-Mobile: $780; Sprint: $750; US Cellular: $780$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB); $969 (256GB)
Price (GBP) TBD£719 (32GB); £819 (128GB)£639£719 (32GB); £819 (128GB); £919 (256GB)
Price (AUD) TBDTBDAU$1,249AU$1269 (32GB); AU$1419 (128GB); AU$1569 (256GB)