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LG V20 review: The concert-goer's phone

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The LG V20 isn't a bad phone. It covers all its bases with the latest hardware and a solid design. But other handsets edge it out in so many ways that, aside from the V20's swappable battery, you're better off buying something else.

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7.9

LG V20

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The LG V20 records really high-quality audio and features a swappable battery and secondary wide-angle lens.

The Bad

For its high price, the phone doesn't break any new ground in camera performance or battery life.

The Bottom Line

The LG V20 is the best phone you can buy with a removable battery, and its audio recording prowess is a cherry on top, but skip the phone if neither is a priority.

If you want a better camera, get the Google Pixel (or its bigger counterpart the XL). If you want a longer battery life, get the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Faster processing speeds (at least on paper)? The Apple iPhone 7 Plus. Better value? OnePlus 3.

The swappable battery is great. As is the ability to add storage via microSD. And my favorite feature about the V20 is its ability to record high-quality audio. It does this better than any other phone I've come in contact with. If the mention of these three features gets you pumped, then this might be the phone for you. If they don't, then there's no reason to buy it.

Metal-clad LG V20 has clever trick to remove battery

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Things I liked

So what do I like about the V20? Let me list the ways...

It records great audio

The V20 the phone for the concert-goer because it handles live audio recording superbly. It's equipped with three mics and four digital-to-analog converters (the latter apparently helps reduce white noise). The phone can record much clearer and accurate 24-bit sound compared to the standard 16-bit.

I took it to a Gallant concert and recorded only a few feet away from the third row. Afterward, I listened to the recordings on separate stereo speakers. It sounded fantastic -- bass tones were deep and full without sounding distorted and blown out, and compared to my friend's footage (who happened to have a Google Nexus 6P), the V20's recording was notably richer, crisper and more immersive.

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The V20 has a couple of options to tinker around with audio quality.

Josh Miller/CNET

You can swap out the battery and increase storage

You don't always have to offer the latest technology to keep people happy. Like I mentioned before, the V20 has a removable battery and expandable memory. They're nothing new, but they're a rarity among marquee handsets these days. Many people can't live without at least one of these features, and the V20 has both.

A replaceable battery comes in handy when you're out and about, running low on battery life, and want to quickly swap in a reserve. It's also useful if you plan to resell the device and you can promise a fresh battery. Expandable storage lets you snap and record way more photos and videos, without really worrying about running out of space..

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Press the release button and swap out the battery.

Josh Miller/CNET

Its secondary screen is actually useful

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

This isn't essential, but it can be pretty useful. Because there's no app drawer by default (you can turn it back on from Settings) having shortcut access to your favorite apps is easier than sifting through several home screen pages.

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Swipe through the second screen for your favorite apps.

Josh Miller/CNET

It's as fast as any Android (but slower than the iPhone)

With its Snapdragon 820 processor, the handset had no problem keeping up with its rivals. It performed as well as the Pixel XL (which has the slightly more advanced 821 processor) in our benchmarks, though both the Galaxy S7 Edge and OnePlus 3 edged it out by a hair. The iPhone 7 Plus, however, which has an altogether different and proprietary A10 chipset, dominated the results with impressively high marks.

Then again, these are just diagnostic tests on paper. All these devices work fast and smooth, and any speed differences between any of these phones would be hard to discern. For all your daily mobile needs, you should be satisfied with any of them.

LG V20 Benchmark Scores

LG V20 1579 3634 29152Google Pixel XL 1556 5201 28256Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1724 4062 28031OnePlus 3 1752 4159 30337Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3531 6106 37889
  • Geekbench 4 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 4 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

What gives me pause

The V20 has many strong points, but there are drawbacks, too. While none of these shortcomings are individual deal breakers, they are things to keep in mind.

The camera is good but won't blow you away

Like the G5, LG is doubling down on its wide-angle endeavors. The V20 has two shooters on the back, including a 16-megapixel standard lens and an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens that can capture up to 135 degrees. The single 5-megapixel camera on the front can also switch between an 83-degree frame and a wider 120-degree setup.

The wide lenses are useful for fitting more content in each frame, but be prepared to capture distorted curved angles near the corners of your photos. It lends pictures an unrealistic fish-eye look, and if you're taking a selfie with an outstretched arm, your arm will appear elongated.

In general, photos looked consistent with what I experienced on the G5 (which has the same dual-camera setup). Pictures were sharp and clear, but colors had a tendency to look washed out. The cameras aren't bad per se, but low-light images (which are difficult to capture with most phones) looked muddy at times. Especially when compared with how well the Pixel performed with low-light environments, the V20's camera didn't blow me away. You can check out CNET Espanol's camera shootout between the iPhone 7 Plus, the Pixel XL and the V20, and for more on photo quality, check out the shots below (click on them to view them at their full resolution).

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For this well-lit outdoor shot, you can see all the fine details in this fabulous dog's hair.

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The flower petals here look bright and vibrant in this closeup shot.

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In these images captured by the standard (left) and wide-angle (right) lenses, you can see how the latter shows curved lines around the corners.

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Snapping a regular photo with the front-facing camera (left) and using its wide-angle feature (right).

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The V20 does pack tons of camera and editing tools, though. It has video filters, a manual mode (for adjusting things like ISO levels and white balance) and more. It uses advanced optical image stabilization (something the Pixel doesn't have) to make it easier to snap clear photos when you have an unsteady hand.

Battery life isn't anything to write home about

The V20 has a 3,200mAh battery, which isn't as big as its rivals. In our tests, it clocked an average of 12 hours and 30 minutes of continuous video playback on Airplane mode. While that's a respectable enough time to outlast the iPhone 7 Plus, both the Pixel XL and OnePlus 3 lasted over 13 hours (the latter with a lower capacity battery than the V20). The Galaxy S7 Edge dominated all with its 19-hour run.

Those who plan on taking advantage of the phone's swappable battery have no reason to sweat these stats. Whenever reserves get low, you can easily switch out for a fully charged battery . But if you're not going to purchase a spare battery, this runtime is something to keep in mind.

The battery also employs Qualcomm's Quick Charge Technology 3.0. Plugged in for 30 minutes, you get about a 37 percent charge and an hour yields 75 percent. A full charge takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes, which is the expected time for a handset with Quick Charge.

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Though its battery time is respectable, it didn't blow away the competition.

Josh Miller/CNET

I can't dunk it in water

A water-resistant phone would have been acceptable a few years ago. But because Sony, Samsung and now Apple all have flagships that can survive underwater submersion, the V20 loses out on this front. LG does tout that the V20's metal construction makes it tougher against scratches and casual drops. However, given that it's just as expensive, if not pricier than its competitors, it's disappointing that there's no water protection.

LG V20 specs comparison


LG V20Google Pixel XLSamsung Galaxy S7 EdgeOnePlus 3Apple 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 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 515 ppi534 ppi534 ppi401ppi401 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.29x3.01x0.3 inches6.09x2.98x0.34 inches (at its thickest)5.9x2.9x0.3 inches6.01x2.94x0.29 inches6.23x 3.07x0.29 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 159.7x78.1x7.7 mm154.72x75.74x8.58 mm (at its thickest)150.9x72.6x7.7 mm152.7x74.7x7.35 mm158.2x77.9x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.24 oz; 177 g5.92 oz; 168 g5.5 oz; 157 g5.57 oz; 158 g6.63 oz; 188 g
Mobile software Android 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.1 NougatAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 MarshmallowApple iOS 10
Camera 16-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide)12.3-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel12-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
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 8202.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820Apple A10 chip (64-bit)
Storage 64GB32GB, 128GB32GB, 64GB (varies by region)64GB32GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 4GB4GB4GB6GBTBD
Expandable storage 2TBNone200GBNoneNone
Battery 3,200mAh (removable)3,450mAh3,600mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)21 hours talk time on 3G, 16 days standby, 13 hours internet use LTE
Fingerprint sensor Back coverBack coverHome buttonHome buttonHome button
Connector USB-CUSB-CMicro-USBUSB-CLightning
Special features Both cameras capture wide-angle images; secondary screen on top; rear cover release key Google Assistant built-in; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR readyWater-resistant, wireless chargingNotifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash 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$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB)AT&T: $795; Verizon: $792; T-Mobile: $780; Sprint: $750; U.S. Cellular: $780$399$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB); $969 (256GB)
Price (GBP) TBD£719 (32GB); £819 (128GB)£639£329£719 (32GB); £819 (128GB); £919 (256GB)
Price (AUD) TBDAU$1,269 (32GB); AU$1,419 (128GB)AU$1,249Converts to AU$530AU$1269 (32GB); AU$1419 (128GB); AU$1569 (256GB)

Feeling a little stale

The mobile industry is extremely competitive, and your success can change on a dime (just ask Samsung). Likewise, new companies like OnePlus can burst onto the scene and create wildly good phones for cheap, and older companies may just wake up one day and want to throw their own hats into the ring (as in the case of the Pixel, Google's first in-house designed handset),

In order to overtake the competition, LG needed to pack the V20 with something successfully fresh and novel (or at least make it super-affordable). And while it gets the basics right (high-end hardware, polished design), ultimately there are better choices.

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The phone market is extremely competitive, and the V20 just doesn't pack enough punch.

Josh Miller/CNET

For the price of the V20, you can get the Galaxy S7 Edge, which has a great battery life and a waterproof design. The Pixel has a fantastic camera (specifically in low-light) and unique software features like Google Assistant. For top-tier specs at a great value, the OnePlus 3 is my top choice. And if you're fond of the V20's wide-angle camera, LG's G5 flagship does the same thing (and costs a bit less).

The V20 is a solid and reliable device. But it doesn't drum up enough appeal outside of battery swappers and audiophiles. Aside from these niche features, there's nothing here we haven't seen before. And in such a dynamic and fast-pace landscape, that's unacceptable at a premium price.

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7.9

LG V20

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Camera 8Battery 8