LG V20: Two Month, 12,000 Mile Review

RoninX

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Jan 9, 2011
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I bought a V20 soon after it became available from Verizon, but I've been waiting to use it for a couple months before posting a review. This included taking it on a couple cross-country business trips as well as flying home to visit the family for Christmas.

TL;DR: If you're an audiophile, you should absolutely buy this phone. It's a no-brainer. Nothing else comes close. If you're not an audiophile, then it's one of the flagships you should consider, with its own pluses and minuses relative to the competition.

Now the detailed review...

All this assumes that you like phones with large screens (for me, they're a must have), or at least don't dislike them. If you need a small phone with good audio quality, I've heard good things about the HTC 10, but I haven't used it myself.

My Previous Smartphones: Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S7 Edge (returned because the edge touches drove me crazy), Nexus 6P, Palm Priv (returned because the keyboard was too tiny), Galaxy Note 3, Droid 4, Droid 2, T-Mobile G1.

Audio (A++): I choose the V20 for its high-fidelity audio playback, first and foremost. It does not disappoint. With good headphones and good source material, it sounds significantly better than any other phone I've used. My main headphones are Sennheiser HD598 over-the-ear headphones, and I have a pair of Sennheiser HD525s for work, and I carry Shure SE215 in-ear monitors for travel. Whenever possible, I listen to lossless music tracks (FLAC/ALAC) ripped directly from CDs.

The V20 is the first portable that comes close to my home system in terms of sound quality. (Before the Note 3, I used an iPod Classic for portable music.) At home, I use a PC with lossless audio files and an external Soundblaster SBX ProStudio DAC (as well as an Onkyo receiver and Klipsch speakers). Honestly, I think the V20 sounds slightly better (through headphones) than the SBX ProStudio, and has me thinking of upgrading my home setup.

LG talks a lot about their quad DAC, and I'm sure that contributes to the sound quality, but with audio it's the entire signal path that matters. Having a good analog amplifier is just as important as having a good DAC. A great DAC is worthless if the amp clips at high volumes. Fortunately, the V20's entire end-to-end audio quality is excellent whether driving tiny in-ear phones or large over-the-ear headphones, whether they have high impedence or low.

Audio recording (with stereo microphones) is also better than any other phone I've used.

Expandable Storage (A+): In order to get good sound, you need good source material. The second reason I bought the V20 was because of its microSD card slot. I have over 160 GB of lossless music, and the V20 allows me to take all of my music with me, wherever I go. I started with the SanDisk 200 GB microSD card ($65 from Amazon), but then I upgraded to the (considerably more expensive) Samsung 256 GB microSD card ($180 from Amazon) because I wanted more space for downloaded video (to watch on airplane flights). The SanDisk card was fine for music and video playback, though I've read some reviews that say it's too slow for 4K video recording. If you're looking to buy an unlocked V20, LG is currently offering a special deal that includes a free SanDisk 200 GB card.

Display (A-): The display is excellent for most purposes -- sharp, clear, and bright enough to be used in direct sunlight. However, in my opinion, the V20's LCD screen isn't quite as bright and vibrant as the AMOLED display on Samsung's flagship phones. This was only noticeable when playing back video, which seemed a little washed out compared to the Note 5.

Camera (B-): Like a lot of of other Android phones, the V20 has a decent camera, but not a great one. It takes good photos in well-lit environments, but suffers in low-light conditions. Personally, I'm very picky about sound, but fine with a "good enough" camera. If you're the opposite, the V20 may not be for you. However, the dual-camera design (with a wide-angle lens) is nice for taking panoramic shots.

Battery (B for life, A for removability): The V20's battery life is good, but not quite as good as the Note 3, Note 5, or Nexus 6P. I get through a full day of normal use (hours of listening to music, constant push email, occasional websurfing and GPS navigation) with no problem. However, it didn't quite last through a Boston-to-LA flight of continuous video watching, following a half day of normal use (which the Note 5 could handle). Fortunately, the removable battery makes this a non-issue. Personally, I might choose a longer-lasting fixed battery, but it's not a dealbreaker.

One thing I did notice was that recording video seemed to drain the battery very quickly. That's something to check out if you plan to take a lot of video.

Durability (A): I never use cases on my phones. Despite using the phone every day, taking it on these trips, and dropping it couple times, I've had zero problems. I did leave the protector on the camera, just in case, because it looks fine and doesn't interfere with the camera at all (since it has cutouts for the lenses). Also, I figured anything that you needed to remove with a knife probably had a reason for being there.

Software (B): Yeah, I prefer stock Android on general principles, but the first thing I always do with a new phone is install Nova Launcher, so the minor OEM modifications don't really matter to me.

Performance (A): Pretty much all Android flagships are fast enough now that you never see lag, and the V20 falls into the same category. No problems at all, though I don't do that much gaming on my phone, so I can't evaluate that aspect of performance. I would guess that it's comparable to all of the other 2016 Android flagships.

Overall (A+): Again, if you're an audiophile you should absolutely buy this. If you're not, and you're looking for a flagship Android phone, it's one to compare with the Pixel XL and Galaxy S7 Edge. If I didn't care about audio, then I might lean toward the Pixel XL for its guaranteed, quick updates and stock Android, even though I don't care for the Pixel's iPhone-esque design. I think the S7 Edge is probably the best-looking phone ever, and I had one briefly, but the unintentional edge presses drove me crazy, so I returned it.

If you're interested in the V20, there are a couple good deals available right now. In addition to the free 200 GB microSD card on unlocked V20s purchased directly from LG, Sprint is offering 50% off the price of a new V20 until 12/31. On the plus side, 50% is a great discount. On the minus side, Sprint. Seriously, Sprint service is terrible where I live, but if it's good where you live, you might want to act quickly.
 

DamianP

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Jul 11, 2013
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Great review and I feel just about the same overall as you with the V20 coming from similar past smart phones.