LG V10: Take Aim

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LG V10: Take Aim

When LG introduced its ultra-premium V series late last year, the South Korean smartphone-maker promised more is better. The LG V10 is the company’s top-of-the-line flagship, but do you really need a phone with three cameras and two displays?

By launching a new series that’s separate from the marquee G4 flagship, LG has more room to experiment with the V10. In many ways, LG’s experimentation paid off. Despite its high $700 price, the handset boasts some lustworthy features that will appeal to power users, but may seem gimmicky to the average consumer.

If you appreciate LG’s excellently rated camera from the G4, a second screen for displaying notifications and quickly launching apps, then the V10 is a compelling phone with a novel, albeit square design. These features, along with the sturdy steel side rails, make the V10 a behemoth of a phone.

At 192 grams, it weighs the same as Apple’s iPhone 6S Plus, but the V10 has a taller footprint to accommodate the second display and dual front-facing cameras. The weight of the V10 is noticeable when holding the phone over long periods of time, and LG’s more angular corners made it uncomfortable as it dug into the palm of my hands.

The highlight of the V10 is the device’s crisp and bright 5.7-inch IPS LCD display. The V10 boasts the same QHD (1440 × 2560) resolution and screen size as notable flagships, like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5, Google’s Nexus 6P and Motorola’s Moto X Pure. Contrast is excellent on the display, rendering rich, inky blacks and beautifully saturated colors. Under darker environments, the LG V10’s finely tuned auto brightness settings dims the display down to just 4 nits to reduce eye strain.

v10screen.jpgIf you’re comfortable with the display size, the phone feels solid. Anchored by two gold-toned steel rails on the sides, the rest of my V10 review unit is constructed of plastic, save for the Gorilla Glass screen. The rear cover is removable, and comes with a textured, rubbery material that aids in gripping the device and makes the phone feel rugged.

Removing this plastic cover reveals a user-replaceable battery, nano SIM card tray and microSD card reader. The V10 ships with a spacious 64GB capacity, and you can add a 200GB microSD card to get even more storage. Power users will appreciate these features, which rival Samsung has abandoned on its latest flagships.

v10removeable2.jpgMaintaining LG’s recent design trends, all the buttons of the phone have been relocated to the rear of the handset, where you’ll find a circular power button in the center just below the camera. Flanking the power button on the top and bottom are the volumes up and down button.

A speaker sits at the bottom edge of the phone along with a headphone jack and micro USB charge and sync port. Even though the V10 doesn’t come with a stereo speaker, I had no problems pumping out music, and audio fidelity is generally good, albeit a little lacking in the bass department. Audiophiles can plug in headphones and enable the 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC support for even better audio quality during music playback.

To round out the multimedia experience, the V10 comes with two infrared sensors. The first infrared sensor sits at the top of the phone and is used for controlling your TV and home entertainment system, effectively turning the V10 into a touchscreen remote. The second sensor sits just to the right of the rear-facing camera, which helps the camera achieve fast autofocus, with speeds similar to DSLRs.

The V10, like the G4, takes stunning, detailed photographs. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5’s cameras, images captured with the V10 appear more realistic and not over-sharpened.

The downside, however, is that images appear too realistic in darker environments, meaning the photos are darker. On my Galaxy Note 5, the same image captured in a dark restaurant or a high contrast environment are brighter, retaining more details. Even with HDR enabled, photos captured with the V10’s camera are dark. For portraits, the V10 comes with a dual-tone rear flash that helps to illuminate your subject in poor lighting.

v10samplephoto2.jpgFor the selfie generation, the V10 sports two front-facing 5-megapixel cameras. The first camera is more suited for portraits, taking a tighter crop around your face. The second camera is used for larger groups as it has a wider lens. It could also be used if you want to capture more of your background, for a “selfie with a view” effect. Although the front-facing cameras lack a flash, like the Moto X Pure Edition or the Verizon Wireless Droid Turbo 2, you can simulate a flash through software. In this mode, the V10 will display a smaller preview window on the 5.7-inch display, and the border of the window would brighten up to illuminate your face.

Video recording on the V10 is just as good as on the G4, which is to say excellent. The rear 16-megapixel camera supports up to 4K video recording with manual video controls, allowing the budding videographer to adjust white balance, manual focus, exposure compensation, ISO and shutter speed. Granular manual video controls aren’t typically found on smartphone cameras.

Second Screen
The narrow 2.1-inch 160 × 1040-pixels that sits just above the main 5.7-inch screen and just to the right of the dual front-facing camera setup on the V10 gives users another way to interact with the handset. While the feature may seem experimental, especially considering that LG announced that this year’s G5 flagship will come with an always-on display, the second screen gives users access to shortcuts, the five last used applications for quick multitasking and direct access to your favorite contacts in addition to the time.

You can customize the second screen to always be on, or if you wish to save battery life, you can set the second screen to only turn on when the main display is powered on. In my testing, I prefered to keep the secondary display always on to have quick access to the time, date and notifications.

This way, I can glance at the phone, even when the display is off, and get access to the information that I need. The resulting functionality is similar to what Motorola achieved with the Moto Display on the Moto X Pure Edition.

If you have the phone in your pocket or bag, the second screen will turn off to conserve battery life. While this power-saving feature seems intuitive, LG still needs to tweak the V10’s behavior to make it more functional. Whenever I quickly remove the V10 from my pocket and try to turn on the phone’s main 5.7-inch display, nothing happens until the secondary display turns on first. This process could take a second or two, and until the secondary display re-activates, hitting the power button won’t turn on the phone’s main display.

The V10 is powered by Android 5.1.1 Lollipop at launch, but LG promises that an upgrade to Android Marshmallow is in the works. In addition to the base Android OS, LG also customized the handset with its own LG UX 4.0+ user interface.

The LG UX 4.0+ software is fine, but the icons and wallpapers are a bit cartoonish, a similar complaint that users of Samsung phones have with that company’s TouchWiz UI. The good news is that UX 4.0+ adds some features that aren’t available on native Android, like the ability to customize the Android navigation keys. Standard Android comes with the Back, Home and Multitasking button, but LG adds the ability to quickly capture a screenshot and a shortcut to open up the QSlide apps.

QSlide is LG’s method for simultaneous multitasking, but it only works on certain apps. QSlide allows you to open an app in a floating window, similar to your Windows desktop on a PC. For example, if you’re working inside Google Docs and need to run a quick calculation, you can open the Calculator app inside a floating window.

While QSlide sounds like a good idea in theory, even when the window is resized to its smallest form, the window takes up too much room on the screen for it to be useful in multitasking between the floating window and the second full-screen app behind it. When you factor in how much space the on-screen keyboard takes up, the utility of QSlide quickly diminishes. However, QSlide is a nice feature to have for multitaskers who have always seem to be poking at their phones with their heads down.

My biggest gripe with the the V10’s screen is that icons and widgets are overly large. I wish LG offered a dynamic way to scale icons, text and graphic size on the V10’s home screen, especially considering the high resolution 2K display.

Battery life for the phone is on-par with the Moto X Pure Edition and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, lasting for just over a day on a single charge.

The V10 may not be a phone for everyone, especially with its contract-free $600-700 price in the US, but LG added a good mix of features to make it appealing to photographers, videographers and power users. The handset boasts features that aren’t found on many other high-end phones on the market, like a removable battery and easy expandable storage. And with 64GB of storage, you’ll find plenty of space to store your apps, photos and music to start.

Even though the dual selfie shooters may be gimmicky—I could live with just the wide-angle selfie camera like on Samsung’s phones—the dual-screen was useful to me. The secondary screen offered a quick way to glance at notifications, get the time and date when the main screen is off and provide music and playback buttons when streaming songs.

With the V10, LG has a problem on its hands. It must figure out how to innovate and differentiate future generations of the V series from its marquee G series, especially considering that the V10 debuted six months after the G4 and about the same amount of time before the G5. With the G5’s always-on screen confirmed by LG, the V10’s secondary display will seem less useful.

Yet, if you’re a photographer or someone who lives in their phone, the V10 offers compelling features, like swappable batteries, a memory card for expansion and an excellent 16-megapixel f/1.8 camera with fast autofocus on top of a stunning 5.7-inch LCD display. These features alone make the V10 competitive with the best phones from Apple, HTC, Samsung and Sony.