The Galaxy Note 7 is officially done with Samsung having announced last week that production has been halted altogether. So where is for Android fans to turn when one of the best smartphones of the year is literally exploding?
One possible alternative comes from LG. The company’s answer to the dual-lens iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 is the V20. It might not come with a stylus, but it’s an Android powerhouse that packs four cameras, three microphones, two screens and a QUAD-DAC.
It’s just unfortunate that LG hasn’t been able to fully capitalize on the V20’s debut, given the lag between when the V20 was announced—LG showcased the phone in San Francisco a day ahead of Apple’s big iPhone 7 launch and just after the first Samsung recall on the Note 7—and when it will be available in the US later this month.
At the time of publication, we’ve been testing an unlocked pre-production Korean model with an AT&T 4G LTE SIM, so we aren’t able to give our full conclusions on the V20.
Let’s count down the V20’s 4-3-2-1 punch:
Even your iPhone 7 Plus friends will have camera envy with the V20’s quad-camera setup. LG introduced the world to dual cameras on the V20, with two front-facing shooters for even wider angle selfies, and the company isn’t one to shy away from its camera innovation. The V20 is the first phone on the market to ship with four cameras: two in the front and two in the rear.
LG’s dual camera array differs from Apple’s take on the iPhone 7 Plus. Whereas the iPhone’s rear cameras work together to let you zoom in for close-ups, LG’s secondary cameras go the opposite direction, allowing you to pan out for an even wider field of view.
On the back, you’ll have a 16-megapixel main camera with f/1.8 aperture and 29mm equivalent field of view alongside a secondary 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture and wide 12mm field of view. It’s unfortunate that the wider lens doesn’t capture images at the same high resolution as the main camera, but I appreciated the wider field of view when taking pictures of landscapes, architectures and large group shots.
In real life, portrait photographers will likely gravitate towards Apple’s setup, but for landscape shooters, the V20 may give you just the right perspective to become the next Ansel Adams.
Videographers will appreciate that the V20 comes with both optical AND electronic image stabilization. LG’s Steady Record 2.0 feature uses software to analyze your video frame-by-frame to smoothen your videos. It’s similar to the stabilization found inside Instagram’s iOS Hyperlapse app. As an added feature, LG’s high performance microphones can record audio inside your video with higher fidelity. Many of the more advanced video modes can be found through the manual video settings, which gives you greater granular adjustments.
And if you’re a traveler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the ultra-wide 120-degree front camera lets you frame your mug AND the full height of Paris’ iconic landmark in the same shot. Performance of the front-facing camera is decent, but I got mixed results in testing. Under good light, the camera performs strongly, but when you’re trying to capture your self portrait under dimmer conditions, images came with a lot of noise and incorrectly captured skin tones.
If you’ve ever clicked on your friend’s Facebook video hoping to re-live an Adele concert only to find yourself jamming to the screechy vocals of the Chipmunks, then you’ll be grateful that the V20 comes with three high performance microphones. These mics can record up to 132dB sound levels without distortion.
How loud does that get? If LG’s claims are accurate, the V20 should be able to crisply record a military jet taking off with afterburners blazing.
But if recording the sounds of airplanes isn’t your thing, the bundled HD Audio Recorder app lets you capture studio quality audio at 24 bits and 192 kHz, helping to ensure that your boy band cover doesn’t sound like Alvin, Simon and Theodore.
I found the microphones did a great job capturing interview notes, speakers at presentations and a small band playing at a local bar in town. You won’t get the same results as a studio production, but the captured audio sounds louder, cleaner than similar recordings on an iPhone 6s Plus or Samsung Galaxy S7.
The V20 doesn’t come with fancy marketing terms like Apple’s 3D Touch or Taptic Engine or even Samsung’s Edge display. However, when it comes to displays, LG claims that two is better than one, and the V20 offers plenty of screen real estate to touch.
The phone has a high resolution 5.7-inch QHD display AND a smaller 2.1-inch screen up top that’s higher resolution and brighter than last year’s V10.
The result is what the V10 should have been released with. The secondary display automatically dims in darker environments, which reduces distraction, and can brighten itself to be fully readable even under direct sunlight. As a home for your notifications and the time, it’s really like your phone is wearing a smartwatch.
The secondary display serves several purposes. When the phone is off, you can get alerts to notifications, see the time and control music playback, but when the main screen is on, you can interact with the secondary screen to accomplish things faster, like Samsung’s Edge display. You can pin favorite contacts, use the secondary display as a placeholder for some of your favorite apps, launch and open most recently used apps and see your upcoming appointments.
If for nothing else, the secondary display’s always-on feature is useful for checking the time without having to power on the phone.
And when you do turn on your phone’s display, the 5.7-inch QHD LCD IPS panel is bright and vibrant. Blacks were deep and rich, and colors were nicely saturated without being overly vivid like on competing AMOLED panels. The minimal side bezels on the V20 gives the illusion that the phone is all-screen on the front.
Audiophiles refusing to cut the cord will be happy to know that you can still plug in your beloved set of cans. LG hasn’t gone the way of Apple and Motorola in dumping the venerable 3.5mm headphone jack, and your music will get a boost in audio fidelity when enabling the quad-DAC on the v20.
Just swipe down from the top, expand the shortcuts in Android 7.0’s notification tray and enable the HiFi Quad DAC toggle. With the DAC enabled, you can amp up your music playback with richer, fuller sound and less noise.
The digital-to-analog converter also helps to separate different sounds. When you’re listening to a track, you can actually hear which direction the drums are coming from on stage.
I used the V20 with a wired pair of Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd Edition headphones, and the result with the HiFi Quad DAC enabled isn’t as dramatic as one would imagined. Yet, if you listen closely, you can sense a wider sound stage, clearer audio and more dynamic range in the music you’re listening to. LG claims that the amp on the phone is now powerful enough for use even with non-mobile headphones.
The pre-loaded music app also comes with an equalizer, giving you greater control of your audio experience.
Sure, the V20 lacks some of the glitzier features of its phablet-sized rivals, like a dual-curved glass display or the ability to survive a dip in the pool for those on fleek summer selfies, but LG has packed in extra hardware to let the V20 do more, and these features transform the V20 into a mobile recording studio that fits in your pocket.
LG also addressed many complaints of last year’s V10, and the V20 comes with a more refined metal body and a brighter secondary screen that’s even readable under sunlight. The V20 is what the V10 should have been last year.
The V20 comes with a sleeker metal build that’s MIL-STD 810G tested for drops and tumbles, and the phone is equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor, 64GB of storage with a microSD card slot for expansion and 4GB of RAM, making it competitive with this year’s flagships. With that kind of horsepower, performance was never an issue in my testing—the phone was responsive and multitasking was speedy.
With a removable battery, you can always swap in a freshly charged battery when your phone dies—a useful feature for photographers and videographers on assignment in the field. If you’re looking for a phablet-sized phone, the V20 comes with yet another important feature. According to LG reps, it was designed to not explode in your pocket.
But with its high sticker price—the phone is expected to cost $769 on T-Mobile and $830 on AT&T when it is released later this month—the V20 may not be for everyone. Videographers looking to create their next mobile blockbuster and music lovers will appreciate the added hardware features of the phone, but for most Android consumers, the LG G5 will be a significantly more affordable option, giving you dual rear cameras and the option to add a DAC if you need one later.