Ahead of Apple’s highly anticipated launch of the iPhone 7, LG is extending its multi-camera leadership on mobile devices with the launch of the LG V20. The star of the V20 this year is the four-camera setup.
Not all of the cameras on the V20’s quad-cam setup will be found on the rear. Instead, LG is splitting up the camera array, with a dual-camera implementation on the front for selfies and a similar setup on the rear of the phone for the main camera system.
LG says that its close collaboration with Google has led to the V20 being the first phone to ship with Android Nougat, the version of Android that succeeds today’s Android 6.0 Lollipop. The V20 will be available through carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon, and the phone will also be sold through Best Buy and B&H Photo.
Yet, despite its focus on photography, audiophiles will also find a lot to like with the V20—it’s built to capture better audio and enjoy higher fidelity music.
If you think the cameras look familiar, it’s because you’ve seen them in parts before. The dual front-facing selfie shooter is found on last year’s V10. Like on the V10, this implementation allows for more flexible selfies.
The phone comes with dual 5-megapixel selfie cameras on the front. The wide-angle selfie camera captures a 120-degree field of view, while the standard camera has an 83-degree field of view.
If you’re going for a portrait-styled selfie, for example, you can use the V20’s main selfie cam. This allows you to focus on the face. However, if you want to capture more of the scene and background behind you, you can opt to use the wide-angled lens. For tourists standing in front of monuments, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or Paris’ Eiffel Tower, you can use the wide-angled lens to capture your mug and also the iconic scenes behind you.
Like the LG G5, the rear cameras come with different resolutions, so you’ll have to pick your poison. If you want a wide angle 135-degree field of view, you’ll be limited to 8-megapixel resolution photos, while the normal 75-degree field of view lens will shoot higher resolution 16-megapixel images. The standard field of view also comes with a larger 1/2.8-inch sensor size with an f/1.8 aperture, while the wider lens comes with a ¼-inch sensor and an f/2.4 aperture lens.
I had hoped that both rear cameras on the V20 come with the higher 16-megapixel resolution sensor. This would allow more versatility. I found that I didn’t use the wide-angle camera on the G5 as much as I’d like because it is lower resolution than the standard view camera.
Landscape shooters can use the wide-angled lens to get more sweeping views in their frame, while street photographers can use the regular lens to capture a more true-to-the-eye perspective.
This dual-camera implementation allows for more versatility. Although the camera doesn’t give you as much flexibility as an optical zoom camera, it does allow the user to effectively “zoom out” with the wide-angled lens. Compared to rival Samsung’s Galaxy S7, for example, you can capture a wide-angled point of view without having to physically backup, and with LG, you also don’t need to buy and carry additional lens attachments to get various different points of views.
LG’s rear cameras are aided by dual-LED flash and a laser autofocus mechanism. The cameras are aligned horizontally and are placed top center on the rear, right above a circular fingerprint reader.
LG is positioning the cameras to be useful in producing videos as well, not just still shots. LG reps say that the rear cameras come with optical image stabilization, but video users will want to enable LG’s Steady Record 2.0 feature. Steady Record essentially uses electronic image stabilization by analyzing the gyroscope data from the phone to smooth out video during both recording and playback. In early demos, I found the videos to be more stable than OIS when compared against an iPhone. However, I did notice some jello effects with the V20’s video during playback.
Continuing the tradition of the V10’s dual-screen setup, the V20 also has two screens. A secondary display sits just on top of the main phone’s main 5.7-inch QHD display to show alerts and notifications.
The benefit of the second display in this mode is that pop-up notifications and banner notifications that are traditionally found at the top of a phone’s screen would be moved to the secondary screen. This gives you more space to be productive and reduce distractions caused by an influx of incoming notifications on the phone’s screen.
And when the screen is off, the secondary display stays on as an always-on display to show you the time, date and other incoming alerts.
On the V10, I found that the setup works well, but the problem is that the secondary display dims down when the screen is off. When you’re under indoors ambient lighting, this isn’t a big deal, but under direct sunlight, the screen gets washed out so that the display is completely unusable.
LG said that it has addressed the brightness issue from the V10, and the V20’s secondary display is brighter and bigger. The second screen comes with a 1040 × 160-pixel resolution. We’ll have to wait for our review unit to see how the secondary display fares under bright sunlight.
Unlike the G5 and its modular system of third-party hardware add-ons, the LG V20 comes with a built-in quad-DAC made by ESS. LG reps made a swipe at the disappearing headphone jacks on some competitors—like Apple’s rumored iPhone 7 and Motorola’s Moto Z saying that the DAC can be used with high-end headphones to enjoy higher fidelity music.
ESS reps in San Francisco informed me that the DAC on the V20 supplies enough power to power high-end headphones that traditionally would require an additional power source.
When you load the V20 with uncompressed audio files, plugging a pair of headphones into the smartphone will give you a more high fidelity listening experience with the built-in DAC. For comparison, the modular DAC on LG’s G5 costs roughly $199, but the accessory isn’t even available for sale to date for US customers.
LG also said during its keynote that for a limited time, the V20 will ship with earbuds from Bang & Olufsen.
The V20 comes with three high fidelity microphones, which LG claims will record better sounding audio files and better videos. The microphones will help to reduce audio clipping in noisy environments, LG said during its presentation.
This means that you can capture clip-free audio from concerts with studio quality-like recordings, according to an LG spokesperson.
LG also included its Hi-Fi Audio capture app to allow you better control of your audio recording with more fine-tuned settings.
For owners of the original V10, the V20 will feel like a completely new phone, and that’s for the better. The V20 ditches the V10’s largely plastic build for an all-metal body, similar to the LG G5. Curved sides, like on the G5, and a metal build makes the V20 feel more like a premium modern flagship compared to last year’s model.
The V20 uses aircraft aluminum, LG said, and the top and bottom bumpers are made with a silicon composite to help it survive drop tests. LG claims that the V20 passes MIL-STD 810- tests for drops in transits, so the V20 should be able to survive tumbles from up to four feet high.
The downside is that the switch to a metal build means that the V20 loses wireless charging. Wireless charging wasn’t included as a native feature on the V10, but LG did sell a wireless charging back cover that allows the phone to be recharged wirelessly when placed on a Qi-compatible charging plate.
To compensate, the V20 comes with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology via the phone’s USB Type-C port on the bottom. The V20 comes with a 3,200mAh battery.
Still, unlike Samsung’s latest flagship phones, the V20’s battery is replaceable, so you can swap out a depleted battery for a freshly charged one. Given LG’s focus on content creation, this may be a useful feature, as shooting photos and videos can quickly drain your battery. The V20 comes with a button, that when depressed, will activate the rear cover.
In addition to the 64GB of on-board storage, the V20 also comes with a microSD card. It’s powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 along with 4GB RAM. LG also includes an IR blaster to control your living room HDTV.
LG claims that the V20 is designed for the visual generation—the content creators and storytellers. In designing the V20, LG had refined the important features from the V10 into a phone that’s sleeker, more powerful and better tuned for audiophiles.
As the first Android phone to take advantage of Nougat, the V20 will benefit from better productivity—thanks to features like split-screen multitasking, in-app searches, and better battery life. It seems as if LG is paying special attention to its power users and preserved core features like expandable storage, a high resolution display, and removable battery.
With the V20, you’ll get a lot of phone, but ultimately if you take lots of selfies and photos, the value proposition of the device rests in the cameras. If you care about different points of views, an enhanced stabilization mechanism and improved microphones for audio recording, then the V20 will be worth its price. For everyone else, the LG G5 may be just as capable and will likely come in at a lower cost. LG hasn’t announced pricing for the V20. The phone will be hitting shelves sometime in the third quarter of this year.