2016 has been a tough year for the Android market. In previous years we couldn’t count on one hand the number of awesome devices, but this year there have only been a few to choose from. The Galaxy S7, specifically the Edge has stood out as a clear winner, despite the praise given to competing devices like the HTC 10. On the other hand, no one really cared about LG this year. The G5 was a flop by every definition.

Now in late 2016, there still isn’t much to pick from. The Galaxy Note 7 was close to perfection, and then it literally exploded in Samsung’s face. Google’s Pixel aims to fill the void, and redefine what an Android smartphone can and should be. However, if you’re not looking to get a Pixel, the LG V20 is 100% what you should be looking at, especially if you’re aiming for a big phone. Let’s take a closer look.

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Quick Points: What Sets The LG V20 Apart?

So before we get into the specifics, why should you consider the LG V20? The first thing to consider is the phone as an overall package. It comes with a large 5.7-inch display, high-end specifications, a metal build, and features that other phones lack — things like a removable battery. More importantly, the LG V20 is a phone that is a viable option for just about anyone. It has the features needed for power users to enjoy it, but still offers an experience simple enough for everyone to enjoy at a price that, honestly, isn’t too bad.

Hardware

In the past, LG has opted to craft its smartphones from plastic, but that changed with the LG V10. That device was built with a sturdy metal frame and ultra-grippy rear — it was fantastic. However, it didn’t scream premium like flagships from Samsung did. With the introduction of the LG G5, LG finally went with a metal design, except it didn’t feel like it. The G5 felt like a plastic phone with a bit of metal sprayed on.

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The V20 has hardware similar to the G5, but it feels like metal — with all the heft that comes with that. The V20 is also a pretty big device. It has a 5.7-inch display like the Nexus 6P but is slightly taller than the 6P. However, the V20 comes with a “second display” which forces the phone to be a bit taller. Considering the size of those two displays combined, I have to give LG credit where it’s due for making the bezels on the entire device as minimal as they could be.

The overall design of the V20 is also fairly pleasing. It’s not a gorgeous device, but it looks nice and more than anything else it’s a very practical design.

For example, the V20 has an MIL-STD-810G rating for drop protection — basically, it can handle drops a bit better than your average smartphone, and that’s great. To me it doesn’t feel like the V20 can handle a drop as good as the V10, but it definitely feels like it could survive a fall better than most phones could. Part of that is because the phone isn’t 100% metal. The top and bottom are made of a strong polycarbonate which is used primarily for the radios, but it doesn’t take away from the design of the phone in my opinion and adds that little bit of extra durability on the top and bottom.

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Unfortunately, the V20 isn’t resistant to water. While the rest of the market is shifting to water resistant designs, LG has yet to make its move to that end. This is one thing that could be considered a deal-breaker for those looking to replace their Galaxy Note 7.

However, where the V20 loses a point for water resistance, it gains one for packing a removable battery. While Samsung is probably kicking itself right now for dropping this feature, LG has kept it around. Simply press the button on the side of the V20 to pop off the back cover and replace the battery. The nano-sim and microSD slots can also be found directly above that battery (although they cannot be hot-swapped).

The Buttons & Fingerprint Sensor

Normally I wouldn’t dedicate an entire section of a review to buttons, but on the V20 it feels necessary. Why? They’re weird…

On the LG V20, the buttons are split up just like they were on the LG G5 — a rear-mounted power button/fingerprint sensor and a volume rocker on the left side. It’s not a bad setup, and it works, but it’s really weird. It feels like LG hasn’t made up its mind between its former 100% rear mounted button configuration, which was fantastic, and going traditional.

Credit where it’s due, though, the fingerprint sensor is excellent. It’s fast, accurate and easy to set up.

Display

The LG V20 also has a 5.7-inch Quad HD IPS display. LG is one of the few major OEMs that has yet to switch to AMOLED, not that that’s a particularly bad thing. The V20’s display has great colors and gets respectably bright ─ however, this display doesn’t get as bright as Samsung’s panels, such as the ones found in the Galaxy S7 or Pixel.

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Specifications & Performance

Under the hood, the LG V20 is powered by top of the line specs across the board. It has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot. Combined with the 5.7-inch QHD display and Android Nougat, the V20 pulls solid performance.

Over the course of my testing, about one full week, the V20 held up well to everything I put it through including social media apps, web browsing, and casual gaming as well. Even in my testing with more graphically intensive games, the phone held up very well despite getting just a little bit warm.

And just because I know people are going to ask, yes, the Pixel XL is noticeably quicker than the V20. However, the V20 is also faster than just about every phone I’ve tested this year, at the very least on par with Samsung’s efforts in the S7 family and now discontinued Note 7.

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Battery Life

One of the big things to talk about with the LG V20 is its battery, for more reasons than one. First of all, the LG V20 has solid battery life. I can easily make it through an extended day with multiple hours of screen on time. One example would be a day that went from me unplugging the phone at 8:30 am and using it (mostly on WiFi) until 1:30 am. Through that, I had about 2.5 hours of screen time which included at least 30 minutes of continuous gaming. By the time I plugged the phone back in, it still had 30% remaining.

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As I mentioned, that 3,200 mAh battery is removable. Simply pop off the back cover, and you can swap a dead cell for a new one.

Software

The LG V20 is the first phone to ship with Android Nougat, and while it’s not stock Android, LG’s software is getting very good. Looking past the launcher for the moment, LG’s software skin overall is clean, easy to use (for the most part) and doesn’t ruin any of Nougat’s best features. Multi-window, quick-reply, the excellent quick settings — they’re all there and unadulterated aside from cosmetic changes.

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It feels almost needless to say, but that is a great thing. In my opinion, LG has found a good balance between what an OEM can bring to the table and what we love about Android in its pure form. You still know that you’re using an LG phone when you’re using the V20, but the phone isn’t screaming at you to say that.

However, where there is great, there’s also not-so-great. The launcher. It’s almost hard to express how much I dislike LG’s launcher. While yes, you can opt to use a version of this launcher with an app drawer, it doesn’t come out of the box like that, and it’s very bad without it, and not necessarily just because it lacks an app drawer. I can honestly live without an app drawer, but LG needs to make it much easier to organize the home screen without spending upwards of an hour to do so (which I did).

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LG’s bloatware on the V20 also isn’t too bad, limited to only a handful of tools that could actually be useful and some general carrier bloat. If anything, this only got in my way while I was trying to organize my home screen. It’s also worth noting, however, that the built-in keyboard is still an abomination.

The Second Screen

The big feature that instantly catches the eye on the V20 is its second display. This extra bit of screen on top of the usual one is never used as an extension of the usual display, but rather used for shortcuts, glanceable information, or your “signature.” You can swipe left or right on the display to see shortcuts to tools such as the flashlight, recently opened apps, a dedicated row of favorite apps which you select, or media controls when the primary display is turned off.

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Is the second display useful? At first, I wrote this off as a gimmick, but I actually found myself using this display relatively often for accessing apps that I use most frequently like Hangouts or Slack. The display also shows notifications which is where it felt most useful of all.

Quad DAC

The other big story with the V20 is audio. This is the first phone ever with a built-in 32-bit Quad DAC out of the (thankfully included) 3.5mm headphone jack. I’m not an audiophile per say, but I do enjoy good tunes and use a 24-bit DAC myself when listening to music with my AudioTechnica ATH-M40x. Long story short, audio out of the V20 is great.

The 32-bit DAC won’t turn bad audio good on a dime, but if you have solid audio, especially truly HiFi audio, you will notice the enhanced quality of the V20’s Quad DAC. To get the full experience you’ll need to activate it in the settings, but even with that off, quality is still slightly better than most smartphones.

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However, unless you have solid headphones and high-quality music, the DAC on the V20 won’t do too much for you. It’s a great feature to have, but it’s not the kind of thing that makes this phone worth buying; it’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle.

As for the built-in speaker, it’s downward facing, fairly loud, and pretty decent. There’s not much more to say there. The big story in audio is through the headphone jack.

Cameras

On the back of the V20, you’ll find two camera sensors ─ one 16MP standard sensor and another 8MP wide-angle lens. I’ll let the gallery of images below speak to the quality of this sensor, but long story short: it’s good.

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The camera is quick to take shots, autofocus is responsive and fast, and the camera UI is nothing short of fantastic. LG’s setup for dual-cameras is also, by far, my favorite on the market today. It’s very useful since you can capture so much more in a shot when you need to.

LG’s camera app packs a ton of functionality behind an easy-to-understand interface. There’s a full manual mode that will satisfy photographers of just about any level too.

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The V20 is also impressive regarding video quality, offering great UHD video quality and “Steady Record 2.0.” Long story short, this phone has improved video stabilization, and it’s pretty solid overall. It’s nowhere near what Google offers on the Pixel, but it’s better than a lot of other smartphones.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, there’s not much more to say about the V20. It is a fantastic device, and I can easily say that if you’re looking for a top of the line Android experience that, again, isn’t a Pixel, you should absolutely be looking at the V20. It goes on sale today, October 28th.

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