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LG's new V20 wants to be the all-in-one flagship the G5 wasn't

Engadget Engadget 7/09/2016 Chris Velazco
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When LG unveiled its hardy V10 last year, it was... well, it was a little weird. With a beefy body, a double-selfie camera and a tiny second screen, the V10 was the result of LG being a little weird. Lo and behold, the phone did surprisingly well around here. Then the G5 happened. Being the first modular smartphone to sell at massive scale, the G5 represented LG fully embracing that weirdness. It was also gutsy, ambitious and ultimately disappointing -- the company even admitted the device "failed to generate sales" after replacing some high-level mobile execs. Ouch. Now, though, LG has revealed the V20, and it might succeed where the G5 failed because it isn't nearly as imaginative.

Put another way, the V20 is not modular. The leaked renders that made the rounds before today were spot on, but people (including us) misinterpreted what that button on the phone's right side was. It's for popping V20's metal back plate off so you can swap out its 3,200mAh. It's a lot like opening a powder compact, an analogy LG couldn't get enough of.

The V20's foundation is mostly the same high-powered stuff we got with the G5 -- there's the usual Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, not to mention the same two-camera setup that pairs an 8-megapixel wide-angle sensor and a 16-megapixel standard sensor around back. LG also decided to release the V20 with a 5.7-inch Quad HD screen, 64GB of storage (up from the G5's 32GB) and a shiny new build of Android 7.0 Nougat, all squeezed into a sturdy, aluminum alloy frame. Two potential issues right off the bat: the phone's removable back means it can't be waterproof, and its face is highly reminiscent of the BlackBerry Z10. Surely LG could have drawn inspiration from a more successful phone. Still, the V20 feels much, much more premium than the G5 did.

So, what else is new here? Well, the second, smaller display picked up a few new features along the way, the like the ability to display longer signatures. The screen itself is also brighter than the V10's, and you can enlarge notifications that roll in, but there's a good chance you won't love it now if you didn't before. On the software side, the V20 is the first Nougat phone with the ability to search deep in apps you've installed instead of just pre-loaded Google apps. It's one of those things that should've been part of core Android for a while now -- too bad LG announced the featureafter we played with the phone.

Beyond that, there are a lot of audio and video improvements. LG updated its Steady Record feature to make on-the-go footage come out much crisper, thanks in large part to Qualcomm's gyro-based electronic stabilization. The phone's dual camera array is also helped by three forms of autofocus -- laser, phase detection and contrast -- to identify targets even faster in both photos and video. Video effects that ape traditional film and some impressive Hi-Fi audio recording chops make it clear the V20 is trying to be a real production powerhouse.

And while you had to buy extra hardware to coax the G5 into playing high-quality audio -- hardware that wasn't even available everywhere -- the V20 does it just fine out of the box. LG representatives didn't go into a ton of detail about how the V20's "Quad" DAC works, short of mentioning how it cranks up volume, minimizes distortion and supports lossless music files. Still, the effect was clear: I tried running some tracks downloaded from the Google Play Store through the V20 and a pair of someone else's expensive Audeze headphones and the difference in volume and punchiness was a pleasant surprise.

As first impressions go, the V20 leaves a pretty good one. It's a solidly-built device that took parts of what made the G5 special and mashed it up with features that improve things people do every day. At the same time, it feels as though every decision LG made here was the safe choice. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's true that Innovative products -- even ones that, like the G5, weren't properly polished -- influence our expectations for the future. In the meantime, though, safe bets can still pay off big, and LG has done some good work here. Stay tuned for our full review soon.

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