One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

LG V20 Review: Two Great Screens and One Lousy Speaker

About three weeks ago my phone that I'd had for a year and a half bit the dust. I was expecting to get a few more weeks' use out of it before I bought something different with my own money and got out from under the purchase plan with T-Mobile. Unfortunately it went into full bootloop, so I had to get a new one right away from the phone store. There weren't a whole lot of choices for a guy like me who doesn't want Apple or Samsung, so I went with the LG V20.

My LG V20. Note particularly the "second screen" at the top with various function controls.

First Impressions

This phone is advertised as a bigger diagonal screen size than both the Apple iPhone Plus line and the Samsung Galaxy Edge. But thanks to its very small top and bottom bezels it doesn't feel that big in the hand or the pocket. The back of the phone is just a solid sheet of slippery plastic. I nearly dropped it a couple of times in the week before I got a case. The back needs texture or a curve or something.
The back is dangerously
slippery. Also note
the dual rear cameras.

When I first powered up the phone, I was disappointed to see no app drawer. Thankfully with a quick Google search I was able to find out how to change the settings to bring it back where it belongs. This setting should be the default.

Typical for a carrier-store Android phone, there is some bloatware to deal with. Thankfully T-Mobile is not as heavy-handed with the useless apps as is Verizon, and it is worth noting some can actually be uninstalled rather than disabled, including manufacturer apps like LG Health and carrier apps like T-Mobile TV. Thanks, T-Mo and LG!

The swappable battery is not as important a selling point as it used to be. Few phones have them anymore, and if rumors are true this may be one of the last top-of-the-line Android phones to have one. It is handy to be able to swap out a dead battery for a fresh one, but that requires a lot of planning ahead, unless you spring for the additional charging station. The most important advantage to having a swappable battery is it provides a surefire way to reboot the phone if you ever run into serious trouble. I was able to rescue my data off my old phone because the swappable battery enabled me to forcibly turn off the phone.

Second Screen

When the phone is off, the second screen shows the time and
your notifications without having to fire up the whole phone.

The big selling point of this phone is the "second screen," a strip at the top of the phone separate from the rest of the screen. This screen is most useful when the phone is not in use. All you have to do is pick up the phone and the second screen shows the time and any notifications. How many times a day do we smartphone users fire up the whole phone just to check the time or to see if we missed a call or text? With the second screen,  this step is unnecessary. It saves lots of wear on the battery. A swipe on the second screen will reveal a small control panel, enabling you to turn on/off wifi, Bluetooth and the flashlight as well as turning off the sound. A third swipe gives you access to your media controls, meaning you can quickly skip that song you used to like before Pandora started playing it over and over again. This is all done without turning on the whole phone and without signing in. Every phone should have something similar.

When the phone is actually in use, the second screen is less useful, other than the quick access to the controls. It also provides recent apps, but this is just as easily reached from the square button at the bottom of the screen, so it's redundant at best. One interesting feature is that if you get a call while you are doing something in an app, the option to accept or decline the call appears in the second screen, enabling you to decline the call if you wish without switching apps.


The sound is disappointing: one single speaker at the bottom. I found a hack that will allow you to set up stereo sound through the earpiece speaker, but I'm not so adventurous as to download software from murky sources onto my phone. With the earphone jack, I ran into an issue with the phone turning down the earphone volume by itself. Maybe that was because of the old jack on the adapter I use on the tape deck in my car. My next project is to install a new car radio with Bluetooth, but for now it's a concern.

I don't really use my phone camera all that much. If I know I'm going to need to take good pictures, I'm bringing along my digital SLR. This phone's camera is fine for what I need. The dual camera setup is pretty cool, actually. I like the dual setup on the selfie camera even better though. It's great for taking group pictures without having to obviously stretch your arm and mess up the picture.

The battery consistently provides a full day's use for me. That might be a little unfair because I can't use my phone at work, so that cuts 8 hours out of the day, but I do use it quite heavily when I'm not on the job. But even on weekends I haven't had to charge it before the end of the day yet. I have frequently got the phone to go a day and a half on a full charge during the week.


The V20 ships with Android 7.0 Nougat. The most important new capability of Nougat is the ability to have two apps open and active at the same time. I haven't actually used it very much because I'm used to multi-tasking using the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen. The feature did come in handy once when I needed to dial a number I had taken a picture of. No back-and-forth or writing the number down necessary - just open the picture on the top half of the screen and dial the number with the dialer open on the bottom half.

LG has certainly dialed back the customization of its user interface. I remember reading recently that Google was cracking down on the wildly different UIs on various companies' phones with Nougat. It certainly seems to be true with this one, and that's a good thing. LG still has the Apple-esque red notification dots on certain app icons, but that's really the only thing I noticed that differentiated the UI from stock Android - well, once you fix the app drawer.

The 64 GB of storage is plenty for my needs. But if that's not enough, memory is easily expandable with the SD card slot, which reportedly can handle up to 2 TB(!!). I've never seen an SD card bigger than 256 GB, but I guess bigger ones are out there. Like the swappable battery, an SD card may not be necessary with this much standard storage, but I'm not going to complain that it's available.


The chintzy speaker is the one thing keeping me from giving the V20 a fully positive review. Three weeks may be a little early to tell, but so far this seems to be the best phone I've ever used. Definitely a keeper. So far I love the second screen. LG deserves credit for developing a unique idea for a smartphone that's actually useful and enhances the overall experience.

All of us use our smartphones in different ways. If the single speaker is a problem for you, you might want to pass on this one. It also might be troublesome if you really don't want a big phone. But if neither of those are an issue, I would definitely recommend you consider the LG V20. It is blazing fast, has a great camera, expandable storage galore, and is unique enough thanks to its second screen to stand out in a world of slabs that all look about the same.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beauty and the Beast, Sports Illustrated and Lessons Learned

"For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." ~ Jesus, Luke 16:8

I think it's safe to say Disney's marketing strategy promoting Beauty and the Beast was a runaway success. The movie opened with the biggest opening weekend ever for a PG-rated movie and the biggest opening weekend for any movie in March.

A big part of the that strategy was the quote a couple of weeks ago from the director about there being a “gay moment” in the movie. The article was perfectly timed so that the resulting furor would have maximum impact in social media in the week and a half prior to its release date. And a furor they got. It was impossible not to miss the impact of the quote in the week following the article's publishing.

I don't have any doubt that it was intentional. The media have learned their lesson well: get the Christians sufficiently riled up, and you're in for a bonanza. It's too bad many Christians haven't yet learned the same lesson.

One of the most striking examples of this phenomenon is the story of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The issue is by this time an American institution for better and for worse, mostly worse. For those of us under the age of 60, it's just always been there. But its origins lie at a place where happenstance and Christian outrage met.

Sports Illustrated was not always the behemoth I remember when I was growing up. (Print magazines are so 20th century). In 1964 SI was struggling to find a focus and an audience. It was far behind the largest sports weekly of the day, The Sporting News. And it had difficulty in determining exactly what it wanted to be all the time.

When there wasn't any baseball or football to cover, the magazine looked more like an outdoors or a lifestyle magazine. There were cover stories on hunting, travel, outdoors activities, even yachting with John and Jackie Kennedy.

It was anticipated to be a slow news week in mid-January 1964 (the NFL playoffs were usually over by Christmas back then). The managing editor, Andre Laguerre, planned a Caribbean travel story and told the photographer to hire a model to pose in a bikini for the cover. It was a brazen choice at the time, but Laguerre liked to push the boundaries and had little taste for American moralism. 

The cover (see it at this link if you wish) featured the picture with the following caption: "A Skin Diver's Guide to the Caribbean - Fun in the Sun on Cozumel." There was nothing about "annual swimsuit issue" or anything like that. Inside was a travel story with one more picture of the model and some other pictures of beach scenery.

Three SI covers from the 50s
and 60s that have nothing
to do with sports.
The cover created controversy. The magazine received thousands of angry letters and cancellations. At the same time, newsstand sales of the issue exceeded all expectations for a slow news week. Whether those sales were directly related to the anger expressed I have know way of knowing, but that is what happened.

Any time there is reaction, that is gold to marketers. They really don't care if it is positive or negative, as long as there is a reaction. A single issue which generated this kind of controversy and sales made everyone take notice. In the weeks that followed it was Laguerre who came up with the idea to put another girl in a bathing suit on the cover next year and bill it as the "second annual swimsuit issue."

Thus was born one of the most influential publications in American history. By all rights it should have been another one of those early SI issues that seem so weird to us who remember the magazine's heyday in the 70s-90s. But it lives on because of a firestorm of negative reaction from well-meaning folks.

I'm not saying those folks were wrong about the particular issue. I'm sure it was a shock to many subscribers looking for stories about basketball, hockey or perhaps the upcoming Winter Olympics. But if enough of them had simply and quietly pitched the magazine into the trash can and went on with their lives, the Swimsuit Issue wouldn't be around today. 

More than 50 years later, many Christians still haven't learned this lesson while the world has. The world eagerly lays out plans, knowing many Christians will quickly share anything that irritates them on social media without ever considering if they are being manipulated by either powerful media moguls looking for free publicity or by struggling Web publishers looking for cheap clicks. Either way, the manipulation is real and, unfortunately, easy to pull off. If Christians would just once not take the manipulation bait, the people pulling the strings might think twice about it. Personally I think it'd be nice to see Christians be the manipulators for once instead of the manipulatees. 

Note: The information for this article came mostly from an interview I saw a few years ago on TV with Frank DeFord, longtime writer and editor at Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately I could not find a link with the interview, but the basics of what I remember from the interview are confirmed in this article.