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.

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