LG V10 review: upping the ante
We’ve just seen the most robust fall mobile phone releases in a long time. From the iPhones to an iPhone-like, the Lumias to the DROIDs, the Nexuses to the Priv. And also the OnePlus X, but we can stop counting at this point. A couple of these devices came from manufacturers who put up flagship machines this very same model year: one was a “plus” to a company’s device lineage, the other “One” was regarded as a necessary evil to its respective maker. HTC and OnePlus, in the end, decided to trail their main high-end device of the year with “diet flagship” slabs.
The V10 comes to us as a premium-level follow-up to the chaebol’s premium-level spring chicken that has gone through rounds of heavy discounts and a rolling update to Marshmallow. So, why would you pay up to double the price of a G4 right now for one of these puppies? What’s so new about this new device line from Seoul? Well, like any great cake, it starts with a great base layer and ends up with copious amounts of icing.
Video Review · Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance
LG V10 Review Video
It’s large, ugly and it knows it. LG heavily promoted the heavy-duty build to the V10. The 316L-grade stainless steel frame comprises the body of the device with its sidings exposed for flair. The top and bottom caps are reinforced with hard silicon for added shock protection. The removable back is also covered in that silicon, which is also good for some scratch resilience as well. While we aren’t exactly dealing with what we normally consider premium materials, the silicon makes for a more comfortable grip while the diamond patterning affords more in-hand tack. This thing will cling on many a slanted surface. And that feeling of heavy-duty security — literally heavy at 192 grams — counts more than any perceived luxury you get. Beyond that feeling, you’ll see in our test notes whether or not the V10 lives up to the MIL-STD-810G standard of shock resistance from drops from up to four feet.
LG’s kept to its signature beveled lozenge slab form (160 x 79 x 8.6mm) — though unlike the G Flex series devices and the G4, this one’s flat. It’s also carried over a habit for packing as much screen onto the face of the phone as possible. Underneath that Gorilla Glass 4 sits a singular Quantum IPS LCD unit that measures about six inches at its longest diameter. The split comes between the main 5.7-inch quad-HD display and a separately driven 2.1-inch Second Screen, measuring 160 x 1040. The uniform pixel density comes out to 513ppi.
The only real qualm we have against the panel is that grayscale colors get pasty or washed out when exposed to sunlight. That’s one of the weaknesses of its “Quantum IPS” technology as it allows for more light to pass through those crystals in the display: since pure grayscale colors require all three RGB subpixels to open up, light can easily splash and refract from within and outside of the display. It makes looking at the gray notification shade a surreal experience outdoors. Other than that, visibility is just a tad less of a problem than what we’ve seen from the G4. Still, other LCD and AMOLED displays literally outshine this one. But if you’re looking for a sharp image with accurate colorage, this display’s got it. And we like it.
We’re used to LG’s back-mounted volume/power toggles by this point. If you’re new to the whole thing, you’re about to learn something new with us and LG as its engineers have integrated a fingerprint sensor into that power button. Everyone else has them, Android Marshmallow is said to make better use of them and, frankly, it’s a surprise this didn’t make it to the G4. The LG-manufactured Nexus 5X had it, but the V10 comes under the company’s own banner, not Google’s. It’s the way forward for LG smartphones and so be it for them to start on biometrics later rather than never.
The button does its job. Tapping the power button and keeping your finger on it for less than a third of a second will unlock the phone — fast as these sensors usually are in other phones. The bad news is that when used in conjunction with Android Pay … well, you can’t use it with Android Pay right now. We’ve been tapping the V10 onto NFC point-of-sales terminals all across Boston and when the device prompts us for authentication, it will ask for the pattern lock code or PIN. Never a fingerprint, like I was able to use on the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+. We’re in contact with Google on this issue and will update if and when they get back to us.
The three — count them, three — cameras on the phone may seem like overkill, but it’s actually cool beans. Specifically, in a curious case of engineering and design Tetris, there are two front-facing cameras that sit left of the Second Screen. Whether the novelty of the cameras begat the need for LG to fill what might have been wasted space with extra display or vice versa, it’s certainly nice to cram out any possible dead space there can be on a phone.
Android 5.1.1 comes out of the box with the LG V10 — literally one step up from the G4’s 5.1 — though nothing much has changed in LG’s proprietary UI. We could definitely waste your time going through the verbose and unnecessary Smart Notice feature again. After all, its power-hawk tendencies can now allow you to actually close down a resource-intensive app instead of just scolding you to use the app less often. We could also retrace through the lack of app support for the would-be useful Dual Window and QSlide apps or the awesome customizable navigation bar that allows you to tap a button to pull down the notification shade. But we’ll forego boring you with ditto from our LG G4 review.
The Second Screen is calling our names. Literally.
Let’s say first that you’d be surprised at how little sense a bottom-mounted screen would make. If we kept LG’s engineering intact and had to move those selfie shooters along with the screen, well, we’d get ready for a few sexy snaps of our palms. Second, even disregarding engineering concerns, we’re not sure as to how this would be ergonomically beneficial to us. Having your grip defend the bottom of a massive phone forces either your thumb into arcing downwards against your palm muscles or you into a more precarious grip to comfortably use the screen. Moving your finger up to secure more real estate on this huge phone — because if you don’t, good luck on the whole gravity thing — while swiping your thumb across the width of the device takes more work. Also, playing hopscotch with that navigation bar would probably provide more frustration than convenience.
Be careful what you wish for in device design without thoroughly thinking it over.
What you can do with that Second Screen is certainly something worth thinking over. It can be toggled off if you’d like it to, though that part of the panel will still be lit and will still register touches (yep, we checked). So, it’d be a waste to not try it out. In fact, you’re also allowed to keep that screen on while the main display’s on or even when it’s not. Don’t worry, it shuts off when the proximity sensor gets triggered, say, when the device is placed face down or in a pocket.
While the main screen is off, the phone will display more info-dense notifications as they’re pushed and leave their associated icons up. It also pops up the date, time plus battery and weather icons. A swipe to the right brings up quick toggles for ring/vibrate mode, Wi-Fi, flashlight and quick access into the camera.
Light up the main display and you have more multitasking options including a suite of LG’s apps (LG Health, calculator, QCapture+, clock and settings). Of course, you have to have quick access to five special contacts. You can also switch between the last five apps you used — something we wished Samsung would apply with its Edge features. To top it off, you can control media playback and check up on the next agenda item on your calendar. Nothing over the top, nothing too complicated and use versatile enough to keep it useful. The Second Screen is not a ticker, it’s a toolbar.
The shimmy up to the Second Screen, while introducing minimal drop risk, actually does better to get out of the way of the rest of the UI while still being present and available. The top placement of the screen gives your thumb an improved axis to move about.
If you can do with the Second Screen in your life, you’ll find it becoming like a racquet or sword — an extension of your hand. If you don’t want to be bothered about this mess, you can turn it off. Either way, it’s a fine addition to the device.
The LG G4 comes with an optically-stabilized fixed f/1.8 aperture 16-megapixel rear-facing camera with a sensor size of 1/2.6-inch, replete with dual-tone flash, colorimeter and a laser emitter for autofocusing. So does the V10. Each of those front-facing cameras sport a five-megapixel sensor. One has an 80-degree field of vision for those conventional solo selfies, the other one, at 120 degrees, will suck in your friends and unwitting passersby as well. The option to not fishbowl your face if you’re partaking in a true selfie is definitely appreciated as is the groufie thing that shouldn’t exist as a term.
So it goes that the LG V10 snaps great photos in general. Great color reproduction, awesome HDR processing and low-light prowess that goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Samsung’s efforts. It can also output .DNGs for those photogs who like to get RAW. But be prepared to actually set-up your shots instead of going for discreet, quick pictures — starting the camera cold is not advised. Shutter lag can run up to two seconds when you immediately tap the shutter button just after the viewfinder loads.
The Second Screen is forced into service by housing the different camera modes — when the device is shooting video, it converts to a digital zoom dial. Pro Mode for stills remains the same as with the G4. In the meantime, LG introduced a Pro Mode for video that brings up granular exposure, focus, quality and audio controls for while you’re shooting. The vaunted audio controls affect directivity, sensitivity and can drown out wind as well. Don’t count on this phone providing Rode or Sennheiser quality sound — the three mics on-board provide pretty standard sound capture for smartphones, that is to say, mediocre. But if you are forced to stick to the V10 for audio, having this level of control over your capture is essential, especially in loud environments. Blown-out waveforms are the absolute worst to deal with.
In terms of 4K shooting, you can crank up the quality to 64Mbps at 30 frames per second. There’s also a five-minute maximum per clip. 1080p shooting (in standard 1920 x 1080 and cinematic 2560 x 1080 ratios) gets pretty interesting in terms of stabilization. You have the standard hardware-based mechanics working for you at all times, using the full extent of the sensor. But if you elect to shoot in 30p or 24p (not 60p as the following feature can get wonky at higher frame rates), you also have the option of enabling digital stabilization, taking about a 1.2x crop field and having software pan and scan around the sensor to further calm a shaky picture.
Daytime shooting is definitely more preferable to night shooting just from the amount of noise you’ll get, even at fairly low ISOs. After all, 1/2.6-inch, while large in smartphones, is still pretty small in the scale of things and pumping 4K low-light video, much less any low-light video through a smartphone is going to be tough work. We’re amazed that even in bad lighting color reproduction is admirably accurate and dynamic range holds up nicely. 4K video is sharp as anything 4K is and it’s good enough quality for a lot of people, including small filmmakers. Those filmmakers will especially appreciate the amount of control they get in terms of lighting and focusing their shots.
The V10 might have just slotted into the photographers’ toolbelts between the GoPro and their Sony A7s, not because of the quality of its product (as good as it is for the field), but because of its versatility.
First of all, man, did that build come in handy. Imagine you’re pedaling your bicycle like mad on the streets of downtown Boston and then, when you go for the standing pedal position to really stress that you’re crazy today, your V10 drops out of your pocket and onto the road, all basic components exploded across an entire lane of hard as heck asphalt. You’d imagine the worse for even a bona fide durable phone, right? Well, lucky for me, traffic was stopped at the light before, so I pulled my bike aside and fished cover, battery and device body from the morass of oncoming vehicles. A large, wince-worthy score went across the cover. Fortunately for me, wincing was all I did that day. The device body took its impacts upon a stainless steel corner and left me with no shattered glass. LG claims that’s where 48 percent of where real-scenario drops land.
Unfortunately for me, the number two location where drops affect phones is the front. And dropping my phone face down onto gravel was how I cracked both of my phones’ screens. Yes, I paid a $175 insurance deductible to get a second device expedited to me for our review. And the one I have is now also cracked. Boo hoo.
LG decided that after difficulties with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 chipset on its first major phone of the year and a better time opting for the Snapdragon 808 on its second 2015 flagship, the company’s once again running the 808 on the V10 and is pairing the processor with 4GB of RAM to deliver a fluid experience throughout multitasking, gaming and other guff. Who cares if it seems played out, it still works for us. Memory management has been vastly improved from our initial review of the G4 — you don’t have to worry about streaming radio while playing Smash Hit only to then check Facebook, OKCupid and Gmail before hopping back into the game. In fact, it was only after re-entering the stopped game that it managed to bring up the pause menu.
Good speeds from T-Mobile have been hard to come by around metro Boston. Only once were we able to test speeds above 20Mbps. Voice exchange during calls was pretty good, especially when T-Mobile’s HD Voice was enabled. All of our test calls were made from street level, so to have been heard through plenty of ambient noise was a reassuring factor. The bottom-firing speaker will do better than any rear-based monstrosity delivering some loud sound, but with muddy mids. Those uniquely textured volume keys are also damn handy for toggling up and down the 75 levels of volume the V10 allows for media right inside your pocket.
There’s 32-bit DAC support which supposedly clears up that lossless audio you’ve been itching to play on your phone. Based on our testing with some choice, though, we haven’t been able to tell much of a difference between switching the “Hi-Fi” mode on and off.
Difference or no, we found plenty of space to store FLACs, PNGs and other data-dense files. The 64GB storage configuration is, in fact, the only one LG’s offering. Add to that the microSD card slot — capable of holding up to 2TB of extra stuff — and we’re talking business.
And then there’s battery life. There are always asterisks involved with measuring how long this battery or that battery will last us, but it’s been taken almost for granted that a battery from LG meant a battery that lasts. In my particular case, between constant streaming audio through miles of travel and pass-offs between cell towers and extremely frequent social media jaunts, we’re pretty surprised that the 3,000mAh power pack endured as long as it did. On a six-hour log, the screen was on for almost 2.5 hours. While you can see that Podcast Addict took top honors for drainage in this example (mostly because of an especially tough indoor cell connection), on some days, it’ll be TuneIn Radio coming in at third or fourth place and a similar six-hour “day” will have the screen on closer to 3.5 hours.
And boy, are there ways to charge this thing. A Quick Charge 2.0 wall wart comes inside the box. Depending on the day and the V10’s remaining charge, we’ve seen 50% charge rates range from 30 minutes to 50 minutes. You can also get a spare battery and charging cradle to reduce charge waits down to near zero or, for effect, get a wireless charging cover or hack it in yourself and exude Qi-charging awesomeness.
+ Useful Second Screen for multitaskers
+ Varied power options
+ Versatile and powerful camera
+ Enhanced durability
– Questionable price points given unlocked market
– Fit and finish are a bit weird
– Software still messy
Pricing and Availability
There’s only one storage option for all models: 64GB. As of December 8, the LG V10 is available in the US from the following three carriers at their original prices. It’s also on Amazon.
From it’s US launch on October 30 until November 15, LG offered any V10 buyer an extra battery with charging cradle and a 200GB microSD card for free. It began offering essentially the same promotion — but with the microSD card’s storage now at 64GB — for purchases made November 30 onwards until December 20.
LG has been banking on this phone to tie up 2015 with a pretty bow revenue-wise. For the chaebol, it means going against price cuts and the world of the unlocked phone and really hitting the US market where the bastions are: the carriers. It also means that people can finance their expensive purchases, too.
The story of the V10 is a basic LG smartphone — with a removable back cover and battery, microSD expansion and a ton of screen acreage, it’s a great canvas to expand upon — and instead of adding on curves and leather, it’s replaced with armor, a toolbelt and more control. Style’s been put away for silicon. UI software tweaks have been passed up for camera software tweaks. And there’s obviously one extra camera on the V10 that isn’t on the G4.
This phone has been underrated and downplayed since when we first heard of it, mostly because we’ve considered it to be a niche phone.
“It looks quite alien.”
“Pro-tographers will love this.”
AT&T certainly thinks of it as a niche phone for the productive kind of people who would use the second screen to do all sorts of wonky things. But let’s not mistake the Second Screen for what the Galaxy Note series can do. And to T-Mobile’s, Verizon’s and even LG’s marketing focus on its cameras, while the extra stuff is nice for the people who would want to use it, we’re not sure if putting those features front and center is the right idea when we’re dealing with most of the same optical hardware we’ve gotten from earlier this year.
What we should be doing is taking the V10 holistically: it’s priced above like the Moto X Pure Edition with poor battery life and the Nexus 6P with some major issues; you could go the other way and get a 16GB iPhone 6s Plus or a 32GB Galaxy Note 5 and still get left wanting the Second Screen, the microSD expansion and a durable build.
So, it just so happens that we’re stuck in the middle — it’s below our affordability threshold, but way above being basic. For power users and general phablet clutchers, if you’ve been waiting on an upgrade this holiday season, we think you should probably bite the bullet and purchase a V10. It’s what we call in the business “all that and more.”