LG V10 review: What the LG G4 should’ve been

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LG recently released the V10 during the time of the year when we’d normally see the G Pro series get refreshed. It’s safe to say that the V10 is going to replace that line of smartphones, if it does well, considering it’s a larger, more advanced version of the earlier G4.

Unfortunately for the V10, the bigger screen and newer features aren’t that much more advanced than what’s available on the G4. The two biggest additions that are immediately apparent with the newer, more premium design, and the longer screen that extends into a low-power, always-on display to show shortcuts and notifications. Are those additions worth the upgrade over a G4? We’ll find out.

Design

2015 is the year of “premium” smartphones, with more manufacturers than ever adopting higher end materials for their smartphones, and it shows with LG’s latest; the design of the V10 is great. It feels nice, and weighty enough to actually feel like you’re holding an expensive piece of electronics, but not too heavy that it’s cumbersome to hold. The texture on the back of the device has enough of a grip without being uncomfortable, making what I personally think is one of the best designed LG phones to date, even without the leather back that was so popular on the G4.

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The front of the device looks nearly identical to the G4, with a slight difference at the top of the phone. On the right side, you’ll find that the front screen extends into the top bezel, creating an always-on ticker display for several different things. It blends seamlessly into the border around the screen, and actually looks really nice and unobtrusive.

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On the left side of the top of the device, you’ll find two front-facing cameras that are for the wide-angle selfies that the V10 can take. I’m not sure why LG didn’t do this with software like Samsung does with their 2015 flagships, but it is what it is.

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Other than the screen, everything else is typical LG. You’ll find the power button and volume rocker on the back of the device, and the bottom houses the headphone jack and charging port, as well as a speaker.

Hardware

LG didn’t skimp on the specs here, as the V10 features a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) IPS LCD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor, Adreno 418, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for up to an additional 2TB, a 16MP rear camera, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.1.

Bands:

4G LTE (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 20, 29, 30)
HSDPA (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100)
GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900)
CDMA (800, 1900)

Performance

The V10 uses a Snapdragon 808 CPU with 4 GB of RAM, which you can probably guess runs really, really well. Multitasking is a breeze, and there aren’t any games or combinations of apps you can throw at this thing to slow it down. Apps rarely needed to reload unless I was playing games or doing anything particularly RAM intensive, but even then they were pushed back into memory pretty quickly thanks to Qualcomm’s zippy Snapdragon 808.

For most users, you’re looking at a top notch performer. Web browsing and emails aren’t an obstacle for the V10, and even some of the hungrier apps like Facebook still perform extremely well here.

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The screen is one of the best on the market, and while it isn’t quite as stunning to look at as some of Samsung’s AMOLED displays, the V10 offers an extremely accurate viewing experience. Colors are very natural, never too warm or too cold. Some people prefer the pop of other colorful devices, but anyone looking for something natural will be happy with the V10. I’m personally a little biased towards Samsung screens, and I was even extremely happy using the V10 day-to-day. Videos and pictures look phenomenal, and you’ll have a hard time finding anything to complain about.

The fingerprint scanner for the V10 is located in the power button on the rear of the phone. For the most part, it works well. Android natively supports fingerprint ID now, and as long as you get your finger on the button, it should quickly recognize your print and unlock your device. Unfortunately, I’m not at all a fan of LG’s power button and volume rocker placements. I also don’t like rear-mounted fingerprint scanners. You can probably guess, this made for a pretty combination for me while using the V10. That’s all personal opinion, and as long as you like LG’s unorthodox button placement and you don’t mind the current trend of fingerprint scanners that aren’t on the face of the device, you should have no complaints using LG’s implementation.

The speakers, like every other device that isn’t an HTC One with BoomSound, are okay. They’re loud, they don’t sound bad, and for casual listening and YouTube videos, you’ll be happy. LG uses a 32-bit hifi DAC in the V10 that offers a better listening experience, but in my testing it seemed like it only worked with LG’s stock music player app. That didn’t help much with videos or streaming from Google Play Music, but if you store your files locally, listen to music through headphones, and like LG’s stock music player, the V10 should give you a clearer sound than the competition.

Battery Life

As efficient as the 808 is, it can’t quite deliver amazing battery life when it has to power two screens, one of which has more pixels than most of our living room televisions. The V10 doesn’t get poor battery life by any stretch, but you’ll probably need to charge it just about every night. My typical heavy usage got me home with around 10% left in the tank, but even backing off a bit and trying to stay off the phone throughout the day couldn’t ever keep it over 50% by bedtime. You won’t need to worry about battery life if you don’t mind charging things every night (and I don’t think most people do), but it’d be nice to squeeze a little more out of that massive 3,000 mAh battery. Fortunately, you can swap the V10’s battery out thanks to its removable back, and it actually charges surprisingly quickly, so even if it dies mid-day you’ll be able to juice it back up in record time.

Software

There’s not much to say about LG’s software if you’ve used a G4 this year. Everything is pretty much identical to the G4, including LG’s blocky, colorful themes and design. Features like Qslide and QuickMemo are all here, as well as LG’s system-level tweaks like being able to change icons on your home screen and rearranging your navigation buttons.

Some of these features are very welcome additions, like the one-handed mode and the notification drawer shortcut to take a screenshot (since pressing the rear power button and volume down button simultaneously is the most unintuitive thing I’ve ever done), and dual-screen modes are always welcome on phones of this size.

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Otherwise, LG hasn’t done anything to win over anyone that didn’t like its previous iterations of smartphone software. Icons are big and kind of ugly, half of your notification drawer is eaten up with quick toggles and a screen brightness slider, and most of LG’s apps are bloated with stuff and things. Samsung at least tried to make an effort to curb back some software this year, following HTC and Motorola’s lead, but LG hasn’t taken the hint yet. You can sort of see Material Design shine through on some apps, but overall the apps just aren’t attractive or compelling enough to use over some of the fantastic alternatives you’ll get on the Play Store. Things like Event Pocket in the calendar app, or the needlessly complex and categorized settings menu just don’t do the V10 any favors.

Second Screen

The second screen at the top of the V10’s display is the most compelling argument for picking the device, and it really does offer an experience that’s hard to replicate anywhere else. We’ve seen other OEMs dabble in curved screens that show information on the sides of the device, but the V10 puts its screen where you’ll actually see it.

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There are a few different things you can do with it, allowing it to display shortcuts to certain apps or recently used apps. Moving around between sections is as simple as swiping between them, and there’s a media control screen, a calendar view, and you can even set it up to show up to five of your favorite contacts. There’s also a screen that will allow you to display a “signature” at the top of your screen, which is basically just a word or phrase that’s always sitting above your notification bar. Why anyone would want or need that is beyond me, but it’s there if that’s your thing.

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While the primary display is off, that secondary screen goes into a low-power, no color mode, showing the time and your notifications. You can swipe it to display shortcuts for changing the volume of your device, turning WiFi on or off, turning a flashlight on or off, or jumping into the camera.

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While actually using the phone, the best thing the secondary screen does is display notifications. If you get a text message or a phone call, it shows up on that screen instead of your main display, which keeps from distracting whatever it is you’re doing at the moment. It’s easy to dismiss calls or ignore notifications if they’re not particularly important, and they don’t intrude on the rest of the screen. It’s one of the best things about using the V10, even if it does create some usability problems from how large it makes the phone.

Camera

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As far as camera performance goes, you’re going to find the same rear camera on both the V10 and the G4. That’s a good thing, as LG makes one of the best cameras on the market that pretty consistently takes good photos. There’s also the entire manual mode that LG heavily promoted with the G4, so if you actually know what you’re doing with a camera you can get the V10 to take some pretty amazing shots. The biggest real drawback to the camera is that it tends to struggle in low light compared to some other flagships, but the manual mode can take care of that almost every time.

LG’s camera interface can be as simple or complicated as you’d like it to be. The manual mode gives you fine-tuned control over just about everything, but the simple mode strips away nearly everything from the screen and lets you snap photos with a single tap. Both options have their place, but I feel like most users are going to like the simple mode more than being bombarded with all kinds of technical options to take pictures. LG takes advantage of the V10’s second screen with some camera options, putting settings and tuning on the extra space above the main interface instead of using up screen real estate, which is nice.

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Indoor shots really are the V10’s Achilles’ heel. It loses detail pretty quickly compared to some other high end phones, although someone with a background in photography can work around with this thanks to LG’s manual mode. For the rest of us, though, low-light shots are just okay.

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Outdoor shots were fairly accurate, and colors didn’t seem too washed out or too saturated.

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Action shots were hit or miss. Moving subjects, like a dog, can be tough to capture without any blur. It’s obviously something that most smartphone cameras struggle with, but I’d hoped LG’s OIS would’ve helped more.

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It’s quick to focus otherwise, and pretty consistently turned out great images.

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Black levels are very accurate, and the high megapixel count means the V10 captures a ton of detail in its shots.

Closing

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Should you buy LG’s V10? If you have a G4 (or even a G3, for that matter) then probably not. There isn’t much difference aside from the premium materials and that extra screen. Buying a new back for your G4 takes care of the first problem, and the extra screen at the top of the device doesn’t add too much to the experience as a whole to make it worth dropping the cash on this meager upgrade.

Even if you’re not coming from a newer LG device, it’s hard to recommend the V10 over some of LG’s other available devices, like the G4, simply because a G4 can be found so cheaply now that it isn’t worth spending the extra money here. The battery life is good, and the screen and camera are top notch, but it’s hard to recommend the V10 for anyone that’s not already a huge fan of LG that doesn’t mind an enormous device. If big screens are your thing, and you have to have that removable battery and SD card, though, then the V10 is an extremely compelling option. It’s fast, and the hardware is likely going to stand up to most devices in the next two or three years, assuming LG keeps the software up to date.

If you need a high-end Android phone, you can’t go wrong with the V10. It’s an all around amazing device, checking off almost every box that most people look for in a smartphone. Just make sure the negatives don’t outweigh the positives for you before making a decision.

[LG]


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.


  • primalxconvoy

    If only this thing came with a stylus; I’d be very interested in it.

    Nice review, thanks!

  • Shawn M. Turner

    It’s comical how unenthused some reviews can be.