One balmy day in Tel Aviv…
While traveling for vacation, I often forego expensive clothing or other tourist purchases. Instead, I splurge on gadgets! Not just any gadgets; the random and obscure ones often not sold in the US. This has caused issue before, with the purchase of incompatible smartphones and other junk electronics that were high on novelty, but didn’t make it past a month of my attention. During a recently completed 3 week jaunt in Europe and the Middle East, I picked up an unlocked LG v10.
Unlike other vacation splurges, the v10 IS sold in the US. In fact, it can be had on 3 of the 4 major carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon). The v10 in my case was a pure technology novelty, packing a killer camera that allows manual video controls, the ability to save RAW photo files, and another rarity being the integrated Hi-fi DAC that includes a headphone amplifier (my eyes water from the greatness). My example today is the LG-H960YK; a 64GB model in white – a variant NOT available on US carriers, or through Amazon (unless purchasing the International model not compatible with US 4G networks).
The LG v10 has been around for roughly 8 months at the time of writing. It is not a new phone. It does however, still have very cutting edge hardware. The v10 packs a 6-core Snapdragon 808, with speeds up to 1.4Ghz (not very fast). Things get better from here with the additional of 4Gb RAM, a 5.7″ 2k display, removable 3000mAh battery, SD card slot, 16MP rear camera, and the party trick dual 5MP shooters, and secondary notification LCD in front. The duel cameras on the front allow for standard and wide angle selfies. Rounding out the package, the physical build of the devices is sturdy. The v10 is rated with withstand shock, but not water. The sides of the device are flanked by a steel band, which is rounded and make the phone extremely comfortable to hold. Those same rounded edges make the phone almost impossible to pickup from a table sadly.
Focusing on the camera hardware, the v10’s rear camera is the same 16MP sensor dating back to the G4. It is also used in the new G5 handset. It is a trusty and reliable sensor with optical image stabilization and laser assisted autofocus. The combination of laser focus and OIS make shots from the v10 some of the sharpest from a smartphone. LG also does more sharpening on it JPEG’s than most rivals. I easily get superior shots from the v10 when comparing to my current daily driver – an iPhone 5SE, with its 12MP non-IOS shooter. Moving to video capture, the v10 records 4k video and 65Mbps. This is high for a smartphone camera and makes the v10’s 4k footage some of the highest quality on a phone. Audio recording from video is also boosted by the ability to direct which direction to focus audio – either from the front or rear of the phone. Audio quality from the build it mics (a total of 3) is still low. These mics are not a replacement for a dedicated mic if video recording is the goal.
The v10 ships with LG’s standard UI treatment. Its stock home launcher is more customizable than most, allowing hiding of app icons, and uninstalling apps by dragging icons to the ‘uninstall’ option that appears at the top of the screen. Although the UI is performant, LG still falls victim to including duplicate applications which can’t be uninstalled (email and browser for example). The stock keyboard is also replaced wth an LG version, along with LG supplied factory ringtones and wallpapers. The v10 being a 2015 device retains the app drawer option that was later dropped in the initial G5 release.
The v10’s camera software is a main draw for the device, allowing full manual control. The ability to adjust exposure and color temperature save most any shot that would have been blown out in auto mode. The color temp adjust deserves a special shoutout because it allows granular kelvin adjustment, rather than presets such as ‘day’ or ‘cloudy’. Manual controls for video are the same as photos, including manual focus, white balance, and shutter speed. Shutter speed is special as it allows a slower 24fps cinema recording, or a high 60fps record to get crisp still from action scenes in post. LG’s camera software used in the v10 is simply the best on the market, bar none.
LG decided to include a secondary display on the v10. This display can be used to display incoming notifications, a signature, recent apps, app shortcuts, as well as additional camera controls within LG’s camera app. Its is LG’s version of the curved display controls used on Samsung’s devices. Sadly, this second display is not customizable enough and is an obvious first generation implementation. I don’t expect it to make it to future phones. Although I can disable the display of app shortcuts, I cannot prevent the screen from being used for notifications. If you are using a custom launcher – it is very likely you will hit a wall if you expect to have similar controls over the secondary screen. I turned mine off completely.
As a final note to software, although LG includes a hifi DAC (32-bit to be exact), the company does not include any significant software to make use of its processing ability. There is not even an EQ option – only the ability to turn on on or off, and adjust each ear piece volume. I leave it on, and it does sound better enabled – but a pair of high end, or high impedance headphones are required to get the most out of what the DAC offers. I got the biggest benefit from using my Bose QC 25 headphones. Using most any earbud did not give significant result.
The v10 is an anomaly. It is the type of smartphone that will attract buyers looking for its very specific features: either is manual video controls, or hi-fi DAC. All others need not apply. Many expect the v10 to be the start of a new series – perhaps ‘v’ for ‘video’, with subsequent models carrying similarly beefy video cred. I’m currently using the v10 as my daily driver, replacing my iPhone 5SE as I am a total sucker for the enhanced video and audio bits. I can’t however recommend the v10. The package in total seems not meant for mainstream. An experiment of sorts along the lines of Samsung’s first edge display phone; the Galaxy Note Edge. For the Android faithful, a Samsung Galaxy S7, LG own g5, or even the now bargain priced LG G4 from a year ago will be a better fit. For now, I’m still thrilled by the manual camera controls, excellent build, and can’t wait to see the next phone carrying the ‘v’ branding. One that has more fleshed out versions of all the hardware tricks bestowed on the v10.
Score: 6 out of 10