This post, third in the Returning to Android series, covers my experience with the LG V20 and Android 7.0 (a.k.a. Nougat) from a practical, field-tested experience after two months with related accessories such as the LG Tone Platinum. So I’ll be either go beyond my initial impressions or highlight some new aspects of my experience within the ecosystem. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive review but rather a walk through of some highlights and lowlights of my experience. Honestly, the highlights certainly far outweigh the lows.
My overall experience Android 7 on LG V20 is that of a much more mature OS that is reliable and works well than my previous experiences. This is likely a combination of an OS that is more consumer oriented (although I still believe both iOS and Windows 10 Mobile hit that target better solely from an OS perspective) and some really rockin’ hardware; the LG V20 is a beast of a phone. Notifications between my phone and my Microsoft Band 2 are still over-the-top (despite turning most off) and the OS or it’s apps do occasionally sputter and have hiccups, but these are rare (2 or 3 times in 2 months)
Unsurprisingly, in-app experience and available apps that matter to me are better on Android 7 than Windows Mobile 10, but the differences are not a stark as I would have thought. There is the key app for Signia touchControl and the addition of some very nice, if not critical apps, but both platforms have most of my day-to-day apps.Now let’s dive into some area where I’ve noticed a difference.
- Maps and navigations: there are certain features about Bing maps that I miss such as displaying the speed limit and gave me a warning when I go over it that are missing using Google Maps. However, Google Maps does a better job of telling you what’s coming next, highlighting when you are to move over, and which lane to be in; in some cases seems to pick a better route. My previous experience suggested that Google Maps has this propensity to love highways even when that doesn’t seem to be the best route; my current experience suggests that hasn’t changed. Overall my experience is fairly predictable and good with Google Maps. I miss some of the cool voices I used to be able to load with Here maps, Nokia’s version for Windows Phone, but I would rather have reliability than cool.
- Android Pay: It works (where accepted) and kind of nice. I don’t see this as a huge plus, but I like it.
- Shazam – I know this is a bit random, but the Shazam app is flipping amazing; it’s wicked fast and accurate. Soundhound a close second.I don’t know if it’s so much a better experience than, say Cortana’s song identification due to a faster processor and the LG V20’s amazing mics or the software, but it is inordinately rare it takes more than 5 seconds to identify a song and nearly instantaneous if the song is currently popular. To get an idea of how good it is at identifying songs, I would play the second movement from Shostakovich’s Symphony Nbr. 9.Not only did it nail the piece and the movement, but got the performer’s correct (Boston Symphony Orchestra & Andris Nelsons). This could take up to 20 seconds. It performed similarly on Basil Poledouris’s Nuclear Scam, and Bach’s Air from Anne Akiko Meyers. Songs with lyrics were more in the 5-second range to instantaneous. It’s fairly rare that I walk away from an app simply muttering “wow,” but I do with Shazam.
- Microsoft Services vs. native Google Services: As a follow-up on to my note on Microsoft services about no longer having to drink all of a vendors kool-aid (see the previous post) that remains true, for the most part. There are two services, Bing search and Cortana (Siri & Google Assistant competitor), that I find myself rarely using on Android. Since they’re not baked, and their counterparts (Google and Google Now) are, I find the effort to try to use them too high – too many navigational steps and too much time to access them. While I like Bing, I’m just as happy with Google (although I think Bing organizes the information in a more helpful way than Google. I prefer Cortana to Google Now and don’t use the personal assistant aspect of Google Now. I tend to go to individual apps for those features. However, I suspect most folks that are already using Google or Apple services won’t move over so the whole “Mobile First” without hardware strategy (a phone) looks suspect to me.
- Size: One of my biggest concerns with buying the V20 was its size; this is in the phablet bucket. I remain a little surprised that the size isn’t more daunting than I anticipated. Not only is it large, it’s also relatively tall because not only does have a 5.7 inch screen but it also has that secondary screen. I have not found it awkward at all. It fairly easy to use; I’m not a particularly big guy nor are my hands large and yet it seems to fit comfortably. Part of that is it’s thin and tapered so that it fits well without sharp edges. Another part is the design of the handset and the materials used. One note is that I tend to do a lot with one hand but while that takes more focus, it’s doable. It just really seems to work well and, for me, fits better in my hand than the Samsung S7 Edge.
- Feel: In a word, it’s great. It’s thin but nice to hold without edges digging in. It feels premium (as it should). I use a dbrand skin (see below) that provides a carbon fiber look (almost gives a 3D quality) and a bit better grip than the aluminum. When out and about I use a clear Ringke slim case that has a solid grip.
- Using the 2nd screen: It’s more helpful than I would have thought. I’m still getting used to it, so I’ll forget about it periodically. However, it has helpful shortcuts and access to music controls without turning the phone on.
- Build – The build is beautiful. It feels like a monoslab unibody phone made of solid, aircraft-grade, aluminum phone despite the ability to remove the back. I love the “button” that allows me to open it (yes it takes a bit of focus but I NEVER have it unintentionally open).
- Fingerprint scanner – It’s fast and accurate. I’ve heard some complaints here, but I haven’t experienced any issues.
Now for more of my experience in the hardware (and related software) ecosystem
Music: I previously highlighted the DAC and its specs, but how is in when used in the real world? Does it make a difference listening to music? Yes, yes it does. I typically listen to a wide range of music but focus on classical and jazz. Much of my music is FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files ripped from CDs in the standard 44.1 mHz, 16 bit mode. I also have some lossless WMA files, 320 mp3, 256 mp3 and a smattering of others. I use Spotify (typically in automatic mode since Extreme mode presents problems, see below). Thanks to the fine folks at HDTracks, I have a number of higher definition FLAC sourced albums including Detroit Symphony/Leonard Slatkin’s Aaron Coplan (Rodeo, Dance Panels, El Salon Mexico & Danzon Cubano, 192 kHz, 24 bit) , Berlin Philharmonic Holst/Simon Rattle’s, The Planets (44.1 kHz, 24 bit), Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Fabio Luisi’s Gustoav Mahler No 1 (192 kHz, 24 bit), Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia (44.1 kHz, 24bit), Detroit Symphony/Leonard Slatkin’s Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances (192 kHz, 24 bit FLAC), Doric String Quartet’s Schubert String Quartet in G major & String Quartet in C minor (96 kHz, 24 bit) and Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons’s Dmitri Shostakovich – Under Stalin’s Shadow (96 kHz, 24 bit FLAC). Of course, the better the source, the better sound it pushes across. I mainly listened to these with Sennheiser Momentum’s and Grado SR 80’s (for more on these headphones, see Cans: A Personal Journey Through Soundscapes.) The most initially apparent differences you notice are utter silence between notes, indicative of very clean sound, and the crisp, clear detail. Whether it’s the clarinet coming in, background percussion or sweeping strings, it’s all crystal clear. It also has a relatively wide and rich soundstage. So whether you’re listening to Marion Hill’s Sway, Boney James Futuresoul, Halie Loren’s Butterfly Blue or James Blake killer beats, it’s all there, crystal clear and rich.
When I’m moving around a bit more or working out, I use LG’s Tone Platinum Bluetooth headset. While that bypasses the quad DAC, it passes a clear Bluetooth 24 bit sound (48kHz / 24bit) via aptX HD signal that your headphone can parse on quality DAC presuming your headphone support aptX HD and has a good DAC. I purchased LG’s Tone Platinum (refurbished) to go with this phone for that very reason. Music coming across the Platinum is stunningly clear and detailed. That part is lovely. Out of the box, it has an anemic lower end, even for me. To mitigate this issue, I got some Comply P Series eartips. While they don’t give the headset a good bass, they do provide enough seal to provide a solid, if not stellar lower end. Coupling that improved base with the headphone’s clarity and detail, works well for my type of music listening, it. If you have a need for beat such as loving techno and beat-heavy R&B, these aren’t for you. Jazz and classical lovers, however, will get along nicely as long as you get a great seal.I use the Poweramp app to listen to music locally. (Rocket Player is also very good.)
Spotty Spotify: I previously indicated some challenges with Spotify. I dove in a bit deeper to verify it’s the app. So I had the random pause issue even when I had local files (downloaded) and was in the off-network mode. So it couldn’t be an issue with the wifi or my mobile network. It appears to be mostly resolved if I use steaming on the automatic or normal quality settings and download at normal quality. Now, extreme quality, I believe, is 320 kbps; clearly, this beast of a multimedia phone has no issue processing that. Moreover, the same issue doesn’t exist on Google Play Music which is also downloaded at 320 kbps; I can’t replicate the issue on Pandora, Amazon Music or Groove. It’s Spotify. So, one vaunted advantage of Spotify, high-quality, albeit compressed, music is not practical unless you’re willing to put up with long pauses about every 3rd song. Given the dearth of choices that cover iOS, Windows 10 Mobile and Android, I’ll keep with Spotify until the moment I move my twins phones from Windows, at which time I’ll move to Google Play Music or Apple music, whichever makes the most sense (unless, by some miracle, Spotify actually resolves this issue before then – given their track record – not likely). Given that Android is the dominant mobile OS and, I’ve got to believe, the vast majority of Spotify premium subscribers are on Android, this failure is insane.
Photos/Video: It really is worthwhile to take the time to learn how to use the manual modes of still and video cameras. While the automatic mode is good, this phone shines in manual mode. Your ability to using focus peeking to get the perfect focus, manage the white balance, ISO and shutter speeds really allow for a wide range of wonderful shots. Similarly, when recording audio, it’s worthwhile to use the custom setting to manage gain and upper and lower cutoffs. Overall the recording is excellent with the exceptions that S’s can receive an easy spike; calibration can help mitigate this issue.
Battery: As others have noticed, this is a beast of a phone with a reasonable but not long battery (hey, at least it won’t go into meltdown mode). Quick 3.0 charging is just that, quick. I also have a couple of backup batteries (one I leave at home and one at work) as well as a couple battery charges (that charge the battery alone and don’t tie the phone down). LG’s own charging cradle (BCK-5200) and Monoy’s Battery Charger (with the added bonus of a USB port for power). This basically means that, wherever I am, I have a backup battery ready. So I go from 0 to 100% less than 30 seconds. It also means I don’t have to worry about watching my battery usage. I don’t sweat it when I have 20% left, I just pop in a new one. With batteries costing about $12 (from a fairly reputable manufacturer, Beltron, (you don’t want to go cheap with things that can melt and explode), this is a no-brainer. If you want to play it a bit safer, you can get LG’s official OEM battery for about $40.
Finally, while not directly related to the phone but a quirk of my experience, when I bought the phone (for a lot of money) at AT&T, I had the option to buy the LG G Pad X 10.1 for $1. Originally I was going to pass (it’s LTE so it does typically require a $10 per month line for 2 years for this deal); I already use a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 from work and I have a Kindle Fire (7 in). Did I really need another tablet? No, I don’t need one but I decided to give it a try. It is a delight to use; it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised. It feels great, is thin and has a good screen. For simple consumption of videos, reading magazines (nicer in color than the B&W on my typically preferred Kindle Paperwhite for reading) and quick interactions, I love it. The battery lasts a long time and it’s amazing how well it handles standby mode. It does have LTE just in case I want network access without bothering to tether and don’t have wifi. So, it’s certainly no necessity but it is a joy. Even though the Surface’s screen is better, the lighter, thinner form factor and simple access mean for pure consumption, I actually prefer the G Pad. If you’re interested, apparently this is the one to get. The other G Pads haven’t faired as well in reviews. Prior to getting the V20, I had all of 1 item from LG, a TV. Now I’ve added the phone, a Bluetooth headset, and the G Pad. So far, life’s good.