I need to be real with you guys here: I've never liked any device that forced me to use whatever garbage skin the manufacturer was putting on them at the time. In other words, I've always been an "Android Purist," if you will — it was stock Android and nothing else for me, and it's really been like that since I became an Android user. Now, I've had no trouble being objective when it comes to reviewing devices with skins; just because I don't like it doesn't make it "bad."

While I wouldn't go as far as to say that the V10 is a game-changing phone in general, it has definitely been a game-changer for me. This is the first non-Nexus/non-stock phone that I've used in…maybe ever?…that I haven't immediately wanted to throw at a wall. In fact, this could even be my daily driver. I basically kind of love it, really.

Those are my personal feelings on the V10, anyway. But in a much more non-personal, general sense, it's still a great phone. Solid performance, a very nice display, excellent cameras, a good amount of storage, removable battery, and a surprisingly not-super-gimmicky "second screen" all combine to make this a usable, practical, and pretty much badass phone.

Honestly, if you've been thinking of buying it, I can already tell you to go for it.

Specs

Display 5.7-inch 2560x1440 IPS Quantum Display; 2.1-inch 160x1040 IPS Quantum Display
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
RAM 4GB
Camera 16MP f/1.8 front; dual 5MP 180 degree wide-angle front
Storage 64GB with microSD card slot
Ports microUSB, 3.5mm audio
Dimensions 159.6 x 79.3 x 8.6mm; 192 grams
Battery 3,000mAh (removable)
OS Android 5.1.1
Available colors Space Black, Luxe White, Modern Beige, Ocean Blue, Opal Blue
Price $699 off-contract; other options vary by carrier
Buy LG (links to all other carriers)

The Good

Display It's a QHD (quad HD) panel, which isn't really uncommon, but it looks great. Also, the "second" display (which is technically just a continuation of the primary panel with a separate backlight) is actually useful — I've grown to really like it, though it's not completely necessary.
Premium fit and finish The V10 has a super solid build, despite having a removable back. The stainless steel sides are curved beautifully and do a lot for giving this phone a premium feel.
Removable battery/expandable storage This is something that many, many users want, and LG delivered it. I don't personally care for either, but it's great for those users who really want them.
Cameras The rear camera is the same one from the G4, which is one of the best smartphone cameras of 2015. It's equally as good on the V10. The dual front cameras offer both wide-angle selfies and "regular" framed shots. It's pretty neat.
Fingerprint reader This one works well, and it's going to get even better on Marshmallow.

The Not So Good

LG's Skin Look, it's not terrible (it could be a lot worse), but everything just seems too damn big. The notification panel, while less cluttered than older LG phones, is still too large. The same goes for the navigation buttons — they're freakin' huge. It kind of drives me a little bit insane.
Less than stellar battery life I routinely got a modest three hours of screen-on time, but that's just not enough by today's standards. On more than one occasion, this phone had to hit the charger in the early evening.
No way to get screenshots of the second screen Some users might not care about this. Some might. I do. It's annoying. Oh, and if devs ever want to take advantage of this area for something, there's not an easy way to show it off.

Design and Build Quality

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If you've seen any LG phone for the past few years, then you've basically seen the V10. Sure, it's a little different, but LG's design language is clearly intact here — the rear keys are in full effect on the V10, just like anyone should expect from a modern LG phone.

From what I've seen, the overall look of the phone is a bit polarizing — most people either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. I think the textured back feels and looks incredible, especially in black. Everything on my review unit is super stealthy and sleek, and I think the segmented back gives it a nice standout look that's still subtle enough to keep it from being over the top.

The stainless steel bars on either side of the handset are also another one of my favorite things about this phone from a design standpoint. They feel and look great, and give this phone a very "finished" look. Since the volume rocker and power button are found on the back, the sides are completely clean. I didn't realize how much I'd like this till I started using the V10.

The front of the device is also understated and clean, with basically non-existent side bezels and a blacked-out LG logo. Really, the only thing you see when looking at the front of the phone is the dual front cameras, and of course the second display. The layout here is awesome, and I love the murdered-out look of my black review unit. Very sleek.

Where many manufacturers have done away with removable backs, removable batteries, and expandable storage, LG said you know what? We still like that stuff. Let's put it in this phone. So the back pops off (it's a thin piece of flexible plastic) to reveal many Android fans' dream: a removable battery and microSD card slot. Everything that's old is new again.

Personally, I don't really have an opinion one way or another about removable batteries and SD card slots, but I do know this: more options are generally better. Having these things in a phone definitely don't make me think less of it; if someone wants to be able to swap their phone battery, then they should be able to. The same can't be said for the other side — you'll never see "non-removable battery and no expandable storage" on a list of pros for any device. So yeah, I like that this is here, even if I probably wouldn't take advantage of it.

The only argument I can ever see being made here is that phones with removable backs aren't as robust as phones without. I guess I can see that as being a true statement (some of the time anyway), but the V10 feels solid to me. It seems incredibly durable (though I'm not willing to test its limits), and exceptionally well-built. Like I mentioned earlier, the stainless steel side pieces are fantastic and really go a long way in making the phone feel like a tank. Since the back is removable, there is a little bit more flex in it than you'd see on phones with non-removable backs, especially around the power button/volume rocker. I don't really see it as a big deal, but I'd be remiss not to at least mention it.

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It's about the same height as a Nexus 6, just narrower

The only questionable thing about the V10's design is the second screen. Not even that it exists, but rather its placement. Since this phone has a 5.7-inch display, the second screen is basically impossible to reach using one hand unless you slide the phone down into your palm, thus significantly increasing the likelihood of dropping it. I can't really say that I think it would be better in another place, though — since it works like a notification center, it makes sense that it's at the top. But as a landing spot for quick shortcuts and recent apps, it's just a little hard to access, at least for me and my tiny hands.

Display(s)

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Since we're already talking about it, let's start with the little guy.

First off, while LG calls it a "second screen," that isn't technically accurate — it's still part of the primary display, just with its own separate backlight. But for the sake of consistency, I will continue to refer to it as exactly what LG calls it, because that just makes more sense than trying to differentiate it every time it's mentioned. Still, I wanted to point out the difference before moving forward.

At first blush, this little 160x1040 section of screen seems silly. Like trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist — something just to compete with Samsung's (arguably sillier) "edge" stuff. While it's easy to dismiss the second display as nothing more than a gimmick (even I was guilty of this before using the phone), I've actually grown to enjoy it! I mean, I don't think this is a reason in itself to buy the phone, but it definitely doesn't detract from the phone's overall use, either. In fact, I think it enhances it for one main reason: this is where heads-up and scrolling notifications show up, instead of popping up on top of whatever you're looking at on the display or in the status bar. I've grown to really love this aspect of the second screen, though I will admit that at first it's a little disorienting since the notifications show up above the bar. My initial reaction was to start swiping the second screen, since swiping the notification is the default Android action, so it took a bit of adjustment when using the V10.

Other than notifications, the second screen can show a variety of info: signature, app shortcuts, recent apps, quick contacts, upcoming calendar events, and music player controls. Each of these things will only show up when the display is on (settings for when the main screen is off are different), and each one is completely customizable and/or can be turned off on a individual basis. You can even organize the order in which they show up. In that respect, I have to give it to LG — it would've been so easy to keep the customization simple, but you can pretty much configure every aspect of the second screen, which I love. Hell, you can even turn it off!

When the primary display is off, the second screen serves basically one purpose: it shows the date/time, battery, and notification tray. It's always on, so if you have your phone lying next to you, everything is just a glance away. I really like that — it's so much more effective than Android's janky-ass Ambient Display. Again, you can always turn it off if for some reason you don't like it. Or you can swap it out to show your signature, which is honestly the least impressive thing that the second screen can be used for. I don't even understand why it's a thing, honestly (but that didn't stop me from changing mine to #SeeRed when the main screen is on. Don't judge me.).

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So, the short story about the second screen is this: it's a lot more useful than I thought it would be, though it's not something I will ever see as "necessary." In my opinion, it's not the main reason to buy this phone. I also appreciate the fact that you can turn it off, so if for some reason you hate the fact that it exists, disabling it is only a toggle away. When it's off, the phone basically looks normal…though the offset front cameras and large upper bezel look ever so slightly awkward. Again, I don't think it's a deal breaker.

Just below the second screen, you'll find the main screen. This 5.7-inch QHD IPS panel is among the nicest I've seen in a long time; my most recent personal phones have all been AMOLED (like the Nexus 6), so to spend some time with such a gorgeous display with whites that are actually white has been refreshing and exceptionally pleasant.

While I don't have a G4 handy to directly compare the V10 to, it seems likely that the two are using essentially the same display (save for size), so it stands to reason if there's anything you didn't like about the G4's panel, then that will also apply to the V10. I'm not going to spend any more time comparing the V10 to the G4, though, because I can't do it fairly. From this point forward, I'm going to approach this section of the review as if this were a new device with no other similar device to compare it to.

So, to put it simply, if you're looking for a sharp, crisp, vibrant (but not hot) display with excellent viewing angles, then you'll love the V10's IPS panel.

I find color reproduction to be quite good one the V10, especially compared to the excessive nature of the AMOLED displays that I've spent so much time with recently. I know David said that the G4's color balance was "decidedly unrealistic" (and I know I said I wouldn't make any more comparisons — I'm doing my best here, OK?), but I don't necessarily see the same thing on the V10. That's not to say that it isn't somewhat unrealistic, just that it looks pretty damn good to my eyes. More realistic than something like AMOLED, anyway.

When it comes to text and whatnot, the V10's display is as sharp as anything on the market right now. Everything is ultra-smooth and an absolute pleasure to look at, and that goes for "both" screens — they each clock in at 515 PPI, so they're both ultra sharp. There's not a single discernible pixel anywhere on these screens.

Storage, Wireless, and Fingerprint Reader

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One nice thing about the V10 over other phones is that there is only one model, and it comes with 64GB of storage. I mean, c'mon, this is 2015, y'all — 64GB should be the norm at this point. I'm glad that LG didn't even mess around with the storage; this is a premium phone, and as such should offer a premium amount of storage right out of the box. The fact that it has an expandable storage slot is also pretty badass, because if for some reason you like to carry your entire digital life with you in your pocket, well, you can. And hell, if you buy this phone now, it even comes with a 200GB SD card. That's nuts — 264GB of storage right out of the box and into your pocket.

When it comes to wireless quality, no news to report is good news, right? I think so. The LTE signal is stupid-strong on my AT&T model (I'm in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for what it's worth); I would even argue that the radio is better than the one in my Nexus 6. Side-by-side, I consistently get a better signal on the V10. As always, your mileage may vary depending on carrier, location, etc.

The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on the V10 are also things that just work and don't require any thought, which is exactly how I like my wireless radios. I hate dealing with poor Wi-Fi reception or constant Bluetooth disconnects, and I've had neither with the V10. It's good.

I've also been exceptionally impressed with the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. Like the new Nexus devices, the reader is in a great place — much better than the ones that are placed below the screen, which basically makes no sense to me. I love the fact that it's part of the power button, because your finger is already there when you want to turn the device on, so just leaving it in place for a fraction of a second longer bypasses any lockscreen security you may have set and instantly unlocks the device. I found that it works very well most of the time, with the only exceptions being when I've just washed my hands or gotten out of the shower. If your hands are even the least bit wet, the fingerprint reader just can't read the print correctly, thus not unlocking. Not a huge deal in my opinion, but again one that I'd be remiss to not mention.

Of course, the reader here is still only used to unlock the system. Like with the Blu Pure XL, this will get much better once the device gets Marshmallow and it can take advantage of the fingerprint APIs; the biggest difference here is that we basically know that the V10 will end up with Mallow at some point, where we can't make the same promise for the Pure XL.

Camera

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The V10 uses the same rear camera that's in the G4, which is one of the best cameras that you'll find in an Android phone today. So, by default, the V10's camera is also one of the best cameras that you'll find in Android today. I mean, that just makes sense.

One thing that goes a long way in making this camera so good is actually LG's camera app. Generally, on most phones, the first thing I do is put whatever the (generally atrocious) stock camera app is off to the side and out of my mind, and instead opt for Google Camera. On the V10, however, the stock app is so good and chockfull of useful features, it really makes the experience. It's got settings for everyone from the person who wants the camera to do everything for them to the person who wants to control everything manually.

It's basically broken down into the three different "modes:"

  • Simple: Basically no features whatsoever, just tap the display to focus and snap a pic all in one go.
  • Auto: Probably what most users end up going with. It has different modes, like multiview and panorama, but otherwise keeps the controls straightforward and easy to use.
  • Manual: This is for the folks who are used to being behind a lens and know exactly what they want out of their pictures. Everything is adjustable here, including ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and the like.

For the sake of simplicity, I kept the camera in auto mode for all of the review shots. It just makes sense to use the camera in the way that I think most users will ultimately go with.

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And here's a panorama just for good measure

One thing that I love about shooting with the V10's rear camera is the speed — autofocus is fast, and snapping the picture is even faster, especially in good lighting. But really, even in low-light it's not bad: it's fast enough, and images are surprisingly sharp in less-than-stellar lighting conditions. I mean, if you're shooting in a super-dark setting, don't expect something amazing. But it's still better than what most other smartphones are doing at this point.

Normally I don't focus too much on front cameras, but the V10 makes it hard to ignore what's happening here — it's got dual front cameras, which are used for two different types of shooting: wide-angle for group selfies (still hate that word), or "normal" angle for just grabbing a picture of yourself. Let's start with the former.

Basically, the 180 degree wide-angle front camera is designed to take the place of a selfie stick or other extension gadget, because it can easily fit an entire group into the frame at arm's length. The overall image quality here can be a little grainy, especially in less-than-perfect lighting conditions. I took the V10 out on my Halloween outing with the family, so of course we got a few group shots:

The standard camera is basically identical in quality, it's just a much narrower frame.

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This is my "No Shave November is itchy" face

Both front cameras also have a "beauty slider," which will help smooth skin and otherwise make your ugly mug a little more appealing. I mean, it did for me anyway.

Overall, I'm a fan of the V10's cameras. It's amazing to see how far smartphone shooters have come over the last few years — the quality you're able to get from a phone these days easily rivals (and even out-performs) what point-and-shoots were doing just a few short years ago.

Software

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To me, this is what makes or breaks any phone. It can be packed with the best hardware in the world, but the software experience can kill that quicker than you can say "ughhh this is hideous." Up until this point, this has been my main point of contention with basically every smartphone maker on the planet that isn't doing Nexus devices. Call it elitist, call it bias, call it whatever you want — manufacturer skins have been ruining Android for far too long. They're getting better, of course, but I still sometimes cringe when I pick up a newly released phone for the first time.

And that's actually one thing I think LG got very right on the V10. It's not stock Android by any stretch, but it doesn't feel like a sluggish piece of overloaded garbage, either. Really, it's fast and fluid, and the interface is "light" enough to not be obnoxious. Now, before I go any further, I want to point out that the V10 is basically running the same interface/skin as the G4. Again, I don't have a G4 handy, so I'm not going to directly compare the two; in fact, I'm not going to make any comparisons here. As far as I'm concerned, this is a new device and I'm approaching it as such.

One thing that LG really did well on the V10 is offer several options — you're not necessarily forced to use the phone in a way that doesn't make sense. For example, instead of having to deal with the tabbed Settings menu (which I personally despise), you can switch to a list view, which is essentially the stock layout with a bit of a different theme. See, options are good! And sometimes they even make sense.

While that in itself is great, there are a few things that really bother me about the interface:

  • Notification panel: The notification panel on the V10 is freakin' huge. The fonts and icons in the quick settings area are entirely too big (though smaller than previous iterations of LG's skin and/or other manufacturers' software garbage). It also irks me to death that pulling the shade down once pulls the quick settings menu, too. One pull for notifications, one more for quick settings (the default action) just makes more sense to me. I don't need to see the quick settings panel every time I swipe down.
  • The navigation keys: Also huge. I mean, I just can't figure out why LG thinks everything needs to be bigger. It looks tacky and out-of-touch to my eyes — like something my grandparents would want to use. Not the badass, streamlined, modern piece of hardware that it is. The juxtaposition between the hardware and software is almost mind-boggling sometimes.
  • Cluttered status bar: This one's simple. No one needs to see the NFC icon or the AM/PM on the clock, so there should be a way to prevent this stuff from showing (without disabling the services provided, like NFC). Also, I could seriously do without the AT&T logo in the top left — like I don't know what carrier I'm on or something. How stupid.

Like I said, it's still far better than the custom skins of yesteryear. In fact, there are also a few things I actually like about it:

  • The stock launcher: I'm not going to lie, this one shocked me the most. I always force myself to use review units exactly as they are out of the box — while I love Nova launcher, I almost certainly will use whatever the manufacturer includes during my time with units. And with the V10, I've actually grown to not hate LG's launcher, which is genuinely surprising. It's intuitive, fast, fluid, and generally pretty damn good. That said, I'd probably still go to Nova if this were my daily driver…but the point is that it hasn't been a difficult transition using the stock software here.
  • Still retains a very stock-like feel: The main thing I found interesting about LG's skin is how much is still feels like stock Android while retaining its own individuality. Things are mostly subtly different, but it's still clear you're on a customized version of Android. It's very well done, actually.

LG has also included a slew of (mostly) useful customizations to make the V10 a simpler and more versatile phone. For example, there are a ton of extra call features — things like answer and reject gestures, auto answer, connection vibration, and the like. Nothing out of the ordinary or remarkable here, but still features that are worth mentioning.

Otherwise, there are options to change the navigation bar (both color and displayed buttons), some automation tweaks like auto-sound and Wi-Fi profiles based on location, and of course LG's Dual Window feature that allows two apps together one the screen. Again, stuff we've seen from LG (and others) before, but still worth mentioning.

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I also want to point out how much I appreciate the fact that Mini View is a thing. This is an overall large device, and it can easily get unwieldy with one hand. A quick swipe to the right or left will shrink the entire interface (except the second screen, of course) down to a size that's much easier to handle with one hand. I especially like that the gesture to activate it is easy to execute with one hand. Super useful.

All in all, the V10's software doesn't do a lot to slow it down and actually offers some useful, thoughtful features. Like the second screen, most of this stuff isn't reason alone to buy the phone, but there's definitely some useful stuff here.

Also, I just want to mention that I freakin' love the power menu. It's so damn sleek.

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Performance

In the real world, performance can be measured a couple of different ways: some users want to know how it scores in popular benchmarks (which we'll get to down below), while others prefer to know how it fared in actual usage. Neither of these is a perfect metric, of course, because 1) numbers only tell so much of the story, and B) everyone uses their phone differently. So, the stuff I do when testing phones is probably nothing like what you do with your own phone. Or maybe it is. That's the question, isn't it?

But really, I'm honestly not sure if there was ever a question about how well the V10 would perform — it's got a Snapdragon 808 and 4GB of RAM. Sure, the 808 is a little older, but time and time again we've seen manufacturers go for it over the 810 just because of the negative association in users' minds when it comes to overheating. Personally, I see no issue with the 808, as it's been consistently awesome for me the entire time I've been testing the V10.

So, in my use, it's been predictable and stable. I tap, stuff happens. I type, words appear. I hit the power button, the phone wakes up. I install something, it's done in seconds. You know, exactly what you would expect from a modern, high-end, premium phone. Because that's exactly what this is.

Multitasking is also a dream on the V10, mostly thanks to the massive 4GB of RAM. I was easily able to keep seven or eight apps in memory with no redraw when navigating between them, which is nothing short of badass. This really goes a long way in making Android more power-user friendly and helping people get stuff done quickly and efficiently from their phones.

Benchmarks

We get that there are some people out there who just need to see some numbers. It's all good. Here's a look at how the V10 does in AnTuTu and Geekbench. If you'd like to see some other bench done, shout it out in the comments and I'll add it in. Probably.

Battery Life

Battery life may be a point of contention for some users, because I've already started hearing rumblings of "only 3,000mAh ragr ragr ragr." I get it though — it's the same size battery that's in the G4, but it has more screen to power. But it's also removable, and if you buy this phone right now, LG is throwing in an extra battery and spare charger. I mean, I don't know if you want to be the guy who carries a spare battery, but I'm just saying: the option is there, so you can't really complain too much about battery life. Well, I guess you can, but that doesn't make it right.

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That said, it's not the best I've seen. I've been able to consistently get about three hours of screen-on time with about ten percent of the battery remaining, which is basically just OK. That's me doing the normal stuff: checking Facebook, looking at Instagram, reading email, surfing the web, reddit, watching YouTube, and streaming music. I don't normally play games on phones, but I even did a bit of that — just for you guys.

Really, I tried to do a little bit of everything I would normally do, so this is as much of a real-world test as I can provide. Three hours of screen-on time is about what you're going to get on one battery.

Of course, once the V10 gets Marshmallow, Doze Mode will make the standby battery life much better, which is promising. If it does for the V10 what it did for my Nexus 6, it'll be a great upgrade. You still won't see a lot more screen-on time, but it should at least help you stretch through the day.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this review, I said that the V10 is the first skinned phone that I can genuinely say I've loved using. After spending a lot more time with it, using it as my daily driver, and generally trying to get it to do something that makes me go "oh, nope — there it is. There's the thing I hate.", I can honestly say that I pretty much still love it. It's just generally a great phone.

I know that a lot of people are going to shout that the second screen is a novelty, and I'm not going to argue with that, but it's a useful novelty. Now that I'm used to it being there, I actually really like it. I love that it's always-on, which makes seeing my notifications and whatnot super quick and efficient while I work. The fact that heads-up notifications display there instead of on top of whatever I'm looking at is also a huge plus — that's probably my favorite thing about the second screen, actually. I didn't realize how much I hated the way stock notifications work until I got to deal with them in a different way. Pair all of that with the amount of customizations that can be done with the second screen (up to and including turning it off completely), and LG has won me over with this one.

But it's not just that — I think this is a great phone even without the second screen. It's got a pair of excellent cameras, solid performance, and a beautiful screen. The software experience is familiar yet unique, and it's generally a pleasure to use. I like it. A lot.

But if you've already got a G4 or other current smartphone, it's probably not worth the upgrade. After all, you're basically on current-gen stuff, and there's nothing super standout about the V10 that makes me says "yes, drop your S6, S6 Edge, Note 5, Nexus 6p, or G4 and go buy this phone." But if you're in the market for something new, then by all means, consider this one.

If I were to walk into my carrier today to buy a new phone, there's no question in my mind that this is the one I'd leave with.

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