I’m a huge fan of weird phones that try to reimagine the average pocket computer as something different than just a slab of metal and glass. That’s why I’ve come to respect LG’s creative risks, even if they don’t always stick. But with the LG V10, they may have gone a step too far.

What Is It?

The V10 is an all-new smartphone series from LG. What happen to V1-9? What does V even stand for? These are all great questions... That I have absolutely no answer for.

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What I do know is that the V10 is a 5.7-inch flagship smartphone that’s even fancier than this year’s LG G4, meaning it has all the top-of-the-line specs you’d expect–not to mention that the lovely G4 camera also makes a comeback.

At $600, the V10 is now $120 more than the G4 (though the G4 also launched at that price). It’s the most pricey LG phone you can now buy in the US, and LG has every intention of it being its new smartphone champion, replacing its old and sorta lackluster big phone, the G Pro.

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Oh, and it has two screens on it.

Why Is It Important?

LG smashes together what’s old and what’s new with the V10. Old in the sense that LG is one of the last companies to let go of the hardware utility that used to be ubiquitous across all Android smartphones: a removable battery.

But the V10 is a smartphone experiment at its heart, with the most obvious oddity being a second display that rests on top of the already-big 5.7-inch screen. It’s meant for productivity, a screen that lets you access apps, contacts, and other features with just a swipe. Does it work? Kind of. But regardless of how well it works, it shows that LG is ready to move beyond the curved experiments it’s been tinkering with for years now.

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It’s time for something new.

Design

True to its word, the V10 does look like a big brother to the G4–in both size and build quality. Where the G4 was maybe a bit too plastic (though you could buy a nice leather back for more $$$), the V10 comes in a more rugged, rubberized backplate along with stainless steel grips on either side. Also, V10 has no curve. It’s straight as an arrow. The end result is one solid piece of phone that feels substantial and weighty when you hold it, which can be good and bad.

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The V10 is the biggest phone around due in part to an extra display that lives north of the already hand-stretching 5.7-inch LCD panel. It’s like taking the idea of the Galaxy Edge–you know, the “one-swipe-away” screen on the side thing–but just moving it to the top. You can put recently-used apps, bookmarked shortcuts, music player controls, quick contacts, and even your signature (if you want to do that) on this screen. You can swipe left or right to cycle through the different options.

LG likes to throw around the term “dual display,” but the two are actually one piece of glass–only the backlight is a separate mechanism. That means while the phone is off, it can turn your device display off completely, leaving just the top inch or so in a low-power mode displaying the date, time, weather, and notifications pane.

Next to that little useful ticker is a dual, front-facing camera system that looks like two robotic eyes staring into your soul. (Seriously, I could not shake this image from my brain). The idea is for super wide-angled selfies (LG calls them “groupies,” but I refuse). We have more photographic evidence of this feature in action later in this smartphone screed.

That’s really all of the “atypical” you’ll find on this guy. Even with all that strangeness on the front, the biggest downside on this phone for me is its size. 5.7 inches is firmly outside of my comfort range. Tack on the second screen and now you’ve lost me. This may not a big deal for everyone at first. In fact, it might be just the reason you’re drawn to it in the first place. But considering the way LG wants you to use this phone, size definitely matters.

Using It

I’m coming to the LG V10 fresh off a week or two with Google’s new Nexus 5X, a $380 device that doesn’t even claim to hold a candle to the beast that is the V10. In the looks department, that’s true, and the materials used on the V10 are much more inline with what we’ve expected from “premium” design. But when it comes to day-to-day interaction, digging into the OS and seeing how it feels? Give me stock Android on the 5X, every time.

The V10 runs the same LG skin that’s on the G4, and though it’s definitely evolved for the better over the years [insert painful 2013 flashbacks here], it just doesn’t even come close to the aesthetically pleasing look of pure Android. For one, because of the bigger display, the software feels like some large-text version of normal Android. The biggest offender here is the notifications menu. It’s huge! Why is it so big! I don’t need it to be that big!

LG V10 v. Nexus 5X. Note the font size on time and icons. So big!

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It also suffers from “over-customization,” which may sound ridiculous considering that’s basically Android’s first commandment–but it also feels like LG just threw up its hands and said “I don’t know what you want, you fix it.” That’s not exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to elegant software design.

That’s not to say the G4 is unusable. With the Snapdragon 808, it handled all the tasks I threw at it. But since Marshmallow is out in the wild (and not on the V10), and stock Android looks and works so much better anyways, it’s a glaring software problem.

If you don’t mind LG’s implementation of Android, then there’s a lot to like on the V10. The most surprisingly useful yet perplexing feature is the second screen. When I first saw where LG placed the screen–atop an already perilously large smartphone–it didn’t seem to make any sense. “How is that helpful to anyone?” I thought. Long story short, it is helpful but not exactly in the way you’d expect.

The best feature of the second screen is glance notifications. Not when the screen is off, mind you, but when you’re using it. Last week, I was walking down a street in Manhattan and editing a short post before I got on a Brooklyn bound train. While I was working on my phone, my girlfriend called and my second screen lit up while my main screen remained unperturbed. I could see who was calling and swipe to accept or dismiss as I pleased (I accepted for the record. Don’t dump me). That’s way better than the dialer popping up and consuming my whole screen, knocking me out of my productive workflow.

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Is that a small thing? Most definitely. Is it an awesome thing? Also most definitely. There are other perks, too. Whenever you receive a notification, it pops up on that second display. You can also get icon notifications when the phone is off. It’s all amazingly more convenient than you’d expect...

...except for where it’s placed. The second display wants you to reach up to open a recent app, control music, or get to a favorite contact quickly. That’s all fine and good, but it also makes using the phone with one hand impossible–or at the very least, a delicate balancing act. You can juggle your way up to that display, sure, but it’s a gamble every time with such a big and heavy phone.

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I can understand why you’d want to put it there. Samsung’s implementation of a similar idea wasn’t much good either. But I’m not sure why you’d put it on such a large phone. On a 5-inch phone or even a slightly bigger form factor, it would be wonderful to free up your screen, and the panel would be easier to reach. But on the V10, it comes across as a hassle.

As for the camera, the V10 returns with one of the best you’re going to find on any Android smartphone. Like the G4, it has a 16-megapixel f/1.8 aperture and OIS for low-light. LG said it didn’t mess with anything when it came to the rear camera for the V10, and that’s for the best. It’s really good. Even the camera software has one of the best manual modes on any personal pocket device out there. Here are a few shots:

As for the front-facing camera, the V10 now has a super wide-angled mode thanks to its dual lens system. I took a quick picture so you can get a sense of how much more photo you get with the V10 compared to the G4. I’m not one for selfies, or selfies with several people, but if you are, then I’d imagine you’d be thrilled with the option. A quick comparison:

My face on the G4

My face on the V10 (Note: There is also a single person mode if you like tight crops)

Like

It’s super speedy, built well (if not a little bland), and yet still has a removable back and battery. Also, that 3000mAh battery lasts for more than a days’ worth of normal use–closer to 30 hours, actually.

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The second screen has a lot of useful moments for being so small, and it’s better than what other companies have tried to do with similar experiments, even if it is an ergonomic nightmare.

Plus one of the best Android cameras around.

No Like

The software here just isn’t as good as Android, or even Motorola for that matter. With new phones launching with Android Marshmallow already, you’ll have to wait at least another month or two to get it on the V10.

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I still don’t love having a fingerprint sensor on the back. The power button/sensor on the V10 also wobbles slightly, and it’s easy to question its build quality–not to mention its longevity after weeks, months, years of use. But hey, at least there is one, I guess?

The super wide-angled selfie came is cool, but so rarely used (at least for me) that it borders on being an advertising gimmick.

The low-power display notifications are handy, but not nearly as convenient as stock Android notifications or even Moto Display on Motorola devices.

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The phone itself is just too big. I’ve never used a 5.7-inch phone and thought to myself, “man, I wish this thing had more screen.” At 5.9-inches with the second screen added in, it’s just too awkward to use, especially because it’s also one of the heaviest phones out there. If you’re worried about the size, LG does have a “Mini” mode, where it shrinks your home screen down to a more manageable size, creating dead space around it so you can actually use it with one hand (except for the second screen which doesn’t move at all obviously). But if you’re getting to that point, you should really think about getting a smaller phone.

Should You Buy It?

If you absolutely need a removable battery on a phone that doesn’t sacrifice performance (and your hands happen to be massive), then yes–this is the one. But there are more comfortable phones with better software than the $600 LG V10 and they’re cheaper, like the $500 Nexus 6P.

If you like having something with some “what is that?” appeal and a fantastic camera, the V10 provides. But once that new phone smell fades, you may ultimately regret the decision.

LG V10 Specs

  • OS: Android 5.1.1 (Marshmallow in December or January)
  • CPU: Snapdragon 808
  • Display: 5.7-inch IPS LCD (5.9 inch with second screen).
  • PPI: 513
  • Memory: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB only + 2TB of (theoretical) expandable microSD
  • Cameras: 5MP front (dual lens) / 16MP rear (f1.8, OIS)
  • Battery: 3000mAh removable
  • Weight: 192 grams
  • Footprint: 6.28” x 3.12”
  • Thickness: 0.34”
  • NFC: Yes
  • Fingerprint Reader: Yes
  • Price: $600
  • Availability: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile
  • Extra Notes: We tested an International version and the U.S. version in order to compare performance, battery life, and LTE usability.

Images by Michael Hession.