Screen size: 6.8-inch p-OLED (2460 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G (AT&T/Verizon); MediaTek Dimensity 1000c (T-Mobile)
microSD: Yes, up to 2TB
Rear cameras: 48MP main (f/1.8); 8MP wide (f/2.2); 5MP depth (f/2.4)
Front camera: 16MP (f/1.9)
Battery size: 4,300 mAh (AT&T); 4,000 mAh (Verizon)
Battery life: 10 hrs: 29 mins
Size: 6.6 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches
Weight: 6.3 ounces
The LG Velvet is the electronics giant’s attempt to break out of the "seen one, seen 'em all" cycle of smartphone updates. While not groundbreaking, the handsome 3D Arc design on the mid-range LG Velvet at least represents something different. Even the Velvet name represents an attempt to break away from the string of letters and numbers that make up most smartphone monikers.
Our LG Velvet phone review found a stylish looking device that's capable of producing some pretty colorful photos, thanks to a trio of rear lenses. You also get 5G capability and pretty good battery life. Priced at $599, the LG Velvet would be a great alternative to pricier flagships -- if there weren't already cheaper phones that perform just as well.
LG Velvet review: Release date and price
The LG Velvet was first released in July in the U.S. after debuting in South Korea. AT&T sells the LG Velvet for $599. You can also get the phone at Verizon now, where you'll pay a $100 premium for a version designed to work with Verizon's Ultra Wideband 5G network. T-Mobile starts selling the LG Velvet on Sept. 10; its version has a different chipset (the MediaTek Dimensity 1000c) and costs only $588.
The LG Velvet's price puts it on the less expensive end of the 5G phone spectrum, costing $100 less than the OnePlus 8 and Samsung Galaxy A71 5G (provided you're buying AT&T's version of the phone). So far, only the £379 OnePlus Nord costs less among the best 5G phones, though that device isn't available in the US. The upcoming Pixel 4a 5G will cost $499 when it arrives, reportedly at the end of September.
LG Velvet review: Design
Design was clearly at the top of LG's priority list when it started work on the Velvet, and that focus pays off in the final product. This is not just another black slab of a phone, but one with curves and character.
I particularly like what LG calls the phone's 3D Arc Design, which gives the Velvet symmetrical front and rear edges. More importantly, the curved corners really helped me get a good grip on the phone. Today's slick smartphones have a tendency to squirt out of my hand, but that never was a problem during my time with the LG Velvet.
Flip the phone over, and you'll see another nice design detail. The three rear cameras on the LG Velvet are arranged on the left side of the phone in descending order. LG calls this the "raindrop" array, and while it seems like a small thing, it's a nice minimalist approach in an age where camera arrays bulge out from the backs of phones. You only need to look at the LG Velvet next to the comically oversized array on the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to realize that LG went with the more clever design.
AT&T offers the LG Velvet in Aurora Silver and Aurora Gray, which is a shame because those are the two least interesting colors in the rainbow of options LG has assembled. (Verizon at least livens things up with Aurora Red and Pink White versions to go with the gray model.) The Aurora Silver model I used to test the LG Velvet looks decent enough, but the flashier colors are more eye-catching. Also, the phone's glass-and-metal case is a fingerprint magnet.
The LG Velvet's rounded edges make the phone appear a little thicker than rival devices, but it's a visual trick — at 0.31 inches, the Velvet is actually thinner than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Unlike those phones, the Velvet also includes a headphone jack, so who's complaining?
LG Velvet review: Display
The LG Velvet features a bright, colorful P-OLED screen with 2,460 x 1,080 resolution. LG uses a teardrop notch and small though still noticeable bezels at top and bottom of the phone to fit an expansive 6.8-inch display into the Velvet. The result is a pretty immersive viewing experience, whether you're playing games or watching videos, even if you don't get the faster 120Hz refresh rate found on other phones.
Watching the teaser trailer for the Suicide Squad sequel — we all have to make sacrifices for our job — John Cena's red Peacemaker getup popped off the LG Velvet's screen. Other phones I've tested have had problems with darkly lit scenes in the trailer for No Time to Die, but the LG Velvet handled those with aplomb. And the bright Golden of Age of Hollywood tones from Hail, Caesar! shone through when I streamed that movie over Netflix.
According to our tests, the default display setting for the LG Velvet captures 140.6% of the sRGB color spectrum. That's a wider range of colors than the Pixel 4a (105.8%), though the Motorola Edge, which uses a Saturated setting as its default, captured 194.1%. When we set the Motorola Edge's display to a more natural setting, its sRGB reading of 138.8% was in line with what we saw from the LG Velvet.
The LG Velvet renders colors as accurately as other phones in this price range, with a Delta-E rating of 0.30. That's a little bit better than the Motorola Edge (0.32) and Galaxy A71 5G (0.33), as numbers closer to zero are more accurate.
The best part about the LG Velvet's display is how bright it is. With adaptive brightness turned on, we got a reading of 567 nits. That's not as good as the Pixel 4a's reading of 681 nits with adaptive brightness enabled, but it's ahead of the Motorola Edge (558 nits) and Galaxy A71 5G (481 nits).
LG Velvet review: Camera
You get three cameras on the LG Velvet — a 48-megapixel main camera, augmented by an 8MP wide angle lens and 5MP depth sensor. That means no telephoto lens — a common sacrifice for phones at this price range, though the Motorola Edge includes one.
The LG Velvet can't compete against the best camera phones out there, but it still produces some decent-looking shots. And in some cases, the cameras can even surprise you with what they produce.
This shot of an apple tree in my backyard features realistic colors and a reasonable amount of detail — you can see some of the the patterns in the leaves in the foreground of the shot, and I think the LG Velvet did a good job recreating the splash of red beginning to stretch across the ripening apples.
A similar shot from the Moto Edge puts the focus on the apples toward the back of the tree, leaving the apple toward the front of the shot somewhat blurred around its edges. The LG Velvet takes the opposite approach, and the result is a better composed shot.
Moving indoors, this plate of waffles looks bright and colorful in the LG Velvet's photo, with the strawberries and sausage links glistening. However, the Velvet struggles a little bit with light pouring in from a nearby window. The Pixel 4 XL doesn't have that problem, and while its photo is a little bit darker than what the Velvet produced, it's also a more balanced photo that keeps everything sharply focused.
The LG Velvet really has a hard time when the lights are low, even after you enable the camera’s Night View feature. Some stuffed animals arranged in my backyard under a string of unforgiving blue LED lights aren't really in focus in the LG Velvet’s picture, and you have a hard time making out details, like the fig tree trunk in the background. My daughter's bubble-blowing toy on the left-hand side of the table is also a psychedelic blur.
The Pixel keeps the blue cast in its Night Sight shot, but all the animals and other objects are in focus. It's not a great shot, by any means, but it's better detailed than what the LG Velvet has to offer.
Wildfires in California make this a crummy time to take landscape shots with any wide angle lens, but this hazy shot of the Oakland skyline from across the San Leandro Channel looks a little better in the LG Velvet's version. The LG Velvet managed to keep all the building in focus, while the Motorola Edge's rendition loses some of the sharpness.
The depth sensor on the LG Velvet didn't really help when it was time to take a portrait shot. This photo of my daughter turned out okay, and even the shadows caused by the light from the nearby window are used to good effect here. But zoom in on the hair on the left of my daughter's head — the LG Velvet gets a little over-aggressive when it comes to blurring that hair, a problem the Motorola Edge didn't run into. I also prefer the Motorola Edge using a tighter frame on my daughter when it's in portrait mode.
Besides blurs, you can have the LG Velvet try out other effects on portrait shots, everything from stage lighting to 3D photo effects. I used a cartoon effect on that same portrait of my daughter and I like what the effect imposed on the view outside the window on the left of the shot. I think the Velvet struggled with separating my daughter's hair and shirt from the rest of the background, though.
Those different portrait effects reveal that the LG Velvet has been designed with creative types in mind. That's also apparent when you explore the video capture capabilities of the phone.
You can record video at up to Ultra HD resolution, but LG has thrown in a few other features for capturing more distinct-looking footage. An ASMR recording mode, for example, lets you amplify faint sounds without having to worry about distortion. A short clip of some sausage links cooking in my oven amplifies the sizzle to make it sound like we're in a rainstorm.
I was less impressed by a voice bokeh feature that allows you to hone in on a particular subject's voice instead of any background noise. I tried to capture a video of my daughter singing along to her favorite pop song, but I noticed no real improvement with the bokeh voice feature enabled.
Up front, the LG Velvet features a 16MP camera that produces decent selfies, though you'll find better self-portraits elsewhere. Turning on the portrait feature with the Velvet's front camera, I look a little washed out, though the background blur effect is rendered decently enough. The Pixel 4 XL's version is brighter, though, even if my face isn't as ruddy in really life. I also think the Pixel does a better job accounting for the ambient light in the background.
LG Velvet review: Performance
The LG Velvet replaces LG's old G series of phones, which typically used the best Qualcomm silicon available at the time of release. The LG G8x ThinQ, for example, turned to the Snapdragon 855, the best Android system-on-chip when that phone debuted last year.
With the Velvet, LG is taking a different route, stepping down to Qualcomm's 7 Series of chipsets. You'll still get decent performance from the Snapdragon 765G powering the AT&T and Verizon versions of the LG Velvet, but nothing approaching the Snapdragon 865 found in the best Android phones to come out in 2020.
Not that the trade-off really matters. The Snapdragon 765G can handle most of what mobile apps and games throw at it, and as a result, the LG Velvet's performance either matches or exceeds comparably priced phones.
On the Geekbench 5 test, which measures overall performance, the LG Velvet posted a multicore score of 1,927. The OnePlus Nord — which also uses a Snapdragon 765G chipset — beats that ever so slightly with a score of 1,948. But the LG Velvet outperforms comparably priced phones like the Galaxy A71 5G (1,796) and Motorola Edge (1,867), both of which run on a Snapdragon 765.
The Snapdragon 765G is characterized by better graphic performance, so you'd expect a phone like the LG Velvet to dominate the competition. Our tests found a mixed bag, however. In 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL test, for example, the LG Velvet's score of 4,644 bested both the OnePlus Nord (4,251) and Motorola Edge (4,237). But on the GFXBench Aztec Ruins Vulkan test for high-tier devices, the LG Velvet's score of 548 frames or 8.5 frames per second fell just behind the Galaxy A71 5G and its standard Snapdragon 765 chipset, which produced a result of 551 frames, or 8.6 frames per second.
The Snapdragon 765G comes with a built-in X52 modem, meaning the LG Velvet can connect to 5G networks where available. Our review unit came with an AT&T SIM card, and from my front porch, I could hop on to AT&T’s nationwide 5G network, which produces slightly faster download speeds than LTE. Once I moved to the backyard, thought, I was back in AT&T's 5GE network — a fancy way of saying LTE. That experience just speaks to the vagaries of 5G coverage at this point. Standing in my driveway, AT&T’s 5G network provided download speeds of 16.1 Mbps over 5G on the LG Velvet, and if that sounds bad, consider that a few feet way over LTE, my speeds topped out at 2.64 Mbps.
Now all that applies to the version of the LG Velvet you can get at AT&T or Verizon. T-Mobile sells an LG Velvet that's powered with MediaTek's Dimenisty 1000c system-on-chip, which includes a 5G modem that works with the carrier's low- and mid-band 5G network. We can't say how the Dimensity-powered LG Velvet compares to other phones — let alone its Snapdragon 765G-based siblings — until we get the T-Mobile version in for testing.
LG Velvet review: Battery life and charging
The 4,300 mAh inside the AT&T version of the LG Velvet hints at decent battery life, and the phone delivered in our testing. We set the LG Velvet's screen to 150 nits and then had it surf the web over a cellular connection — AT&T's in this instance — until it ran out of power. The LG Velvet lasted 10 hours and 29 minutes on this test, which is better than the average for smartphones.
(Note that the Verizon version of the LG Velvet has a smaller 4,000 mAh battery to accommodate the antennas needed to connect to the carrier’s 5G network. We’d anticipate a different battery result test for that model of the LG Velvet.)
Some rival phones last longer. The Galaxy A71 5G, for instance, held out for 20 minutes longer on our test, getting closer to the 11-hour mark that's the standard for the best phone battery life. But the LG Velvet outperformed the Pixel 4a (8:55), which struggled in our testing.
You can charge the LG Velvet wirelessly if you want, and AT&T’s version of the phone comes with a 16.2W charger. (Verizon customers are treated to a 25W charger.) We got the phone back to a 24% charge after 30 minutes. The Galaxy A71 5G promises to get back up to 60% after half-an-hour of charging, and the OnePlus Nord's Warp Charge 30T gets you close to 70%, so the LG Velvet is on the slow side here.
LG Velvet review: Software and special features
The LG Velvet runs Android 10 with LG's overly fussy UX skin. At least, there's minimal duplication between LG's included apps and the Google ones that come with Android, but the AT&T version of this phone comes loaded down with extra software. In addition to an entire folder's worth of apps like AT&T ProTech, myAT&T, Call Protect and Mobile Security, you'll find icons for AT&T TV, HBO Max, and multiple Game of Thrones games among other non-essential downloads.
LG offers a $199 Dual Screen case for the LG Velvet that adds a second 6.8-inch screen alongside the Velvet's standard display. As with other phones like the LG V60 ThinQ, you can use this second screen to run apps side by side or, in some cases, across a full screen. Gamers can turn one of the displays into a virtual gamepad. It's a little bit clunky, to be honest, though I did appreciate the 2.1-inch display on the Dual Screen case where notifications and other information can appear.
Like the V60, the LG Velvet supports pens with Active Electrostatic (AES) digitizer technology. An included QuickMemo+ app works with such pens to let you sketch and create handwritten notes. I didn't have a chance to test this feature.
Recent LG flagships have featured a quad digital-to-audio converter, which have made those models some of the best sounding phones you can buy. That's missing from the LG Velvet, which offers stereo speakers and an LG 3D Sound Engine. Personally, I found the audio on the Velvet to be fine, but if you're used to that DAC on previous phones, prepare for a bit of a step back.
LG Velvet review: Final verdict
LG deserves credit for trying to shake up its phone lineup. The LG G series that the Velvet replaces just wasn't resonating with people. Swapping in a better looking phone — which the LG Velvet clearly is — is a big step toward making LG's handsets relevant with a wider audience. The cameras also take decent pictures, though LG would be advised to improve with low-light performance and portrait shots.
The problem the LG Velvet faces is that at $599 — or more, if you opt for Verizon's version — you're not getting maximum value for your buck. In the past few months, Apple, Google and OnePlus have all released phones that cost less than the Velvet and outperform it in crucial areas. The Velvet can claim better battery life than the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a, and it's got 5G compatibility, but otherwise Apple and Google offer more compelling phones. The OnePlus Nord is a better value, too, though at least LG has made its new phone available to U.S. shoppers.
The LG Velvet is a good phone that with a tweak here or there can be a great one. Anyone who puts a premium on style will be pleased with this device, but there are better bargains.