With dual 16-megapixel cameras in back, a 5-MP camera with two fields of view in front and a trio of mics, the LG V20 might be the most well-rounded phone on the planet for capturing both photos and videos. But is it the best camera phone you can buy?
To see if the LG V20 lives up to its billing, we pitted it against the most formidable smartphone shooters, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the Huawei P9. (We also looked at how the dual-lens setup on the new iPhone 7 Plus compares with the V20 on wide-angle shots.) After evaluating both photo and video samples across a variety of conditions, we found that the V20 didn't offer the best image quality. But there's more to a good camera phone than just a sharp sensor.
When I took the phones out on a bright, but overcast day, I found some very interesting differences in their various approaches. Shots from the S7 Edge and the V20 both look a little faded, while the Huawei P9's shot stuns with great contrast that makes the weathered metal pop in a way you don't see in the other photos. However, if you care about detail, when you zoom into 100 percent, the S7 Edge takes the cake for the sharpest photo.
In a challenging candle-lit scene, the V20 struggled with white balance, which resulted in a photo with an orange glow that completely overpowers the photo. That makes it difficult to tell the difference in the colors on the barrel's wood versus the shelf below and the plaster wall in back.
The S7 Edge's pic finds a nice balance between the LG and Samsung, while also offering the best dynamic range, so you can really see the boundaries between the light coming off the candles and the dark shadows creeping in around the side.
When you want to get up close and grab every last bit of detail, the V20 obliges with a bright and relatively sharp photo. However, the V20's photo suffers from a lack of contrast, which makes it look a little flat next to the pic from the S7 Edge. The S7 Edge's shot also sports more detail on creases in the leaves, although if you're looking for dark, vivid greens, Huawei's P9 fares better than both the Samsung and LG camera phones.
When it comes to big landscapes, the V20's dual cameras really shine. Its 16-MP resolution gives you the kind of detail you're looking for from a view like this. Futhermore, if you want to capture a wide shot without resorting to software features like a panorama mode, the second camera with its 135-degree lens and 16:9 ratio offers an even more expansive point of view.
By comparison, the Huawei P9's pic is underexposed, while the S7 Edge's auto HDR photo is quite colorful, but looks hazy up against the V20's shots.
With the iPhone 7 Plus adding a dual camera setup to Apple's phone lineup, we wanted to compare that phone's 2x zoom to a shot taken from the V20's wide-angle camera. The shots taken by the respective phones really give you a sense of the kind of impact different lenses can offer. On one hand, the V20's 135-degree angle field of view completely changes the composition of the shot, providing an expansive scene that includes a wider horizon and more buildings on either side of the shot.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 Plus' picture gives you a better look at the skyline, which makes it easier to pick out landmarks, such as the Empire State Building from across the Hudson River.
When you want to capture a scene in motion instead of grabbing stills, the LG V20 has a well-rounded feature set that includes video recording at up to 4K resolutions at 30 frames per second (fps)and a trio of high acoustic overload point microphones that do a better job of capturing audio in excessively loud environments. Just as when you take photos, you're able to switch between either of the V20's two cameras on the fly, without messing up the video.
Hats off to the S7 Edge, because when it came time to film country dancing at full HD/60 fps, its video was significantly sharper than the others, and its audio was better, too. The focus on the V20's video is not quite there, while video from the P9 is both dark and blurry.
I don't care what you say, Weird Al Yankovic is a musical legend, and when I took some phones to one of his recent concerts, the V20's high-gain mics really showed their worth. While the P9 came back with crackly, blown-out audio, the V20 captured more balanced sound that more accurately recreated what being in the crowd was actually like.
Still, the P9's video did a better job of properly exposing Weird Al under the intense spotlight, although that might be a happy accident, due the Huawei's tendency toward underexposure.
The Night Shot
In what might be the toughest clip of this face-off, I tasked the phones with capturing some pedestrians enjoying a late-night walk down by the Hudson River. So I lowered the fps to 30 and let the camera phones have at it.
The V20 acquitted itself pretty well, although you can see that the LG sometimes had trouble locking its focus. The P9's darker and grainier video was even worse, which gives the win to the S7 Edge. The S7 Edge's better low-light performance captured the sharpest video of the three.
The V20 may not offer the sharpest or most colorful photos and videos in every round, but it definitely kept pace with other flagship phones. So while the title of sharpest shooter ultimately remains with Samsung's line of Galaxy S7 phones, the V20's combination of dual rear cams and superior microphones allow it to offer what might be the best combination of photos, videos and audio.
And that's even before you talk about the V20's full-featured controls, which let you adjust things like audio gain and camera settings on the fly with ease. If you're really looking for the well-rounded multimedia capture device in a pocket-friendly design, LG's V20 is a great pick. Stay tuned for our full review of LG's latest phone.
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Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).