October 23, 2020
LG Velvet review: An affordable 5G phone that I wish would step it up a little more

LG Velvet review: A chic 5G phone that I wish would step it up a little more


With the 5G-enabled LG Velvet, the South Korean phone-maker is trying something new. The Velvet doesn’t belong to any of the company’s established lines, like the G- and V- series. It looks different than most LG phones and at $599 in the US, it’s more affordable than LG’s G8 and V60. (UK and Australian prices and availability are TBA, but the US price converts to about £457 or AU$830.)

Like

  • Sleek design
  • Headphone jack
  • Good battery life so far

Don’t Like

  • No new standalone software features
  • Fingerprint reader is finicky.

The Velvet is LG’s signal that it’s heading towards another, more affordable but thoughtful direction. But the company should go even further. After spending time with the Velvet, I would still prefer something like the OnePlus 8 ($699 at OnePlus). While it doesn’t have a headphone jack or work with a secondary screen accessory like the Velvet (which, by the way, costs an extra $199, or about £152 and AU$276, converted) , it does have a great camera, a silky-smooth screen with a higher refresh rate and a more powerful processor. 

Though the Velvet isn’t an entirely new radical direction for LG, it’s certainly a diverging path. Without the purchase of the Dual Screen case, the Velvet is cheaper than its top-tier G8 and V60 brethren. But it now faces a whole new set of competitors, including the aforementioned OnePlus 8, the Galaxy A71 5G and the Motorola Edge — all of which deliver great specs and 5G within the same price. The company should continue with the Velvet and build out more affordable, high-powered phones, but it needs to do so while outpacing rivals in the same price bracket.

The Velvet is available in the US on AT&T and will come to T-Mobile and Verizon later in the summer. When I first reviewed the phone I tested the South Korean variant, but have since spent time with AT&T’s model, too.

LG’s best-looking phone

The Velvet looks unlike any premium US LG phone before it and it’s the best-looking LG phone I’ve handled in a while. Compared with the V60, for instance, the Velvet has tapered edges, sharper corners and a rear camera array that runs vertically, not horizontally. The left and right edges of the screen fall off to the sides, which gives it a more chic look, and though it’s about as tall as the V60, it’s narrower, slimmer and lighter — and ultimately more comfortable to hold. 

If this introduces a new design language for LG phones, I’m for it. But I have a few gripes. For instance, I don’t like how the corners of the screen don’t run all the way to the edges. Unlike the Galaxy S20, where the bezels and frame are consistent and thin all around, I can see the silver framing on the corners of my white Velvet unit. The center teardrop notch could be smaller, too.

Given how stale LG phones have looked for a bit, this is a refreshing change. The Velvet looks more modern, it’s sleek and I love that the rear cameras aren’t housed together by some single circular bump. And to confirm, the Velvet does have a headphone jack. LG’s commitment to the beloved audio port is what makes its premium phones stand out, which is good news to wired headphone users.

lg-velvet

The phone has a 6.8-inch OLED display.


Angela Lang/CNET

Velvet’s Dual Screen accessory

The Velvet has a sharp and vibrant 6.8-inch OLED screen. It also has a 60Hz display, which is common on most phones, but that’s a lower refresh rate than competitors such as the OnePlus 8, which has a 90Hz display. Like the V60 and other LG phones, the Velvet works with a Dual Screen accessory that adds a second screen.

With the second screen you can multitask and display two apps at the same time, or expand certain apps across both screens so they work together like a tablet. (Though you’ll have to deal with a hinge that cuts down the middle.) You can also set up one screen as a digital controller for mobile gaming, which is compatible with some games. 

Though LG didn’t create a stylus especially for the Velvet, I was able to use one with the phone. I used Wacom’s Bamboo Ink Smart Stylus and despite it being made for Windows 10 ($158 at Amazon) devices, it worked fine with the Velvet. By clicking on its built-in button I could quickly call up LG’s QMemo Plus app to jot down notes, capture GIFs and, if I’m really bored, color in some preloaded drawings.

With previous LG phones, some carriers bundled the case with the phone, sold it separately or offered it at a discount. Each network will have its own methods. Right now, it costs an extra $199, but keep your eyes peeled on the various deals and their inevitable restrictions.

lg-velvet-3977

The Velvet inside its Dual Screen accessory.


Angela Lang/CNET

LG Velvet’s triple-rear camera takes fine pictures

Under bright, clear lighting, the Velvet’s camera took sharp pictures that were colorful and in focus. With its 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, which I accessed by pinching out on the screen’s viewfinder, I was able to fit more content within each frame. Keep in mind that pictures taken with the wide-angle camera aren’t as sharp as images captured on the standard camera, which shoots at a 12-megapixel resolution by default, but can go as high as 48 megapixels.

The camera has a digital zoom up to 10x. At this level, pictures were a lot blurrier and muddled. Some of the zoomed-in photos I took were reminiscent of watercolors or Impressionist paintings. If you plan on using the zoom to get more details of faraway objects, you won’t achieve it with this phone.

Since it was Fourth of July weekend during my time reviewing it, I also took a few photos at night while lighting some sparklers. This is a notoriously difficult lighting situation and while the images came out clear enough, they were a bit washed-out and weren’t as vibrant or as deeply contrasted as the ones I took on, say, the Pixel 3 ($530 at Amazon) in 2018. 

Photos taken with the front-facing camera were clear, with accurate skin-tone and colors. Recording video was also solid. Though it doesn’t have optical image stabilization, the footage I recorded while standing in one place was fine. The camera was able to readjust its focus and exposure quickly and it picked up audio clearly.

Taken in outdoor lighting, this flower is vibrant and sharp.


Lynn La/CNET

A photo of a salvage shop taken with the standard lens.


Lynn La/CNET

The same salvage shop taken with the wide-angle lens. At full resolution, the picture isn’t as sharp as the previous one.


Lynn La/CNET

A marina view taken without zoom.


Lynn La/CNET

The same boats at 10x digital zoom.


Lynn La/CNET

Though not very sharp, the camera managed to capture this difficult lighting scene well enough.


Lynn La/CNET

LG Velvet’s performance is fast, but not as fast as flagship phones

The Velvet is powered by a variant of the Snapdragon 765 chipset that enables 5G connectivity. It’s not as robust as Qualcomm’s latest 865 processor, but it’s what keeps the phone’s price relatively low compared to other flagships. The Motorola Edge and the ZTE Axon 11 5G also feature the 765 chipset, and they, too, both have a premium look but aren’t as powerful and expensive as other marquee phones.

Benchmark scores reflect this sort of middle-of-the-pack position. Phones with the 865 processor, like the LG V60 and OnePlus 8, scored higher marks than the Velvet, but the Velvet comfortably beat out the Moto G Stylus ($270 at Amazon) and G Power, which have the 665 chipset. 

When it comes to daily usage though, I didn’t notice much lag or any notable “lack” of speed on the Velvet when comparing it to the V60, except in one area: the fingerprint reader. It appeared to take a hair longer to unlock the Velvet using the scanner than what I recalled on the LG V60. It also took one or two more attempts than it should have to read my thumbprint accurately, to a point where it was getting a bit irritating. Other than that, however, the Velvet opened apps, launched the camera and scrolled through web pages with ease. 

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Tests for continuous video playback on Airplane mode showed that the Velvet’s 4,300-mAh battery lasted 22 hours and 38 minutes. This is a robust battery life. For comparison, the OnePlus 8, which also has a 4,300-mAh battery clocked in 18 hours and 47 minutes. The Galaxy A51 ($389 at Amazon), with its 4,000-mAh battery, lasted 16 hours and 10 minutes. We’re going to run more battery tests while streaming video. When the results are in, I’ll update this review and its final rating.

A typical speed test on the LG Velvet. Notice the 5G indicator on the top right and on the Speedtest app.


Lynn La/CNET

As for AT&T’s 5G network, I ran several speed tests using Ookla’s speed test app and downloaded a couple of apps. I found it on par with 4G LTE speeds on a Pixel 3 phone. After eight runs, the phone averaged about 37.9Mbps down and 16.45Mbps up, which are hardly mind-blowing 5G speeds. My peak download rate was 63.7Mbps.

I tested the phone both inside and outside a building in a Bay Area city where I should have AT&T coverage (at least as far as AT&T’s coverage map indicates). The phone did show the 5G symbol on the top bar the entire time I was connected, and Ookla’s app showed I was connected to a 5G server. However, when I checked my “mobile network type” in Settings (Settings > System > About phone > Network), the phone indicated I was on LTE.

I’ve reached out to AT&T and asked why I was getting these download and upload rates if I were truly connected to its 5G network and will update this review when I hear back. But given all the variables involved — different networks, location and coverage — your experience will differ from mine.

LG Velvet spec comparison

LG Velvet OnePlus 8 Motorola Edge Motorola Moto G Power
Display size, resolution 6.8-inch OLED; 2,460×1,080 pixels 6.55-inch AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels 6.7-inch OLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels 6.4-inch LCD; 2,300×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 395ppi 402ppi 385ppi 399ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.58 x 2.92 x 0.31 in. 6.3 x 2.8 x 0.31 in. 6.36 x 2.8 x 0.37 in. 6.29 x 2.98 x 0.38 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 167.2 x 74.1 x 7.9mm 160 x 72.9 x 8.0mm 161.6 x 71.1 x 9.29mm 159.85 x 75.8 x 9.63mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.35 oz.; 180g 6.35 oz.; 180g 6.63 oz.; 188g 7.01 oz.; 199g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 48-megapixel (standard), 8-megapixel (wide-angle), 5-megapixel (depth sensing) 48-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (ultra-wide), 2-megapixel (macro) 64-megapixel (standard), 8-megapixel (telephotos), 16-megapixel (macro/ultrawide-angle) 16-megapixel (wide-angle), 2-megapixel (macro), 8-megapixel (ultra-wide angle)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 16-megapixel 25-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 Snapdragon 665
Storage 128GB 128GB, 256GB 128GB 64GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 8GB, 12GB 10GB 4GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB No Up to 1TB Up to 512GB
Battery 4,300 mAh 4,300 mAh 4,500 mAh 5,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen Back
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes No Yes Yes
Special features 5G enabled; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging, Fast Charging 4.0 5G enabled; Warp Charge; 90Hz refresh rate 5G enabled. 90Hz refresh rate, 18W Turbo Charging N/A
Price off-contract (USD) $599 $699 (8GB RAM/128GB), $799 (12GB RAM/256GB) $699 $250
Price (GBP) Converts to about £457 £599 (8GB RAM/128GB), £699 (12GB RAM/256GB) £549 Converts to about £199
Price (AUD) Converts to about AU$830 Converts to about: AU$1,103 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$1,261 (12GB RAM/256GB) Converts to about AU$1,007 Converts to about AU$365

Originally published July 15, 4 a.m. PT.
Update, Aug. 18: Adds analysis from AT&T LG Velvet 5G model and 8.0 rating for Features.



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