LG Velvet full review
Things have been a little quiet for LG recently but the Korean giant is back with a new strategy for the smartphone market. But can the Velvet stand out in a busy market as a ‘low-end flagship’?
I promise this isn’t an attempt to avoid the question so you read the entire review, but the answer is complicated.
The Velvet is certainly a step up for LG in some ways, particularly design and the DualScreen case adds an interesting element. In fact, it’s more than that, but it’s also not a great solution and for the more tech savvy buyer, the Velvet has some tough competition.
NOTE: Please be aware that LG sent me the Korean version of the Velvet so there are some hardware and software differences to the edition that will arrive elsewhere. I'll point these out as we go.
Design & Build
We don’t always start with this section in reviews these days, instead focusing on what is most important about the product we’re reviewing - particularly.
Design is the key thing here though as LG has really gone to town on the Velvet to create a desirable smartphone.
Arguably LG has been doing that for a long time but many of the firm’s phones from the last few years have been poorly received. It’s not that they were suddenly ugly, but in general the competition was moving quicker.
Well the Velvet brings things up to speed with an extremely slick and polished design, quite literally. This is almost entirely a slab of shiny glass with an aluminium band running around the edge to separate the two pieces.
Like a certain Korean rival (you know the one beginning with S), the metal gets extremely thin along the sides and the glass is curved at the edges on the front and back.
It’s a lovely piece of craftsmanship and I also love the rain drop arrangement of cameras, with only the main lens sticking out a tiny bit which makes a nice change from the huge modules we’re now used to seeing on the back of phones. It's also IP68 waterproof.
Although it’s a sight for sore eyes, there are a few things about the design which I’m not so keen on.
It’s pretty common so this isn’t a pop at LG but the glass makes it incredibly slippery and there’s no case included in the box. The Velvet repeatedly tried to slide off my garden table onto the looming concrete below despite being pretty level.
The phone is also extremely tall. Another thing that’s pretty standard these days but the 20.5:9 aspect ratio is really pushing it. I have reasonably large hands but it’s near impossible to stretch to the top third of the 6.8in display.
I’m not a big fan of white tech so the Aurora White didn’t do it for me but the Velvet comes in some really nice colourways including a stunning green and if you really want to make an impact, Illusion Sunset.
It’s clear that LG has gone down a more fashionable route with the Velvet calling is ‘minimalistic design, premium finish’ and on that front I think it really fits the bill.
Now to tackle the DualScreen case which adds another display to the Velvet. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that this setup is just like the LG V60 and you’re right, it’s near identical.
The Velvet slots into the case easily enough and like magic you have two phones side-by-side.
Whether or not this makes it a rival to the likes of the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate Xs is up for debate, but this certainly can’t be called a folding phone. It’s better to think of it as a cover case that happens to have a display on the inside and therefore a cheaper alternative.
It’s a neat trick and the case turns the Velvet into a sort of Nintendo DS style device with it’s hard plastic case with hinges that can rotate 360 degrees. This is largely so you can use the main phone to type without the second screen being in the way of your left hand.
First the good bits…
The DualScreen has a small 2.1in mono screen on the front which gives you some key info such as the time, date, notifications and battery info. It’s pretty handy but note that you can’t interact with it.
The main benefit is being able to run two apps side-by-side. It’s like holding two identical phones next to each other only a lot easy to use, so if you like multi-tasking but want an entire screen for each app then this is perfect.
LG even provides a folder of shortcuts to launch a different app on each screen and you can create your own combinations. A pop-up menu on the main screen allows you to select various DualScreen functions like move an app to the other display or switch one off etc.
It’s worth noting that the DualScreen’s display is identical to the Velvet’s, even including the notch. There’s no camera but it’s easier for LG to manufacture this way and does provide symmetry so although it irks me a bit, I do understand the reasoning.
You can also use the pair in landscape mode (like a Nintendo DS) which can work really well for some productivity elements but mostly gaming. LG provides software so you can put a virtual controller on the bottom screen while dedicating the top one to the actual game.
This makes playing games like Asphalt 9 a lot easier to play, and you can map the buttons to any game. It will work better for some games and not others, though.
And the bad bits, I hear you cry…
Well the Velvet inside the case might be thinner and lighter than the V60’s iteration but it’s still bulky and isn’t the kind of thing you can carry around in a trouser pocket. The DualScreen is better suited to sitting on the coffee table and being put to use around the house.
Since the Velvet plugs into the case via a physical USB-C port, charging while docked means attaching a small magnetic attachment which provides the space to plug a cable in. It’s nifty but is just asking to be lost within a few weeks.
The Velvet does have wireless charging luckily but you can’t charge the phone and use it at the same time that way - if you have lost the attachment.
A bigger problem is how apps are used across the two screens. Sure it’s fun to use a different app on each screen but it can’t do a whole lot beyond that.
LG includes a Whale for LG Dual Screen custom browser which shows off how the two can work together. For example, double clicking a link will open the page on the other screen.
It’s neat but you can’t do this Chrome or other apps and it’s unlikely developers will adapt apps for this specific LG case.
What you can do with Chrome - and other Google apps like YouTube, Gmail, Maps and Photos - is run them in ‘wide-view’. Oddly this has to be switched on for individual apps in the settings menu and allows them to run across the displays like it’s one big one.
But as Henry put in the LG V60 review “it obviously looks terrible thanks to the honking great hinge in the middle” and that’s no different with the Velvet's DualScreen.
Using YouTube cut my colleague’s head in two and attempting to use Google Maps just meant I ended up putting the focal point on one of the screens to see it properly - so it’s no wonder LG doesn’t just let you put any app you like across the two in this view.
It’s a real mixed bag for the DualScreen element as it’s not a viable alternative to a proper folding phone - both in physical size and functionality - but does provide some useful ways of doing more without having to splash out.
What I don’t know is whether LG is bundling the DualScreen with the Velvet or not. Hopefully it comes included in the price giving the Velvet a key selling point, even if it is just an accessory you attach occasionally.
Back to the Velvet itself and although the screen is too tall for my liking, it is quite striking and not solely due to the curved edges.
LG, of course, knows how to make displays and you get an OLED panel here with bags of colour, excellent contrast and plenty of brightness to boot. I’ve found it a joy to use in almost all aspects.
If you’re a more geeky user then there are elements that may dissuade you from getting the Velvet though.
Namely the fact it’s 60Hz when you can get higher refresh rates from various rivals, even in the budget market thanks to devices like the Realme 6. Pushing things to 90Hz or even higher provides a smoother experience but I don’t think the LG Velvet is aimed at users who know what this stuff means.
You could also argue that rivals have a higher resolution but the Velvet is perfectly crisp for my liking and the choice to go Full HD+ combined with a standard 60Hz is good for battery life.
LG has managed to get a fingerprint scanner embedded into the display, which is optical like the V60. At first I found it pretty flawless but it did struggle on various occasions even when my thumb wasn’t wet.
Specs & Performance
To achieve a more affordable price point, LG has avoided Qualcomm’s top tier 800 series processors and gone with the slightly lower 700 range.
In Korea, the Velvet comes with a Snapdragon 765 and elsewhere it gets the 765G. Either way, this chip has 5G and makes the phone an affordable option if you want the latest standard.
It’s another indication that the Velvet isn’t aimed at anyone who will be looking at the spec sheet for the processor model number.
Either way, I’ve not had any performance issues with the Velvet and I’ve been testing the less impressive Korean model, so anyone buying the phone will get a boost thanks to the 756G.
You get a decent 128GB of storage and either 6- or 8GB of RAM, plus a microSD card slot.
Overall it’s perfectly good, but if you are the kind of person who wants the best specs around then the Velvet isn’t for you. Check out the OnePlus 8, for example, especially if you’re looking for something more affordable than the likes of the Galaxy S20.
My benchmark results are below but note once again that this is testing the Korean model of the Velvet with a Snapdragon 765. I've added the obvious rivals but also the Realme 6 to show what you can get at the budget end of the market these days.
I mentioned earlier how nice the raindrop arrangement of cameras looks really nice. It’s a shame that none of them are particularly amazing, though.
Although there are three, one is a depth sensor so this is really just a main 48Mp with an 8Mp ultrawide option - a combination, I might add, LG was doing long before rivals started to add a wider angle addition.
Sure, the main 48Mp can take some shots with a good amount of detail and vibrant colours. Note that like other phones with high resolution sensors, it’s actually outputting a 12Mp image. You can take full 48Mp resolution images if you like for extra detail but it’s not worth the extra storage space and the drop in dynamic range.
I’d rather have an ultrawide camera than telephoto and this creates a much wider shot with still decent quality. It’s just not as easy access in the app compared to other phones, having to toggle the zoom to 0.5x which I didn’t find intuitive.
You can use this to zoom in 2x but this is just a crop of the main sensor. That said, the results aren’t too bad at all thanks to the high resolution sensor.
There’s no macro lens here but the main camera can take decent close-ups and on phones with a dedicated macro camera, I’ve found the main camera to be better anyway.
Low light and night isn’t the Velvet’s forte, but results aren’t too bad either. It’s the portrait mode, arguably the most important mode, which disappoints the most.
This is surprising considering the dedicated 5Mp auxiliary camera for depth estimation. As you’ll see in the gallery below, the phone just struggles to cut things out properly for that blurred background effect.
I found the selfie camera far more impressive with excellent results in both regular and portrait mode. Even though the latter isn’t perfect, the Velvet did a good job of cutting around my hair with only a minor slip that most people won’t notice looking at the photo briefly.
In terms of video, the Velvet can shoot at up to 4K at 30fps, or you can get 60fps at 1080p if you prefer. There’s no optical image stabilisation here but the software does a decent job of eliminating movement and shake. Panning is trickier but it’s not bad.
Overall the quality is pretty good with lots of detail and accurate colours at 4K, with low noise. However there are issues at 1080p with an over processed look at 30fps and poor rendering at 60fps.
As I alluded to earlier, LG’s choice of specs combined to not only hit a more affordable price than many rivals, but aids battery life.
The Velvet has a decent 4300mAh battery and can easily last through a day of varied usage for the average user. Of course, hammer it with gaming - especially running the DualScreen - and you’ll need to top it up a lot sooner.
I’ve had some issues with the battery benchmark but will add the figure once I’ve got it.
LG offers reasonable 25W fast charging but getting to 31% in 30 minutes starting from 0 is nothing to write home about. Still, I wasn’t expecting to find wireless charging here so that’s a nice extra.
Perks & Software
An odd subheading I know but it’s worth praising LG for elements such as a headphone jack. It’s mad but that’s a real bonus and the firm continues to look after those who care about audio.
Although if you are an audiophile, it’s bad news because the Velvet doesn’t have a Quad DAC like the V60. This, I imagine, is part of the change in strategy and to save money.
Still, the stereo speakers are very impressive with better sound than most budget Bluetooth speakers and you can try LG’s 3D Sound Engine from the quick settings. This aims to adjust the sound appropriately to what’s playing. I preferred the regular sound but you might like it.
I can’t comment fully on software as I tested the Korean version of the Velvet, but ignoring all the pre-loaded apps that I can safely assume won’t come on a western model, the software is decent.
It’s a clean and colourful look that’s hard to find offensive really - with the caveats of the DualScreen stuff I covered earlier.
LG gives you the option of things like the app drawer and whether to have on-screen navigation buttons or the more modern gesture way of controlling the phone.
I used the latter which was mostly fine, but like some others, I found that swiping sideways often triggered ‘back’ when I wasn’t trying to do that.
So how much is the LG Velvet?
We're waiting for UK details, but LG has confirmed that the phone costs US$700 and 650 Euros and from what I can gather the DualScreen is not included.
You can now order the Velvet in the US from AT&T starting at $10pm for 30 months. That's a limited time deal half the price of the normal $20pm cost. Alternatively, you can buy it for US$599 which is lower than LG said.
I really think LG needs to bundle the case as standard to lure customers but that's easy for me to say. Regardless, it means LG has stiff competition even if it does undercut phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20.
There are also a number of devices that are excellent at much lower prices. Lots to choose from but the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite and Asus ZenFone 6 all spring to mind from the mid-range. And you can get some seriously impressive budget phones like the Realme 6, which is just £219.
Check out out best phone chart to see what we rank as the best handsets you can buy.
I find the LG Velvet a particularly hard phone to sum up, especially while we wait for UK details.
I applaud LG for nailing the premium design and build quality of the Velvet (and getting rid of the ThinQ branding), but it's not like other phones out there are exactly horrible in comparison.
Whether this is the phone for you depends on where you're coming from:
Are you bothered about having the best specs and performance - ie a phone geek? The LG Velvet isn't for you considering it's lack of things like a 90Hz display, telephoto camera, flagship processor and other things you're probably looking for.
Are you looking for a stylish, premium phone cheaper than most flagships? Maybe the Velvet catches your eye, but if you're not an LG diehard then there are plenty of rivals with a lot to offer, many of which are at lower prices.
For me it comes down to whether or not you're taken with the idea of the DualScreen, despite its shortcomings. If you are, and we may be down to a small number of potential buyers now, then the Velvet is a great choice - especially if LG decides to bundle it as standard.
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LG Velvet: Specs
- Android 10
- 6.8in HD (1080x2460) P-OLED, 20.5:9 Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G octa-core processor
- 6/8GB RAM
- 128GB expandable internal storage (up to 2TB)
- 48Mp f/1.8 main
- 8Mp f/2.2 ultrawide
- 5Mp depth sensor
- 16Mp f/1.9 selfie camera
- Fingerprint scanner (in-screen)
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Single/Dual-nano SIM
- Stereo speakers
- Headphone jack
- 4300mAh non-removable battery
- 25W fast charging
- Wireless charging
- Quick Charge 4.0
- 167 x 74 x 7.9mm