LG Velvet review: This affordable 5G phone didn’t go far enough

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 an expected price of $600 to $700 for the US, it’s more affordable than LG’s G8 and V60. International prices aren’t available but it’s about £600 or AU$1,100, converted from South Korean won.

LikeSleek designHeadphone jackGood battery life so far

Don’t LikeNo new standalone software featuresFingerprint 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, it does have a great camera, a silky-smooth screen with a higher refresh rate and a more powerful processor. 

The Velvet is available in South Korea, but because there is no official US price yet, I can’t give this phone a fully rated review. (Once there is one though, I’ll update this piece with final subratings. Note that this means the overall rating may change from what you currently see.) But even if it’s expected to be cheaper than its top-tier G8 and V60 brethren, the Velvet 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. Though the Velvet isn’t an entirely new radical direction for LG, it’s certainly a diverging path. The company should continue with the Velvet, or something similar, while outpacing rivals in the same price bracket.

LG Velvet: The best looking LG phone we’ve seen in a while
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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 design 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 can stand to 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.

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 ($140 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 US pricing for the Velvet still unknown, pricing with its Dual Screen is even further up in the air. 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, so once the Velvet is official in the US, keep your eyes peeled on the various deals and their inevitable restrictions.

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 recently, 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 ($469 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 lower than 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 thing: 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

Preliminary 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 ($400 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.

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 x 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 7.9 mm

160 x 72.9 x 8.0 mm

161.6 x 71.1 x 9.29 mm

159.85 x 75.8 x 9.63 mm

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

4,300mAh

4,300mAh

4,500mAh

5,000mAh

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)

Expected to be $600-$700

$699 (8GB RAM/128GB), $799 (12GB RAM/256GB)

$699

$250

Price (GBP)

From South Korean won converts to about £596

£599 (8GB RAM/128GB), £699 (12GB RAM/256GB)

£549

Converts to about £199

Price (AUD)

From South Korean won converts to about AU$1,077

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

First published on July 15.


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