LG has always made weird phones. Remember when it put all the buttons on the back of the LG G2? Then there’s the leather-backed G4, and the modular G5 that let you attach different add-ons to the phone, like a camera grip. And it’s hard to forget last year’s G8, which let you turn up the volume by contorting your hand into a clawlike gesture and hovering it over the selfie camera. LG’s storied, gimmicky past, at least when it comes to phones, has always made the brand quirky and endearing.
But endearing doesn’t sell phones. LG’s market share has been on a steady decline for several years, forcing the company to now try something new and hopefully end up with a profitable mobile division. The answer? The LG Velvet, which ditches the G series’ gimmicks in favor of simple, sleek looks. However, in LG’s quest to quell the quirkiness and create a more mainstream phone, the Velvet is too bland. Outside of its suave and smooth design, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything noteworthy.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
The Velvet doesn’t look like any other LG phone before. The rear is simple, with cameras that look like water droplets rising up from a surface.
The colors are what give this a visual edge, though—Illusion Sunset is particularly beautiful. Unfortunately, that model is available only in other parts of the world. Your color options are limited to where you buy the phone, and there’s no unlocked version in the US. I like the red from Verizon as well as the “pink white” that’s available from T-Mobile. The gray and the metallic chromelike color (my unit) from AT&T are less spectacular.
When you pick up this phone for the first time, it becomes even more clear that this is not something from the old LG. The back and front of the Velvet curve into each other, making the edge ultra-thin but not so much that it feels sharp or unpleasant. This design choice, coupled with the very narrow but long screen, makes it easy to hold. It’s still quite a big phone, but I didn’t have trouble reaching all parts of the screen, as I did with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
It’s not as slippery as the last LG phone I tested, though you still might want a case for this all-glass sandwich. Instead, I’ve encountered a different issue: The screen randomly activates in my pocket, even sending a few unintelligible messages to a friend. (To avoid this, you need to make sure the screen faces outward when you stow it.)
That’s about it as far as visual differences go over the previous G series phone. You still get a tiny, centered notch on the display for the selfie camera, as well as other niceties like IP68 water resistance, NFC for contactless payments, wireless charging, and a MicroSD card slot if you need more than the included 128 gigabytes of storage.
I’m glad the headphone jack is still here, but the Quad DAC digital-to-analog converter is gone. On older LG phones, the Quad DAC allows you to play high-quality music through plug-in headphones, a feature long-appreciated by audiophiles like WIRED’s own Parker Hall. (He says “Boo,” LG.) It’s one of those features that sets LG phones apart from the field, but having a headphone jack itself is enough of a rarity these days.
Middle of the Road
The problem with the Velvet is that, while it has all the fundamentals of a good phone, it doesn’t excel at anything enough to stand out—which any phone in the $600-$700 range really should.
The 4,300-mAh battery cell sits at the top as one of my favorite features. It easily lasts a full day and then some with average use, but don’t expect two full days like some other phones. This is the battery capacity for the AT&T model, but the Verizon and T-Mobile versions come with a slightly smaller 4,000-mAh capacity. I haven’t tested those models, but they should still last a full day.
The 6.8-inch OLED screen is nice too; the bezels (edges) are super-slim, the resolution is sharp, and the display itself is colorful. Anything you watch looks vivd and crisp. It could stand to be brighter outdoors though, and I do wish LG added a screen refresh rate option faster than 60 Hz, which would smooth out scrolling and fast-moving graphics and add extra polish to the user experience. Refresh rates of 90 Hz or higher are commonplace on other midrange and flagship phones.
What’s really problematic, however, is the performance. It’s not bad—it ran all my games and apps just fine—but I expected more from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor inside. It’s the same chip that powers the OnePlus Nord, but unlike on OnePlus’ phone (which costs a good deal less), small stutters are commonplace on the Velvet. Don’t expect the performance to be as smooth as the phone’s name suggests.
The culprit is likely LG’s software optimization. It doesn’t help that my AT&T model was filled to the brim with bloatware—unnecessary apps and games I’ll never use. It took me close to an hour to remove everything. The custom Android interface is otherwise OK, if peppered with annoying quirks. Why do I need to sort my app drawer alphabetically every time I install a new app, LG?!
This phone also comes with the capability to connect to networks using 5G, the next-gen mobile technology that offers faster speeds. It’s still not a reason to buy it—I’ve yet to encounter any 5G signal in my area—but it’s nice to have as an extra. The rollout of 5G tech is slowly spreading across the US, and you might be able to access these faster speeds before it’s time to upgrade (if you have a compatible data plan).
It’s important to note that T-Mobile’s LG Velvet model is powered by MediaTek’s first 5G chipset in the US, the Dimensity 1000C, and it’s capable of tapping into T-Mobile’s low-band 5G spectrum as well as the mid-band spectrum the company recently acquired from Sprint. It essentially means you won’t run into any issues connecting to T-Mobile’s growing 5G network as it continues to expand. But without testing this processor, it’s unclear what its performance capabilities are like.
The Velvet has two cameras on the back, a 48-megapixel primary shooter and an 8-megapixel ultrawide (the third circle is a sensor that measures depth for a better blur effect in portrait mode). The camera app suggests there’s a zoom camera, but it’s just the main camera digitally zooming in. Overall, the photo quality you end up with is decent, if unremarkable.
With the ultrawide, there’s a good amount of distortion around the edges of photos, but I do like the colors it captures. Zoom in closer with the digital zoom and you can tell the image quality drops off, because LG cranks up the sharpening, and the camera often overexposes in this mode. Overexposure is a broader issue that affects both cameras—they struggle to balance high-contrast scenes, often turning the sky bright white, for example. (Make sure you set HDR to On instead of Auto—it won’t fix the issue all the time but it helps.)
The main 48-megapixel camera by default merges pixels to absorb more light and results in a 12-megapixel image. It can take detailed photos, but color accuracy isn’t consistent (it’s a bit muted overall), and the focus can sometimes look soft. Image quality quickly drops at night too, even if you use LG’s dedicated Night mode (where you have to stand as still as possible for a few seconds). Google’s Pixel 4A often snapped superior shots, and that phone is half the price.
Portrait mode photos can look surprisingly nice though, and I like shooting in 48-megapixel mode. It gives you a much higher-resolution photo (and a larger file size), but the bokeh around a subject looks much more natural, and images often look sharper. All the cameras are adept at shooting video, but again the quality drops quite harshly at night. If you just care about selfies, the 16-megapixel camera on the front does a good job.
You can capture solid photos with the cameras on the Velvet, but the bar should be higher at this price point.
Not a Promising Reboot
I do want to touch on the dual-screen case accessory, which LG has bundled with previous phones. It adds a second screen to the Velvet, turning it into something sort of like a Microsoft Surface Duo. This time around the dual-screen case looks nicer, but it’s tougher to get the phone out. Having two screens can be very handy, but the whole package is still cumbersome and bulky. Also, it’s not bundled with your purchase anymore, so you’ll have to shell out an extra $200 for it. It’s not worth it.
If the Velvet is supposed to kick-start a new direction for LG, well, it’s not a very promising launch. This is a fine (if overpriced) phone with the basic features you’d want, but there’s nothing here that impresses. It doesn’t help that LG also has a poor track record of updating its phones in a timely fashion. The company is promising two years of Android version upgrades, but expect to wait half a year between the software’s release and its arrival on your phone. At the very least, the device comes with a two-year warranty.
If you want a good phone for very little money, go for the Google Pixel 4A. Or just buy last year’s Galaxy S10, which is currently the same price as the Velvet on Amazon. OnePlus is expected to launch a Nord-branded phone in the US soon, so you can also hold out for that. Either way, the Velvet is only worth considering over these other options if you can get it for less than $500.