The V30 is testament that LG is trying, real hard. It has lived in Samsung’s shadow long enough when it comes to the flagship smartphone arena. The revamped G6 dropped just a few months ago and with the V30 we already have a redesign. The bezels are slimmer, the form is curvier, and the profile is thinner…Oh my. There are also component upgrades all around. This Synopsis sums up if the V30 is a stellar as its spec sheet suggests.
The V30’s redesign is actually a bit familiar compared to Samsung’s 2017 Galaxy series. That is, symmetrically slim bezels and a black front, curved glass edges on both the front and back panels, and a shiny metal frame. But it is noticeably thinner and lighter.
- 81.2% body-to-screen ratio
- F/1.6 aperture on the primary camera
- Secondary 120-degree wide-angle camera
- DSLR-like manual camera controls
- Great battery life
- HiFi wired audio with dedicated DAC
- IP68-rated waterproofing
- High-res AptX HD wireless audio and Bluetooth v5.0
- P-OLED screen suffers in low brightness
- Camera interface should be quicker
- Dynamic range of camera still needs work
- Front facing camera has poor quality
- Software UI is dated and stutters
What it’s like to use
- The phone is lighter than its large form suggests (158 grams). This inherently gives it a cheap impression in-hand because we generally associate heft with expense, but once you get past that, you’ll realize it’s a good thing.
- The build of the phone is as premium/solid/seamless as Samsung’s Galaxy series. On the sides, there’s predominately metal frame, rather than curved glass and metal.
- The curved glass on the sides is very slight. The display doesn’t noticeably curve, there’s side bezel at the curve.
- We aren’t a fan of the shiny, rounded metal frame. It’s notably slippery. And the phone’s thinness does not help that fact when it comes to grip. You have to pinch into the sides when you’re holding the phone to avoid it slipping away. We would’ve preferred a matte metal finish and/or a thicker profile (so that’s there’s more area to grip) – this actually describes the G6 (which we must mention is going for only $400 on Amazon) and it had awesome grip.
- As a consequence of having to clinch the sides when holding the phone, you do end up inadvertently touching the display despite the presence of side bezels.
- The camera(s) bump is reduced from the V20, but there there is still one there. This means that the camera’s glass cover will contact whatever surface you set the phone down on. You’ll have to be extra careful. If you don’t like cases like us, we suggest a wrap/skin that will cover the glass.
- The P-OLED screen is respectable in higher brightness. Colors are not overly vivid; LG always goes for a natural tone. But the panel’s brightness is average. We often had the brightness set to 70% and above until the evening. And there’s a blue-ish color shift at angles, though not severe.
- The screen’s quality plummets at lower brightness (about 35% and under). The panel is noticeably grainy (like on older OLED panels). LG also has an issue with quality control, as the bottom 1/3 of our screen has a dark spot (not noticeable at higher brightness).
- Our panel also had too much red in the RGB spectrum. LG fortunately lets you adjust the display’s coloring, and lowering the red levels by half had us more satisfied with the display. It also reduced the impact of the dark spot towards the bottom. We suggest users to manually calibrate the display out of the box.
- Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem at lower brightness. Dark areas of content is significantly over-darkened. This is mostly disappointing when watching videos in the dark. You can’t see what’s going on in some areas.
- Camera interface is minimally changed from the V20. There’s still a button at the top, center to switch from the standard angle (71 degree) and wide-angle (120-degree) sensors. You can alternatively move the virtual shutter button up and down to zoom in and out between them, but know that there isn’t a good way to lock onto the standard sensor at its unzoomed position.
- The volume down button double-press shortcut to launch the camera is still here. One problem with it is that volume takes priority if you’re listening to music.
- The camera interface’s auto-focus and capture speed is slower than many of its competition. We also still get a “Saving…” waiting prompt when trying to view a capture right after taking it – LG hasn’t addressed this issue from the V20.
- There’s not as much side lens distortion on the wide-angle camera. It’s important to know that there’s no OIS on the wide-angle camera, so you have to have steady hands especially at night when the sensor struggles. Many may also not know that there’s no auto-focus either, but you can at least touch to focus on a spot.
- The cameras can be hit or miss when it comes to dynamic range (shots that have a large range between light and dark spots). It’s not uncommon for smartphone sensors to over-highlight light or over-darken shadows. That said, it’s acceptable and not severe.
- In not extreme dynamic range situations, we were very impressed with the image quality. There’s a lot of sharpness/detail in the primary 16 MP sensor, even in darker conditions (the f/1.6 aperture helps). LG’s processing excellently goes for natural coloring. It wasn’t until we loaded up the pictures on our computer until we noticed how excellent they were, probably because the V30’s P-OLED display has has questionable quality.
- The wide-angle camera is simply excellent in general conditions. The captures are expansive and dramatic. But noise can easily creep in, in low-light situations.
- While LG has hugely updated the phone’s hardware, they’ve barely touched the software. The UI is practically the same as was on last year’s G5, even shipping with no app drawer by default.
- LG uses some of Google’s visuals (i.e. Notification shade, Recent Apps carousel, lock screen), but plain icons, LG’s bloat apps, and yesteryear transitions are careless. The app drawer is also yesteryear instead of the modern swipe up/down gesture.
- A more severe issue is that software optimization seems to be neglected as well. This device has Qualcomm’s latest octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM, but it doesn’t completely show. There are micro stutters throughout and apps aren’t as quick as they should be to open/switch.
- Battery life from the 3,300 mAh capacity is great. Moderate-to-high usage reliably gets through the day and can onto the next.
- The Always-On display incorporates swipe-able functions (i.e. quick settings, music control) that used to be on the Second Screen.
- The virtual Floating Bar that replaces the V-series’ Second Screen is just okay. There’s an extra step because you have to open it first, whereas the Second Screen was always on. Sometimes it gets in the way of something you’re trying to press behind it. It’s also important to know that for some reason the edge toggle for the Floating Bar disappears if you use the function to hide the navigation bar.
- High-end wired headphone quality is superb for a DAC that’s incorporated into a phone. It’s comparable to a $200-$300 external DAC. It’s a sound signature that leans on the bright side, like a lot of ESS’s DACs. Lots of details on the upper range. Bass may be too light for some listeners, but has good definition. Dynamics are appreciable.
- HiFi DAC settings no longer tell you what impedance mode it’s in. The “engineered” Sound Presets are a wash, they throw off the frequency response way too much. The volume steps are still finely adjustable.
The Camera Samples
The LG V30 is a bittersweet smartphone. It has some awesome features that you won’t find on other flagship smartphones, like the wide-angle camera and dedicated HiFi DAC, but it significantly lets down where it totally shouldn’t. The display was an area that LG has been lacking, so we were overjoyed when the company announced the switch to an OLED panel. But LG dishearteningly found a way to turn something good into something unfortunate. Other companies, like Motorola and even the affordable OnePlus, didn’t have these kind of issues when they dived into OLED.
The software is another disappointment. Where the V30’s hardware looks the future, the software drags it back to the
good ol’ days. It’s not just aesthetics but performance doesn’t keep up with others in the competition that also use the Snapdragon 835. Part of us makes us want to just put up with these two cons to have the great things that the V30 offers. Its form-factor is pleasant, camera results are impressive, audio is unrivaled, and battery life is excellent.
Tough choice this Fall. If LG was fully committed, it could have made it a lot easier.
Also See: Best Smartphones (October 2017)