LG is on the right path when it comes to smartphones. After its modular LG G5 tanked, the company’s smartphone division appears to have rethought its strategy and started, quite simply, doing things that work.
The LG G6, which launched in the spring, was a very good phone that just lacked a little extra something to be on the same level as a Samsung flagship. And with the LG V30, which the company announced in late August, it looked like it everything might finally be coming together for LG.
After spending more than a month with the LG V30, I can say that it’s a very good phone. It has great specs and stands out in a couple of areas. But it disappoints in some aspects and is, once again, lagging a bit behind the best smartphones out there.
Before I dive into the review, note that I tested two LG V30 units: a preproduction unit, and a final one (for about a week). Functionally and visually, the phones were mostly the same, and some of the bugs that I’ve noticed on the pre-production unit, including tethering not working, were ironed out in the final version. In key areas, like the camera, I noticed no differences.
When the LG G6 came out, it was positioned extraordinarily well on the market. It was one of the first phones with a tall, 18:9 screen with small bezels. LG had placed the fingerprint scanner, which doubles as a button, on the back of its phones a few generations ago, so the transition was easier than it was for Samsung (which never got it quite right). The phone had dual 13-megapixel cameras on the back, one of them with a wide-angle sensor which, in my book, is just as useful as a 2x optical zoom sensor on the Samsung Note 8.
The V30 — which has more in common with the G6 than the dual-screened V20 — has all of that and more. It has a slightly larger, 6-inch P-OLED screen. It has dual 16-megapixel/13-megapixel cameras on the back. The primary 16-megapixel sensor has an f/1.6 aperture, which should ideally mean the phone takes excellent photos in the dark. It also records 4K video and has several new Cine effects that add a special mood to your videos. The 13-megapixel, wide-angle sensor now doesn’t distort the image quite as badly at the edges. The processor has been updated, from Snapdragon 821 to 835.
The spec sheet goes on: IP68 resistance to dust and water, wireless charging, a 3,300mAh battery and 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage memory. On paper, the V30 doesn’t have many flaws.
Design and feel
And for the most part, the V30 delivers. It’s a beautiful, elegant phone. The units I tested were blue and silver, and both had a subdued but cool-looking texture beneath the glass back which gives the phone a premium feel. Several people I spoke to noted how light the V30 felt in the hand compared to, say, a Note 8; I happen to like this, but not everyone did. The glass panes on the front and back are held together with a polished metal frame that matches the back’s color, and the entire package looks classy. The antenna lines on the frame spoil the effect somewhat, and overall, the manufacturing quality doesn’t come close to an iPhone. Still, the V30 looks and feels premium and is by far the nicest looking LG flagship I’ve seen.
The screen bezels are even smaller than those on LG G6; this phone really comes close to the ideal of being just a screen, something all phone manufacturers appear to be chasing these days. The design is not as striking as that of a Galaxy Note 8, but to me, the Note 8’s screen is too tall and the V30 feels better in the hand.
I expected a lot from the V30’s OLED, 2,880 x 1,440 pixel screen, but I wasn’t exactly blown away by its quality. Yeah, contrasts were stronger and colors were livelier than on LG G6’s LCD screen, but not by much. Thankfully, the situation improved when I received the final V30 unit, which had a noticeably brighter screen, with slightly more natural colors than the blue-hued preproduction V30. See a comparison of both screens at 15% brightness, below.
I’ve also compared the V30’s screen directly against the Samsung Note 8, and while Samsung’s screen was crisper, it’s not something I’d notice in day-to-day use.
To sum up: With a big OLED screen, quite a bit of polish in the design, and no distracting notch as seen on the iPhone X or Essential Phone, the LG V30 is one of the nicest smartphones out there. But it’s not exactly unforgettable.
Performance and battery life
Performance on new smartphones these days is essentially a non-issue. I say “new” because phones do tend to get slower over time but it’s impossible to test that for a timely review. I’ve used the LG V30 as my primary phone and experienced no slowdowns (except with the camera — I’ll get to that later). The phone was mostly blazing fast. On the pre-production unit, I’ve gotten an occasional bug or a restart, but that seems to have been fixed on the final unit.
When it comes to battery life, the V30 was pretty good. The LG G6, which has the same battery capacity, would get dangerously close to zero battery nearly every single day I’ve used it. With the V30, I’d typically end the day with a comfortable 30%. This is probably the single most important improvement this device has over the G6. If battery life is important to you, and I know it is, the V30 is a far better phone than the G6.
The camera that, frankly, could be better
LG V30’s main camera, with its f/1.6 aperture and glass lens, should, on paper, take amazing photos, even in low-light conditions. But in actual use, the camera was just alright. In broad daylight, like most smartphone cameras, it worked great. Check out the beautiful, true-to-life colors on the vista on the left (below), and the amazing amount of detail on the grasshopper on the right.
Come evening, and the photos became grainy and smudgy, even with HDR on. On top of that, the camera was often slow; I’ve missed so many moments I wanted to capture simply because I had to wait that extra second for the autofocus to do its thing. Also, both V30 units had the same, odd bug: Sometimes, when I tried to delete a photo, the phone would freeze for a second or two, and then wouldn’t do anything. Only on the second try was I able to delete the photo, and again, the process lasted too long.
The Cine video effects are nice; they’re basically Instagram-style filters, only for video. Summer Blockbuster will turn your video into an episode of C.S.I. Miami, while Documentary will give it a somber tone. But they’re mostly gimmicks; I tried them out and I don’t think I’d ever feel the urge to use them again. Also, while videos taken during the day were sharp and crisp, those taken in darker conditions were barely usable.
Don’t get me wrong, the LG V30’s camera isn’t bad. Its software, especially, has tons of features, both for taking photos and videos, and is one of the best camera UIs I’ve seen, period. But given the camera’s specs and LG’s positioning of the V30 as a camera-oriented phone, one would expect it to blow away all other phone cameras, which it doesn’t.
The wide-angle camera is a lot of fun, and I used it often. Unfortunately, its specs are a notch below the main camera’s, and the resulting photos are quite a bit worse, especially in low light. Plus, while it doesn’t distort the photo at the edges like the G6 camera, it does distort a wider area of the photo, which will make some photos look unnatural. Still, when I had a beautiful vista in front of me, or a big crowd of people, I always opted for the wide camera.
The V30’s selfie camera is a disappointment. It has a 5-megapixel sensor that works, but that’s about the extent of it. If you want to take nice selfies, the V30 will simply not do.
The beautiful but not very uncommon sound
The LG V30 comes with a 32-bit/192kHz, quad DAC (digital-to-analogue-converter). You will find as many opinions on how numbers influence sound as you will audiophiles, but in my experience, they don’t matter at all. Don’t bother loading up huge 24-bit audio (you’ll have a hard time finding 32-bit audio) files on your phone: They won’t sound any better, even with very expensive headphones.
Beyond the numbers, the V30 does produce really nice sound, and you will hear a difference between a lossless FLAC file and an MP3 audio file. But I’m really not sure whether this puts the V30 above the competition. I’ve tested it against a MacBook, and there was no difference. I’ve tested it against a variety of Android phones, and I’ve heard no difference.
The fact that the LG V30 has a headphone jack is a different matter altogether. I have tons of headphones lying around and I love not having to worry about a dongle. The phone also supports the wireless aptX HD standard which does make sound over Bluetooth better.
Bottom line: If you’re an audio enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with the LG V30. The phone has it all.
Software, bloatware and the little things
Most Android smartphone makers these days use a UI that’s quite similar to the stock Android 7.1.2 experience, but with some iOS bits thrown in. LG follows this to the letter, and I’ve had no trouble getting used to it. Even if you don’t like it, you can customize it fairly well; for example, by default the LG V30 doesn’t have an app drawer, but you can turn it on in the settings if you like.
In terms of visuals, it’s not the prettiest UI out there, but you should be able to find a theme that suits you. I like the variety of options for the phone’s always-on display, which you can set up to show the clock and notifications in various positions and sizes, and you can even adorn it with an image.
The retail-ready unit I’ve received for testing was optimized for use with South Korea’s SK Telecom, and it came with an absolutely unacceptable amount of bloatware, some of which I couldn’t get rid of at all. It took me five minutes to erase what I could and move the rest to a folder I’ve decided to name “crap.”
Some built-in LG apps were a pleasant surprise, though. The company’s LG Mobile Switch lets you copy the entire contents (apps, preferences, nearly everything) of one phone to another, and it worked well, except for the folders on my home screen, which it completely disregarded and thrown my apps all around the place. No app is perfect, I guess.
Almost the best
To stand out in the extremely competitive smartphone market, you need to do a lot more than just have a nice-looking phone with great specs. The iPhone is, well, the iPhone. Samsung has brand power and those curvy-edged screens that make its phones stand out. Google has amazing camera tech and tons of nifty software goodies. Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi and OnePlus have low prices.
LG doesn’t have any of that, and that’s a problem.
The LG V30 is a nice-looking phone, but it doesn’t really stand out. It has great specs, but you can find those on other, cheaper Androids — and yes, that includes great sound. And the camera, which is supposed to be its forte, is just OK.
This leaves us with the price. At about $830, the V30 compares well with the Samsung Note 8, which starts at $950. But nowadays, you can also get the Google Pixel 2 XL for $850 or a Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 for about $500, which is also the recently reduced price of the Essential Phone.
So should you buy the LG V30? All things considered, it’s not a bad choice, but there are other great phones for the same (or lower) amount of money. If you’re into hi-res audio, go for it. But if photo quality is top priority to you, you’ll find better options out there.
Nice design • Great sound • Top specs
Camera is good but not great • Selfie camera is bad • Could be cheaper
The Bottom Line
The LG V30 is a feature-packed, nice-looking phone that’d be a steal if the camera were a little better and if it were just a little cheaper.