LG has been living in Samsung’s shadow for the longest time when it comes to the smartphone wars. The manufacturer makes solid smartphones, no doubt, but its Korean neighbor always manages to edge it with overall performance. However, that may be a thing of the past with LG’s latest release of its most well-rounded smartphone to date.
The V30 doesn’t happen to be just a larger version of LG’s Spring flagship, the G6; a lot of things were surprisingly updated for the few months that passed by. It’s apparent that LG is going full-force to stand out among the best. But is there enough here to top the short list of best smartphones? Find out in our LG V30 Smartphone Review!
Price: $35/month or $840 on Verizon
Available: Oct. 2017
Summary: The LG V30 is a feature-packed smartphone. It sports all the luxuries we’ve come to expect in a top-end flagship these days, like waterproofing, wireless charging, and small bezels, but takes a couple extra steps with a brilliant wide-angle camera and HiFi audio. It’d be a winner if its P-OLED screen and user interface could keep up with the finest.
What We Liked
- Premium, sturdy, and waterproofed design
- Fantastic body-to-screen ratio
- Wide-angle camera is an awesome feature
- HiFi DAC has some of the best audio in a smartphone
- Great battery life
What We Didn’t
- P-OLED screen quality poor in low brightness
- Camera interface should be quicker
- Software is dated and could be faster
- Mono speaker quality is meh
LG V30 Specs
Display 6.0" (18:9 aspect ratio), P-OLED, QHD resolution (1,440x2,880)
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (octa-core, 2.35 GHz, Adreno 540 GPU)
Memory 4GB of RAM
Storage 64GB internal and up to 256GB microSD expansion
Rear Camera 16MP (standard-angle, f/1.6, OIS) + 13MP (wide-angle, f/1.9)
Front Camera 5MP, f/2.2 aperture
Battery 3,300 mAh (non-removable)
Software Android 7.1.2 (Nougat) with LG UX 6.0+ UI
Colors Aurora Black or Cloud Silver (in US)
Earlier in the year, we praised LG for upping its build quality in a big way on the G6. Instead of waiting for next year’s iteration to the series, LG refined its metal/glass build for its larger flagship variant of the year. The V30 has a thinner profile, subtly curved glass on the sides of both the front and back panels, and a rounded metal frame. This is frankly as premium as it gets.
That said, it does seem that LG is following in Samsung’s footsteps a bit. The metal frame has a shiny finish now, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, as well as black bezels on the front. The curved glass that slopes into the metal sides is another similarity, but LG’s implementation is much more subtle than its rival. There’s no noticeable bend to the V30’s display at the curves, where it totally is on Samsung’s smartphones.
LG puts some bezel between the display and the frame, which doesn’t look as pretty as Samsung’s approach but is certainly more practical. We got far less accidental screen presses on the V30 compared to Note 8. Though, we have to say we prefer the flatter and matte edges of the G6. The shiny finish on the V30’s metal is slippery, and the thinner sides gives you less grip area. Handling involves a bit of a pinching grip to make sure the phone doesn’t slip away.
But it’s also worth mentioning that the V30 is much lighter than its large form would suggest, at 158 grams. This fact coupled with its sweet-spot 6.0″ 18:9 display size means that it’s much more wieldy in use than the Note 8 (which bears a colossal 6.3″ screen and 195g weight). The fingerprint scanner is another win for LG in this comparison. Its centered location on the rear is way more ergonomic than Samsung’s top, right placement. No, there’s no fancy IRIS retina security but LG does have a couple other tricks, like voice recognition or a tap pattern to unlock the phone.
Like many of the V30’s direct competition, it’s powered by Qualcomm’s latest octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor. This includes 4GB of RAM, which is common in smartphones of this grade. Samsung jumped to 6GB on the Note 8, but to us it was a moot point. 4GB is plentiful. Internal storage is also at a respectable 64GB and includes microSD card support.
The spec sheet implies that the V30 flies like most of the flagships we’ve examined this year. This is true for the most part, but we have noticed quite a bit more of micro-stuttering than we’d expect, notably while scrolling through content. It’s not necessarily “lag” and is completely usable.
General movement through the UI, such as opening/switching apps, was also noticeably snappier in those phones. The fault must lie in LG’s software optimization (or lack thereof). We’ll talk about the software more later in the review.
Fortunately, battery life doesn’t share that sentiment. The V30’s 3,300 mAh capacity reliably got us some stellar battery result during our few weeks with the device. It’s awesome when you don’t frequently have to run for the charger. You shouldn’t have a worry about getting through the day with the V30, unless you’re gaming a lot or constantly running with high brightness. When you do have to charge, it’s great that LG supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard (Samsung still only does QC 2.0), and there’s the option for wireless charging.
The V-series always has an advantage when it comes to audio, both in wired and wireless use. Unlike most smartphones, LG partners with ESS Technology to incorporate a dedicated DAC (digitial-to-analog converter, or sound processor).
This is enabled in wired use, which also means that LG is embracing the 3.5mm headphone jack more than ever while most others are dropping it. In short, the audio output (especially with high-res files) has the most detailed, dynamic, and cleanest quality you’ll find on a mobile device. It would take high-end headphones to see the full benefit, but you should still notice a substantial improvement in general. And on the wireless side, LG is one of the only smartphone manufacturers to utilize the higher res AptX HD audio codec.
In most conditions, LG’s P-OLED panel is a beauty. Elements on the screen are much more vibrant than LG’s past LCD panels. Viewing angle were never kind on LG’s past flagship phones. OLED technology helps this a ton, but we must say that we see a slight blue-ish color shift now on the V30. It’s not severe, just notable. We must also say that Samsung is still the king when it comes to OLED panels. The Note 8‘s screen gets much brighter, has better colors, and remains excellent at even the most extreme angles. It just is that Samsung has been in the OLED game longer, and it definitely shows.
Unfortunately, our criticism doesn’t just stop there. Recall that we said that LG’s P-OLED is respectable “in most conditions”. It happens to be that its quality takes a turn for the worse at lower brightnesses.
While closing out the night on the phone, graininess and some color un-uniformity came into to view (not noticeable at screen brightness about 35% and above). What’s more, the panel over-darkens dark areas when in low brightness. Darker detail cannot be seen, and it makes some videos simply unviewable. LG has a lot of work to do to make this P-OLED panel up to snuff in the future.
If you’ve seen another V-series smartphone from LG you may notice something strikingly different in the V30. Since its conception, the V-series sported two displays – a large primary and small, 2.1″ horizontal secondary along the top.
The “Second Screen” functioned as the Always-On Display (always showing things like the clock, date, and notifications) and quick shortcuts that were always reach away. To have the awesome screen-to-ratio ratio that the V30 has, LG had to let go of the secondary screen. But not all is lost. The primary panel now takes care of the Always-On Display (with OLED, only the necessary pixels light up) and a virtual “Floating Bar” is in place of the shortcuts bar from before. It pops out with the touch of a button that sits on the edge of the screen. It’s nice that the user can move the placement to anywhere they like, instead of it being stuck all the way at the top, but we still don’t find it as convenient to use as before. And the button gets in the way sometimes when we’re trying to tap on something behind it.
Cameras are an area where LG stands out, mostly due to its unique offering of a wide-angle sensor. Dual cameras are common nowadays in flagships, but LG is the only one with a wide-angle (120-degrees to be exact) camera.
Most manufacturers opt for either a secondary monochrome sensor (to boost quality image) or telephoto optical zoom. We have to say that this is our favorite dual camera setup. Going from 71 degrees on the standard sensor to 120 degrees on the wide-angle is dramatically different compared to just 2x zoom on a telephoto sensor, like the newer iPhones and Galaxy Note 8 sport. It becomes a handy tool to have when taking landscape pictures on vacation or trying to fit everything into the frame in a small indoor space.
Fortunately, quality is up there with the functionality. You never really know how good the pictures turned out until you load them up on a larger screen. And when we did, we were pleasantly surprised at the V30’s results. LG’s strength has always been sharpness, and the same is true here.
Dynamic range has been improved from previous iterations, which can produce some nice dramatic contrast outdoors. Though it’s not perfect. You can lose detail in darker spaces or over-highlighting in bright areas in extreme cases. But it’s certainly acceptable.
With the V30, the 13MP wide-angle shooter gets a boost in low-light capability. The lens aperture has been increased from f/2.4 in the G6 to f/1.9. But it still doesn’t have optical image stabilization (OIS), like the 16MP primary sensor. So you’ll have to keep your hands steady especially with night photos. It also still doesn’t have auto-focus, which isn’t as critical for wide shots, but you can touch to focus. Check out our samples with both sensors in the galleries below.
Last year, the LG V20 managed to be the first Android smartphone out of the gate with Google’s newest Android version, 7.0 (Nougat). But LG wasn’t able to repeat this for the V30. It’s still powered by Nougat, albeit the latest build, 7.1.2. That said, Google’s latest Pixel phones are the only ones with the newest Android 8.0 (Oreo), so LG is in line with the competition.
But where LG does fall behind is in the user interface (UI). While the company substantially upgraded its hardware from last year, the UI is still stuck in the past. There’s little different to the eyes from before. If LG had a stellar UI to begin with, it wouldn’t really be a problem, but it hasn’t. Icons and transitions look painfully dated, and LG persists with its own apps for things that Google already provides like the calculator, calendar, and clock.
The app drawer is still afterthought and an “option” you have to enable in the Settings to have. That means that when you do enable it, it follows the yesteryear button layout instead of the modern and slick swipe up/down gesture.
What’s more critical is that LG appears to have slacked with software optimization. Not to say that executions are laggy or not responsive, but things like opening/switching apps and scrolling are not quite as snappy and fluid as some of the other flagships we’ve reviewed recently (i.e. Samsung Note 8 or Moto Z2 Force). Micro stutters creep around corners and frame-rate drops when scrolling through content. This goes for the camera interface too. It’s certainly not the quickest out there to focus and capture.
To be fair, LG’s software does sport some nifty features. The swipe-able settings in the Always-On display (which mimics that once offered on the secondary screen in past V-series phones) is a useful touch, as well as the the virtual Floating Bar that is LG’s new method for quick shortcuts. The software double-tap gesture continues to own, because you can double-tap to make the phone to sleep, not just wake. It’s also great that you can not only re-arrange the bottom navigation buttons but make that auto-hide on apps you want to maximize content.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the LG V30. It has some excellent, standout features, but sadly bears some things that miss the mark (which quite frankly shouldn’t in a 2017 flagship smartphone).
We’d say that if a wide-angle camera, exceptional audio, and excellent design/form factor would be invaluable to your smartphone usage, then the V30 is probably your best choice. But if you want the best display and/or software possible, then look elsewhere. Only after LG reworks its P-OLED and revamps its software will it be able to give Samsung a run for its money.