I love this phone. Is it safe to say that after only a week? From the design to the display to the audio quality and everything in between, there is barely anything I can point out on this phone that could be construed as a major weakness.
OK, I'm getting ahead of myself; there are a few things that need work, and the software I used isn't final, but the V30 is worming its way into my head as one of those handsets I'm going to remember years from now. Or maybe I'm just really caffeinated.
Oh, in case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about the LG V30, the Korean company's latest salvo against Samsung and its finest handset to date. What could have amounted to a grab-bag of disparate ideas — camera, audio, HDR — instead coalesce into one of the finest and most fully-formed Android phones I've ever used. In borrowing some ideas from Samsung's design language (and in turn deviating from its divisive designs of previous V-series phones), LG has delivered exactly what I believe a smartphone should be: inviting and accessible for newcomers and rewarding to enthusiasts.
About this preview
I, Daniel Bader, am writing this hands-on preview after using the LG V30 for four days on the TELUS network in Toronto, Canada. The phone was running Android 7.1.2, pre-release software build N2G47H, and was not updated during the brief preview period. This is not a review. That will be coming in the next few weeks.
G6 + V20 = V30
There's something to be said for LG's rather drastic turn away from the industrial and piecemeal design of its 2015 and 2016 flagships — this is the company that proudly promoted leather backs on the G4, a commitment to removable batteries in an industry that laughed at the very idea, and a short-lived modular platform that was basically laughed off stage. But whereas some of these decisions seemed to contravene the drive for mainstream acceptance that the G series yearned for, fans of the V series, beginning with 2015's chunky, masculine V10, appeared to embrace the weirdness.
The V30 is a culmination of many good decisions.
The V20 doubled down on some of its predecessor's more contentious decisions, like the second ticker display above the primary LCD, but did so in a body that, while still oversized, was sleek and accessible. I thoroughly enjoyed using the V20, though LG in 2016 was still figuring out how it wanted to differentiate itself from the rest of the Android world, and its software suffered as a result.
The V30 is a culmination of many good decisions. Gone is that second ticker display, replaced by a near bezel-free 6-inch OLED panel, one of the best I've seen (though not quite matching the fidelity of the Galaxy Note 8, also releasing in September). The V30's design owes far more to the G6, released earlier this year, and the Galaxy S8, than its immediate predecessor; it's all smooth curved glass meeting glossy metal.
But that simplicity belies plenty of technology underneath. Around back, near the top and buttressing the textured design underneath a slate of Gorilla Glass 5, are two cameras, significantly more compact than both the V20 and the G6. They continue the V series' legacy of cinematic prowess, but don't scream that fact. In fact, nothing about the V30 screams anything; LG's chosen cool over loud.
The glass panel and sealed-in battery allow for two achievements that I am tickled by: an IP68 certification of water resistance and dust-proofing, along with wireless charging. Unlike a removable battery, which to me ceased being useful in 2013, these are substantive upgrades over the previous model, features I take advantage of on a daily basis. LG claims that, in addition to the V30's ingress protection the phone has been certified MIL-STD 810G, which means nothing except that the company voluntarily dropped a bunch of phones a bunch of times to determine that, while glass is still breakable, the V30 is fairly robust. Good, that.
More important is the V30's so-called heat management; metal is a better conductor of heat than glass, so without sufficient means of moving it away from the Snapdragon 835 processor (which admittedly runs pretty cool) the phone can easily overheat. While I noticed nothing resembling a rise in surface temperature, it's good to know that LG takes the potential seriously. Rounding out the spec sheet is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage standard (plus a microSD slot) — and that battery? It's the same 3300mAh capacity as the smaller (but thicker) G6.
Clicky buttons, a voluminous down-port speaker, a sensibly-placed fingerprint sensor and subtly-curving glass makes for a luxurious experience, but there is one criticism I feel comfortable leveling against LG: like the G6, the V30 places its headphone jack on the top of the phone, which is the wrong side. This is an objective fact about which you're not allowed to argue with me. (But seriously, it's so much easier to use your phone when headphones are attached to the bottom, since you don't have to turn the phone around when removing it from a pocket.)
Actually, there's another thing I wish the phone did differently: you can't swipe down on the rear fingerprint sensor to bring down the notification shade. It's a gesture I've grown used to after using the Pixel and the Galaxy S8, and while it's fairly easy to reproduce using an app, it's not the same.
A camera that pans
Typically with a V series phone, you come for the specs and stay for the camera features, and here is no exception. While the main camera shares the same 16MP resolution as the V20, LG says the sensor itself is an upgrade, and it's paired with an ultra-wide f/1.6 lens that, miraculously, has very little in the way of distortion. Optical image stabilization is present, too, in case your hand gets excited and decides to shake (it off).
The second camera has received a pretty nice upgrade, too, to a 13MP sensor and an f/1.9 lens. As with all LG flagships dating back to the G5 (RIP in peace), the secondary camera has a wide-angle lens with a 120-degree field of view, but LG has taken pains to cut down the prevalence of corner distortion here, and it shows. And while the second lens lacks OIS, its wider aperture means better low-light photos and therefore a much less stark transition between the two cameras.
I haven't had a lot of time to evaluate the objective improvements, if any, to the V20, or the G6 for that matter (that will come shortly), but I am pleased with the daylight photos I've captured on the V30 and slightly concerned with the low-light output, especially given the (surprisingly) incredible results of the G6 from earlier this year.
What I can say is, judging from the few low-light photos I've taken, the extra f-stop doesn't make a substantial difference over the G6, at least running pre-production firmware.
I can say with confidence, though, that shooting with the V30 is incredibly fun. Using the shutter button as a zoom slider (one of a few V30 features borrowed from the Galaxy S8) makes it easy to switch between the regular and wide lenses, while the new video modes add a bit of flair to a feature that, on phones, I rarely use. LG is touting a number of new video capture capabilities here, including something called Cine Effect, which intelligently overlays a color gradient over the video without damaging the original feed. Something like this I can admire from afar — LG wants the V30 to appeal to actual filmmakers who are creeping ever-so-slowly towards a time where a phone, a tripod and perhaps a few add-on lenses are all that's necessary to create a feature film.
To that end, LG is bundling support for a variation of the popular Log recording format, aptly called LG-Cine Log, which allows for significantly better, fuller, and more accurate colors in post production. The intent is to allow those who want to tweak captured video footage after the fact to go hog-wild in their respective video editor. It's nothing I'll likely ever use, but I like that LG took the advice of its existing user base to add it.
But more impressive is LG's continual commitment to robust manual shooting features, such as focus peaking, as well as the lost art of audio capture, which uses the phone's amplifier and second microphone to prevent clipping in loud environments like concerts. As someone whose concert footage has been ruined countless times by phones that treat audio like a four-lane highway, this is an added bonus.
In fact, the whole suite of camera modes, from Match Shot to Guide Shot to Grid Shot (get the theme?) would be for nought if the V30's cameras were fundamentally flawed, but LG knows what it's doing in this regard, and I've been very pleased, aside from a bit of slowdown when first opening the app, with the photos captured and the app experience so far.
I like music
LG wants the V30 to be known as much for its audio prowess as its optical capabilities, and here I am a bit more comfortable claiming that, yes, the phone sounds damn good using expensive, high-impedance headphones. Using a variant of the same ESS SABRE ES9218P DAC (Digital-to-Audio) converter from last year's V20, the V30 sounds amazing with practically every headphone I've thrown at it.
My takeaway from listening to music on the V30 is that I want to listen to more music on the V30.
There are a variety of new audio filters and sound presets that can be adjusted once the DAC is enabled (it's disabled by default for power consumption reasons) but, after playing with them all, my takeaway was that the default settings work beautifully as long as the source is good — only high-bitrate streams, please — and the headphones are sensitive. Like the V20, I love listening to music on the V30. I'm no self-proclaimed audiophile, but I can tell when a phone has a weak amplifier and a crap DAC, and the V30 just shines.
A lessening of bloat
Maybe it's that I'm using an unlocked version with no carrier-specific add-ons to gunk up the experience, but the Android 7.1.2-based software of the V30 feels like a significant improvement over anything the company has released to date.
Not only is LG trying less to differentiate its Android experience from Google's — that's a good thing in my book — but very little gets in the way of just getting things done. The worst thing I can say about this newly-restrained LG is that the default launcher is still without an app drawer, but that's easy enough to change.
Elsewhere, LG has added a feature that it originally promised as a yet-unreleased update to the G6: face unlock. Like less secure of the two facial biometric features offered on the Galaxy S8, face unlock works remarkably well, and quickly, and the good news for V30 users is that it does so when the screen is off. You just bring the phone close to your face and it just works. While poor lighting trips up the face unlock feature, it's a great alternative to the fingerprint sensor.
If there's one nit to pick here, it's that the V30 is launching with just Nougat; recall last year that the V20 was famously cast a role in Google's pre-Nougat marketing campaign, promising that alongside Google's own Nexus 5X and 6P, it would be the first phone to launch with the then-latest version of Android. While I'm not unhappy with LG's turn towards the conservative here — Oreo is still working out the kinks — it would have been nice for LG to pull yet another rabbit out of its proverbial hat in 2017.
The V30 is the first phone to work with T-Mobile's new 600MHz network, and while the carrier will likely be making a separate announcement to that effect, it's good news for anyone on the magenta carrier looking to improve their indoor coverage.
Given that I live in Canada, I didn't get to test T-Mobile's nascent low-band spectrum, but even up here the phone performed beautifully — I am technically using the unlocked US998 variant, which is a global phone that works with all four major carriers in the U.S. — with excellent LTE speeds and reliable calls over TELUS's 3G network.
And while I haven't had a lot of time to use the phone just yet, I can say that anyone worried about its just 3300mAh battery capacity needn't worry: I have consistently ended each day with upwards of 30% in the tank. Given that there's Quick Charge 3.0 on board and wireless charging, I'm not too worried about whether the phone will get me through a day.
A galaxy of good ideas
That the V30 cribs some of the Galaxy S8's best features is by no means a criticism; instead, it shows that LG is learning from its past mistakes and, in trying to appeal to a wider audience, is likely to ensure the V series stays around a long time. The V30 has all the trappings of a fine mainstream handset, including ample power, a great design, a beautiful screen, plenty of battery life, and a capable camera.
But LG's persistent pursuit of customers who understand the inherent benefits of color-corrected video and high-impedance headphones — an admittedly small but vocal minority of users — plays to its advantage here. In trying to do everything and succeeding, we see LG at its best, and that's a position in which I hope to see the company many years from now.
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