LG V30 review: The no-BS flagship

The quick take

LG's new flagship is as much a successor to the G6 as any other handset, nailing the smartphone fundamentals and delivering speedy performance in an attractive chassis. Once again, LG's unique dual-camera setup provides excellent low-light performance and its best wide-angle shooter yet. And best of all, there's no additional BS — the headphone jack is alive and well, and better than ever with a Quad DAC. The fingerprint scanner is present, and easy to reach. And despite some low-light weirdness, LG's OLED panel is genuinely impressive.

The Good

  • Slick design and lightweight chassis.
  • Smooth, responsive performance and great haptics.
  • Excellent rear cameras, including best-in-class wide-angle shooter.
  • Quad DAC delivers phenomenal wired audio quality.

The Bad

  • Glass back prone to scratching.
  • Display has contrast issues at darker brightness levels.
  • Front-facing camera is just OK.

LG V30 Initial Review Video

First take

LG V30 Review

Competing directly with Samsung can be a thankless task. Just ask LG, which has toiled in the shadow of its local rival for just about as long as it's been making phones. Even the legitimately good LG G6 struggled to move the needle when pitted against the Samsung Galaxy S8. The G6 was a good phone at a good price, but it couldn't match the space-age design and technological prowess that the S8 brought to the table, and as such didn't do much for LG's bottom line.

But now there's the LG V30. As the name suggests, it's a direct successor to last year's V20 — the product of a very different LG, which was all about removable batteries and a chunky metal chassis. So the svelte, compact V30 is as much a successor to the G6 as any other LG phone, and it continues the no-nonsense approach of that device, while also bringing the upgrades we expect from a V-series handset: high-quality audio, great cameras, and unique new video features.

Question is, can this phone finally help LG step out of the shadow of its main competitor?

LG V30

About this review

We're publishing this initial review after two weeks with early samples of the LG V30.

I (Alex Dobie) have been using a pre-production version of the V30 in Berlin, Germany, and Manchester and London, UK. LG seeds these early devices to press ahead of their phones going into full production, and while they're usually representative of the final product, this is not strictly speaking a retail-ready phone just yet — particularly so far as the software is concerned.

My V30 is a European-spec 64GB unit (LG-H930) in Moroccan Blue color. It's running firmware version 09r, based on Android 7.1.2 Nougat, with the September 1, 2017 Android security patch.

We'll follow up with some updated impressions when we get final devices, noting major any changes in this section.

A galaxy far, far away

LG V30 Hardware

First, let's deal with the proverbial elephant in the room: Yep, the V30 kinda looks like a Galaxy S8. From the curved corners, minimal bezel and polished metal trim to the extra-tall aspect ratio, you might well mistake it for a Samsung phone — at least from a distance.

Up close, many differences do come into focus: The V30 has a 6-inch display, and is smaller in all directions than the S8 Plus. In addition, it uses a shorter but still pretty tall 18:9 aspect ratio. But it's also flatter, thinner and lighter, and that gives it a distinct in-hand feel — it's actually a bit easier to hold onto than its contemporaries from the Samsung camp. It's nowhere near as absurdly tall as the Galaxy Note 8.

There's a little Samsung DNA in this LG flagship, and that's just fine.

As you'd expect from a flagship smartphone of the post-bezel era, almost all of the V30's front face is taken up by its display. The screen is a P-OLED panel from LG Display — the first in an LG phone since 2015's G Flex 2. Back then, LG's OLED technology was... well, bad. Really bad. (That's aside from the fact that the G Flex 2 was a hot mess in general — but I digress.) Regardless, I'm happy to report that the company has made a huge amount of progress over the past two years, to the point where V30's screen is almost as good as Samsung's SuperAMOLED. That sounds like faint praise, but I'm actually more than satisfied with what LG has brought to the table here. It's not Galaxy S8 good, but it's surprisingly close, and that's an achievement in itself.

Samsung is still the king of smartphone displays, there's no doubt about that. But LG's latest screen, at Quad HD+ resolution, looks fantastic and punchy, and unlike some of those older P-OLED panels, is clear enough to use outdoors in bright daylight.

LG V30

If anything, this display's major weakness is in low light. It has an unfortunate tendency to crush shadow details at lower brightness levels, to the point where dark areas become illegible — and that's not great if you're watching Netflix by candlelight, or trying to judge exposure in a low-light photo. This is a disappointing holdover from older OLED efforts, and it's easily fixed in software by simply raising the floor for brightness, but that's not exactly ideal.

One reason why you may prefer the V30's panel to Samsung's is because of its curvature — or lack thereof. You have to look ever so closely to make out the very slight curve of the panel at its edges. Despite its organic appearance, most of the display is completely flat. But that also means you're not dealing with any Samsung-style color shifting around the sides. The flatter display also makes the V30's side bezels more pronounced, which might seem undesirable, but it also makes it less susceptible to accidental screen touches.

It remains to be seen how the V30's physical hardware will stand the test of time. After a couple of weeks, mine has so far avoided any noticeable scratches hey look there's a big scratch on the back. However, the use of Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back should make as resilient as possible for a phone whose surface area is made up almost entirely of glass. The phone certainly feels solid and well-put-together, despite weighing even less than the G6, at just 158 grams. You could say that its lack of heft makes it feel a little insubstantial, but at the same time it's easier to one-hand, and lacks the awkward top-heaviness of phones like the Note 8 and GS8+.

Despite its 6-inch diagonal measurement, the V30 really doesn't feel like a gigantic phone. The in-hand (and in-pocket) feel is closer to a 5.5-inch device with a 16:9 screen — in other words, you get a big screen, but it's not so massive as to become unmanageable. (Once again, examples of the opposite include Samsung's latest devices.)

There's nothing at all surprising in the V30's spec sheet — it's a run-of-the-mill hardware loadout for a 2017 flagship, and that's just fine. Running the show is a Snapdragon 835, with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage plus microSD expandability, and a 3,300mAh battery.

More: LG V30 specs

It's true that more flagship phones are starting to push to 6GB of RAM, but I've never really felt like the V30 is weaker for its mere 4GB capacity. Apps still load lightning-fast, I've noticed no dropped frames, nor have app reloads been particularly problematic. It also goes without saying that Qualcomm's latest mobile platform has more than enough power for whatever mobile gaming needs you might have.

And this is basically table stakes at this point, but yes, the V30 is water-resistant, rated IP68, so you needn't worry about using it out in the rain, or dropping it in the sink.

LG V30

As other manufacturers are finding ever more dubious reasons to kill the headphone jack, LG embraces wired audio.

It's also great to see that there are no longer any weird regional variations in the V30's hardware, like we saw in the G6. All V30s have wireless charging built-in, as well as LG's famed Quad DAC for superior wired audio performance. (The only slight point of confusion: There is an LG V30 "Plus," but this is literally the same phone, only with 128GB of internal flash. No more extra goodies besides more storage space.)

Many phones offer extra storage, but only LG can boast of the Quad DAC, and this could be a real point of differentiation for the V30. As other manufacturers come up with increasingly dubious reasons to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack, LG is embracing wired audio, and the results are glorious. If you have a nice pair of studio headphones, you'll really appreciate the stronger output of the V30 — to the point where it'll be hard to go back to anything else.

LG's also partnering with B&O Play — hence the branding around the back on my European unit — to include some surprisingly good wired earbuds in the box.

Unfortunately, though, on-device audio is nothing special, and the single bottom-firing speaker is... just OK. The output is loud, but also tinny, and the lack of strong bass is disappointing.

LG V30

f/1.6, LOG, OIS, 120°

LG V30 Cameras

LG smartphones have a strong pedigree when it comes to camera performance, and the V30 is yet another LG phone that's defined by its photographic chops. The headline spec is a 16-megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), behind an f/1.6 lens — a first in a smartphone camera. The secondary wide-angle shooter has a 13-megapixel sensor, like the G6, only now behind a brighter f/1.9 lens. And that makes for a powerful photographic duo, building on the strengths of the G6 and V20.

Despite its small pixels, the V30's main camera is a dependable performer.

Despite having small, 1-micron pixels, the V30's main camera takes phenomenal photos. The high resolution and bright lens, plus OIS, can capture sharp, clear photos even in low light, with fidelity and sharpness to match the Galaxy S8. One quirk I've noticed in this early firmware is that the V30 tends towards underexposing night shots in some situations, so occasionally I've had to manually bump the exposure up a little. Nevertheless, with a little adjustment, the V30 is neck-and-neck with the best phone cameras available.

LG V30

Mercifully, LG has also pared back the gratuitous oversharpening seen in the G6 and many earlier cameras, which means more fine detail is preserved with fewer artifacts.

There's a mess of shooting modes to explore, as is often the case with the best smartphone cameras, though most of the time you'll just want to stick to full auto. If you want to play around with creative photo modes, the Manual shooting mode has been updated to include Graphy, a new app with downloadable ISO, shutter speed and white balance presets for different kinds of shots.

As good as the V30's main camera is — and it is really good — the biggest improvement might actually be in the wide-angle camera. It still captures a 120-degree field of view, only now with less distortion around the edges, and with significantly improved low-light performance thanks to the brighter lens, on top of the improved post-processing afforded by the Snapdragon 835.

Of course, you'll still get better night shots out of the main camera, but it really surprised me how usable the wide-angle was even in relatively dimly-lit indoor conditions. And that's a meaningful upgrade, because wide-angle photography is by far the most fun thing about using an LG phone. Say what you want about portrait mode and fake depth-of-field — for my money, there's no substitute for being able to simply press a button and instantly capture these wider, more dramatic scenes.

As for the selfie camera, the V30 does a serviceable job, with a 5-megapixel front-facer, but the end results aren't anything special. The camera app presents you with two options — a wide-angle view, or a closer crop, which is literally digitally zoomed section of that 5-megapixel sensor. As such, there's not much room for additional fidelity in brighter situations, which is a point of weakness compared to phones like the OnePlus 5 and HTC U11, which boast 16-megapixel selfie cameras.

LG Cine Log mode takes inspiration from techniques used by professional filmmakers.

It's always been implied that the "V" in LG's V series stands for "video," and so it's no surprise to see a bevy of extra videographic capabilities in the new phone. The new LG Cine Log mode takes inspiration from techniques used by professional filmmakers. It lets you capture footage that, on the surface, might appear more washed-out than regular video shot in Auto mode, but it's captured a way that lets you bring out more shadow or highlight detail when you process it later. There's also an array of presets in Cine Log mode that lets you give your footage a particular kind of look — like warm tones for an action movie, cooler hues for a more romantic look, or sepia tones for an old-timey vibe. These are more than just Instagram-style filters, they actually change the way the color is processed, and that can dramatically change the look of your footage.

LG Cine Log

I love the idea of this. But I think it runs up against the main problem faced by high-end photo features, like RAW capture, on smartphones. In order to support these high-end manual capabilities, you need a great camera to begin with. But a great camera is often so good in auto mode that there's no real incentive to explore these more exotic shooting modes.

Personally, I've found the new cinematic mode more useful for its point zoom feature, which lets you smoothly zoom into any point in the frame, without the jarring motion you normally get from digital zoom in video. It's still digital zoom, so you'll run into a resolution wall eventually, but on a 16-megapixel shooter there's plenty of fidelity to go around, particularly in daylight scenes.

LG V30

Tweaked and tuned

LG V30 Software

The camera is clearly where most of the software effort has gone on the V30, but it's also worth mentioning the handful of other software tweaks that lend this phone a bit more polish than the G6. Touch response has been tightened up, making the V30 feel a good deal quicker than its six-month-old forerunner. And the V30's haptics are also much improved — vibration responses now feel much sharper, and nowhere near as rattly as its predecessors. It's a small change, but one that contributes greatly to the presentation of the phone as a whole.

The new 'Floating Bar' only occasionally borders on true utility.

LG's answer to fans missing the old second display from the V20 is the new Floating Bar — which is basically a cross between the old ticker display and Samsung's Edge Screen. Tap the little tab on the corner of the screen to bring up app shortcut, and screen capture functions like the new GIF recorder, and music controls.

Some of the other functions of the second screen have instead been rolled over to the always-on display, which gives you quick access to settings, music controls and notification icons even when the screen is off.

For me, this is one of those borderline useful features that I never really got around to using with any regularity. There are too many taps and swipes needed to use the Floating Bar fluently, and it animates too slowly to really be a time-saver. Thankfully, LG's made it really easy to turn off the Floating Bar once you inevitably decide it's not for you. A simply swipe up to the top will dismiss it forever.

LG software

Speaking of borderline useful: Face unlock! LG has built out this secondary unlock method, which begins scanning as soon as you raise the phone, giving it a speed advantage over Samsung's implementation of this feature. It's technically impressive, though also less secure than a pattern, PIN or fingerprint. And really, with the V30's fingerprint scanner being located in a place you can actually reach, it's just not that necessary. Once the phone is in your hand, it's just as easy to touch the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner.

Subtle improvements throughout the software nudge LG's UI in the right direction.

Other software changes are fairly subtle. Some new widgets, including a larger weather widget have been added to the stock home screen app. The alternative launcher with its own app drawer has been spruced up too — it's no longer just the old launcher from the LG G4. And the software is now based upon Android 7.1.2 — so not Oreo just yet, but at least you have the very latest version of Nougat, which brings helpful additions like app shortcut menus.

LG software