LG V30 Review – The Ultimate Creativity Tool

October 12, 2017 - Written By Nick Sutrich

The True Content Creator’s Smartphone

Two years ago, LG launched their first creator-focused smartphone, the LG V10. This phone focused more on the camera experience than we’d ever seen from a smartphone before, offering manual options for anything and everything you could think of. The V10, and subsequently last year’s V20, significantly changed expectations of what a smartphone camera can achieve with their advanced manual camera modes. This year LG is stepping up the game in every way, from a bezel-less OLED display on the front, to a waterproof metal and glass build, and even improvements to the already amazing cameras from previous phones. This $799 package is shaping up to be the ultimate smartphone in 2017, but does it have what it takes to unseat the champs? Let’s take a look.

Video Review

Specs

LG is selling the V30 through the usual channels, including unlocked via online retailers, or through your carrier of choice. In general though you’ll find the V30 retails for around $799, and comes in Cloud Silver and Moroccan Blue colors. For the first time since the G-Flex 2, you’ll find a brand new P-OLED display in place of LG’s traditional IPS LCD displays. This 6-inch display features a Quad-HD+ (1440 x 2880, 538 PPI) resolution 18:9 panel with nearly zero bezels all around, and is covered in Gorilla Glass 5. It’s also both Dolby Vision and HDR10 compliant. Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset with Adreno 540 GPU, 4GB of LPDDR4X ram and either 64GB or 128GB of Toshiba UFS 2.1 (THGAF4G9N4LBAIRB) internal storage, all with microSD card support for expandable storage.

Just above the display, tucked away in the tiny bezel, is a small ⅕” 5-megapixel Hynix HI-553 camera sensor with 1.12-micron sized pixels and an f/2.2 lens. Around back is the usual LG dual camera setup, with a main 16-megapixel Sony Exmor IMX351 sensor with 1.0-micron sized pixels and f/1.6 71-degree angle lens, featuring 3-axis OIS, as well as both laser and phase detection autofocus. The secondary 13-megapixel Samsung S5K3M3 camera sensor features 1.0-micron sized pixels and an f/1.9 120-degree wide-angle lens. A non-removable 3,300mAh battery is found under the sealed glass back, and supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0. The V30 measures in at 151.7mm tall, 75.4mm wide and 7.4mm thin, with a rather light weight of 158g.

Android 7.1.2 Nougat ships with the phone with LG UX 6.0+ running on top, and an expected Android 8.0 Oreo update sometime soon after launch. Bluetooth 5.0 is supported here, along with advanced aptX and aptX HD wireless audio. 32-bit high-res audio is supported via the 3.5mm quad-DAC port (ESS Technology SABRE ES9218P), and the phone even supports 24-bit audio recording too through the Receiver as a Mic (RAM). The USB Type-C port on the bottom features USB 3.1 speeds. Dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi is supported up to 802.11ac speeds, and you’ll of course find an NFC radio inside as well.

In The Box

The contents of the box are rather slim, with the focus being on the phone more than anything else. Right up top is a microfiber cleaning cloth to keep the all glass and extra shiny metal V30 looking clean and new. Underneath the phone is an 18W Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 rated charger, as well as a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable. Backing up the phone is a warranty card that’s good for an incredible 2-year warranty; double what most OEMs offer. Some V30 units also come with a pair of B&O Play earbuds, which are absolutely phenomenal earbuds to say the least.

Display

It hasn’t been since the LG G-Flex 2 that we’ve seen an OLED screen on an LG mobile phone. This P-OLED, as LG calls it, is similar in some ways to what the company has been making both in the smartwatch market, as well as its highly regarded OLED TVs. LG is also pushing the small bezel game further than they ever have before, improving the bezels even over the LG G6, a phone that proved you can have a huge display while still retaining a small form factor. The 6-inch Quad-HD+ (1440 x 2880) display on the V30 fits better inside the frame of the phone than the G6’s 5.7-inch display, although it retains the same 18:9 (2:1) aspect ratio from that phone. This means some apps will have to be stretched or zoomed to scale properly, but most apps handle this new aspect ratio without issue.

OLEDs strengths are many, and while this display is ultimately not as perfect looking as Samsung’s AMOLED displays on the Galaxy Note 8 or Galaxy S8 line are, it’s easily the best display LG has ever put on any mobile phone by far. The contrast ratio is incredible, and black levels are of course perfect thanks to OLED’s per-pixel lighting technology, which doesn’t require a backlight to illuminate the display. Because of this you’ll find that there’s no light bleeding from the edges, and pixels won’t fade when looking at them from the side. There is some color shifting when looking at the display from an angle, pushing the normally warm hue of the display to a much cooler, bluer one.

This color shifting is a bit odd for an OLED, as any color shifting is usually caused by the oleophobic coating on the glass rather than shifting of the panel itself, although without taking the glass off it would be difficult to determine the reasoning for the shifting. It doesn’t look all that odd though simply because so many displays already exhibit a cooler tone to them, and while you’ll certainly notice the difference when looking at the display straight on, it might not be so noticeable to folks looking at the phone with you. Outdoor visibility is not affected by this color change at all, and in fact you’ll find it’s incredibly easy to see the V30’s display outdoors, no matter how sunny it is.

Panel uniformity is perfect thanks to the fact that OLED’s pixel illumination methodology is done via individual pixels and not via a backlight that can easily exhibit light bleeding or uneven surface lighting. Despite some reports we’ve seen during the preview period with the device, both our preview device, as well as the final retail unit, never showed signs of panel color uniformity issues, and looks fine at any brightness. When we test panel uniformity we use three different solid color backgrounds: 100% white, 100% black and 50% gray. Each of these are then tested at the panel’s lowest and highest brightness, as well as a 50% brightness test. You’ll also find no issues with pixel refresh rates or pixel persistence rates of any kind, and this panel is an excellent performer for VR for many reasons, as we’ll cover below.

One of the biggest changes with the V30 over it’s predecessors, aside from the big LCD to OLED one of course, is the lack of a second screen on the V30. This secondary screen was one of the biggest differentiating factors between the previous two V-series phones and others on the market. LG has instead replaced this secondary screen with a floating bar that functions identically. This floating bar normally resides on the side of the screen, and can be dragged to either the left or right side, and subsequently dragged vertically to any place on either side as well. Clicking the bar expands it, taking up about as much physical room on the screen as the original secondary screen would have taken up. The change from physical to virtual second screen has its positives and negatives, but it’s mostly a positive affair.

LG has dabbled in always-on screen functionality before, but this is the most robust version of that functionality we’ve ever seen. The V10 and V20 both kept the secondary ticker screen on at all times by default, displaying important information like missed calls, messages, battery life, time and more. LG’s new always-on screen functionality is a full screen affair, and as expected it’s a mostly black screen with just a few pieces of text or graphics to display information. LG ties Samsung’s excellent always-on screen technology in many ways with their own designs and levels of customization, but the robust theme support Samsung has isn’t quite there yet on LG’s side. There are about a dozen different types of designs out of the box, and some allow you to customize them too, changing colors or even selecting a custom image to display.

What LG does better, however, is provide easy access to quick toggles without having to turn the screen on. Swiping left or right on the battery indicator at the top of the always-on screen reveals a row of quick toggles that are unbelievably handy. From here you can quickly launch the camera, take a note, toggle wifi, bluetooth or the mute functionality, and even toggle the flashlight, all without having to turn the screen on. There’s even an option to brighten the always-on display if it’s typically too dim, and a way to have it timeout during parts of the day (usually during the same time as Do Not Disturb would be enabled, for instance). Since this is an OLED display, you should expect near-zero battery drain from enabling this feature since it only lights up a few pixels on the screen.

Hardware and Build

While it was initially thought that LG would curve the screen of the V30 much in the same way Samsung curves the edges of its phones, only the glass itself has a slight curve to it. This makes the edges smoother and helps the display look more like it’s floating just underneath the glass, however it doesn’t provide the same type of functionality that Samsung’s Edge Display does. LG has also shrunken the bezels on the V30 to the smallest the company has ever produced, with almost non-existent bezels all the away around the phone. There’s no notch or cutout as some other phones have here, but there’s also no place where only the frame extends outside of the displays visual field like those phones have either. Regardless of this, the uniformity of bezel size on all sides helps make the bezels seem like they aren’t there at all, and after only a brief period of time it’s likely you’ll not even see them existing.

As this phone is made entirely of glass and metal like the LG G6 was, it’s a little more fragile than a metal phone would be. Having a glass back helps LG give it the same IP68 water and dust resistance that the G6 carries, but it also makes this the most fragile V-series phone yet. This has been a slow trend in the V-series, with the original’s tough rubber exterior to the V20’s metal exterior, and while it’s still MIL certified to withstand specific durability tests, it’s most certainly not drop resistant the way we’ve seen previous generation phones. Fragility leads way to beauty in this case though, and the round, shiny and chrome trim, combined with the glass back and lack of bezels, makes the V30 one seriously gorgeous phone. All of LG’s typical button placements are here, with the power button/fingerprint scanner residing on the back in the usual centered place, to the volume rocker on the left side.

Those that have used Android phones with rear-mounted fingerprint scanners will know that most are very comfortable to use, and the V30 fits right in with this ideal. The right side of the phone holds only the combination SIM card/microSD card tray, while the top of the phone houses the right-leaning (from the front) 3.5mm audio jack, as well as a noise cancelling microphone. The unfortunate part about this headphone jack placement is that you’ll have cords sticking out both the top and bottom if you need to charge while listening, but at least such a thing is still an option with LG’s phones. Along the bottom sits a single speaker, centered USB Type-C port, and another microphone. Along the back, above the fingerprint reader, is the horizontally mounted dual camera module. This module design is nearly identical to other LG phones and features both a regular and wide angle lens alongside a number of other sensors. Another microphone is also located back here for proper directional recording capabilities.

Just as we’ve seen with other so-called bezel-less phones on the market, the V30 doesn’t feel anywhere near as large as the 6-inch screen might make it sound. Helping matters further is the tall screen, pushing the same 18:9 aspect ratio as well saw on the G6, and ultimately making the phone feel considerably smaller than it would otherwise. LG has rounded all the edges, both front and back, and devised an incredibly thin phone by any accounts. It’s also very light for it’s size; somewhere much closer to a 5.5-inch or smaller device at 158 grams. All these factors together make the V30 one of the most pleasant phones to use on the market, despite the screen size, and lend to the fact that this phone is simply a joy to use.

What bezels?

Haptic feedback is something not often considered when looking for a new phone, but every now and then an OEM pays attention to the little details and nails this setting just right. LG has placed advanced HD vibration motors in the V30 that feel soft and subtle, creating a gentler vibration experience than most phones. These motors are similar to what’s inside the Nintendo Switch’s controllers, if you’ve ever used them. What’s more are the places that haptic feedback truly makes a difference for the experience. When pressing the camera shutter button, for instance, the phone gives a nice click sound and emits a short, hard vibration that feels like a physical button was pressed. When the phone rings, the phone will vibrate to the tune of the song, which adds a really amazing effect to something as simple as your phone ringing. There are plenty of little places throughout the UI experience where this type of vibration makes the phone feel like more of a visceral experience, and really adds a depth to UI design that typically isn’t present.

Performance and Memory

As a top-tier 2017 flagship phone, you should and can expect top-tier performance from the V30. Utilizing the same Snapdragon 835 chipset as other Fall 2017 flagships, the SoC inside the V30 is an upgrade to the one found in Spring’s G6 in almost every way. As it’s pushing the same resolution screen as the G6 with a processor and GPU boost, it’s pretty obvious why the phone feels so blazing fast all the time. Combine this with Toshiba UFS 2.1 (THGAF4G9N4LBAIRB) storage and you’ll quickly understand that LG has outfitted the V30 with the highest end components available right now. To ensure excellent gaming performance and battery life, LG has added a new Game Tools feature that allows you to quickly take screenshots and adjust graphics options without having to leave your game.

Multi-tasking is exactly what you would expect too, even though the V30 doesn’t boast as much RAM as some other flagships. 4GB is still more than enough for a smooth experience, even with the latest heavyweight apps, and it’ll be a rarity to ever see an app reload when switching back and forth between them. The usual Nougat-powered split screen is available as expected, giving the ability to easily run two apps at once. As we pointed out in the G6 review, the 18:9 aspect ratio of the display is actually 2:1 if you properly list the fraction, which means a perfect square for each app to reside in when being used in multi-window mode. There’s no support for floating windows or resizable windows though, at least not until Oreo comes along, so you’ll have to do without that at launch.

VR Capability

As the V30 now features an OLED screen with incredibly low pixel persistence rates, as well as the latest in mobile processing power, it officially supports Google’s Daydream VR program. This means you can dock the V30 into any one of the available Daydream compatible headsets and enjoy some of the best experiences mobile VR can bring. Check out our Google Daydream Review from last year to learn about the platform, and know that the ecosystem is well over 10 times larger now than it was when our review was published, making it a very viable system for apps, games and all sorts of other content too.

Benchmarks

As a phone that utilizes the same top-tier SoC as any other 2017 flagship device, you should expect the phone to be placed somewhere near the top. Even the Toshiba UFS 2.1 storage inside is a perfect match for Samsung’s best UFS 2.1 storage, which is used in most flagships now, and averages out just as fast as those chips. See the results of the benchmark suite we run for each phone, including 3DMark Slingshot, GeekBench 4, AnTuTu V6 and Futuremark’s PCMark internal storage test.

Wireless Connectivity

The V30 is sold through carriers directly in the US, and you’ll find a number of different variants of the phone out there as well. LG will also be selling an unlocked version that should work with all carriers, but our review unit is a T-Mobile branded one, and stocks of the unlocked V30 look to be pretty thin at launch time. The V30 supports everything you would expect in a Fall 2017 flagship though, including Cat 6 LTE speeds, carrier aggregation, WiFi Calling and VoLTE calling as well.

There’s even an FM Radio inside the V30, although you’ll need to plug in headphones to get a signal, since it relies on the wire to do that job. Phone call quality was fantastic, with great volume levels and excellent clarity, especially when VoLTE HD calling is enabled. Dual-band WiFi for 2.4GHz or 5GHz connections up to 802.11ac speeds are supported, and the signal strength of both WiFi and cell radios are absolutely fantastic on this phone. NFC is also supported for mobile payment systems like Android Pay, and Bluetooth 5.0 brings further range for existing devices, and more bandwidth to the table for new supported devices too.

Battery Life

3,300mAh is a pretty average size for a phone that fits into the phablet category, but the V30 strives for above average battery life on the usual day. I never ran across a single time where I had to charge the phone before the end of the day, no matter what I was doing on it. Playing games, watching movies, taking pictures or tons of video; none of it mattered, the V30 lasted through a full day, every single day. At this time of writing the phone has been off the charger for 4 hours and it’s still at 95%, and most days would end with at least 30% battery left, with the average well above 40% too. I ended up with a Screen on Time of close to an hour longer than I would get out of most flagships too, which is a big deal in my book.

Even if you need a quick top-up, the V30 supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0, so any QC3.0 rated charger, including the one in the box, will charge the phone quickly. While this is no longer the quickest charging on the market, it will still charge the battery to 60% in about 30 minutes, and has a significantly larger portion of supported accessories than other charging methods. LG also supports Fast Wireless Charging out of the box, meaning a 10W charge via any standard Qi or PMA type wireless charger.

Sound

Sound is an area where LG has paid specific attention to when building the V30, and everything here shows the care and quality put into the V30’s design. As we’ve seen on previous V-series phones, the V30 features a quad-DAC, which is hooked up to the all-important 3.5mm audio jack up top. All four DACs (digital-to-analog converters) work in tandem to help reduce regular white noise in audio sources by up to 50%, and help to deliver the cleanest, clearest sound you’ll find on any smartphone, anywhere. On top of this, LG delivers high-resolution 32-bit audio through the same DACs, bringing you the finest wired audio experience available.

Even wireless audio is completely covered too, as LG has not only added Bluetooth 5.0, but also supports up to aptX HD quality as well. Bluetooth 5.0 is enough of an upgrade as it is, enabling devices to communicate with the phone up to four times further, and doubling the theoretical bandwidth limits from previous versions of Bluetooth. On top of this, aptX HD brings true high-resolution audio support via 48kHz / 24bit LPCM audio through supported Bluetooth devices, meaning you can ditch the cord without sacrificing audio quality. Regular aptX higher quality Bluetooth is also supported. This gives users a true choice between audio peripherals without having to throw away the ones they love.

The on-board speaker, located on the bottom of the phone, is certainly better than your average bottom-firing single speaker. It’s about on par with what LG has been including in its phones for the last few generations, which is to say a single speaker that’s clean, clear and loud. 1W is quite a bit of power for such a tiny thing, but it’s the position of the speaker that’s more of the issue than the quality or volume levels. Residing on the bottom means it’s super easy to cover with your hand when holding the phone in portrait mode, and even in landscape the audio is going to be positioned away from your ears, unless you cup the device.

Thankfully the microphones on the V30 don’t suffer from such positional issues. In fact the positional microphones on the V30 are among the absolute best in the industry, delivering great positional audio with virtually no distortion, no matter the volume. This positional audio is also available in the built-in sound recorder as well as the camera. On top of this everything can be recorded in the same 24-bit audio quality that the phone can play back, meaning you can record high-resolution audio just as easily as you can play it back. Noise cancellation is among the absolute best too, with excellent software driving the back-end experience, delivering clean audio without loads of background noise, even in noisy environments.

Software

LG’s Android skin hasn’t changed drastically in quite some time, and while it received a facelift with last year’s Android 7.0 Nougat release, the actual software itself isn’t all that different from what it once was. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering LG has tons of great features to get excited about, but it’s feeling a little outdated in some ways when compared to the flashy Samsung Experience skin or Google’s own smooth and sleek Pixel UI. LG uses a high-contrast color scheme, as well as packing in tons of options and settings to tweak. The biggest downside I could find right off the bat with this skin is its inability to quickly adjust WiFi settings from the notification shade. Sure you can toggle them on/off with a single press, or long press to go to WiFi settings, but there’s no drop-down selector to quickly change WiFi access points without having to navigate away from the primary app on the screen.

On the bright side LG has a pretty robust theme engine, with a pretty good selection of both professional and user generated content to choose from. Navigation and filtering in this theme app could be better, as it’s difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for sometimes, but what is here looks great. Home screen elements and system elements alike are themed too, meaning you can get a completely new look for your V30 anytime you’d like. Most elements come as a package though, so while you can piecemeal the usual wallpaper and ringtones, other themeable elements are not able to be selected apart from one another.

Since LG’s secondary display has now been moved to a virtual floating bar, it makes far more sense to cover its functionality here.  In this floating panel you’ll find the same types of shortcuts that previous V-series phones featured,including quick shortcuts for commonly used apps, commonly contacted people, system actions and more. It’s not clear whether LG plans to expand the functionality of this bar the way Samsung allows developers to make panels for it’s Edge Displays, but what LG provides is a very valuable set of tools that you will quickly find yourself using all the time. I constantly found myself jumping into the bar to quickly switch between commonly used apps, and it’s a great way to reach people you commonly text or call without having to navigate back home, to the dialer and then finding said contact.

As this floating bar can be moved anywhere around the screen, it’s far easier to use than the secondary screen that used to be at the top of the phone. Being a phone with a 6-inch screen already means it’s large enough without having to reach your thumb all the way to the top for a quick button press. This will undoubtedly cause more people to use the bar than might have before, and while the separate display for these things will certainly be missed for a number of reasons, the change is overall very positive in its approach. There’s also some excellent GIF making and screenshot functionality in here too, giving you quick and easy ways to doodle on the screen and share it.

LG has added in a new facial recognition technology to the V30, powered by Sensory’s TrulySecure facial recognition technology. LG partnered with Sensory for the V30 specifically to provide a facial recognition suite that’s touted to be both more secure than other facial recognition methods, as well as keeping all the private data associated with this off the cloud. Much of Sensory’s marketing speak sounds identical to Google’s, in that it uses neural nets and deep learning to recognize organic elements of a user’s face rather than relying on simple facial structure or patterns to unlock the device. Sensory cites a 99.999% accuracy rate in identifying the correct individual, and also attempts to prevent unlocks by simple mechanisms like pictures or video. All this is done without extra hardware, and only utilizes the front-facing camera for recognition.

Sensory’s TrulyHandsFree voice recognition technology is also on board, working in tandem with Qualcomm’s integrated solution, bringing what’s again touted as a more secure way to unlock your phone without much effort. Just like the Qualcomm method some other phones use, the Sensory method works by creating your own unlock word, and then works via ultra low power chips inside the phone to listen for that keyword while the device is locked. This method doesn’t drain the battery at all (or rather it’s completely unnoticeable thanks to the ultra low power chips), and doesn’t require any user feedback outside of the initial setup. Just like the facial recognition, this voice data is only stored on the phone and is never uploaded to the cloud, ensuring data security.

In general these methods both work incredibly well, although voice recognition is likely the better way to unlock the phone between the two, if only because it’s the more reliable method. While the face unlock works incredibly well in most cases, even dark rooms, it doesn’t work so well when things like hats or sunglasses are worn. If you train the phone to recognize your face with these accessories on, however, the accuracy skyrockets, but I still had plenty of times where sunglasses would cause face unlock to fail completely. What’s particularly cool about LG’s method is that it doesn’t require you to turn the screen on to get it working; simply hold it up and the phone unlocks within a second or two, but it’s this extra time over just using the excellent fingerprint scanner on back that may keep people from using it as their primary unlock method. We also tried tricking it using pictures and video, but couldn’t get it to unlock using these methods at all. While this isn’t necessarily an extensive security test by any means, it’s likely as far as anyone would be able to go when trying to unlock your phone via sneaky methods.

Camera Software

The G6 introduced some minor changes to the software, and the V30 furthers those changes as well. Previous V-series phone owners will be happy to find some new icons and mode layouts, making everything a lot easier to find this time around. Aside from better organization of modes and sub-features, LG has added the ability to zoom by just dragging the camera shutter button (the white circle) up or down. LG has also added in a handful of new modes, one of which is easily one of the nicest, most professional modes ever to grace a smartphone camera. Cine Video mode takes some of the features that were found in the V10 and V20, and upgrades them significantly.

Last year we saw LG introduce live filters for video, giving a more cinematic look to your videos on the V20. This year they’ve expanded that line, and even given more tools to enhance the cinematic experience. On top of this you’ll find a new cinematic zoom mode within Cine Video, which allows you to click in a space anywhere inside the viewfinder and zoom in with smoothness that other smartphones could only dream of. This mode makes it appear like you have a physical lens that’s capable of analog-style zoom instead of being an all-digital camera. The effect is slow and methodical, and looks simply incredible during a shot.

LG has also created a brand new marketplace for manual photography mode called Graphy. This marketplace gives content creators an easy way to search for manual photo mode presets that other creators use and upload to the site. These presets range from specific ISO and shutter settings to filter settings, white balance modes and everything inbetween. LG’s goal was to make it easier for content creators to find the look they want without having to worry about changing every little setting in the manual mode, all without taking away the powerful functionality that LG’s incredible manual mode presents. All of Graphy’s installed presets are viewable via a scrolling row of thumbnails in the manual photo mode, and any added from the marketplace are put in this list as well. It’s as effortless as it can get, without a doubt, but the downside is that this is restricted to manual photo mode, and not available on manual video or Cine Video modes.

Once again LG has the best manual mode in the industry by far, giving options to users that simply aren’t available on any other smartphone. In fact it’s this mode that LG is hoping will rope in folks looking to make YouTube videos and other online content solely with their phone, and it’s in this viewpoint that LG has absolutely conquered the competition. Every single thing you could think of is available and ready for adjustment, from the volume recording levels and quality, to manual camera options like ISO, shutter speed, manual focus with focus peaking, and even bit rate. LG offers the ability to record in LG-Cine Log too, allowing for greater flexibility with things like color correction, HDR video and everything else that comes with Log recording. A friendly grid will help you with shot placement, and there are even plenty of resolutions and aspect ratios to select from in recording too. Steady Recording and Tracking focus (OIS + EIS) are available at 21:9 FHD (2560×1080) resolutions and lower, and there’s even the ability to record HiFi audio straight from the phone’s microphones too.

The interface resembles other mobile phones in many ways, but offers plenty of differentiation too. A dedicated camera shutter button and record button reside next to each other on one side, and the shutter button can be dragged up and down to zoom. On the other side of the screen is a horizontal scrolling gallery of photos, keeping you from having to go out of the camera just to few the last few photos and videos. Just below that are the usual set of toggle buttons, and along the middle are the quick toggles to move between the standard and wide angle lenses. The V30 will automatically switch between both lenses when zooming in or out, if you’d prefer to activate them that way. A new Signature setting can be enabled to watermark images when taking them, but watermark images are not supported for this function, only text. You can add your own font to the mix if you so desire, otherwise you can choose between seven built-in fonts.

LG has included more modes than you can shake a stick at, but the V30 does modes differently than most phones do. Instead of having different modes just for different shot types, LG reserves most modes specifically for layouts or special features instead. Shooting modes include Auto, Manual Photo, Manual Video, Cine Video, Slo-Mo, Time-Lapse, Panorama and 360 Panorama. Layout modes include Snap Shot, Match Shot, Grid Shot, Guide Shot, Food, Snap Movie and Popout. While the shot modes are self explanatory, the layout modes may not be. Snap Shot gives you a split screen view to quickly review a photo’s quality without ever leaving the viewfinder, while Guide Shot overlays an image on top of the viewfinder to help you better align your shot. Match shot presents a split view and aims to use both front and rear-facing cameras for a “whole scene” type of shot, while Grid Shot allows you to create a collage of photos without ever having to leave the viewfinder. This is absolutely amazing camera software and design, and it’s a great upgrade over the somewhat confusing camera software LG has had in the past.

Camera Performance and Results

Last year’s V20 had some issues around its launch window with camera software speed, particularly when it came to launching. LG rectified those issues with a later update, and this year LG’s camera software redesign is showing faster launch times than we’ve ever seen from an LG phone before. Double-tapping the volume down button while the screen is off will launch the camera in 1 to 1.5 seconds most of the time, putting the V30 at the top of the charts for camera software launching speed. The biggest downside is the lack of a button combination to quickly launch the camera software while the screen is on, something most Android phones don’t have to deal with. There appears to be no way to allow double-tapping of the power button to function this way as it does on other phones, and means it’s annoying to launch the camera quickly when the screen is on, unless of course you reserve a specific section in the floating bar for the camera icon.

Focusing speeds are lightning fast, and about on par with the best on the market (Samsung Galaxy S7/S8/Note 8, HTC U11). Refocusing happens faster than the blink of an eye, and LG’s interface shows the focal points that were used to make the calculation. The only issues happen in photo mode, where the phone forces itself to refocus before taking the shot. This results in a delay when pressing the shutter button, and I found that, in some cases, it could take longer than one second for the phone to take a photo after pressing the shutter button. This delay time is irritating, and many times cost me a shot of my son or other fast moving object since it delayed the shot. It’s strange that this delay even exists at all given the fact that the phone will rapidly refocus on command in the viewfinder, but the software doesn’t seem to accept this autofocus as valid before taking the shot. This would be an easy fix via a software update since it’s a behavioral problem rather than a hardware or autofocus calculation issue.

Photos in general are superb, and border among some of the nicest photos you’ll find out there. Well-lit shots feature some absolutely mind-blowing detail thanks both to the 16-megapixel sensor on the main camera, as well as some generally good processing on LG’s part. Color accuracy and white balance calculation are a big step up from the V20 last year, and I almost never found a photo that had weird white balance issues. The V30’s biggest problems lie in dynamic range and low light. In areas where high dynamic range is required, the V30’s sensor seems to be lacking a bit in this department, but forcing HDR to be enabled helps considerably, and it even improves the zoom detail significantly in lower light photos.

This brings me to the conclusion that the HDR mode needs to be far more aggressive than it currently is, as it produces a better picture almost without exception. Keeping HDR on, therefore, should be a recommended practice; at least our test results show that it’s more worth it to force it on than to leave it on auto. Even so, on the default auto mode you’ll find the phone takes excellent pictures in general even in moderate lighting conditions. As the light dwindles though, you’ll start to run into limitations brought on by a sensor that a relatively small pixel size to density ratio. Smaller pixels mean the sensor physically cannot bring in as much light as larger pixels would be able to, and while LG’s famed f/1.6 glass lens on the back certainly helps the phone bring in more light than the V20 or G6 could, it can’t compete with larger sensors like the ones packed inside the Google Pixel or Galaxy S/Note lines.

On auto mode, dark scenes will appear darker on the V30 versus some other phones, which is something less than expected on a modern high-end smartphone. What is visible however, exhibits excellent detail, even in super low light. LG also keeps the ISO high and the shutter speed relatively fast, often not going slower than 1/13th of a second, even in super low light conditions. This helps to keep hand jitter and blur out of a shot, and in general keeps the shots from the V30 crisp and clean, even in the dark. While LG’s auto mode might not get it right in darker conditions all the time, Graphy helps users quickly and easily select a manual preset that’s made for lower light photography. Because of LG’s excellent image stabilization, I found it possible to roll the shutter as slow as 0.8 seconds without introducing hand jitter to the scene. This combined with high ISO selections in manual mode, up to 6400, give true control over low light photography if you want to try your hand at it.

The wide angle lens on the back is still one of the biggest advantages LG has over any competitor, especially those that have chosen a zoom lens for their secondary cameras. While zoom lenses are cute and can be positive for specific scenarios, their use is very limited. Wide-angle lenses, on the other hand, come in handy far more often, as it’s more likely you’ll be taking pictures of groups of people, locations or other scenarios where fitting more into a picture is more valuable than zooming into something a tad, or taking a portrait picture. The sensor LG chose for the wide-angle camera is excellent too, proving to be the best secondary sensor yet on any LG phone with such a lens.

The wide angle camera has a fixed infinity focus, meaning everything in the shot is in focus rather than only parts of the image. This means you never have to worry about autofocus not doing what it should, or focusing on the wrong place, especially if you end up using it to take group selfies or something similar. LG automatically swaps between sensors as you zoom in or out too, giving you the option to use this method, or the dedicated buttons up top for this functionality. LG’s new lens has significantly toned down edge distortion over previous LG phones, meaning the odd fisheye effect is lessened considerably over previous entries.

The front-facing camera borders on mediocre most of the time, and it’s mainly because the sensor is incredibly tiny. The negative of the tiny bezel design all the way around is that LG didn’t give room for a larger camera module on front, and as a result had to go with the lower quality Hynix HI-553 sensor. This ⅕” sensor is the smallest front-facing camera on any flagship, and the quality shows. You’d never know this was a 5-megapixel camera, as the photos from it are always a low quality, low resolution looking effort. There’s a semi-wide angle lens here, and the ability to crop that lens to take out distortion if you’d like, and on the bright side the 1.12-micron sized pixels are larger than what’s in the rear cameras. HDR mode is very fake looking though, and suffers from old HDR problems like halowing. Still it’s not great, but will suffice for the usual social media type posts at the very least; just don’t expect anyone to say wow when they see photos from it.

Video and manual modes are the real meat of the experience, and you may find yourself using these modes more often than not, especially if you’re a content creator. LG has marketed the V-series as the content creator’s phone since the V10’s debut, and that mantra means more than ever with the V30. LG has ironed out the weird layout and speed issues of the camera software from past V-series phones, and in its place is an experience like no other. Blazing fast, full of every option you could ever think of, and with new filters and community resources there’s simply nothing like it anywhere else. Looking for a photo that looks more like The Matrix, or that quaint love story in Paris? Look no further than Graphy, an amazing collection of user and professionally created presets for the manual photo mode that are literally a single button press away.

These, combined with the manual photo and video modes, as well as the filtered CineVideo mode, bring the complete creator’s package together, and make this the perfect 4K YouTube camera. There’s even HDR support via the LG-Cinelog feature in manual video mode, enabling 10-bit recording on the sensor and giving power users the ability to enable HDR color settings within their favorite video app, as well as all the power and flexibility that color correction brings in post-processing. It’s an unbelievably easy to way to make movies and other content that looks just as high quality as you would expect out of a dedicated camera that costs far more. There’s even excellent options for recording high-res audio via the on-board directional microphones with wind filter, or your own external mic if you prefer. Image stabilization during video is good, but in 4K video exhibits the normal warping effect that OIS stabilization can bring. Dropping the quality to 1080p opens up the option to use an OIS+EIS methodology that brings considerably better stabilized video, and a trade-off that’s totally worth it if you’re filming something with lots of movement. Check out the full gallery of pictures and videos taken during the review below.

The Good

Killer design

Beautiful OLED screen

HDR10 and Dolby Vision support

Ultra small bezels

IP68 water and dust resistance

Floating bar is ultra useful

Always-on screen is excellent

2-year warranty

Excellent battery life

microSD card support

3.5mm audio jack

aptx and aptx HD support

Great battery life

Wireless charging

Daydream VR capability

Handy new facial and voice recognition for unlocking

Absolutely phenomenal camera software

Graphy makes manual mode easy via presets

Amazing image stabilization

Wide angle secondary camera

High-res audio playback and recording

4K HDR Video recording with Cinelog support

The Bad

Front facing camera isn’t good

Low light photos can be a bit dark on auto mode

Conclusion

The laundry list of positives on the V30 are absolutely staggering to say the least, and the V30 offers more bang for your buck in more areas than most smartphones can claim. It’s not the cheapest phone available, but it’s also not the most expensive flagship out there either, all while not sacrificing any of the important parts that we expect from a 2017 flagship phone. Near zero bezels, killer performance, a screen that’s more capable than others, incredible high quality audio output and a camera that’s worthy of the title “The Content Creator’s Phone” are what make up the V30, and there’s so much more than that too. It’s not just one of the greatest smartphones ever made, it’s also the ultimate creativity tool.

Buy LG V30

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