Incredibly solid, slightly improved, and virtually unavailable.
LG's launch of the V30S ThinQ is a bit of an oddball product. Part V30+, part new coat of paint, the V30S ThinQ is sort of a product refresh, but only in the most minimal ways possible. As such, the breakdown of this review will be a little different from most, and we're only going to cover what's really different about this phone over the existing LG V30.
Specs and Design
Despite the fancy name, the internal hardware of the V30S ThinQ is nearly identical to the standard LG V30, with a few notable exceptions. LG has pushed the base storage amount up to 128GB of internal storage, giving users significantly more room to store videos. This is marketed as the content creator's phone, so it's important that creators don't run out of space while filming. 6GB of RAM is an upgrade over the 4GB in the V30 and adds to the already excellent multitasking capabilities of the V30. With Android 8.0 Oreo installed out of the box, there are more multitasking features than ever before too, including floating windows and more robust split-screen support. Everything else is identical here though, from the quad-DAC inside the 3.5mm audio jack to the non-removable 3,300mAh battery inside the IP68 water and dust resistant frame.
The design too is identical, save for one aesthetic feature: the paint job. LG is debuting two brand new colors with the V30S ThinQ; Moroccan Blue and Platinum Grey. The Moroccan Blue we have for review is simply stunning looking; part ocean blue, part cyan, the iridescent hue changes color at every angle and looks slightly different in every kind of light too. It's truly fascinating and makes for one of the most unique colors we've ever seen on a phone, and unfortunately that much harder to cover it up with a case. Despite being made completely of glass on its front and back, the V30S can take a fair bit of wear and tear without breaking. Ours accidentally fell onto some pavement and came away with only a minor ding in the top right corner rather than completely smashed or cracked glass as some other phones with this build would.
There are still a number of things the V30's design does better than almost any other phone on the market, and that directly translates to the V30S ThinQ as well. The bezels on the top and bottom, and then again on the left and right sides are both among the smallest bezels out there and look particularly striking in their design and symmetry. It's thinner than most flagships and weighs very little, all while still feeling and looking premium in every way. LG uses a better vibration motor than almost anyone else out there, and easily the nicest vibration motor amongst any Android-powered flagship on the market. While vibration motors aren't the first thing most people think of when weighing the premium feel of a phone, daily use of a motor like this oozes quality like no other phone. It's the sort of minute difference that can make all the difference in the world, especially when switching back to another phone that doesn't have such a precise, quality motor.
Display and Sound
While there were rumors about LG using higher quality panels in the V30S ThinQ over what we saw in the V30 last Fall, the screen on our V30S is actually slightly worse in overall quality than the one we saw on our V30 review units. LG's OLED panels on this phone aren't the same caliber as its TVs, despite what would seemingly make sense, and often exhibit issues and stark differences between one phone and another. For instance, this screen exhibits lots of "graininess" when directly compared to the V30 we use to film videos on our YouTube channel. This graininess is caused by uniformity issues in the manufacturing process and ultimately means that, on a sub-pixel level, you're getting different colors out of some pixels than with others. While I don't have an issue with this look, it is a display imperfection and is something some panels will suffer from while others won't.
Sound quality is the same from the V30 as well, with the V30S sporting the quad-DAC setup for its 3.5mm audio jack, which delivers the absolute cleanest, clearest and best-balanced sound of any flagship phone on the market. The external speaker isn't improved at all, just a simple, single bottom-firing speaker that delivers fairly mediocre sound in general, although it's at least loud. Bluetooth support is better than ever thanks to the Android 8.0 Oreo update, which now includes Sony's LDAC wireless support on top of the already excellent aptX and aptX HD that the V30 supported on Nougat.
Performance, Features, and Battery Life
LG announced the V30S with its Oreo update, and while most V30 variants have been updated to Oreo at this point, the V30S features little to differentiate it from the standard V30 in terms of features. Android 8.0 Oreo brings along with it some battery life improvements, which are definitely palpable on the V30S ThinQ. There was never an issue getting through a full day, even with upwards of 6 or more hours of screen-on-time and very heavy usage. LG supports the latest in quick charging standards available for the Snapdragon 835 chipset, and you'll find that the battery charges incredibly quickly with both the charger that ships with the phone, as well as any charger rated for the Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 standard. LG also ships the V30S with quick wireless charging support, which will wirelessly charge the phone from empty to full in under 2 hours, but is really more intended for top-ups throughout the day than fast-charging your device for a long evening.
The performance was more of a mixed bag than I expected, especially coming from the regular LG V30. Chock it up to non-native English software or something else, but there's an obvious dichotomy between the V30S's performance and the V30's, even when directly comparing it with the Oreo update for the original V30. Stability is also a bit of an issue, where some apps would crash more often than usual, or some odd compatibility issues were present, such as graphical glitches in certain apps. These are all things that likely would be worked out in the first or second software update, but given the hardware similarities to the original V30, it's surprising to see any such issues exist at all. There are no new features system-wide to speak of, and really only the camera has seen any exclusive update at all on the V30S ThinQ, making the issues present even more perplexing.
LG's camera update is a mix of UI refresh and some back-end changes, but the biggest new additions are QLens and the AI Camera feature. While AI Camera is available in the Oreo update for all V30 models, QLens is an exclusive feature of the V30S ThinQ edition. QLens is LG's version of visual search, but it's not a proprietary set of visual search tools, rather it taps into the power of Amazon and Pinterest to deliver results. From the interface, you'll be able to select either of these options and then take a picture of anything you see, which runs the image through a visual search database and delivers results from the selected source. Visual search can be hit or miss, but it's mostly an excellent experience, and can truly be useful in finding exact products on Amazon quickly, or finding unknown ones on Pinterest.
AI Camera follows in the footsteps of many other OEMs who have been pursuing on-device machine learning to help identify subjects in the viewfinder. The phone takes this information and matches it with a database of image presets, all of which are designed to enhance the look and quality of your pictures automatically. This works well with the Graphy integration LG launched the V30 with last year, but this time around attempts to automatically select such presets instead of having the user choose them manually. Graphy is still available in the manual camera mode, so what we're getting is added functionality that should help those point-and-shoot moments rather than a replacement of what was already an excellent feature.
AI Camera works rather well, but it takes a second or two for the phone to recognize what's in the viewfinder, and subsequently change the scene mode to reflect what's in the shot. A nice animation is presented to make it obvious that the scene mode has changed, and you'll of course get a real-time preview on the viewfinder, which helps let you know if such a preset actually makes the scene look better. Two obvious examples of enhancement include flowers and food, both of which include contrast and saturation enhancements that help make the subjects more pleasing looking in photos, versus the standard auto mode that goes for a better overall balance of the shot.
AI Camera is not the default mode and needs to be selected upon launching the camera software, which is done by selecting the "AI Camera" text just above the shutter button. The move to a separate mode selection for this and QLens shows that LG is trying to prioritize these modes over the other manual ones, which makes it quicker to switch, as well as easier to find for everyone, especially folks that don't typically delve deep into UIs or settings. The only flaw in this design is that the text can be difficult to press sometimes, as it's not a button, but rather actual, clickable text. I've accidentally taken a few pictures while just trying to click the text, and that was certainly an annoyance. LG really needs to move this text outside of the viewfinder to make it easier to select.
Quality overall has been enhanced over the V30, but not in a radical way. The biggest new quality change is Bright Mode, which is automatically activated in either auto or AI Camera modes once detected light has dropped under a certain metric. LG's camera software then attempts to combine pixels on the main rear sensor, called pixel binning, which enhances the light intake abilities of the sensor. At the end of the day, this means the V30S easily competes with the best auto modes out there in low light conditions and, on average, offers a picture with more detail than phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+.
This is particularly obvious when zooming into anything in a scene, where LG's processing is more concerned with keeping detail than filtering out all noise, which in general is the polar opposite of what Samsung seems to be concerned with on its cameras. There are times when this bright mode reduces the overall resolution, and thus zoom detail, but it depends on the amount of light, and in many cases, the additional light intake may be more desirable than enhanced zoom resolution.
When directly comparing low light and night time shots with the Galaxy S9, for example, the V30S comes ahead in overall detail, while the Galaxy S9 tends to take in more light and create a slightly brighter scene. The only exceptions to this are in very dark situations, where there's almost no light at all, and the V30S's sensor can be seen struggling to take in more light via higher ISO methods, which can create a slight blue hue at the edges of the shot, and subsequently cause detail to be removed. Out of the dozen or so sample shots we took, this only happened in a single one, and such situations are not typical situations that would likely be photographed. When comparing the V30 with the V30S's updated software, there's a clear difference in color accuracy in darker situations too, and the V30S pulls ahead significantly in these situations.
Dynamic range continues to be the weakest point of the V30S's camera, like the V30, and you'll find shots with extreme contrasting light sources, dark shadows with a strong backlight for instance, will either turn out overly dark or overexposed. This is typically only in extreme circumstances and is generally not an issue in most situations, but it's notable that this can mar pictures due to the fact that parts of shots will be overly bright or overly dark. The LG V30S ThinQ's camera tends to win in more situations than not, and overall can be considered a truly excellent camera by any measurement, particularly when it comes to color accuracy and overall detail in a scene.
The front-facing camera offers no hardware improvements at all, just like the rest of the camera hardware, but LG's updated software better handles light and color balance when compared to what we see on the V30 on Android Nougat. Still, this is the lowest resolution camera, and the smallest sensor, of any major flagship phone, and unfortunately suffers from these physical limitations. Most front-facing shots from the V30S simply don't look good; they're too low resolution to ever truly look sharp, and the small sensor has such dynamic range limitations that most pictures just look dated. LG's software improvements definitely help in some regards, but there's only so much saving that can be done with a sensor this size.
Gorgeous new colors
Same great, light build
New Bright Mode enhances low-light photography
Camera is excellent in overall
Wide-angle lens is more useful than a secondary zoom lens
Graphy integration is slick, AI camera helps integrate some of these features automatically
3.5mm audio jack with quad-DAC
Ships with Android Oreo
Improved multitasking thanks to additional RAM
Tons of internal storage space
Good battery life
Best vibration motor on any Android phone
The screen still has quality issues
Front-facing camera is mostly bad
Single bottom-firing speaker
Not available in all regions
Using an older processor
Some odd bugs not present on the standard V30
The LG V30 was easily one of the best phones of 2017, and while LG has provided a refreshed model with new colors and updated specs, it hasn't changed much about the phone overall. While the V30S ThinQ remains one of the best Android-powered phones you can buy, many of its functionalities have been eclipsed by other competitors since then, such as stereo speakers, new processors, more camera options, and the overall feature list of the OS. It's also unclear whether or not LG is even going to offer the phone outside of an unlocked model online, and thus availability of the device is likely to be minimal at best in most regions of the world. Without regional pricing, it's rather difficult to make a specific recommendation as to who this phone would be good for, but in most cases, it's likely that the original LG V30 is the better buy for many folks, especially with the reduced prices we've seen for it in recent weeks.
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