LG V30

The LG V30 stands out from the competition enough to be considered LG’s true flagship phone for 2017, not the LG G6, its impressive, albeit instantly outmatched smartphone from six months ago. 

That’s an unexpected relief because the LG V20 came onto the scene last year and its rivals frankly picked apart everything unique it had going for it. The HTC U Ultra lifted the second screen for notifications, and just about every flagship phone now utilizes a dual-lens camera. 

So how has LG’s experimental smartphone branch move forward? By focusing on the subtleties and producing its most bold, feature-packed device yet.

We’ve spent more time with a pre-production LG V30 unit since its IFA 2017 debut and have worked to scoop through each and every feature (there are many) to be found within LG’s latest smartphone. 

While we’re withholding a score until we receive a final unit, you’ll find our full impressions below. If the software or hardware should change during the move between units, we’ll be certain to note those changes and the effects that they have on the overall experience, if at all.

LG V30 price and release date

  • Pricing and availability details still unknown at this time
  • Will likely be available unlocked and compatible with most carriers
  • Like the V20, it will probably be very expensive

For the first time, LG’s V-series smartphone will be more broadly available across the globe. Having been limited to just the US, Australia and part of Asia, the V30 is making the jump to multiple regions, of which we’ll confirm once we hear from LG directly.

As for the price, LG hasn’t shared that information just yet. The LG V20 debuted for a rather costly $799 (AU$1,099), so the V30 is likely to follow suit. We’ll be updating this section with information we receive from carriers following today’s announcement.

Watch our hands on video review of the LG V30 below

Design

  • Understated design lets the screen stand out
  • Feels very light considering all of the tech inside
  • Waterproofing and military-grade toughness are always welcome

Instead of straying from the pack, the LG V30 blends in with this year’s fleet of flagships. But that’s not such a bad thing. It even takes cues from the LG G6, evolving that design ID ever so slightly, all while steering itself in a few new directions, too.

Starting on the front, LG’s FullVision 18:9 aspect ratio tech is on display here, complete with a gorgeous 6-inch OLED (finally!) display tuned at 2,880 x 1,440. While there are still bezels at the ends and the sides of the V30, the presentation renders them to be quite understated, letting the screen stand at the center of the stage. In fact, we really appreciate having just a little bezel on the sides, as it lessens accidental presses while typing or playing a game.

LG’s latest measures in at 151.7 x 75.4 x 7.3mm and weighs 158 grams, all of which puts it on par in sizing with the Google Pixel XL. That said, it’s remarkable that LG has fit a screen that’s a half an inch larger inside of a chassis that’s nearly the same size. Interestingly, it’s just a bit wider than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, though the rest of its dimensions pale in comparison.

Around its glossy steel siding, you’ll find a tactile volume rocker to the left, and a SIM and microSD tray on the right. Down below, there’s a bottom-firing speaker grill next to the V30’s USB-C charging port. Up top, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is your one-stop shop for experiencing the phone’s Hi-Fi audio capabilities. LG has never been one to let us down in this department.

Flipped over on its slightly curved glass back, the phone’s fingerprint sensor, which doubly works as its power button, sits right in the middle – a more ergonomic location than Samsung’s choice with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Glancing upward has us stumbling upon the V30’s center aligned dual-camera system. This isn’t LG’s first foray into the technology – the LG V10 was released in 2015. But this phone’s duo of lenses puts them to the best use yet. We’ll dive into that more below.

Lastly, LG has done the V30 a solid by implementing wireless charging as well as making it both water and dustproof with IP68 resistance. It also meets military spec standards, meaning it’s very durable. While this doesn’t ensure that its glass won’t break, the tough frame works to prevent bending. And for such a pretty phone, that’s a very good thing.

Where's the second screen?

Unique to the V experience, up until now at least, was the second screen display. The V30 changes that staple hardware feature into a software touch called Floating Bar that looks reminiscent of Samsung’s Edge feature, but operates a bit differently.

The second screen might be gone, but it’s still here in spirit. On our preview unit, the feature was strangely not turned on by default, but when activated, it’s tucked away into the side of the screen. A simple tap opens the bar and holding on the icon lets you move it wherever you’d like. 

In addition to letting you customize what sort of app or command goes into the bar slots, the feature also focuses on surfacing some of the phone’s more hidden abilities, like QuickMemo+ note-taking and capturing a picture or GIF of the screen.

Interface and reliability

  • Loaded with Android Nougat at LG's polished interface
  • Android Oreo is coming
  • Built-in apps are mostly useful

The LG V20 was the first non-Google phone to come with Android Nougat out of the box last year. And to celebrate the occasion, Google bestowed it with the then-new In-App search function, which operates much like the drag-down-to-search ability in iOS.

You might be thinking that LG has raced to be the first with Android Oreo, but that’s not the case. The V30 will launch with Nougat, though we’re totally fine with that. Why? Because LG has finally hopped on board with all of the best features last year’s update brought.

Its OLED display brings the sought-after Google Daydream VR ability to an LG phone for the first time. You’ll also be treated to In-App search, split-window multitasking and, based on what we’ve heard from Google, the phone is being primed for the Oreo update as we speak.

The visual interface is LG’s own laid over Android Nougat 7.1.2 and if you’re used to stock Android, there will be a bit of an adjustment process. There’s no app drawer by default, though it can be switched on if you’d rather have it. 

On our pre-production unit, there’s no bloatware loaded on whatsoever and this trim offering is complemented by the interface’s quick operation. That said, LG has included its usual batch of pre-installed apps. There’s LG Health, a radio application, QuickMemo+, among a few other small additions. If you have a preferred alternative, you’ll probably install it without a second thought, but what’s here is totally usable and palatable.

You wouldn’t notice on first glance, but the settings menu is bursting at the seams with interesting modes and features at your disposal.

A few highlights include an IFTTT-like “Smart Settings” mode that automatically boots certain apps and toggles settings when you, say, walk into your home or plug headphones in. It’s a swell quality of life touch that makes things just a bit easier.

Obviously, the Floating Bar feature gets a shout-out here. It replaces the second screen hardware found in previous V-series phones with just a simple interface overlay. You’ll have to switch it on, but once you do, you’ll have contacts, quick actions and app launching just a few clicks away.

Simply put, while I’m a stock Android fan with my main driver being the Google Pixel XL, the LG V30’s software is a refreshing glimpse into just how palatable LG UX 5.0 has become. It’s fast, feature-packed and easy to use.

Movies and gaming

  • Dazzling OLED screen looks great, even better with HDR content
  • microSD support extends storage far past its 64GB default

LG’s V-series smartphones are traditionally very savvy in the multimedia arena. The V30 is no exception and it ups the ante compared to previous devices in the line.

When it comes to watching movies, LG has never made a better phone to view them on. The 2K OLED display pops with vibrance, even going as far as being HDR-ready for apps like Netflix and YouTube HDR at launch. This means that the colors will be richer and the overall contrast will offer more levels of depth than a traditional display is capable of. 

Even if you aren’t watching HDR content, you’ll still have a good experience here. Viewing angles and brightness are all adequate for viewing both indoors and out.

When it comes time to game, the V30 is one of the year’s best places to get down to business. Thanks in equal part to its beautiful 6-inch OLED display, the Quad DAC built into the 3.5mm headphone jack and the powerful Snapdragon 835 processor, playing any game whatsoever is a breeze from a performance perspective and a generally good time.

Music

  • 3.5mm headphone jack is here
  • MQA streaming shows that LG is ahead of the wireless curve
  • Quad DAC takes sound quality to new, tweakable heights

We usually bundle the music section in with movies and gaming, but given the V30's knack for audio, it's best to talk in depth about it.

Listening to music is fun on just about any phone, but LG’s V30 takes it to a new level of enjoyment. It gets not one thunderous round of applause, but two for including the 3.5mm headphone jack and supplementing it with an awesome Quad DAC (digital to analog converter) and clever software to squeeze more use out of it.

The V30 can intelligently decipher between your average set of headphones and some high-quality cans to deliver the right sound to you. New to the V30 is the ability to tweak the sound profile delivered by the Quad DAC, even individually tweaking the decibel level of each ear speaker when switched on. It’s such a treat. And of course, the audio benefits extend into your time with movies and games.

If wired headphones aren’t your thing (you monster!), the V30 is also one of the first smartphones, if not the very first globally-available, to support the MQA wireless audio codec. 

This CD-quality format is said to be compressed in a rather small file size, which goes against the idea that high-fidelity tunes have to take up a lot of space. If you stream tunes through Tidal, the V30 will properly unfold the MQA file to deliver studio-quality sound. Of course, you’ll need the best headphones available to properly enjoy it.

LG’s melding of innovation on both the wired and wireless fronts shows that you can honor the past while plowing ahead. Compared to Apple’s headphone jack-less iPhone 7, this is courage.

Additionally, once Android Oreo arrives, we’ll likely see the V30 supporting the fleet of high-quality audio codecs, like aptX HD, LDAC and more.

Specs, performance and benchmark

  • Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM hum along without a hitch
  • Still waiting on final unit, so performance likely not set in stone…
  • …though we'd be perfectly happy with it as is

Inside of the V30, LG has opted to check just about every box required to stand up against the latest and greatest competition.

You’ll find the Snapdragon 835, which is making its LG debut here, paired with 4GB of RAM. Our time with the V30 has seen zero lag while switching between apps and multitasking – even when loading up intensive games or the camera app’s unique and new abilities.

Combining the latest tech with a pixel-dense OLED display was the right move here for LG. Not only does it put the V30 in line with the competition – even the iPhone 8 is rumored to have one when it launches – it’s finally primed for the Google Daydream View virtual reality headset. In our experience, this worked just as well as the Samsung Galaxy S8 – one of the other Snapdragon 835-equipped Daydream-ready phones. 

As we’re still using a non-final unit, it’s hard to say if what we’re seeing out of the V30 is representative of the retail unit. In this case, we’re happy with what we’ve seen. Early benchmark scores put this phone right up against with the year’s fastest available options.

Battery life

  • 3,300mAh capacity easily achieves day-plus battery life
  • Battery is sealed in now because of waterproofing
  • We'll be testing more once we receive the final unit

Another longstanding fold in the V-series DNA has been great battery performance. And that’s not just limited to how the battery inside can withstand the rigors of the day, but also that up until now, they’ve been removable and thus, performance is everlasting given that you own an extra battery.

As you might have suspected from the design, the V30 has sealed in the battery – a necessary, but nevertheless slightly unfortunate move to ensure that waterproofing works.

Either way, we’ve been delighted by the 3,300mAh battery in the non-final unit. Ringing in at the same size as the cell found with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, all-day battery life is an easy goal for this phone to meet.

When we watched a 90-minute movie file in 1080p, the V30 remarkably only dropped down to 87% once it was finished. Most phones drop down at least 20% during this test, so we’re pleased with this discovery.

Keep in mind that these findings are all based on our time with the pre-production unit, but the recharge times have been stellar as well. From 0%, it raised to 30% in 15 minutes, up to 67% after a half hour, and finally, it reached 100% in just under two hours. The final 20% is always the slowest, but for most, an hour of charging will easily get them through the day.

Camera

  • Packed with unique features
  • Point Focus and Cine Video color grading are awesome perks
  • Low-light results are good at times, but generally not superb
  • We'll be testing these features in-depth once we receive a final unit

LG seems to be putting a lot of effort in bringing some new, noteworthy hardware and software features to make its dual-lens cameras stand out from the rest. 

Billed as a device for creators, the LG V30’s main rear-facing camera is 16MP and boasts an impressive f/1.6 aperture that should put it above the competition when it comes to low-light photography. While it’s not the best at illuminating a dark scene, it’s knack seems to be at providing a better balance of lighting and contrast for dim shots, like shooting at dusk. In the results below, you can see that we experienced some hits and misses in this department.

This lens is covered is glass, not plastic, which LG says boosts the transmittance of light and details. The other lens takes care of the wide-angle shots and is improved to 13MP and a f/1.9 aperture, both of which build upon the V20’s lesser 8MP wide-angle lens that had an aperture value of f/2.4.

Flipped over on its front, the small 5MP selfie camera disappoints during our use of the early unit. While the lighting and colors look fine for the most part, photos are blurry. It's definitely serviceable and fun to use thanks to LG's many camera software features, though it doesn't seem able to quickly snap a brilliant photo like many of this year's flagship phones.

Of the many extra goodies offered by the V30, it packs in professional color grading to give each video and picture the right kind of contrast, lighting and saturation to fit each scene. For power users who want to shoot footage with the V30 and export to say, Adobe Premiere, you can export the Cine Log, which retains the metadata during post-production. If you’d rather edit video on the phone, LG is including an app that can let you do just that.

Taking the pro-level use cases a step further, LG has partnered with Graphy to teach users how to become comfortable with the capable manual photography mode. Photographers can post their photos and share the settings and techniques put to use when capturing the piece. LG has done an awesome job focusing on the little things for the V30.

Another new addition to the camera software is Point Zoom. Activated within the Cine Video mode in the camera app, this new feature smoothly zooms in on wherever you tap to, remedying the sudden, jagged zoom effect we’re all accustomed to. It might not sound like much, but it’s one of those small things that will likely make a big difference moving forward.

Of course, we’ll be testing the plethora of camera features built into the V30 even more as time goes on, but in the mean time you can check out our collection of photo samples and videos below.

Watch our video below that's dedicated to the LG V30 camera

Early verdict

Based on a few weeks worth of impressions, it appears that LG has taken full advantage of its opportunity to make good on the learnings from the LG V20 and LG G6. From the feature set (stuffed full) to the availability (no longer just a US-only affair), it’s easy to see that, yes, LG is actually listening to feedback.

We’ll be testing our preview unit more and more up until we receive a final production unit, which should be very soon. As such, we’ll be withholding a final score. 

But as far as takeaways are concerned, the LG V30 is stacking up to be one of the best phones of the year.

Cameron Faulkner
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