Last year’s LG V20 found a passionate niche of customers thanks to its powerful creation tools. It gave users unmatched manual control over video recording, letting them adjust everything from white balance to bitrate. It had a removable battery that could be swapped out for a spare in situations where you couldn’t plug in. And the quad DAC offered high-end headphone owners a best-in-class listening experience. But the V20 was hamstrung by an awkward, relatively useless secondary display and its sheer, cumbersome size. For 2017, LG is coming back with the V30. This time, design was clearly the priority. The V30 still retains many of its predecessor’s unique strengths, but it also loses a big one.
Let’s get it out of the way: the V30 looks a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S8. It’s got a 6-inch, 18:9 Quad HD OLED screen with dramatically shrunken bezels, rounded corners, and slight curves to the left and right sides. The second screen from the V10 and V20 is gone completely, and good riddance to that. The shiny metal frame that the glass curves into is also reminiscent of Samsung’s flagship. LG might call its display design “FullVision,” but it definitely looks way more like an Infinity Display than the flat-screened G6 did. All of this design refinement results in the V30 being much easier and more comfortable to use than the model it replaces. This entire phone fits inside the dimensions of my Pixel XL, whereas the V20 was a giant that was even larger than an iPhone 7 Plus.
The V30’s screen isn’t curved to nearly the same extent as the S8’s, though. As a result, you do notice a bit more of those side bezels. But there’s also a plus: having owned an S8 Plus for a couple months, I was sometimes annoyed by the reflections and glare that could hit the display’s curves depending on my surroundings. In about a week handling a pre-release, early sample of the V30, I haven’t had those complaints. The OLED panel is certainly nice, but it doesn’t pop with saturation quite as much as Samsung’s, nor does it get as bright in sunlight or dark when using your phone at night. It’s nice to see LG returning to OLED, but my early impressions are that Samsung still runs the game. To LG’s credit, though, everything about this display seems very uniform and I haven’t seen any out-of-place hints of color like the red tint issues that have affected some Samsung devices. If this same display is to be the foundation of Google’s Pixel 2 XL, as has been rumored, consider me excited.
The back of the V30 is Gorilla Glass 5, with a dual-lens camera system (covered by Gorilla Glass 4) and a fingerprint sensor that’s mercifully in the right place where your index finger naturally rests. The major difference here compared to the V20 is that the back is non-removable, so there’s no way to hotswap the 3300mAh battery inside. That’s the same battery cell capacity that Samsung is using to power the Galaxy Note 8 and its even larger screen, so hopefully the V30’s stamina won’t be a limiting factor. But Samsung has more reason to be conservative than LG in this department. Either way, it’s definitely a bit of convenience lost. The writing was probably on the wall when the G6 was similarly sealed off earlier this year. The upside is that the V30 is now IP68 water and dust resistant and supports wireless charging. The V20 offered neither. And despite its all-screen look, LG says the V30 has passed over a dozen military-standard durability tests and remains rated MIL-STD-810G.
The V30’s two cameras still take the same approach that LG has favored since this whole trend began: one of them is a regular focal length, and the other is a super-wide lens. This time, the primary 16-megapixel camera has an aperture of f/1.6, which is the best of any flagship phone today if you’re looking purely at specs. Theoretically that should help produce better nighttime shots. The wider, 13-megapixel camera offers a 120-degree angle of view and LG has made improvements to reduce distortion that can stem from that perspective.
For those drawn to the V20’s video recording capabilities, all the same manual controls and fine tuning are still present. But new to the V30 are what LG calls Cine Effects, which are a batch of 16 “color-grading presets” that you can apply before hitting record. LG claims these are significantly better quality than just throwing a filter on top of your footage after the fact. They’re part of the camera’s “Cine Video” mode, which also lets you tap on something in the frame and zoom in on it super smoothly. Like the V20, the V30’s microphones can record lossless audio and won’t distort in loud environments.
Little has changed about the look and feel of LG’s software over the last couple years, and that remains true with the V30. It’s not to my tastes and if you’ve found the user experience on the G6 or V20 to be an eyesore, those feelings aren’t going to change when you power on this phone.
Speaking of, the V30 will run Android 7.1.2 out of the box, which is somewhat disappointing since the V20 was the very first device to ship with the brand new, major release of Android last year. Apparently LG didn’t feel the same need to lead its competitors with Android 8.0 Oreo. LG uses Google’s apps in some cases — Android Messenger is the default SMS app — but still doubles up on others like the clock, calendar, gallery, and memos/tasks. I see no problem with LG’s excellent camera and the HD Audio Recorder app sticking around, but the rest of it needs a serious overhaul. That’s true of everything from the settings menu to the app tray, which requires you to re-sort your apps alphabetically every single time you install a new one to keep them in order.
The V30 does get a couple new software tricks when it comes to unlocking your phone. The fingerprint, knock-knock, and traditional PIN options are all included, but now LG has also added face unlock and voice unlock. You can set voice unlock to respond to “OK Google” or pick your own custom wake / unlock phrase.
What LG has accomplished with the V30’s design gives off the impression that it should be two or three generations beyond the V20 — not just the next year’s follow-up. Finessing that unwieldy phone into this new, much-improved form meant that LG had to make significant changes. No one’s going to mourn the second display going away, but I’d imagine a fair number of V20 owners will miss being able to carry a spare battery in their pocket or bag. I wish the internal battery were a bit larger, but overall I think LG made the right decision.
From an aesthetic standpoint, this is almost certainly the nicest smartphone that the company has ever produced, and it still does things that other devices simply can’t. Stay tuned for a full review to see whether those things are enough for the V30 to make your next-phone shortlist. Users who prefer Google’s stock, light version of Android will probably shrug this one off, but the next Pixel will probably omit the sublime headphone audio and powerful creation capabilities. Choices, choices.
Photography by Chris Welch.