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LG V30 First Impressions

As advertised, LG’s multimedia powerhouse takes some incredible photos.

For the past few years, the LG V series has stood out as LG’s high-end multimedia phone, excelling in audio and video. They’ve also used the V series to experiment with some other ideas daring enough to not be fit for the mainstream G series — things like the second screen strip that functioned as a quick launcher for apps.

With the V30, it looks like LG has learned what they’ve needed to from that experimentation. I’ve been able to use a pre-production model of the phone for a couple weeks, and it’s easy to tell that LG designed this phone with a tighter focus, improving the phone’s strengths while sloughing off the more divisive features.

We can’t give the phone a full review without having a production model in hand, but given that the pre-production model shouldn’t end up being that much different from what consumers get, our first impressions of the device can probably tell you pretty accurately what to expect from the V30. After a couple weeks, I’d say you shouldn’t expect perfection, but if you want a phone that takes some excellent pictures and video without the need for external equipment, the V30 is well worth a look.

Like the G6 and the new Samsung phones this year, the V30 immediately stands out thanks to its 18:9 edge-to-edge display. That design has allowed LG to build a 6″ display into a frame much smaller than what would be needed for any other 6″ phone — great news if you want a huge screen but also want it to fit in your pocket. That phone has Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, with a metal frame in between. The whole thing is rated IP68 for water and dust resistance and meets military-grade durability standards, but it’s not what I would call klutz-proof (AKA me-proof). Gorilla Glass or no, that’s still glass on the front and back — it can and will shatter if dropped (don’t ask me how I know), and it is prone to scratches. That’s an issue considering, like all glass phones, the V30 feels slippery in the hand. I’d order a case along with the phone.

In terms of performance, we always knew the V30 was going to impress. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC is tops in the world of Android smartphones right now and guarantees great performance, whether you’re running a bunch of apps at once, playing games with 3D effects, or going nuts with tabbed browsing. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S8/Note 8 pairing, this is a more striking improvement for LG — the G6 from earlier this year ran on the Snapdragon 821 chipset.

There’s another big change from the G6 to the V30 — an OLED display. Samsung and LG are the only main players making their own OLED panels, and while LG doesn’t quite beat the clarity or color reproduction we see on Samsung’s AMOLED displays, the difference is imperceptible if you’re not paying super close attention. The only caveat to that is that the V30’s display can be a bit hard to see in darker environments, even when brightness is cranked up all the way.

Case in point — trying to watch Jessica Jones in 4K HDR on the V30. In a lot of ways, Jessica Jones is the perfect show to test this display out — the darker scenes really test the brightness, color gamut, and HDR capabilities. I definitely noticed the improved color reproduction and contrast, but I did have to strain a bit when watching in a dimly lit room. In better conditions, I’d say it might be the best way to watch Netflix on a smartphone.

Great video needs to be complemented by great audio, and the V30 kind of delivers. If you’re using high-end headphones, of course, the V30 is perfect — the hi-fi quad DAC is more than enough to power most high-resistance headphones, giving you really clear and loud sound. You can head into settings to create your own sound profile, too, which is a nice touch. I say kind of delivers only because the V30 is surprisingly disappointing sans headphones — for such a great multimedia phone that otherwise spares few expenses, it’s odd to see and hear just a single lackluster mono speaker tucked away on the bottom edge of the phone.

Call quality seemed fine. The 835 chipset has a state-of-the-art modem, and the antenna placement around that metal frame carefully avoids where you might put your hand while holding the phone up. The earpiece speaker is good enough for the purpose of calls, too.

What’s surprised me more than anything about the V30 so far is the battery. I felt like the 3,300 mAh battery was going to get killed by running a 6″ OLED 1440p display and the 835 chipset, but that hasn’t been the case. I haven’t quite been able to leave my external battery pack at home when using the V30, but I’ve found that it lasts deep into the day with mixed use. If you’re heading straight home after work, you’ll probably be fine; if you’re grabbing dinner or drinks, you should have a backup plan.

The rear camera array is terrific. LG does its own thing with dual-camera arrays, opting to use a regular camera and a wide-angle camera instead of one color and one black-and-white, or one lesser camera dedicated to creating depth-of-field effects. LG has a 16 MP sensor with an f/1.6 71-degree lens and OIS and a 13 MP sensor with an f/1.9 wide-angle 120-degree lens. It’s easy to switch between one or the other using the camera app. Either way, you get terrific photos. Hardware-wise, this is the best camera array you’ll find on any smartphone right now, and it shows.

That said, it’s not perfect. It’s still one of the great smartphone camera arrays out there, but I’d stop short of saying it can replace a DSLR. Photos with a moving subject (like a waterfall) can throw off focus, making it slow and leaving some details blurred. The lack of OIS on the wide-angle camera is a bummer, too, and also contributes to some detail being lost. The image quality isn’t quite as sharp as you’d like it to be in low-light conditions, although the main camera with OIS tends to fare a lot better. But, this is something LG can improve a little bit with software before release — when we get the final production model for review, we’ll dump all of our photos and show and tell you exactly what to expect.

Video is similarly impressive — while pros will still spot these imperfections, the results really are some of the best you’ll see from an Android smartphone. LG has also made it possible to export the Cine Log for videographers who need to preserve metadata. The coolest feature is probably point zoom — this used to be on that second screen, but now it’s on the main screen. Before you start recording, you can tap on an area you want to zoom into while recording. You can then use a small bar on the top right to zoom into the spot at a controlled pace — it can make for some pretty dramatic videos!

As usual, LG has added some solid software features, too. The always-on display is back, showing you time, date, battery status, and notifications against a black background while the phone is locked. You can double-tap to wake the phone, which is nice considering the fingerprint scanner is located on the back of the phone.

When the phone is awake, you’ll be able to turn on a floating bar. This small bar can hold small app icons or quick links to notes or settings — it’s a software replacement for the second screen the V series used to have. It works fine, it’s hidden off to the side until you tap to summon it, and it ultimately helps the phone make better use of space than the physical second screen of old did.

LG does make a lot of tweaks to the Android settings app, but it’s for the sake of making it easier to find the settings they’ve added. That includes the quad DAC settings, the floating bar settings, and the smart settings — the latter being a set of cool automated features that can do context-aware actions like opening a certain app automatically when the phone detects that headphones have been plugged in.

You might be disappointed that the V30 won’t ship with the latest version of Android, Oreo, but LG says that update should come soon after release. The big Android feature you’ll miss out on for the time being will be picture-in-picture.

All told, the V30 is really, really nice phone — it’s one of the best Android phones in terms of pure performance, and if it’s not the best cameraphone, it’s at the very least in the conversation. But, we can’t really make a recommendation yet, and not just because we haven’t been using a final production model. LG hasn’t announced how much the V30 will cost in the United States — how competitive the price is with Samsung’s phones will go a long way in determining how attractive this phone will be on the market.