With the iPhone, you generally know what to expect — Apple’s going to make one little tweak to annoy you, but most everything else about the phone is going to be great. Over on the Android side, it’s not so simple! With these phones increasingly looking similar inside and out, companies have been scrambling to find that one little thing that separates their phone from the pack.
For LG, it’s their camera. The LG V line has always been meant as a premium line for creators — people who expect the absolute best out of their phone’s camera and audio. The latest version, the V30, is no different — the camera hardware looks like the best in Android on paper, with wide-aperture lenses and high-end camera sensors. Combine that with a camera app stuffed with features, and the hope is that you’ve finally found a camera that will let you feel good about leaving that bulky DSLR at home on your next trip.
We had some early reactions to a pre-production version of the V30 a couple months ago, and after some time with a production model, we’re finally ready to break down what you can do with the camera — and whether or not you’ll be satisfied. We’ll also go into detail about what we liked and didn’t like about the rest of the phone, so keep on reading for that!
Let’s start with the basics — how good do plain old pictures look, without the help of any special modes or settings? I snapped a few shots around San Francisco to see how the final version of this camera and its software held up. The LG V30 has two cameras on the back, but they don’t work together like on a lot of other phones. Instead, you’ll get to switch between 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. While the LG V30 certainly does take far better pictures than other cameras, I’m not sure it’s part of the upper crust.
In well-lit areas, there’s a lot to love — pictures are detailed and bursting with color. In fact, maybe too much color — you can see in the picture above that the greens on those plants are just a little too green. Now that we’ve got such advanced image processing technology, just about everyone can give you a sharp picture in good conditions — today’s challenge is to make sure the finished product still looks natural despite all the processing going on behind the scenes. LG still has some work to do here.
The two pictures above show you the difference between the main camera, which takes 4:3 photos, and the wide-angle camera, which takes 18:9 photos. If you’re taking sweeping landscape shots, the wide-angle lens can really come in handy, allowing you to capture much more of the scene around you. The main drawback of the wide-angle lens is a lack of optical image stabilization, but since the only time you’ll want to use it is when you’re standing still and taking in nature, I didn’t find it to be such a big loss.
In low-light conditions, I had hoped the camera would fare a little better. You still get impressive clarity, and I love how little noise there is in the shots, but streetlights and headlights are still a little more blown out than I’d like. You can also see that the sensor isn’t quite fast enough to deal with moving objects, something that to a lesser extent is true even in good conditions.
There are manual modes (for both pictures and video), but this will require you to know your way around a DSLR. If you’re up on the ins and outs of digital photography, this is where you can fiddle with settings to get just the right shot.
Or you can just use Graphy. In manual mode, you’ll see a little icon on the right. Tap on that and you’ll see a bunch of sample photos that you can tap on to copy the settings used to take them. You can download more sample photos, too, if you need more than the handful provided.
With Graphy, instead of tinkering with settings, you just need to find a sample photo that matches the lighting conditions and subject that you’re photographing. Want to snap a shot of a fireworks shot at night? That’s a really hard shot to take! Instead, you can just find a sample photo of a fireworks show within Graphy, tap, and shoot to get your photo. It’s also the best way to take bokeh shots with the V30 easily. You’ll still need to know that the copied settings make sense if you really want to get a perfect shot, but Graphy is handy in a pinch even for total newbies.
Have you ever stared at someone else’s photo and wished that you could take something like that? Well, the V30 makes that pretty easy with guide shot. Open up this mode, and you’ll see four sample photos on the bottom half of the screen, all with different styles. There’s a plate of food with sharp details and colors, a lollipop up against a bright background, and someone holding a phone drawn tightly into focus using the bokeh effect.
As much as it seems like it, guide shot isn’t for copying settings. All guide shot does is help you compose your photographs. The photo you’ve chosen will be overlaid on the camera app, so you can frame your subject right where the subject is on the sample photo.
Snap shot is the simplest feature, but it might just be the one you use the most! This one is another split-screen feature built for convenience — take a photo, and the image you’ll get, processed and everything, will appear below. LG provides quick links to share that photo immediately using a text, email, Instagram, whatever you want! There’s a slideout bar with icons for all those apps, so you can tap to share and get it out without having to go into the gallery. Saves you a tap or two, and you can stay ready to take more pictures while you share!
With grid shot, you can take four photos in quick succession, with the V30 making a square grid using all four shots. Yep, that’s right, square — grid shot was pretty much made for Instagram! It’s a pretty cool way to share a part of your day from a few different angles, and you can totally throw a selfie or two in there if you want!
There are some limitations, though. You can use the photo app’s selection of filters and adjust how heavily the filter is implemented, and for selfies you can adjust lighting and skin tone settings. That can all be done independently for each photo. That’s pretty cool, but one drawback is that you can’t take any of the photos in manual mode.
It’s a neat feature, but I wish it were possible to save grid shots in progress. As it is now, you either need to take all four photos one right after the other or take one and leave grid shot on the camera app. So, if you wanted to make a grid using shots from different times of the day, that’s not easily doable. You can’t add a picture that’s already been taken to a grid, either, so that’s something to keep in mind!
Yeah, panorama shots are pretty standard on smartphones now, but I figured I’d call the V30’s out in particular. I was really impressed by how smooth the stitching was — even with my somewhat unsteady hand, the finished product came out looking great! I didn’t see the blur or noise that mars so many other panorama shots, so credit to LG for really doing a good job here.
And here’s the moment where I wonder if I’m having a kids get off my lawn moment! The popout mode takes a picture within a picture, allowing you to apply different effects like fisheye or black and white to the surrounding border. You can check out the shot I took as an example and make of it what you will — I wasn’t able to find a situation where I thought I would get a good looking shot using this mode, but if you can, go nuts!
Like I mentioned up top, it’s tough for Android phones to make themselves look and feel different — especially when certain trends always seem to dominate from year to year. This year, it’s the move to glass backs instead of aluminum. Usually we hear this is done to make wireless charging work, but we don’t really like that reason much. Wireless charging can only be done on a mat plugged into the wall, and right now it’s so slow that we’d rarely prefer to use it over simply plugging the phone in.
The downside of glass backs is that the phones are so much more prone to damage (something that now goes for the iPhone, too). You can safely ignore anything you hear about the strength of the glass on the V30 or any phone — drop a phone with a glass back once or twice, and it’s almost certainly going to crack. As much as we like Spider-man around here, we really don’t like our phones cosplaying.
The phone has terrific hardware. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 is the best chipset available for Android phones right now, and the V30 runs accordingly. We never experienced any random slowdowns or hitches, and apps always open without delay. The 6″ 2880 x 1440 P-OLED nearly edge-to-edge display is nice, too, but I thought it couldn’t get quite bright enough when used in darker conditions, and there are bright spots in the corners if you’ve got keen eyes.
You might have heard a bit about that Quad DAC for you music lovers. It’s an impressive bit of tech, but make sure you know what you’re getting! It’s only going to help wired headphones used with the headphone jack, and even then, it’s only going to matter for more expensive over-ear headphones. If you’ve got a pair of those, though, you’ll definitely benefit. When I used the feature with mine, the music I played sounded a little clearer, with individual instruments more distinct.
I was most impressed with the battery. With such powerful hardware and an abundance of features, I thought I would have had a lot more battery headaches with the V30. Not so! Most days it lasted me until I got back home. But, if you know you’ll be coming back late, you should definitely bring an external battery pack — especially if you think you’ll need to call an Uber or Lyft back.
The LG V30 is everything you’d expect from a premium Android phone, but at such a high price ($800 to $900), it’s really best for those if you who just want the best phone to use with a pair of headphones, regardless of cost. But, the camera is super fun to use, even if it is a little limited in some conditions.