The LG V30 (available on all five major US carriers for around $800, as well as unlocked) is the best phone for a big world. It has a wide-angle camera for when you have a large family or too many friends to crowd into a standard photo. And it allows you to go farther afield on T-Mobile than any other phone, thanks to support for the carrier’s new Band 71, 600MHz network. The V30 is a big step forward for LG, and comes close to unseating the Samsung Galaxy S8 as our Editors’ Choice, but is ultimately held back by a few little things.
A Familiar Face
Design-wise, the V30 goes for the curved glass that’s been so popular on the Galaxy S8. Unlike the LG G6, which has a flat front with a metal frame around it, the glass here protrudes like it does on other phones. The V20‘s removable back and battery are, alas, gone. Instead, the phone has a shiny, IP68 waterproof metal unibody, with a clear plastic coating over the silver back. It meets the MIL-STD-810G spec for resistance to shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and a range of other conditions.
At 5.96 by 2.96 by 0.29 inches (HWD), the phone is shorter, but a little wider, than the Galaxy S8+ (6.28 by 2.89 by 0.32 inches). Its 6-inch, 2,880-by-1,440, 2:1 screen is comparable with other big phones. Using SQUID, an aspect ratio-neutral measurement of area, the V30 has 14.4 square inches of display, while the iPhone 8 Plus has 12.9, the LG G6 has 13.0, and the Galaxy Note 8 has 15.6.
To my eye, Samsung’s phones look more striking, in part because of their rounded sides. The V30’s metal band makes it look a little more conventional. At 5.57 ounces, though, it’s lighter than the S8+ (6.10 ounces) or Note 8 (6.88 ounces).
The screen is OLED, with the vibrant colors and perfect blacks that come along with the technology. Brightness is similar to a Galaxy S8 when set side by side, but it falls far short of the blazing Note 8; the difference is especially visible at night.
One way the V30 is superior to the Samsungs, though, is in the placement of its fingerprint sensor. In traditional LG fashion, the fingerprint sensor is also the power button, and while it’s on the back of the phone, it’s far enough down that you don’t have to worry about getting fingerprints on the camera the way you do on the S8 and the Note 8.
There’s a USB-C port on the bottom, a standard headphone jack on the top, and a microSD card slot tucked in with the SIM slot. The phone has wireless charging, and in fact worked with a Samsung wireless charging pad I had on hand.
The Best Connection
Call quality, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and LTE on the V30 are all excellent. The earpiece gets nice and loud, and the bottom-ported speaker startled me with its clarity. Transmissions when sent from noisy areas successfully blanked out most background noise without making my voice sound robotic.
The V30 pulled out slightly better 5GHz Wi-Fi range than the Galaxy Note 8, and Bluetooth 5.0 lets it pair to multiple speakers or sets of headphones at once. Folks in hurricane-prone areas will be happy to see that unlike Apple’s iPhones, the V30 has an FM radio as well.
This is a gigabit LTE phone on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, joining the S8, Note 8, and Moto Z2 Force. Speeds in a dense urban area were on par with the S8.
It’s unique on T-Mobile as the first phone to support the carrier’s new 600MHz, Band 71 network, which will enhance the carrier’s rural coverage as it gets built out over the next few years. While more Band 71 phones will come next year, right now this is the only official option if you want that extended future coverage.
LG makes a big deal about its Hi-Fi Quad DAC (digital-to-analog converter), but listening to several tracks on expensive Bowers & Wilkins P7 wired headphones with it turned on and off, I couldn’t tell the difference. Part of the issue here is that audio quality through the Snapdragon 835 chipset is pretty good already.
Software and Battery
The basic specs and performance here are pretty standard for a 2017 flagship phone. The V30 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of base internal storage (49GB available), and all of the usual bells and whistles. I ran our usual benchmarks, and they were on par with the similarly equipped Essential Phone.
The V30 runs Android 7.1.2, not Android 8.0 Oreo, although an Oreo update will come. It’s pretty far from stock. LG’s default setting eliminates the app drawer for a more Apple-like home-screen-only approach, although you can bring it back. The company’s response to Samsung’s Edge functionality is the much less compelling “floating bar,” a software option that pops out from the side of the screen with app shortcuts, music player controls, or quick contacts. You can turn that off, too, if you want. The V20’s “secondary screen” feature, perpetually at the top of the display and not overwriting the content you are looking at, was more useful.
The 3,300mAh battery is disappointing. We only got 4 hours, 46 minutes of LTE streaming (full-screen video at maximum brightness) on one battery charge, much shorter than with competing phones. The Galaxy S8, for instance, lasts 5 hours and 45 minutes, and we consider that to be merely average. Most new phones will get you around 7 or 8 hours.
LG talks up the V30’s dual-camera design in its marketing material, hyping the main f/1.6 wide-angle lens and its f/1.9 ultra-wide rear companion. The front-facing, 5MP selfie camera is also wider than your typical camera phone.
Do the rear cameras live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. Let’s talk about the dual-camera approach first. LG is an outlier here. Samsung and Apple have dual lenses on the Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. There’s the standard wide lens, the same type you’ll find on just about every smartphone, and a second lens with a narrower angle of view. The second lens nabs shots of more distant subjects, and also works in conjunction with the main imager to blur the background behind subjects.
The V30’s second lens is wider than wide. Its 120-degree field of view puts it in the same territory as a 14mm lens on a full-frame camera. The extra coverage doesn’t come without some trade-offs. First, the wide camera is fixed focus, so it’s only good for subjects a few feet or beyond from the phone—we weren’t able to run our standard resolution test on the lens because framing our test chart properly put it too close to the lens for it to be in focus. Second, you get some curved barrel distortion, about 3.3 percent. You can see the straight lines of buildings bulging out unnaturally.
Since I couldn’t generate resolution numbers to compare with other phones, I eyeballed some test images shot with the ultra-wide lens. They definitely don’t pick up as much detail as images shot with the main lens (or other phones), but for what it is, it’s not bad. Details are fairly strong in the center of the image—I can make out details in the brickwork. But you’ll want to keep your subjects mostly in the center of the frame—for one, it minimizes the effects of the distortion. More importantly, details give way to a heavy blur as you move away from the center and toward the edges and corners of the frame.
But you probably don’t care too much about absolute resolution and corner quality when you need to get that wide, wide image. If you’re part of a big crowd at a concert or sporting event you can snap images that put the viewer right there with you, and you can use it to capture wide action scenes that your typical smartphone sweep-to-panorama function just can’t get. Sure, there’s the modest fish-eye look, but it’s the trade-off you make to get the big picture with a device that slides into your pocket.
The wide lens sets the V30 apart from the Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Which dual-lens approach is better for you? Get the Note 8 if you photograph concerts or people from a distance, or if you love shooting subjects with a blurred background. The 2x lens (roughly 50mm in full-frame terms) does both. Go with the V30 if crave an ultra-wide field of view, similar to what you get with a GoPro. It’s a solid choice for really wide landscapes and photographing groups of people in very tight spaces.
Now for the main lens, which LG is billing for its low-light capabilities above all. The 4.03mm f/1.6 lens is backed by a 16MP image sensor. LG doesn’t list the sensor size in its specifications, but based on EXIF data and the angle of view, it’s in the same ballpark as the main image sensor on the iPhone 8 Plus, and covers a similar 28mm angle of view.
At low ISO settings the main camera does a fine job resolving detail. It scores 2,356 lines on our standard sharpness test. That’s less than the iPhone 8 (2,851 lines) and Note 8 (3,025 lines), but you can’t make a direct comparison between the scores because the V30 has a higher-density 16MP sensor, versus the 12MP chips used by the competition. In reality, the V30’s extra sensor resolution gives it a slight advantage in resolving tiny details in bright light. But it’s not something you’re going to notice when viewing images on a screen unless you magnify photos to 100 or 200 percent. In bright light, all of the modern flagship phones we’ve tested deliver strong results.
We’ve found that scene recognition, exposure, and the other decisions a smartphone camera makes to capture an image are more important than specifications when it comes to more difficult situations. For a phone that’s typically dim lighting. LG advertises its f/1.6 lens as being a low-light monster. But let’s be real here—f/1.6 is not that much different than the f/1.7 you get on the Note 8 or the f/1.8 you get with an iPhone 8, especially when you consider the extremely small sensor and lens size we’re dealing with. Those numbers mean more when talking about full-frame systems with longer lenses.
The V30’s low-light image quality is frustrating, especially when you compare it with the Note 8, shot side-by-side under the same conditions. Take a look at the crop from a nighttime snapshot to the right. The top image was captured with the V30, the bottom with the Note 8. The V30 didn’t record the ISO used in its EXIF data for some reason, but did record that the shutter speed was 1/13-second, but the Note 8 shot was captured at ISO 1000 and 1/10-second shutter speed, so we expect the ISO to be in the same ballpark.
Despite our model appearing smaller in the Note 8 crop (an effect of the difference in resolution), you see more detail in her face. Her eyes are visible, her hair color is truer to reality, and there’s some color in her cheeks. The V30 is applying some pretty heavy noise reduction here, blurring away all detail, and at the same time applying some garish sharpening that adds weird artifacts, especially visible on our model’s nose and eyes. Both cameras have optical image stabilization, which helps to make a shot like this possible in the first place, but it’s not a panacea. You’ll need your subject to stand still for a stabilized shot.
Our studio lab tests confirm that the V30’s high ISO image quality is way behind what you get with the Note 8. I shot our standard ISO test scene at each full-stop setting from ISO 50 through ISO 3200. The JPG output is at its best at lower settings, which is to be expected. At ISO 400 we start to see some odd pixelation in the fine details of our test scene. Most cameras would simply blur these, but it looks like the V30 is trying to pull out some detail that just isn’t there. It doesn’t look good.
At ISO 800 the problem is exacerbated. Our test image is a mix of noise, blur, and oddly garbled details. Strangely enough, at ISO 1600 and 3200 we see high ISO results that look more like they should—there’s rough grain and lack of detail, sure, but it looks right.
Raw results, processed in Adobe Lightroom CC with default develop settings applied appear softer than the V30’s JPG output. That’s typical for a small-sensor camera, smartphone or not. But they don’t show the ugly looking details we get with the ISO 400 and 800 JPG output. So you can skirt some issues by opting for Raw capture. But you need to develop Raw shots to make them useable—not everyone has the skill or desire to shoot Raw format.
That also means that there’s a chance that LG could update the V30 to better handle JPG output in this ISO range. But the inherent sin here, using a 16MP sensor instead of a 12MP, can’t be overcome with a software fix. In the meantime, we continue to recommend the Note 8 for Android fans (and iPhone 8 Plus for Apple devotees) who want the best performance from a smartphone camera in all kinds of light.
Despite not having stabilization, the ultra-wide camera is a lot of fun to play with in video mode, because you can swap between the standard and wide-angle lenses on demand: for instance, starting out by looking at an entire playing field in fish-eye, and then going tight on a few players. Video recording is absolutely gorgeous, both in regular and wide-screen modes. Its 120-degree field of view minimizes jitters, and when you switch to the main camera for video you’ll enjoy the benefits of optical stabilization. My videos looked smooth with both lenses.
The V30 records 4K video at 30 frames per second, with 1080p video going to 60 frames per second. That’s similar to the Galaxy Note 8. There are some cool software tricks you can do: “point zoom” causes the camera to slowly zoom in on a specific part of your image, for instance. You do have to make sure to hold the phone the right way, though: there are stereo mics on the top and bottom, and if you cover one with your hand, recordings will be muffled.
LG’s V30 is a phone for a wide, wide world. As the first Band 71 phone, it’s the one T-Mobile subscribers who aren’t thrilled with their current coverage should grab. As a wide-angle camera phone, it’s one that anyone with a big family or a wild group of friends will adore.
Gigabit LTE and a faster processor makes the V30 a significantly better pick than the G6, and the wide-angle camera is something you won’t find in either Samsung’s Galaxy line or Google’s Pixel 2.
The V30’s battery life and LG’s aggressive approach to sharpening low-light photos leaves us a little frustrated, though. While the V30 has the specs for terrific camera performance, LG’s software leads to low-light photos consistently not coming out quite as clear as photos taken with the Galaxy Note 8 and S8. That leaves the Galaxy S8 as our all-around Editors’ Choice, although the V30 is worth strong consideration if the new T-Mobile coverage or wide-angle camera options appeal to you.
Jim Fisher contributed to this review