Before Huawei rose to prominence in 2017 as a viable challenger to the Apple-Samsung smartphone duopoly, LG -- South Korea’s other tech giant -- was the main challenger to the big two. LG’s phones were never as polished as the iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy, but they often had superior technology and more practical features.
But recently the company has struggled, thanks to a relatively small marketing budget and one bad gamble in 2016 (in the form of a modular phone that flopped spectacularly) that set the company back in the minds of mainstream consumers. Since then, LG’s phones have flown under the radar, getting a fraction of the coverage as Apple’s and Samsung’s flagships.
That’s a shame, because the LG V30 is the company’s best phone yet, and would be my personal favorite phone of 2017... were it not for one glaring flaw.
About that screen...
That flaw is, quite frankly, not a huge deal, and most average people won’t mention it. But in a crowded market, where every little edge counts, consumers can afford to nitpick if something isn’t quite right. And there’s a little problem with the V30’s screen.
The handset has an OLED panel produced in-house by LG. OLED displays are prized for their vibrant colors and deep, inky blacks, producing a contrast regular LCDs can’t achieve. But the downside is some OLED screens look, well, “off” when viewed from any angle that isn’t directly in front of the display. The V30’s screen suffers from this: It has a noticeable blue tint when viewed at an angle. It sounds minor, because a lot of the time you are indeed looking directly at your phone’s screen -- but given how often we use smartphones, there are plenty of times where you aren’t, and that’s when this issue pops up.
While it’s not uncommon to have this problem with OLED displays, Samsung has managed to calibrate its screens so the colour shift is not as noticeable -- and the iPhone X also uses a display from Samsung too, meaning LG lags both of its rivals here. Still, an imperfect OLED screen is still superior to LCDs, so the V30’s screen is still better than 90% of the phones you see out on the street (including all non-X iPhones).
With the bad out of the way, let’s talk about the good. Those bezels that wrap around the V30’s 6-inch display are the slimmest among Android handsets, just a hair slimmer than the bezels on Samsung’s flagship. And if you factor in the iPhone X’s notch, the V30 actually has the best screen-to-body ratio of any phone on the market right now. If you’re excited by the current industry push towards all-screen phones, the V30 tops the list here.
The rest of the V30 has the sleek, mostly-glass design that would be exciting if every phone didn’t look like this now. The left and right side of the phone’s back and display both curve toward the metal frame for a pleasingly symmetrical feel, though the curvature isn’t as drastic as the Galaxy S8. At just 7.3mm thick and weighing 158g, the V30 is the slimmest and lightest flagship on the market.
Despite its sleek frame, the V30 manages to include every feature offered by competitors (such as wireless charging and IP68 water resistance), with two other things that you won't find in other handsets.
The first is a dedicated Hi-Fi audio DAC (digital-to-analog converter). I’m no audiophile, but even I could tell that the V30 is capable of producing clearer, fuller sound when using a proper set of headphones. The DAC in question -- ESS Sabre ES9218P -- is quite reputable in the audiophile community too, if you care about that sort of thing.
The other useful feature involves the secondary camera on the back of the phone: A wide-angle lens with a 135-degree field of view. Most phones on the market have a FOV of under 70 degrees, which means the V30 can capture images almost double in width (or height, depending on how you hold the phone). This comes in handy when taking landscape photos, especially of architecture. Truth be told, I rarely used the wide-angle lens on a normal workday, but when I travelled to Europe last autumn? The wide-angle lens was my best friend, capturing entire structures in a single shot in ways that no other phones could do.
If we focus on the main camera, then the V30 is good, but falls short of the best smartphone cameras out there like the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. The main 16-megapixel camera performs great in low light and indoors, but has a tendency to overexpose the sky in sunny situations. A simple tweak of the exposure slider will fix the problem, but other top smartphone cameras do this automatically. The selfie camera, at just 5-megapixels, is also a bit below par.
Overall the V30 is a strong performer. The Snapdragon 835 chipset with 4GB of RAM powering the phone is more than enough to handle any task, though the 3,300 mAh battery doesn’t quite last all day. And it can often be found for far less than competing offerings from Samsung or Apple.
Other than the aforementioned display issue, the V30 ticks off more boxes than other phones on the market. If you’re an audiophile or enjoy landscape photography, the V30 particularly stands out.