If you’re going to make a phone, you have to get a lot of things right. You need all-day battery life, a big crisp screen, thoughtful software, lots of apps, a great camera, and so much more. And here’s the best part: Even if you do all that, you’re still just like every other phone. Making a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners phone that does everything well just lumps you into the middle of the pack.
LG knows all about the middle of the pack. Its G6 phone checks every box, does everything it needs to do, and as a result could not be less interesting. When the company has done wacky, attention-grabbing things before, it hasn’t gone well. The G5’s modularity was its downfall.
With its latest device, LG made a slightly different move. The new V30 is a good phone, with the battery life and the screen and the apps and the everything else. I’ve been using a pre-production model over the last several days as a sort of first look, and so far the V30 seems to be, in every way but one, a perfectly solid but mostly forgettable Android smartphone.
The lone exception: the camera. The V30 contains more settings, more modes, and more raw camera capability than any smartphone I’ve ever used. And I mean that in the best possible way.
The V30’s camera rig uses two back-facing cameras, which you can use individually or in tandem for a cleaner shot. The 16-megapixel lens shoots roughly the same sorts of shots you’d get from any other camera, but the 13-megapixel sensor pulls way back, shooting photos with a 120-degree field of view. In other words, it sees as much as your eyes do, at least horizontally. Most dual-camera phones’ second lens is a zoom lens for getting closer to your subject (and sending depth info to the sensor), but I much prefer having the ability to take semi-panorama shots with a single tap. Both have super-bright f/1.6 lenses, and 10-bit HDR sensors.
You can flip between the lenses as you shoot in auto, but that’s like driving a Porsche and never leaving first gear. Behind the mode button lies insanity. You can shoot in “cine video” mode, which offers presets that’ll make your footage instantly look like a noir film, or take on the dark, warm vibes of a summer blockbuster. My favorite is “thriller,” which turns an afternoon video of my dog running into a park into dark, blue-tinted footage straight out of Paranormal Activity. Once you’re done making Sundance shoo-ins, you can try food mode, which helps you white-balance your shot to make the French toast pop. The V30 can help you make one of those collages where you take the exact same shot in a bunch of different places; it can do a time-lapse or slow-mo video; it can shoot regular panoramas and spherical ones; it can shoot in full manual mode. I’m sure I haven’t tried everything it can do.
So far, the photos and video I’ve taken look fantastic. A hair over-processed and mushy in spots, but mostly crisp, clear, and dynamic. They even sound good. The app itself opens and works quickly, and doesn’t overwhelm you with buttons despite all the V30 can do. If you buy this phone, you’ll spend hours exploring all the ways it can help you take great photos and videos. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that process.
Elsewhere, again, the phone impresses without blowing minds. Its 6-inch, 2880×1440, 18:9 aspect ratio screen looks great. Its 4 gigs of RAM and 64 gigs of storage can’t match some other flagship phones, but should be enough for most people. The Snapdragon 835 processor does just as well as that chip does in every other phone on the market. It’s a lot thinner and lighter than, say, the Samsung Note 8, while still offering the same level of waterproofing. It feels a little slippery in my hand, and can’t hold a candle to the Essential Phone or the Galaxy S8’s remarkable build quality, but it’s good enough.
I’ve only had the phone for a few days, and so far the only thing I loathe about the V30 is the same thing I always loathe about LG phones. Its take on Android, full of cartoonish 90s-era icons, light-text-on-light-background settings menus, and pointless bloatware, just pales in comparison to what you should be getting from Android. Even its new “floating bar,” which supposedly matches the function of the tiny second screen on older V-series devices, doesn’t have enough options to be useful. I’d even rather have Samsung’s gunk than LG’s. To be fair, LG did have one good idea in software: It copied Apple’s pull-down Spotlight search, so you can quickly find apps, emails, or files just by swiping down on the home screen. But that’s the only good idea.
LG didn’t announce the price of the V30, but it’ll surely be out soon. It’s hitting the market at a tough moment—Samsung and Apple are both updating their most important and popular devices, startups like Essential are capturing some attention, and Huawei, Motorola, Xiaomi, and everyone else just keep on coming out with better phones. Still, LG desperately needed a thing, a way to stand out that wasn’t gimmicky or pointless. The company picked the camera, and took a smartphone shooter to its limits. Good call on that one.