REVIEW: There’s only one reason you should buy LG’s latest smartphone — and plenty of reasons not to

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One of the things I consider when it comes to reviewing new smartphones is whether it could comfortably replace whatever device I’m currently using.

When I reviewed Google’s Pixel 2 XL, it made me want to switch from my iPhone 6s Plus, and I’ve been using the Pixel 2 XL ever since. The $800+ LG V30, on the other hand, has not made me want to switch.

To be clear, that’s not to say that the LG V30 is a bad phone. Samsung’s mighty Galaxy phones haven’t made me want to switch, either, and the Galaxy phones’ success is a clear sign that people love those phones.

There’s a lot to love about LG’s new flagship, and it offers plenty of great features currently found in other high-end Android phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Google Pixel 2. In fact, there’s little that differentiates the LG V30 from those other high-end Android smartphones – but it’s those little differences that make the biggest impact.

Check out the LG V30:

The V30 is a beautiful device from the front.

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Its shiny metallic edges are classy.

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But the back of the device is a bit of a letdown.

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On the back of the phone, you’ll find the home button embedded into the fingerprint scanner. This is actually a win for LG, as I wish other phones would integrate their home buttons into the rear-facing fingerprint scanners.

Apart from that, the back of the V30 isn’t especially nice, as it doesn’t quite match the front and side’s premium looks and feel.

(Note: That blue-ish streak on the bottom half of the phone is leftover glue from a sticker that simply wouldn’t come off.)

The screen is a gorgeous, sharp 6-inch display with ultra-narrow bezels.

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It’s a speedy, powerful phone.

Much like the other Android flagship smartphones out there, the V30 runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip. That means the V30 handles everything I throw at it smoothly and quickly.

It also has some great features that are essentially standard on top Android phones.

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Inside the V30 are features that we pretty much expect from a flagship smartphone these days. Those features include:

– Water resistance

– Fast charging

– Wireless charging

You might notice that the Pixel 2 smartphones don’t support wireless charging, but I don’t really perceive wireless charging as an essential feature. Sure, it’s nice to have the option, but wireless chargers don’t usually come included with phones. Android phones that support fast charging, on the other hand, come with the necessary chargers.

Unfortunately, the camera isn’t so great.

This isn’t a comprehensive smartphone camera review by any means. Yet, based on this photo, I can already say that the V30’s camera doesn’t contend against the top Android phones and the iPhone 8. I would certainly expect an $800+ phone to do better than the example above.

For one, the sky and cloud detail in the V30’s photo are overblown to the point that clouds barely have any detail compared to the Pixel 2 XL’s photo. The sky’s blue color on the V30’s photo is also far too bright.

The street level in the V30’s photo is also overly dark and doesn’t do a great job of keeping details in shadowy parts of the scene.

One of the V30’s tricks is a highly specialized manual camera mode that lets you play with finer camera settings, but I couldn’t get a good picture no matter how much I adjusted settings like ISO, shutter speeds, or white balance.

The amount of unwanted apps called “bloatware” on this phone is horrendous.

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We received the same V30 that someone would get if they bought it from Verizon. That means the review unit came with a ton of unwanted Verizon apps on top of LG’s own apps, which are commonly referred to as “bloatware.” The V30 is one of the worst offenders of bloatware I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a list of unwanted bloatware that comes with Verizon’s model of the V30: QuickMemo+, LG Health, ThinkFree Viewer, HD Audio Recorder, Help, Verizon Message+, Verizon Cloud, Verizon Security & Privacy, Verizon Caller Name ID, hum (whatever that is), Slacker Radio, NFL Mobile, Gallery, Email, Calendar, Bank of America, eBay, Final Fantasy XV, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Newsroom, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Weather, Yelp.

Hang on, you might say. Don’t you need apps like LG’s Calendar, Gallery, and Email apps? Well, no, because Google already has the Gmail, Google Photos, and Calendar apps that integrate flawlessly with the Android operating system and Google ecosystem. LG doesn’t need to be making duplicates of Google apps.

I haven’t seen what kind of bloatware other carriers add to the V30, but it’s more than likely that other carriers would also add their own bloatware, too.

Simply put, all this bloatware makes for a confusing, messy experience that detracts from the V30’s better qualities. Even if you bought the V30 unlocked – where it wouldn’t come with a carrier’s own apps – it would still come with LG’s own apps, which are thoroughly unnecessary.

As a side note, I’d always recommend buying a phone unlocked when you can. That way, you can avoid dealing with carrier bloatware, and jump carrier to carrier without as much hassle.

It does have a headphone jack, however, and it’s probably the only reason you should buy this phone.

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LG phones are among the few Android phones that come with a high-quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which is meant to output better quality audio through the headphone jack compared to the standard DACs in most other phones.

I listened to music using Tidal’s high-quality HiFi service with a very good pair of headphones (the $450 Audeze Sine on-ear headphones). Music sounds punchier and clearer, but it doesn’t really make up for the V30’s relatively poor camera. I wouldn’t buy the V30 for its DAC when the camera isn’t up to snuff, but music obsessives might.

Overall, I don’t recommend the LG V30.

Quick, what’s the Android phone I’d recommend to everyone? Easy. The Pixel 2 (or the larger Pixel 2 XL).

If not the Pixel 2? Samsung’s Galaxy S8 or Note 8.

Not the LG V30? Why not? It’s a great, good-looking phone until you get to the camera. The Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy phones are also great, good-looking phones with great cameras.

So what’s the one reason I should consider the V30? With its headphone jack in a headphone jack-less world, the V30 has a place in the smartphone market. It’s one of your last remaining choices if you absolutely want to keep using your wired headphone without an adapter.

Final thoughts:

I’m also partial to the pure Google experience, where a phone runs the clean, pure version of Android, which only Google’s own Pixel phones can offer. Phones from LG, Samsung, HTC, and most other phone makers might be Android phones, but each company adds its own “skin” on top of the Android operating system. These skins serve to differentiate their phones from competitors, but in my opinion, their skins simply don’t look as good as Google’s own skin, called Pixel Launcher.

Google’s Pixel phones are also the only devices that receive Android updates on time when Google releases them. Android updates usually come to LG and other Android phones much later.