The LG V30 is the perfect smartphone for vlogging

When LG took the wraps off of the LG V30 at IFA last week, it spent nearly 20 of its 50-minute presentation talking about the phone’s dual camera system. Juno Cho, President of Mobile Communications, rattled off statistics like “almost 80 percent of smartphone users use their smartphone at least once a week to shoot videos.” He also said that “we are literally on the verge of transitioning from storytelling to storyshowing,” which is almost as crazy as Samsung’s new catchphrase: “Your New Normal.” I digress.

Cho is on to something: YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram are proof that amatuer video is massively popular. Having spotted this trend, LG is positioning the V30 as the ideal tool for anyone trying to break into making video. I decided to put LG’s claim to the test and spent some time using the V30 to snap stories for Instagram and Snapchat, plus I took plenty of regular videos with the (amazing) built-in camera app.

Unfortunately the Android versions of Instagram and Snapchat are so bad that I couldn’t see much of a difference between the blotchy stories that were shot on my Xperia X Compact (bad camera) and the blotchy stories shot on the V30 (good camera), so that was out. Instead I decided to narrow my focus to the following three questions: Can you use the V30 to make YouTube videos? Is the V30 a reasonable substitute for a dedicated camera? And is the V30 the best smartphone for making video?

Can you use the V30 to make YouTube videos?

Can you use the V30 to vlog? Can you use the V30 to make YouTube videos even if you’re not vlogging? Yes. This seems like a simple question, and it is: You can use almost any camera to make videos for YouTube, but unfortunately “camera” and “Android phone” are not always compatible. I got the bright idea to vlog with the HTC 10 last year because of that front-facing camera with image stabilization, but HTC’s default app (at the time) allowed videos to dip below 24 frames per second (fps) in low light, and that just looks terrible. It’s fine if a video is dark; it’s not fine if it looks like a simulated drug trip.

The V30s wide-angle lens is perfect for vlogging.

Is the V30 a reasonable substitute for a dedicated camera?

Luckily my experience with the HTC 10 was not repeated with the V30. In fact, the V30 is the closest thing I’ve seen to a smartphone behaving like a real camera to date. Not only does LG give you control over the really important stuff like white balance and ISO, it also gives you control of shutter speed in video (!) and three options for bitrate (!!!). If you’re someone who knows cameras and has ever tried to use one of the faux manual video apps on many smartphones, this is like being handed a cool glass of water in hell.

And with a couple of exceptions the V30’s camera app does exactly what it says it’s doing, and, this is what I consider necessary for a smartphone to replace a dedicated camera. Not sensor or aperture size or anything like that. The camera has to do what I tell it to do and it has to work all of the time. Then it can replace my real camera.

LG’s manual camera app gives almost total control over video recording.

Despite what LG says on stage, the V30 can’t match cameras with DSLR-sized sensors, if we’re being realistic. A tiny sensor will never produce the bokeh or sensitivity of a sensor of nearly three times the size. But LG gave us something new with the V30: LG-Cine Log. B&H has a lengthy explanation of Log (short for logarithmic) recording, but in a nutshell this mode gives you flat, unsharpened video that’s much better for editing in programs like Premiere and Final Cut. Smartphones may not have the resolving power of larger cameras, but gaining full control over the recording makes the concession far more palatable.

I won’t dwell on Log recording because it is somewhat technical, but one thing is worth noting—and it’s not even clear that LG has this in mind—but for the first time you’ll be able to download and share color profiles with other people in the form of lookup tables or LUTs. Plenty of communities exist for trading and selling LUTs for Sony and Panasonic cameras, and maybe there’s a better colorist out there than the engineers at LG. I look forward to spending $ 15 on their V30 LUT package on Gumroad.

Smartphones may not have the resolving power of larger cameras, but gaining full control over the recording makes the concession far more palatable.

But of course, nothing’s perfect and neither is the V30. I should disclaim that we’re using pre-production V30s and the camera firmware and software isn’t final. That being said, I did find a couple of strange behaviors with the V30 camera. First, when you plug in an external microphone, the app doesn’t automatically record with it. Instead you have to tap on the microphone icon and set it to record from the headset mic. This is unlike any camera or smartphone I’ve ever used, so this behavior is a bit head-scratcher. Second, something is wrong with 1080p video from the wide angle camera. Again, this is a pre-production model, but the 1080p video from the wide angle camera looks someone set the sharpening and noise reduction to 100 and called it a day.

Is the V30 the best smartphone for making video?

The iPhone 7 Plus and the recently announced Galaxy Note 8 also have dual camera systems, and both take very good video, but their telephoto lenses aren’t a perfect match for what people want to create on YouTube. The tight shots that the telephoto lenses provide are great for interviews and documentary style video, but those aren’t the prevailing formats on YouTube right now. The V30’s combination of wide angle and normal lens open up more popular YouTube formats like vlogging, extreme sports videos, skate videos, and several more. And while the upcoming iPhone announcement could change a lot, the current iPhone 7 series lacks a headphone jack, making it an ordeal to charge and use an external microphone at the same time.

Otherwise it comes down to taste. Video taken on the iPhone, in my opinion, has best-in-class coloring. Samsung’s coloring is fine but looks weird and is hard to post-process because it’s already been pushed pretty far. Not only does the V30 offer Log video that allows you to choose your coloring later, I also think the colors coming out of regular video are very nice.

So can the V30 cut it as your primary video making device? The answer is absolutely yes. Thanks to its versatile dual-camera system the V30 is capable of getting lots of different shots. The camera app itself and the manual video mode within it make the V30 worth considering by itself, and nice perks like the headphone jack and waterproofing set it above devices like the iPhone and the OnePlus 5. Samsung’s “Do What You Can’t” campaign is clearly in love with the idea of empowering content creators, but LG has actually come to the table with the tools content creators need.

Engadget RSS Feed

LG G6’s dual cameras are good, but far from perfect

Dual cameras are now the standard option when it comes to flagship phones and LG has already put the setup to work in previous models. With the G6, the company opted for two 13-megapixel Sony cameras instead of one larger and one smaller like it did with the modular G5. The combination of the dual lenses, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon zoom technology and LG’s existing camera features help the G6 make a compelling case, especially in terms of imagery.

Sure, the main attraction on the G6 may be its unique 18:9 display, but the dual cameras and the ability to transition smoothly between regular and wide-angle shots is also a big selling point. As a refresher, the phone’s rear-facing cameras can capture 71-degree field of view photos while employing optical stabilization and f/1.8 aperture. Those wide-angle images bump to 125-degree field of view — an increase that works best when capturing things like landmarks and landscapes. The front-facing camera also features a similar wide-angle option capable of 100-degree field of view shots. For all three sensors, LG chose a 1.12um pixel size, the same used on both the G4 and G5.

While we’ve seen them before, LG brought back handy photography tools inside the stock camera app. These include a Food Mode with it’s own white balance slider so you can ensure that your colors are accurate. There are also skin tone, lighting and filters for the front-facing 5-megapixel f/2.2 camera to help you fine-tune those selfies. Meanwhile, a new app just for Square photos lends a hand to Instagramers for previews, compositions and collages. It’s useful, but we’re not convinced it will become a staple just yet.

In good lighting and outdoors during the day, the G6 performs on par with some of the best phone cameras we’ve seen. Overall, colors really pop and the images are crisp and clean. Performance does suffer in low-light situations, though, as the photos are noticeably grainy outside at night or in other environments where lighting isn’t stellar. Even though we were already familiar with the selfie features, those software tools help the front-facing camera capture images of your face that also crisp and feature vibrant colors.

One place LG where has improved camera performance from its previous phones is the transition between regular and wide-angle shots. There used to be a bit of a stutter when you switched back and forth, but that change is much smoother now. While the G6 doesn’t pack a Snapdragon 835, LG did work with Qualcomm to bring the chip’s camera zoom transition feature to the new flagship. It certainly makes a difference, and the switch between views doesn’t have a noticeable stutter like it does on the iPhone 7 Plus and other devices.

To take advantage of that extra screen real estate, LG has added a handy photo gallery along the side of the camera UI. It offers easy access to your last few shots and if you used a setting like Food Mode, the photo will be labeled with a tiny icon to remind you. Unfortunately, the G6 we tested wasn’t running final software, so tapping on that in-camera gallery sometimes caused the app to crash. That’s the only big issue we experienced and it’s one the company will likely remedy before final devices launch.

The LG G6’s dual cameras make a great first impression. Of course, we’ll need to spend more than a few hours with the handset before we can make a final call, but we’re planning to do just that during our full review. You can bet we’ll put the dual cameras through their paces in a full day’s worth of capturing photos in the near future.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from MWC 2017.

Engadget RSS Feed

My quest to find the perfect rideable at CES

Electric vehicles are a huge part of CES this year. From the Honda NueV to the Faraday Future FF91, everyone’s attention is laser-focused on gas-guzzler replacements. While these are exciting, though, for me they pale in comparison to another, smaller form of transportation: rideables. Spanning skateboards, scooters and bikes, these little machines are perfect for a city-dweller such as myself. With a camera in hand, I’ve been scouring the show trying to find the very best. My mission: To find my dream rideable.


Onewheel+: Hands-on

First up was the Onewheel+. Its creator, Future Motion, is no newcomer to CES, having unveiled its first prototype at the show in 2014. The company has come a long way since then, fine-tuning the design with its first production model 12 months later. Now it’s back with the Onewheel+, a souped-up version with a revamped motor and deck design. The underlying concept is unchanged, however: a single tire sits in the middle, while two wooden panels — similar to the nose and tail of a skateboard — rest at the front and back. You stand sideways and lean on the nose, which hides a pressure sensor, to push the strange contraption forward.

The experience is exhilarating. The first time I stepped on, I just couldn’t find my balance. It’s like learning a bicycle: When you’re starting out, the hardest part is taking off and stopping. Once you have some forward momentum it’s monumentally simpler to stay upright and change direction. Turning is another matter entirely, however. You need to push down on your toes or heels, just like a skateboard, to start a frontside or backside carve. At first my turns were slow and wide as I struggled to commit and lean into the board. After a few minutes, however, I was snaking around the car park like a pro. (Or rather, not a total newbie.)

I was impressed. I wanted one.

The new motor inside the Onewheel+ offers a smoother and more predictable ride than its predecessor. That’s important because you can take this rideable on tracks and other unstable surfaces, thanks to its wide, chunky tyre. Rocks and branches will still pose a problem, but it’s now easier to avoid them or bounce along with precision. The company’s custom “Hypercore” has also increased the wheel’s top speed from 15 to 19 miles per hour. Unwanted motor heat is pushed out through the axel, and regenerative braking can recover up to 30 percent of its power output.

URB-E Sport

URB-E Sport: Hands On

I was impressed. I wanted one. But I couldn’t declare Future Motion the winner without knowing what else was out there. My journey led me to the URB-E Sport, a foldable electric vehicle that looks a bit like a scooter. The tiny wheels and stunt pedals certainly give that impression from afar. But there’s no deck for your feet to stand on, merely stunt pedals that attach to the bottom of its unusual V-shaped frame. The way it unfolds is reminiscent of a Brompton bicycle, with just a single button that triggers the release. Pop the two handlebars down and you’re ready to go.

The original URB-E started as an Indiegogo project in 2014. It was sold as “the ultimate last mile vehicle” with a top speed of 15MPH. While impressive, the $ 1,500 price-tag meant it was well out of most people’s price range. After shipping the first production models in late 2015, the company has returned with a new “Sport” model. The name is a bit misleading, however. It’s actually a little slower than its predecessor (the top speed is now 14 MPH) and can only hit 16 miles on a single charge. But in exchange, you get a drastically reduced price of $ 899.

I had a blast nipping around the Engadget trailer, standing up on the pedals and scooting past bemused colleagues.

It was still plenty quick for me, and I was able to ride immediately. You just sit on the saddle, engage the motor and twist the throttle like a motorcycle — it’s really that simple. I had a blast nipping around the Engadget trailer, standing up on the pedals and scooting past bemused colleagues. While there are some advanced maneuvers, including one where you engage the throttle, plant your foot and quickly turn on a dime, I felt like I had mastered the Sport within a few minutes. It was still fun to use, but I missed the sense of skill and progression offered by the Onewheel+.

That’s not to say the URB-E Sport doesn’t have its perks. A nice saddle and pushrod suspension system should make it comfortable for longer stretches than the Onewheel+. In a first for the company, you can also take the battery out and use it to charge other devices. The removable “Eddy” power pack, named after Thomas Edison, has four USB 2.0 ports and one USB-C socket, and can charge an iPhone 40 times over before running out of juice. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the charge you’ll need to ride the URB-E Sport to your final destination. It weighs 30 pounds, so you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of the city with no juice.

Zboard 2 Pearl

I left the URB-E Sport behind feeling a tad conflicted. It was zippy and practical, but I missed the adrenaline rush I had experienced with the Onewheel+. I wanted something that could sit somewhere in the middle, providing speed and flexible, expressive riding in a somewhat sensible form factor. Determined to succeed, I made an appointment with Ben Forman, a mechanical engineer and founder of ZBoard. His company has been working on the ZBoard 2 electric skateboard for almost two years now. With $ 900,000 in Indiegogo funding, the team has produced multiple versions and tested them with its most passionate backers.

Now, Forman has a board which he’s confident will be the final model. It comes in two versions, Blue and Pearl, which will retail for $ 1,299 and $ 1,499, respectively. Both have a top speed of 20 miles per hour, but the similarities end there. The Blue has a range of 16 miles, while the Pearl can hit roughly 24 before needing a top-up. However, that added endurance means the Pearl weighs a little more and takes four and a half hours to charge. You also get a darker rosewood deck, rather than the Blue’s Canadian maple, and a wider set of wheels that can better absorb the impact when you hit bumps in the sidewalk.

There are many electric skateboards (hello, Boosted) but the ZBoard is unusual because it doesn’t require a handheld controller. Normally, a rider needs this to accelerate, check their battery and switch between modes. Not so with the ZBoard 2, which uses pressure-sensitive footpads instead. Leaning on the front sensor will cause you to accelerate, while hammering the back one brings you to a stop. Each pad has a sweet spot and it took me a while to understand how I should be standing and pressing with the balls of my feet. Gliding around a half-empty car park, I would find myself struggling to move forward, only to suddenly lurch into top gear.

After five minutes, however, Forman declared that I was ready for the streets. (Gulp.) We both ventured out on our Zboard 2s and cruised around some of the quieter roads near Downtown Container Park. At first I was nervous, but the sensation quickly gave way to joy. The ZBoard’s acceleration is wild, especially when you ramp it up to the higher “expert” and “ludicrous” modes. We were flying (within the speed limit, of course), creating long, arching turns when the opportunity arose. I’ve always been a fan of board sports, so this feeling of joy didn’t come as a great surprise.

If I had the money, I would gladly own them all. But as I waved goodbye to Forman, I knew my quest had come to an end. Of all the rideables that were shown at CES this year, the ZBoard 2 Pearl was my favorite. It’s fast, maneuverable and, just like surfing or longboarding, it gives you a chance to express yourself while riding. You can keep your Toyota Concept-i and Chrysler Portal. There’s only one electric vehicle for me, and it doesn’t need an AI assistant, selfie cam or autonomous driving mode to impress.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

Engadget RSS Feed