LG has made some great smartphones over the years, but controversies and a lack of marketing has resulted in LG falling by the wayside. Could 2019 be the year to restore LG’s fortunes?
While Samsung was releasing a new range of Galaxy smartphones ahead of last week’s Mobile World Congress, introducing hole-punch front cameras to boost screen-to-body ratios, LG used Mobile World Congress to launch two seemingly ordinary looking phones – the V50 ThinQ and G8s ThinQ.
There may not have been any folding phone prototype, or phones with motorised cameras, but each new handset comes with some innovative features that might appeal to a wide audience.
Only time will tell if these will make LG ‘popular’ again, but as consumers we must all surely want LG to be successful, in order to maintain a healthy and competitive industry.
LG V50 ThinQ
The V50 ThinQ is LG’s first 5G phone, and one that comes with an optional second screen, which is part of a clip-on case accessory. It fits securely around the V50 to ensure it remains stable, with power taken via pogo pins on the back of the phone.
It’s a natural progression of LG’s work on attachable accessories that began with the LG G5, but it has now been substantially simplified. As a V-series phone, many of the features once added this way are part of the standard feature set anyway.
The dual screen is very likely to be bundled as standard with the V50 when it goes on sale exclusively with EE later this year, as part of the network’s introductory line-up of 5G handsets. This should massively boost the success of the second screen, as it won’t become an accessory that most people will not buy.
Side-by-side, the main screen is made up of a 6.4-inch QHD+ OLED display with a resolution of 3120×1440 pixels. The second display is a 6.2-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2160×1080 pixels.
A second screen may not be as clever or innovative as a folding phone, but it will certainly be cheaper. Plus, the second screen can be removed entirely when not wanted, keeping the phone down to a thickness of 8.3mm and weighing in at just 183g.
Not bad for a first-generation 5G phone that’s also packing a 4,000mAh battery. When it comes to battery life, all manufacturers this year seem to be of the opinion that the more efficient Snapdragon 855 chipset allows for a smaller battery. The jury is going to be out on this for some time, but I’ll save my additional thoughts on this for a future article.
Dual screen, dual purpose
So what can you actually do with a dual screen that makes it more than a gimmick?
Well, LG was offering a number of demonstrations on its stand at Mobile World Congress to try and show some of the usage cases. Some were quite visionary, partly to show what 5G and low-latency data connections might bring, while others were rather more simplistic.
Sometimes the simple solutions are the best, and one feature I liked was being able to pin an app to the second screen to load instantly whenever you unlock the device.
In the video below, it was a calculator, but I could see many people opting to have Facebook or Twitter (or any other favourite social media service) on permanent show, while you use your phone normally.
Or, alternatively, you might want to work on two apps concurrently and pull data from one to the other without having to use the task switcher and mess around with cut and pasting.
LG has incorporated a few tools to make it easier to pull data from one screen to the other, with the ability to flip displays by a three-finger swipe.
For gaming LG allows the second screen to turn into a virtual gamepad, while for productivity you can swap the gamepad for a full-screen QWERTY keyboard instead.
In terms of demonstrating the power of 5G, LG had various demos of live video streaming where different camera angles can be selected in real-time, along with 360 degree VR content.
Although the demo I was shown was based on a K-Pop performance in native south Korea, LG told me that EE is looking at offering an enhanced BT Sport app for the handset, which could allow, say, a football match to watched in full on the main screen, while highlights/replays, or following individual player cams, are interacted with on the secondary display.
Like many Mobile World Congress demos, this service wouldn’t actually require a 5G connection to work, but the lower latency would certainly offer a smoother experience than even a fast 4G connection today.
The video below shows many of the above mentioned features afforded by the attached second display on the LG V50 ThinQ.
The Snapdragon 855 powered V50 also comes with a powerful camera set up comprising a 16-megapixel super-wide camera, 12-megapixel standard camera, and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera. Up front is a 8-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel wide angle camera.
I wasn’t able to test the cameras out on the stand, so any further comment will have to wait until I get a chance to see the handset again – hopefully on or before the launch later this year.
Like previous V-series models from LG, the V50 ThinQ has a high-quality 32-bit Quad-DAC, support for DTS:X technology, Qualcomm’s latest aptX Bluetooth audio codecs, and IP68 water resistance.
For heavy processing and gaming operation, a new vapour chamber heat-dissipation system is more effective than previous models at keeping the chipset cool and reducing thermal throttling.
In terms of RAM and storage, the V50 ThinQ will come with 6GB of RAM and two models that have 64GB and 128GB of storage respectively (and a microSD card slot for further storage expansion).
The phone will launch later this year to coincide with EE’s 5G network launch, which could take place as early as May or June.
LG G8s ThinQ
As a more traditional launch, the G8 ThinQ (or the G8s for the UK, which has an extra camera on the rear) comes with a 3D time-of-flight (ToF) camera on the front that can detect motion gestures using your hand.
This is included as an alternative to traditional face unlocking, or putting a fingerprint sensor within the glass (there is still a traditional sensor on the rear).
Users can unlock the phone by putting a palm over the camera, or make hand gestures to swipe back and even adjust the volume.
It’s a process that looks quite awkward at first, and some other reviewers have commented that it can be a little hit and miss, but once set up it could prove useful in certain environments, like controlling a phone when cradled in a vehicle.
The other feature is the screen itself acting as a speaker, using vibration through the OLED panel itself. A secondary speaker serves to deliver sound in speakerphone mode, or to provide stereo sound for music and video playback.
Camera wise, the G8s ThinQ has a 13-megapixel wide-angle camera, 12-megapixel standard camera and a third 12-megapixel telephoto camera. Up front is an 8-megapixel camera with the ToF technology that can see even in low light, and allows for the gesture control and potentially other 3D scanning features to be added in the future.
Like the V50 ThinQ, the G8s ThinQ comes with Qualcomm’s 2019 flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset, but no 5G support. The display is a 6.2-inch notched Full HD+ OLED display (2248×1080 pixels) and the phone has 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage, depending on the variant.
Both models come with a 3,550mAh battery.
The video below demonstrates the unlocking and phone control using just your hand.
The G8s does not have a confirmed release date, but will be on sale ahead of the V50 ThinQ.
Are these forthcoming releases going to be enough to get LG back on its feet?
That will probably depend on whether LG, and EE in the case of the V50 ThinQ, can promote the devices well enough to get the word out to the masses – including demonstrating the benefits of a second screen.
In comparison, the G8s may be a harder sell. The front camera might be clever, but many people will prefer the ease of using a face to unlock, or simply using the fingerprint sensor.
Having the sound play through the display is clever, but will it entice people to buy the phone for that reason alone?
LG will also need to get the pricing right. Traditionally, LG phones have fallen in price quite soon after release, which only serves to put off all but the most keen early adopters. Getting the pricing right will be essential from day one.
I’m a firm believer in supporting the underdog, and while LG may not like to think of itself as having become a small player in a market it once dominated alongside Samsung, the cold hard truth is that LG has a lot of work to do to catch up.
Having seen these new phones in the flesh, I do feel LG has a chance to succeed in 2019, at least with the V50 ThinQ, but with its release tied to just one operator, the G8s has to do well too.
Obviously there are other factors to consider, like software and reliability, but that can only be judged when the phones are available to review.
Oh, and one more thing; Please drop the ThinQ bit LG, it’s totally superfluous!