LG Differentiates With Friends

LG ran its launch event for the new flagship phone, the G5, at the Sant Jordi Club on a hill overlooking Barcelona. Having arrived in plenty of time, we managed to secure a seat in the centre of the front row while the auditorium filled up around us.

The event began with the loud techno music and light show that are ‘de rigeur’ for launch events today. A video on-screen showed a woman buying and playing with a smartphone, before getting bored and opting for real-life activities like cycling, free running and parties. It seemed an odd way to start a smartphone launch event, and we suspected that LG had something up its sleeve.

Juno Cho, president of LG Mobile, got a large round of applause when he appeared on-stage. He said that interest in smartphones and apps is slowing down. When the smartphone category became popular, people downloaded five or six apps a day; that number is much lower now. People are looking to other areas for their entertainment, like drones and action cameras. Is that smartphone era over, Cho asked?

On the contrary, LG thinks that the best days for phones are still ahead. They are too powerful to be used just for posting photos of your dinner on social media!

With that, Cho ‘revealed’ (calling the event ‘G5 Day’ was something of a giveaway) LG’s new flagship. It is a sleek, slim device that the product design team calls “An adventurer’s theme park in your pocket.” The handset is designed with a modular slot, which companion devices will slot in to – it also holds the removable battery, which was well-received. The companions for the G5 are referred to as ‘LG Friends’.

Before covering the LG Friends, Cho went deeper into the phone’s design. It has a full metal unibody, and LG has paid attention to where the cover glass meets the chassis to ensure a smooth join. The 5.3″ display is always on, and uses an IPS panel – which confirmed that it is LCD.

Although we knew about the always-on screen ahead of the event, thanks to LG’s press materials, we could not see how this would be possible using LCD technology. Cho said that only one third of the screen is on at once (draining 0.8% battery per hour), when the device is locked – again, this is not usually possible with the way that LCD technology, which relies on a backlight, typically works. Read on, to our hands-on, to see how LG managed it.

The G5 has a dual camera on the rear, with one conventional lens and one wide-angle lens. The human eye has a 120° field of view, but the wide-angle lens goes to 135°.

A Snapdragon 820 processor runs Android on the phone. It also has a USB-C connector and micro-SD slot.

Making Friends

The first Friend introduced was the LG Cam+, which is intended to turn the phone into a digital camera. It adds a burst mode and one-hand controls for the zoom function (although still relies on the phone’s digital zoom). Because it replaces the battery, a larger 4,000mAh battery is built in to the Cam+.

Stefan K. Persson, COO of Bang & Olufsen, introduced the LG Hi-Fi+ with B&O Play – a high-end digital-to-analogue converter.

The 360 Cam is a 360° camera, which links to the phone wirelessly. It is able to take a 360° photograph, without being moved like a panoramic picture. Charles Armstrong, Google Street View product manager, came on-stage to talk about the device. All 360° photos that are shared to Street View and approved will be saved there, in high quality, for ever. It is a way to crowd-source Street View!

A product that has some interest for display companies is the 360 VR, a VR headset for the G5. Unlike the Gear VR and similar products, the phone is not used as the display, however. LG did not miss the opportunity to make fun of the Oculus VR, which is closely tied to domestic rival Samsung.

LG 360 VRThe 360 VR is tethered to the G5, and looks like a futuristic visor. It weighs just 118g, and content is shown through dual microdisplays. The CEO of Qualcomm, Steve Mollenkopf, discussed the device’s uses with the G5. He said that the Snapdragon G5 processor could be used for true console-quality gaming using the phone (for a real gaming experience, LG will need to develop a gamepad or similar controller. A smartphone, which has no haptic feedback beyond vibrations, pales in comparison to physical buttons – TA). In addition, the G5 is the first phone to use Qualcomm’s X12 4G LTE modem, which was said to be three times faster than existing chips.

After these devices, the presentation moved on to what could be referred to as ‘the gimmicks’. First was the Rolling Bot. Much like the Sphero, it is a small circular robot with an IP camera, which can be controlled remotely – even when the phone owner is not at home. The Bot has a microphone and speaker, which can be used to talk to pets, and a laser emitter to play with them. It also acts as an IR remote to control IoT devices and TVs.

LG’s last Friend is still a concept, and from the size of it we can already firmly say that it is far from ready. It is called the Smart Controller, and enables control of a drone from the phone. As Nicolas Halftermeyer, CMO of Parrot and LG’s last special guest, explained, the phone docks in the Smart Controller and acts as a viewfinder for the drone. A joystick, located in the lower part of the device, can be used to control the drone’s movements.

A video showed ‘LG Friends Manager’; the central hub to interact with all of the companion devices. This app is also used for pairing; although details were short, LG’s catchphrase was ‘Three touches – no settings’. Pressing a button in the app three times will pair a Friend with the phone.

At the very end of the event a final Friend was teased, which appeared to be a rugged action cam. It appeared to be voice activated, with the phrase, “Ready, set, go”.