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Remember LG’s finest (and strangest) phones


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Wor, that’s it. After years of diligent – if sometimes misleading – work to carve out a niche for smartphones, LG confirmed on Sunday that they are officially giving up the mobile phone business.

Here’s what we know so far: Existing LG phones will continue to receive support and software updates for a while, but exactly how long depends on where you live. Meanwhile, retailers and carriers that still have LG phones in stock will continue to sell them. All in all, the company plans to close the mobile department by the end of July.

“The departure of the LG brand from the mobile space may be disappointing for some, but we are in an industry where it is also critically important to swing and do what is best for employees and shareholders,”

; LG Global Communications Manager Ken Hong told me. after the announcement went live. “As other popular phone brands have demonstrated before us, it’s a numbers game, not a popularity contest.”

In other words, it does not matter how much people like a brand if they never buy the brand’s products, and Hong obliquely referred to companies such as Nokia and HTC. I’m still not sure these examples work. Following the disastrous sale of its mobile assets to Microsoft, Nokia began to focus exclusively on selling network equipment, but they gave HMD a license to develop and sell Nokia-branded smartphones. And HTC, which sold most of Google’s smartphone business and now spends its days on VR headphones, is still finding time to throw out a phone or two in its native Taiwan.

Unless there’s still some super secret backroom negotiations, I do not think we can expect the same from LG, and that’s a shame. LG has never been the largest, most important smartphone manufacturer, but consumers always benefit from more competition – it makes smartphone manufacturers innovate faster and make these innovations cheaper. But nothing lasts forever.

Instead of sitting around silently, however, I think our time is spent remembering some of the really great – and really wild – phones LG has made over the years.

LG Chocolate BL40

The years before the smartphone

Before Engadget I worked in TechCrunch, and before that I spent my college years selling phones at Best Buy. And in those days, just before smartphones began to take over the industry, LG made some of the finest feature phones you could find.

When I practiced, you know, interacting professionally with other people, the very first phone I showed was the LG Fusic, a largely inattentive flip phone with a twist. At that time, people were just starting to think of their phones as music players, so Fusic had a circular cluster of track controls just below the external screen. I do not remember selling many of them, but LG was right in one respect: In time, people would really throw away iPods, Zunes and Creative Zens and lean almost exclusively on their phones for entertainment.

Many other models are stuck in my head after all these years. There were days when I did not sell anything other than the LG Shine, an AT&T-exclusive metal slider phone with a little track nubbin for navigation. Like Fusic, it did not differ beyond the design, but you have to remember that in those days, all you could really do on your phone was call people, send text messages or putz around on relatively glacial mobile computer networks. . When the function sets were so limited, the style undoubtedly rained for much more than it does now.

And then there were LG’s landline phones. Engadget’s social manager, Mike Morris, often mentions the strangely named LG The V in casual conversations, and with good reason. It was one of LG’s first phones with a full – albeit small – physical QWERTY keyboard, and he spent hours using messaging with his friends on AOL Instant Messenger.

“For people who were not on T-Mobile or could not afford Sidekick, this was the second best thing in my 14-year-old mind,” he says.

LG enV 2
LG’s enV 2 introduced a generation of teenagers from the mid-2000s to the joy of sending text messages on a keyboard.

Following the success of The V, LG and Verizon (Engadget’s current parent company) doubled down on messaging development with a range of enVs, more capable models with support for EV-DO data and improved fold-open keyboards. Engadget senior editor Karissa Bell tells me that she “never got text as fast” as she could on her burgundy enV 2, and considering how many of them I sold in those days, I doubt she’s alone.

Finally, the enV line paved the way for what in my mind was the highlight of LG’s American non-smartphones: Voyager, which took the idea of ​​a flip-open messaging phone and married it with an external touch screen and a 2-megapixel camera. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine it being one of 2007’s most anticipated phones, but there were at least a few people camping outside my store waiting to pick down $ 300 with a two-year contract.

Of course, everyone who knew understood that LG’s finest goods were only found abroad. The same year that Voyager was released, LG began selling Prada, also known as the KE850. Despite packing a 2MP camera with Schneider-Kreuznach optics and the very first capacitive touchscreen in a phone, Prada failed to live up to its luxurious namesake. No Wi-Fi and a poor 8MB (yes, megabytes) of storage, all packed in a small, piano-black plastic body, meant that Prada was completely flash and little fabric. It was not until the debut of the incredibly beautiful Chocolate BL40 in 2009 that LG’s function phones really reached the top. But then it was clear that smartphones had come to stay.

Embraces Android

LG’s first wave of Android phones was not much to write home about. The 2009 Arena was originally one of the company’s landlines with a removable QWERTY keyboard, only with suppressed specifications to help it run Android 1.0. It took a few more years for LG engineers to take the step with devices like the LG Optimus G Pro in 2013. Reviews at the time praised the performance and its 5.5-inch, 1080p IPS display, making it one of the first really great big phones.

We did not know it at the time, but the Optimus G Pro started LG’s longest-lived smartphone family, the G-Series. And I would argue that the company’s next G phone – the LG G2 – was what made it a serious competitor in the flagship smartphone market. The great screen and the strong specifications aside, what still keeps me with the G2 was LG’s ingenious decision to stick the phone’s power and volume buttons on the back. This not only meant that LG could slim the edges, but the way the placement of the buttons ensured that both the left and right hand could reach the controls. (It’s 2021, and I still want more smartphone manufacturers to do this.)

LG Nexus 5
The Nexus 5 was a fan favorite, but it had its share of quality control issues.

Just around the time the Optimus G Pro hit waves, Google tapped LG for what was to turn out to be a multi-year scheme. LG’s mission: to build a series of affordable Nexus smartphones to show what pure, unobstructed Android can do on the right hardware. That deal started with the Nexus 4, a phone that will stay etched in my memory for a long time. It’s not because I was over-heels for this thing, remember – it’s because I was working on my review while stranded in San Francisco while my home state was hit by Hurricane Sandy. It was among the most depressing days at work, but I had work to do, and luckily there was a lot to enjoy.

“What stands out about the Nexus 4 is that it may have been the last time I was really excited about a new phone,” said Engadget senior editor Richard Lawler. “It had a funky wireless charger when it was still exciting, and even Photo Sphere was a cool feature then. Best of all, it lived up to the hype. ”

LG’s partnership with Google eventually yielded two more smartphones, the Nexus 5 and 5X, both of which debuted with critical acclaim, but in the end left most of us at Engadget quite dissatisfied in the long run. I clearly remember that I loved the Nexus 5 and used it until the moment I got stuck in a boot loop like so many LG phones from that generation did. And a quick straw poll in our Slack team confirmed that almost every Engadget employee who bought a Nexus 5X saw it squirt to a premature death.

LG Wing

Let’s be a little weird

I always thought that LG was at its best when it was weird. And as the smartphone age passed, the company began to lean into its oddball trends. In 2014, the launch of the LG G Flex was one of the first phones with a curved screen. Samsung hit it off to punch by releasing the Galaxy Round a year earlier, but in my book, LG’s approach was better. Instead of bending the left and right edges of the phone towards you as the Galaxy Round did, the G Flex had curved top and bottom edges, which gave surprisingly comfortable phone calls.

The most ambitious device LG has ever built was definitely 2016’s modular G5. If you wanted physical controls for your camera, or a dedicated digital to analog converter for better music quality, you can add them. All you have to do is remove the battery, remove the hook, connect the accessories you needed, and turn it all on again. It was not the most elegant process, but at least that kind of modularity seemed as if it could represent the future of smartphones. Google had been talking up its Project Ara phones for many years then, and just months after the G5 hit store shelves, Motorola began selling the Moto Z and its magnetic Moto Mods.

Unfortunately, all of these initiatives were flops, but the G5 gave another reason to remember: It was one of the first phones to ever use multiple rear cameras, and you do not need me to tell you how well that idea worked. out.

The LG G5 was the world’s first commercially available modular phone.

The G5 probably represented LG at its weirdest, but the years that followed saw LG continue to try some wild things. The LG G8 was mostly unremarkable, except for a time camera that was attached to the forehead. You can try to control your music or fiddle with the volume of the phone by making it difficult to nail claw movements in front of it. (Google would later try something similar with a small Soli radar array in Pixel 4.) While talking about G8s, I will never forget to attach the LG G8x into a dual screen case for the first time to play a game with controls on the other screen, and wonders if LG’s team was on to something. It turns out they were not, but you have to give them the credit to try.

And then there’s the LG Wing, the swivel dual-screen phone LG released just last year. It was the first – and last – device to emerge from the company’s Explorer program, an initiative that would keep LG trying new things while its competitors stuck by making the same old glass and metal plates. To this day, I’m still not quite sure what LG’s engineers smoke when they cooked this thing, but the sheer chutzpah they demonstrated by actually putting Wing up for sale is admirable. Honestly, I can not imagine a more appropriate swan song: It is boiling, ambitious and more than a little charming, much like LG itself.

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