LG has announced the closure of its mobile division, and there’s a chance you may not fully grasp what a blow to the mobile industry this really is. After all, the company’s most recent phones haven’t received the attention they perhaps deserve, and have been overshadowed by Samsung, Apple, Huawei, OnePlus, and a host of Chinese brands making inroads into Europe, such as Xiaomi and Oppo.
However, it wasn’t always that way, and LG created a host of influential, creative, and fun smartphones that not only set trends, but also included successful design and usability features that set them apart from others. I’ve been fortunate enough to join LG on a lot of its phone journey, using many of the good, the bad, and the very, very mad phones it has produced over the past years. Here are just a few examples of why I’m going to miss having LG in the mobile industry.
The early years
LG’s design creativity shone through right from the start with its analog mobile phones released in the late 2000s. The Black Label series, which featured the LG Chocolate, LG Shine, and LG Secret are icons of the era, all embracing the popular slider design where the screen covered the alphanumeric keyboard until it was needed. The LG Crystal continued this, but with a transparent keyboard for an additional cool factor.
When touchscreens took over, LG’s Optimus series gave us plenty of industry firsts, from the first phone with a dual-core processor — an Nvidia Tegra 2, rather than a Qualcomm chip — the Optimus 2X, to the Optimus 3D (or LG Thrill 4G in the U.S.) with its 3D screen and 3D capable camera. LG Mobile loves a gimmick, and many of its phones used every trick in the book to stand out from the crowd, something it would continue to do right up until its final major phone release.
The G spot
The Optimus series was eventually phased out in favor of the G series, beginning with the LG G2 in 2012, but it wasn’t until the G3 that the world really took notice and LG Mobile rocketed to prominence. The G3 had another trend-setting industry first inside — a 1440p screen — plus a highly capable camera with an infrared sensor for fast, accurate focusing. It continued the G2’s style of putting the volume and power button on the back, under the camera lens. This was ergonomically impressive, and worked well with LG’s then-unusual double-tap to wake the screen system.
For me, the LG G4 is the LG phone closest to my heart. Looking back, it’s the model which really got me into mobile photography. It launched with a “Manual” mode, which was unusual for the time, so you could set the shutter speed, ISO, and focus yourself. I still remember standing on a windy motorway bridge at night taking the photo below, and being amazed it came from a phone. Regular for today, but in 2015, it was seriously impressive.
— Andy Boxall (@AndyBoxall) May 1, 2015
LG continued to innovate with its cameras by introducing a wide-angle camera on the LG G5 and the V20, and giving us the first true multicamera array with standard, ultrawide, and telephoto cameras on the back of the V40. LG was also the first to put a Quad DAC into a smartphone on the V20, making it one of the few companies to prioritize audio performance, just as it continued to support removable batteries when other firms were only making unibody phones, and retaining a microSD card slot too.
LG’s brand partnerships were also trailblazing. Samsung may be best known for its BTS special edition phones today, but LG has also worked with the group, along with several other K-pop heavy hitters. In 2009 the South Korean company partnered with mega-group Girls’ Generation on the ad for the BL40 Chocolate phone, and again the year after for the LG Cyon.
To promote the LG G6’s 18:9 aspect ratio screen (another industry first) it joined forces with Blackpink for this video, and similarly popular stars Red Velvet promoted the LG V50 ThinQ. It collaborated with Twice on the V30 (in the above video), and in 2018 it even released special BTS editions of the LG G7 and the Q7, predating Samsung’s relationship with the world-famous group.
The time from the LG G2 to the LG V20 and including the G4 and the G Flex 2, were for me the company’s smartphone golden years. Innovative, fun, creative, and exciting models that helped me, and I’m sure many others, get more from their phones.
The best Google phone ever made
In 2013, another well-loved smartphone was released, which isn’t immediately recognized as an LG phone: The Nexus 5. Google’s Nexus phones were eventually replaced by the Pixel range, but they served the same purpose: To promote the latest version of Google’s Android software. The LG-made Nexus 5 came with Android 4.4 KitKat, and was technically very similar to the LG G2, but with a few hardware downgrades. Rather than hinder the phone’s popularity, it helped catapult the Nexus 5 to success.
The relatively basic camera and modest battery meant the Nexus 5 cost $349, or half the price of many competing phones at the time. For many, it will always be the definitive Google phone — clean software, great hardware, and a low price. I remember buying four Nexus 5 phones in total, one for me, and three for eager Android fanboy friends not lucky enough to live in a country where the phone was officially sold, such was its appeal. LG also built the Nexus 4 with its glorious glittery back and the Nexus 5X for Google, but neither will be recalled as fondly as the Nexus 5.
Gimmicks, not features
While I will always remember LG for its photographic and audio prowess, many will associate LG with crazy design and feature ideas. Over the years, LG has shown more creativity, daring, and madness than most other smartphone companies put together. However, it’s also fair to say, from a business perspective, at least a few should have remained at the concept stage.
In 2016, LG answered the question of how phones made of metal could still have replaceable batteries with the modular LG G5, in a way nobody expected. The base of the G5 could be unclipped and the battery removed, but that wasn’t quite barking mad enough for LG, so it made some “Friends” for the G5. These included a modular extended battery, a Bang & Olufsen DAC audio module, and a camera grip, plus a separate 360-degree camera accessory. It also announced, but never released, a VR headset and a bizarre football-like robot called the Rolling Bot.
The G5 leaped aboard the modular phone bandwagon, a hyped-up gimmick at the time, but with a complicated solution that demanded too much from the owner. It was an ambitious but flawed project which sadly didn’t do LG’s reputation much good, and it struggled to win back confidence even with the much more conventional G6. The G8’s gesture controls are another example of a gimmick masquerading as a feature.
The 2013 LG G Flex and 2016 G Flex 2 are better examples of LG’s crazy ideas making decent, or at least desirable, phones. Both had curved P-OLED flexible screens from top-to-bottom, and are prime examples of LG’s willingness to blend its technical prowess with experimental design. The G Flex 2’s banana-shaped screen and body still look and feel excellent today, and unlike anything we’ve been able to buy since.
The G Flex 2’s screen isn’t the only mad thing about it. LG promoted the plastic rear panel as “self-healing,” saying small marks would magically disappear after a short time, making it more durable than many other phones. What LG didn’t expect was journalists to attack their G Flex 2 phones without mercy to put the claims to the test, only to find out it was only very small marks that would disappear, and scratches and scuffs would sadly blight the pretty phones forever. I know, because mine does.
More screens, please
More than one screen has long been a fascination for LG. It started off innocently enough with the LG DoublePlay from 2012, which definitely inspired the Wing later on, and also with the V10 and V20’s secondary “ticker” display above the main screen, which showed text messages, custom text, animations, and shortcuts, before evolving to become the Dual Screen case. Unconvinced by the folding smartphone craze, LG added a full second screen to the G8X, V50, V60, and Velvet as part of a case, with the idea being it could be removed when it wasn’t needed to make the regular phone easier to carry around.
The culmination of LG’s multiscreen fetish came with the LG Wing, a swivel-screened madman where a second screen is hidden underneath the main screen, revealed only when it was flicked aside. Like many of LG’s crazier concepts, there’s potential in the Wing’s design, but it wasn’t realized on release, and without extensive software backing it was never going to be anything more than a novelty.
LG may not have always hit the spot with its more out-there ideas, but it was impossible to dislike the company because of them. For me, LG will always be one of the few companies willing to experiment and try something different and new, often with seemingly little concern for what would happen.
LG’s creativity will be missed
While I’ve concentrated on LG’s phones here, we shouldn’t forget LG was once known for its smartwatches too. Ignoring the hideous LG G Watch, the LG G Watch R was one of the first really excellent smartwatches, and while the LG Watch Urbane and LG Watch Sport split opinion on design, they certainly made a statement. LG continued its willingness to experiment in wearables too with the LG Watch W7, which had mechanical hands over the touchscreen.
It’s appropriate the company’s maddest smartphone, the LG Wing, has become its last major mobile release. Looking back over this eclectic range of devices, and my own personal memories of working with LG, it’s almost impossible to compare it with any other company. Sure, there have been many other crazy phones with great cameras made, but I won’t remember them with the same affection I do LG’s.
But the madness is only part of the story. Phones often lack character, and it takes some daring creativity to inject it into a soulless piece of consumer electronics. LG pulled this difficult challenge off more than once, while still ensuring there was plenty of enticing tech, great audio, and some very good cameras on its best phones. For all these reasons, I’m very sad it is not going to be part of the mobile industry any longer.