A thin frame around a display with rounded corners, wireless charging, a dual-camera setup and a water resistant body.
Sound familiar? No, it’s not the rumored iPhone 8. It’s LG’s newest flagship phone.
LG unveiled the G6 at Mobile World Congress here in Barcelona on Sunday. It will likely be one of the more buzzed-about products at the trade show, partly because the company crammed a 5.7-inch display into a body that’s significantly smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, which packs a 5.5-inch display.
The G6 is a stark contrast with last year’s more experimental attempt, which let you swap out the bottom chin for different pieces such as a special stereo and a better grip for the camera. Consumers soundly rejected the G5’s modular concept, sending LG to back to the drawing board for its latest phone.
This year’s back-to-basics approach is free of gimmicks and may end up resonating with consumers more. That would be good news for LG, which will need all the help it can get in 2017. Once a top phone maker, the company has watched several Chinese rivals zoom past it. Last month, it posted an operating loss of 258 billion Korean won, or roughly $220 million, partly due to weak sales of the G5 and marketing expenses for its V20 phone.
LG has always been a not-so-fast follower, often trailing behind Samsung when it comes to the latest trends. Indeed, the metal-and-glass construction of the phone is eerily similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7. But by coming out ahead of both the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8, LG hopes to get a jump on the wider trend of fitting a larger display into a smaller body.
“The LG G6 will set the tone for all others to follow,” said Wayne Lam, an analyst at research firm IHS. “The idea of fitting a big screen in a not-so-big phone is critically important if we are to address the topic of ergonomics and immersiveness of the visual user experience.”
Phones — particularly premium flagship models — often take more than a year to develop. When you see a phone launch, often the successor model for the following year is already in development.
But the G5’s failure put LG in a difficult position. It wasn’t until the phone hit stores in April and the company got a chance to gauge the reaction that it made the decision to scrap the modular gimmick. That left it with less time to develop and build the G6.
While the G6 seems to feature many of the rumored additions to next iPhone, LG denies that those rumors had an impact on what went into its flagship phone. The device was in development before speculation of an edge-to-edge display started to heat up in the fall.
“We had to finalize the specs way before those rumors became available in the market,” said Ian Hwang, the LG product director in charge of the G6.
Ultimately, what drove the design of the G6 was the acknowledgement that consumers did, indeed, want a water-resistant phone. For years, Sony had put out water-resistant phones, but didn’t get much attention. But then Samsung introduced the feature in the Galaxy S5 in 2014, and Apple added it to the iPhone 7 last year. LG couldn’t ignore that trend.
The addition of wireless charging — which is only coming to the US — was driven by the need to soften the blow of taking away the option to remove and swap out the battery.
“We pack everything we can to make it a premium smartphone,” Hwang said. “We reflect what people really want.”
Does it matter?
By targeting some of the rumored key features of its flagship rivals, LG hopes to plant an early flag in the ground when it comes to the premium phone market.
“The G6 is a truly thoughtful design,” Lam said.
The question is whether consumers will entertain a third option for a premium phone, with Apple and Samsung dominating sales.
The LG G6 in all its tall statuesque glory
Phone enthusiasts have expressed disappointment that the G6 would run on Qualcomm’s older Snapdragon 821 chip — essentially last year’s high-end processor. LG has s