Monday, February 27, 2017

LG unveils the G6: Solid looking device that is no frills but attractively designed

With the G6, announced yesterday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, LG is changing its own definition of "flagship" phone. Don’t expect self-healing materials, modular add-ons, or a focus on high-end specs; in their place is a straightforward device that might not wow on paper, but may well be the company's best phone in recent memory.

The guiding principle behind the G6's design, LG says, was to make a phone with a big screen that's easy to use in one hand. The obvious way to do that is to reduce the bezels surrounding the screen, which LG has done to a greater extent than ever before, but the company has also changed the shape of the screen itself. The 5.7-inch LCD has a resolution of 2880 x 1440, giving it a taller 18:9 aspect ratio — in other words, it's exactly twice as tall as it is wide.

By increasing the height of the screen rather than just stretching it diagonally, LG has created a phone with very manageable width that doesn't sacrifice the ability to display a lot of content at once. The display's corners have also been rounded off, evoking the softer edges of the device itself, although the curves don't match exactly. The G6 is dominated by this screen, with the small bezels allowing 80 percent of the front of the device to be given over to the display.

Rounded corners aside, this doesn't leave a ton of room for industrial design flair — I'd describe the phone as conventionally attractive, if a little nondescript. But the most impressive physical aspect of the G6 is its incredibly solid metal and glass construction. Although it isn't too hefty at 7.9mm thick, this thing feels like a battleship. It's also LG's first G-series phone to be water- and dust-resistant, rated at IP68.

Those rounded corners aren't just there to show off. LG actually filed off the edges of the LCD panel, making more room for reinforcement around the corners of the phone itself, which is the most common area to suffer impact damage and which could otherwise have made the G6 especially vulnerable. If the panel remained rectangular with this slim-bezel design, its corners would have been much closer to the edge of the device and therefore more vulnerable to cracking upon impact.

About the only thing the G6 has in common with its predecessor, the modular (and unpopular) G5, is its approach to the camera system. Like the G5, the G6 has two cameras on the rear of the device, one with a normal lens and another that shoots at a wide angle. (The 5-megapixel selfie camera's 100-degree field of view is somewhere in between the two.) Unlike the G5, however, the G6's wide-angle camera is getting nearly equal treatment — both modules use the same 13-megapixel sensor, meaning that image quality from each should be much closer.

The normal camera does have an f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization while the wide-angle has to make do with a slower, unstabilized f/2.4 lens, but those issues tend to be less important at wider focal lengths because you have more leeway with longer shutter speeds. While I can’t yet speak to the overall quality of the results without using the G6 more, there’s reason to be optimistic: LG has a pretty good track record in this area.

The camera is one of the areas LG has focused on with the G6's software, dubbed "Fullscreen UX." Because the screen's aspect ratio amounts to two adjacent squares, the G6 has a bunch of shooting modes based around Instagram-ready 1:1 photos — there's even a home screen icon called "Square Camera" that acts as a shortcut to the relevant section of the camera app. You can take one photo and view the previous one directly below it to compare framing; another twist on this lets you use an earlier picture as an overlaid guide to help you create a series of shots with identical composition. If you're shooting more conventional 4:3 frames, the extra space at the edge of the display is used to show a carousel of recently shot photos.

LG has developed extended landscape modes for some of its other apps, too; Mail and Calendar each benefit from having side-by-side panels, though Google's included equivalents are simply stretched wider. LG also consulted with Pantone on a "natural vivid" color palette for the UX, and created an algorithm to crop or frame third-party app icons for a more uniform style.

It probably goes without saying that none of this is likely to please Android software purists, but I find the visual design inoffensive enough and it's a lot less onerous than previous efforts from the company. The G6 will also be one of the first major phones to ship with the Google Assistant, which has previously been limited to Google’s own Pixel phones.

As for the internal hardware, the G6 has a few items on its spec sheet that might turn heads. The battery is a reasonable 3300mAh and can charge to 100 percent in a speedy 96 minutes, but it's the first on a major LG phone to be non-removable — LG says the embedded design was necessary for water resistance. Other notable G6 features depend on where you're living: you get both major types of wireless charging in the US model, for instance, but a quad DAC for high-quality audio is limited to Korea. But as for Europe, where this phone is being unveiled to the world? Neither. LG says that its kitchen-sink approach to features will be reserved for the V-series in the future, with the G-series being positioned at a lower price point (as yet unrevealed) and with business decisions affecting which elements make it into each regional variant.

Another point of contention is the choice of processor: Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821, as opposed to the brand-new 835. LG defends this decision by saying that its engineers are more familiar with the design and therefore able to make the phone more reliable; the company also worked with Qualcomm to adapt an 835 feature that simulates smooth optical zoom between two camera lenses to the 821.

It's also worth pointing out that the 821 is an extremely capable processor found in phones from the Google Pixel to the OnePlus 3T, neither of which anyone would accuse of being slow. But with reports that Samsung has exclusively secured Qualcomm's initial supply of the 835 for its upcoming Galaxy S8, LG runs the risk of being perceived as a generation behind.

There's a lot to like about the G6, though, and not many serious red flags at this point. If it holds up under the scrutiny of full-time use, it could well be the most impressive G-series phone yet. LG has made several sensible decisions and shown admirable restraint in many areas — the G6 feels like a far more cohesive product than we're used to from the company.

But that doesn't mean it'll be easy to recommend. Google's refined Pixel smartphones will likely remain better buys for anyone turned off by LG's extensive Android remodeling. Samsung will probably outgun the G6 in terms of performance, and a lot of people will be waiting to see how LG's great local rival strikes back following the Note 7 debacle. And Chinese giant Huawei will be looking to make a further global impact this year after 2016's encouraging P9.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular have all said that they will carry the G6. Verizon and T-Mobile mentioned that it will show up in the “Spring.” If we look at a calendar, then that tells us not to expect the phone before March 20 as it is the first day of Spring. As of this article there is still no word on pricing as well.

I don't see much in the G6 to make me think it's going to lift LG's mobile division out of the realm of marginal profit purgatory, and it sounds like fans of the company's prior approach will be better off waiting for the next V-series phone. But it does make me think that the company is getting a better understanding of what mainstream users actually want out of their phones, and that's enough to make it worth considering as a serious player in what is going to be an extremely competitive year.

No comments:

Post a Comment