The way that a product is viewed is important to that product’s overall story. It is the classic Thomas Edison versus Nikola Tesla conundrum. While it can be argued that Tesla was the more innovative mind, the world chooses to remember Edison. Both men were incredibly gifted minds that have contributed to modern innovation. But when history looks back at both men, Edison is viewed as the incredible inventor while Tesla is relegated as the mad scientist. The reason for this is that Edison was able to turn his ideas into commercial success due to his competence as a businessman. A tragedy of perception defines Tesla and Edison. In the modern smartphone world a similar situation has happened to the two South Korean giants of the industry: Samsung and LG.
LG in many regards has kept competing with Samsung and in many ways has bested its neighboring rival. After all, LG has always had better audio and pioneered the ultra wide angle camera before Samsung was able to implement it on their own phones. Year after year, a compelling argument can be made that the LG flagship G and V series compete well against Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note models. Yet the perception of LG as a flagship manufacturer is that they are subpar. A company with bad hardware, gimmicky ideas, and woeful software. A bad reputation to the point where many pundits have wondered why LG still has a mobile division. This reputation has impacted the profitability of LG’s mobile division which has been losing money for years now.
It is with all of this in mind that LG has announced their newest flagship phone, the LG V60 ThinQ. A phone that has seemed to answer a lot of the public’s gripes with LG. A criticism of LG has been the price of their devices which have been deemed inferior to Samsung. In response to this, LG has started the pricing of this device at $799 ($899 with the dual screen accessory) which is $200 less than the standard Galaxy S20 and $400 less than the Galaxy S20+. The LG G8 ThinQ from last year was panned as gimmicky and outdated with its notched display, rear fingerprint sensor, and blood vein reading camera sensor. This device was panned widely, so LG listened. They removed the gimmicks and tried to make a solid phone for its fans, let’s talk about that device.
What kind of phone is the LG V60?
Anyone that has been following LG phones over the past few years knows what a V series phone from LG is supposed to represent. A V phone is LG’s kitchen sink device, designed for power users and content creators. The V series has always had an emphasis on video and audio superiority. This phone is no exception. Everything about its specs is in service of this. Four microphones for enhanced audio quality while recording video, a huge battery to last all day long while recording content, 8K recording to get the best possible video content, dual screen functionality for multiple app usage for content creators, and of course proper pro mode tools for enhanced photo editing. This is not a mainstream phone.
This is not a Galaxy S20, Pixel, or iPhone. This is a power user phone, a phone for people that take their content recording seriously. So while the YouTube and blog reviews have been trashing this device as inferior to a Galaxy S20 because of a lower refresh rate display and lower resolution. LG is veering away from a lot of smartphone trends here by keeping the headphone jack and not going all in on 120hZ displays. With this phone LG has proverbially put up the white flag on competing with Samsung and Apple because they simply do not market their devices enough to compete with the duopoly.
So what is the V60 good at? Audio, battery life, video recording, and day to day performance. This phone can serve two purposes. The perfect vlogger and creator companion is the first while the second is the person looking for a large screened device for under $1000 which is something that Apple and Samsung don’t really have right now. The consistent criticism of LG has been around their software implementation on their phones. The V60 is their first V phone with the revamped LG Home UX. While taking many cues from Samsung’s One UI, LG is still being called software incompetent while One UI has been praised. But LG has something here in the overall package, and the company is starting to focus on what it does well.
The Differentiation Proposition
LG has realized that the overall package appeal of their devices has not really existed since the G3. This means that the company has to pivot into what they do well and emphasize that with their new devices moving forward. The company has decided to pivot into three main points: pro-grade camera, productivity, and class leading audio and video capability.
LG’s focus on cameras is not something that is a novel idea. After all, every single manufacturer not named OnePlus has the camera as a focus of their flagship offering. But there is a nuance to focusing on cameras. Every company has a different priority. Google focuses on their software based AI and HDR to make photos look their best. Apple has focused on true to life photos through the marriage of hardware and software. And Samsung has focused on the best possible zoom quality with their camera. LG is taking the pro mode route with photos and high quality audio with video. It can be argued that the depth of detail in LG’s pro mode is industry leading. LG is going away from the Auto magic that Google offers and instead aiming their efforts on people that are comfortable with tweaking settings in their camera interface.
Productivity is LG’s second pillar. This is defined by the existence of the Dual Screen Accessory. This is again a situation where LG has veered away from the direction that Samsung has taken with the folding phone strategy. Instead of a small screen that becomes one large screen, LG has taken the strategy of one screen that transforms into two. LG sees more value in being able to run two apps side by side, such as working on an email while watching YouTube videos at the same time. There are many possibilities here that make this approach incredibly useful. The key here is productivity when you need it, and a regular phone when you don’t. This is something that something like the Galaxy Fold cannot achieve. This is how LG creates a difference, and they may be on to something here as Microsoft is taking a similar productivity approach with the Surface Duo that is launching later this year.
The last trademark of LG moving forward will be audio and video capability. LG is the last company standing that has kept the headphone jack in their flagship offerings. It is not merely including the jack, but rather the quality of the output from wired headphones. The inclusion of the 32-bit DAC (digital audio converter) has been a staple of LG phones for years, and the quality of the output here cannot be overstated: it is infinitely better than any adapter solution on other phones. In addition to this, LG has prioritized high frequency microphones on their phones to make sure that the audio quality on video is the best of any Android manufacturer. Overall, these three features make any offering from LG compelling and worthy of being considered as a next phone.
Perception vs Reality
LG does not have a quality issue, rather they have an image problem. The most infamous LG blunder was the LG G4, with its various bootlooping motherboard issues. That phone was released in April of 2015, its issues still haunts LG to this day. The Galaxy Note 7 literally exploded, was released a year later, but has been forgotten and Samsung has been forgiven. This goes back to the Tesla and Edison parallel. Samsung’s ability to market and sway public opinion in their favor has been why they have been able to move past the Note 7 fiasco. The ghosts of the G4 have haunted LG with a reputation of being unreliable and defective.
That perception has persisted to today. Walk into a phone store or watch a YouTube video about an LG phone. The same rhetoric will be mentioned about a lack of hardware and software reliability as a reason to stay away from LG phones. In stores, iPhone and Samsung are the first recommendations here in the US. OnePlus and Google have now become slightly more cost effective alternatives behind those two companies. This has left LG hardware out in the cold so to speak. Stuck in between the upper mid tier of pricing and the ultra flagship pricing, making them a non-starter for many people that recommend phones to the average consumer.
The reality of the situation is that while LG is not the best at software updates, they have gotten better over the past year or so and really aren’t that far behind Samsung in that regard. Additionally, newer LG phones do hold up well over time as phones that are 2–3 years old still have good functionality to handle basic tasks such as the G6 and G7. LG’s cameras have also improved over time to be relatively on par with what is offered from Samsung. The company has always kept as many options to the user as possible as well by still offering the headphone jack, fast wired charging, micro SD card support, and wireless charging. A combination of all of these elements are not seen very often by phone manufacturers but yet LG is offering this.
The reality now in 2020 is that LG makes good phones. Everyone makes good phones. It becomes a matter of priority. LG makes phones for people who take a lot of video and consume a ton of content on their phones. This is where the company excels and where they will continue to operate. In short, LG has a path to success and they are not dead in the water as people would like to believe.
The Path Forward
LG with the V60 has now realized that they will no longer compete at the $1000 price bracket. Rather by competing at $800 with a 5G modem they are announcing that they are now competing with OnePlus and their upcoming OnePlus 8 Pro. LG realizes that Samsung and Apple are untouchable at the very top of the food chain. Google has realized this as well, as the new Pixel 5 will reportedly have an upper mid range processor. Moving forward, LG will operate in the $600–800 space while prioritizing their three new pillars.
Where does this leave the V60? At $900 with the Dual Screen accessory at T-Mobile it is priced the same as the OnePlus 7T Pro MacLaren. Side by side, there is an argument to be made for either device as an affordable 5G alternative to the Galaxy S20. LG is no longer competing with Samsung, they are now the affordable alternative in Korea. Focusing on audio, video, pro cameras, and dual screen productivity. LG can now focus and brand themselves as the productivity brand, almost like a modern reincarnation of BlackBerry.
The V60 is a start of a new chapter for LG’s phone hardware. The G9 when it is released later this year, it will continue that mission. LG can position itself now as the company that will prioritize productivity and content consumption without having to spend over $1000. When the price drops, then the way we judge companies will be more lenient. We saw this with the Pixel 3a, as long as there is a competent overall experience the price can be justified. There is such a small margin for error with charging $1000, which is a wave that Apple and Samsung have been able to navigate.
At that level, LG cannot win the battle of perception. They are Nikola Tesla, constantly in Samsung’s Edisonian shadow. It is time for the Korean company to side step the shadow and create its own path. The path of the upper mid range is that way where the company can finally shine and show its worth to consumers. The war of the ultra flagship has been settled. But the race of the upper midrange is only beginning. Many people are tired of paying so much but still want a great experience. The opportunity is there for LG, it is on the company now to seize it.