The Life and Times of LG: The Comeback King

Although there are several mobile phone companies originating in South Korea, the two best known global brands are Samsung and LG. This time last year, if we had asked the question ‘from which of those two manufacturers would you buy a smartphone’ we’re almost certain the majority of people would have answered with Samsung.

Here’s a quick test. Name an LG smartphone not branded as an Optimus – go! Difficult isn’t it, and when the smartphone rules as it does right now, you can imagine the concern this must have raised at LG headquarters. What’s interesting is that LG were always prolific when it came to releasing feature phones, and even beat Samsung and Motorola with super-stylish designer fashion phones too.

LG entered the UK mobile phone market in 2003, so they’re fairly new to the game here, hoever, they’d  been producing phones for other markets since the late 90s. Looking through their back catalogue reveals a considerable amount of functional, yet unremarkable, feature phones – until 2006 that is, when they struck gold. Black gold.

From that moment on, if you wanted a flashy feature phone, you went to LG. Their Black Series – more on which later – produced some stunning devices and the company began to branch out into top-end camera phones too, even challenging Sony Ericsson at times. But as the calendar clicked over to 2008, LG seemed to lose their way slightly, and as phones such as the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1 began to create more interest in the smartphone market, LG carried on making feature phones.

It was 2010 before LG produced a ‘modern’ smartphone, and even then it was behind the curve. Things began to gather pace over the next 12 months, culminating in the launch of the E900 Windows Phone 7 device and the announcement of the Optimus 2X – the world’s first Tegra 2 dual-core smartphone – and the Revolution, a 4G LTE phone destined for the USA.

All of a sudden LG were back! Several top-end devices to make the fans drool and a smattering of well-priced Android smartphones to keep things ticking over entered their range. Like Nokia and Samsung, LG still has a solid range of feature phones too, but if you want to be taken seriously nowadays you need a strong smartphone portfolio – and it appears LG has realised this and acted upon it.

LG Hardware: Hall of Fame!

Not only has LG produced some stunning phones, but they’ve produced a fair amount of influential ones too. We’ve picked three phones which we think epitomise LG’s approach to mobiles, and somewhat surprisingly we were spoilt for choice. You may have to cast your mind back to recall the first two, but if you do remember them then you’ll know just how exciting they were when they came out.

LG KG800

The what? We wouldn’t be surprised if the code number doesn’t ring any bells, but that will change when we tell you the KG800 was better known as the LG Chocolate. The very first phone in LG’s Black Series premium range, this little slider phone went on to sell more than 7.5 million units. It took its name from the styling of the keypad, which resembled a chocolate bar, and had a set of cool touch sensitive buttons   (which needed the heat from your finger to work, meaning they wouldn’t activate just from being in a pocket)  that glowed red below the screen.

As it was 2006 and the device a feature phone, the 2G Chocolate didn’t do much aside from make calls, but it did have a 1.3 megapixel camera lens with an LED flash on the back!

The Chocolate had a sister phone named the KE800, or Chocolate Platinum, notable for a few extra features, an improved camera and a classy chrome bar saying ‘chocolate’ across the centre of the device. It looked great, but it couldn’t match the effortless style of the original KG800.

The KG800 was followed some years later by the BL20 and BL40, or ‘New Chocolate’ phones. They looked awesome, but came when all the attention was on Android and the iPhone and neither had the impact LG would have wanted.

LG KE850

Another meaningless code number! Like the Chocolate, this is another phone which caused quite a sensation when it was launched at the beginning of 2007; we’re talking of course, about the LG Prada. For the famous designer label to put their name on a mobile phone, it would have to be something special – and it was, for this was a full touchscreen device with a capacitive screen available at the same time as the original iPhone.

Remember, when the iPhone came out it was at first, a US-only device. The Prada offered similar designer touchscreen style across Europe and was almost as good when it came to the tech, with 8GB of storage, an MP3 player, A2DP Bluetooth and a camera featuring a Schneider-Kreuznach 2 megapixel lens. The one area where the Prada didn’t do so well was its software, as the Flash-based operating system was fiddly, unresponsive and often frustrating.

It didn’t matter though, as the Prada sold more than a million in 18 months – a good performance for a phone costing more than £400 – and spawned a less successful sequel with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.  Our enduring memory of the Prada? Its animated goldfish wallpaper!

LG P990 Optimus 2X

Their latest and greatest smartphone is a beauty, inside and out! The Optimus 2X is the first dual-core Tegra 2 phone to go on sale, with the NVIDIA chip running at 1GHz and backed up by a GeForce GPU, a 4-inch screen and an 8 megapixel camera; making it a serious contender for the year’s best.

The Optimus 2X signifies LG’s big push into the top-end smartphone market, an area where it hasn’t made any impact prior to now. It has the potential to be a winner, and its importance to LG can’t be over-stated.

Special mention should also go to the one phone which didn’t quite make the top three – the original KE990 Viewty, a touchscreen phone with a 5 megapixel camera which took superb photos, and truly took the fight to Sony Ericsson’s well-respected Cybershot range of phones.

LG Hardware: The Low Points

LG’s wilderness years of the late 2000s provides a good few examples of where the manufacturer went wrong, and here are three which didn’t quite hit the mark.

KM900 Arena

What a hateful phone the Arena was, a fact especially frustrating due to its good overall spec, including a 600MHz processor, a 3-inch touchscreen, GPS, Wi-Fi and a 5 megapixel camera.  The Arena was killed stone dead by two things. One: the S-Class UI was ridiculously unresponsive and shockingly unstable; and two: it had 8MB of RAM. You try browsing any modern website, running more than one app or side-loading a Java program with 8MB RAM!

The Cookie Fresh, Cookie Plus, Cookie Gig and many, many more…

Although hugely popular, these generic mid-range touchscreen feature phones were being churned out by LG at a time when they should have been paying attention to making a good smartphone. They pleased the teens wanting touchscreen phones on a budget, but they did nothing at all to help LG’s reputation.

LG KH3900

Released only in South Korea the KH3900 is actually rather clever, as it’s a ‘fixed mobile convergence’ device which means it can operate on both cell and fixed networks. Otherwise it’s just an innocuous flip phone.  he problem lies in its name, for the KH3900 is also known as the Joypop.  That’s right, the Joypop, and we can’t even begin to say how wrong that sounds.

LG: The Future

What LG needs to do is maintain the momentum they’ve gathered in the smartphone market, while still keeping a solid feature phone range for territories where they still sell well. It’s a very similar story to Motorola and Nokia, actually.

It’s looking positive too, as not only has LG made an initial move into the tablet business with the Optimus Pad, but they’re also bringing us the Optimus 3D smartphone.  The Optimus 3D is everything an LG smartphone should be – good-looking, well-specced and with that little something extra to make it standout against the competition. Adding 3D to your gadget is the fashionable thing to do at the moment, and it just feels right that LG should be there exploiting it.

We can expect at least one more Windows Phone 7 device from LG soon too, as they were among the manufacturers confirmed to be supporting the Mango update.

It’ll be fascinating to revisit LG again in 12 months to see if they’ve continued on this exciting path!

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