It’s no secret that I haven’t been a big fan of LG’s last few flagship smartphones.
When it came to the LG G7 ThinQ, I said that “The G7 ThinQ has all the right parts that you’d expect out of a 2018 flagship device but that’s about it. There’s no grand vision here. No variable aperture, hidden or triple-lens camera. This isn’t a low-risk pitch, the G7 ThinQ plays things so safe it’s practically a no-risk one. It's a by-the-numbers hardware play that - while perfectly adequate - fails to be anything more than a raw, arithmetical, sum of its parts.”
Then, with last year’s LG V50 ThinQ 5G, I said that “Even if it got everything right, it’s still too expensive. It's not without highlights but it feels like you really have to go out of your way to make the LG V50 ThinQ 5G work for you and, even if you can stomach the premium price-tag, that’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow.”
“LG’s first 5G handset tells a familiar story but it’s more of an obnoxious big-budget remake than a cult-classic. It's less Suspiria and closer to the recent live action take on Dumbo. When it comes to the price, this thing sits towards the top of the smartphone totem pole but the gulf between LG and the other brands playing in that range feels like it has never been larger.”
Some might say I’m too hard on the company but, ultimately, LG are one of the biggest consumer electronics brands in the world. When it comes to TVs and Appliances, they’ve striven to match rivals like Samsung tit for tat. When it comes to mobile, the company has struggled on for quarter and after quarter.
Nevertheless, the limited details that LG have disclosed so far about their next big smartphone has me excited in a way I didn’t expect. The upcoming LG Velvet feels like it might have the potential to break the company out of its old bad habits and, regardless of whether that hope pays off, it’s nice to have it.
In a world where Huawei can’t be the one to keep Samsung on their toes when it comes to Android smartphones, it’s not impossible to imagine LG might end up picking up the mantle.
What do we know about the LG Velvet so far?
Apart from the cryptic name, LG have issued out several renders of the device’s form-factor.
At a glance, the Velvet’s “3D Arc Design” looks not only super premium but much more distinct than LG’s last few generations of phone have been. However, importantly, the inside of the LG Velvet is said to be equipped with a Snapdragon 765 processor rather than the 800-series SoC you’d expect from a flagship.
While this suggests that the Velvet won’t be directly bringing it to heavyweights like the S20 Ultra or iPhone 11 Pro when it comes to performance, it does suggest that LG will likely come in at a much cheaper price point. When you factor in the 5G connectivity that Snapdragon 765 brings to the table and the slick design work, it’s easy to imagine a world where the LG Velvet carves out a smart niche for itself between the mid-tier and the ultra-premium. If they can go “cheap enough” and still pull in some of the features usually reserved for premium devices like wireless charging, water resistance or even a headphone jack, then the LG Velvet could well find a new middle-ground to occupy for those who want the practical perks without the premium price-tag.
The back of the LG Velvet boasts a similarly distinct aesthetic. Branded as the Raindrop camera, this setup looks much more minimalist than other Android smartphones do. Where other brands are stacking lenses and pumping up camera bumps, this approach looks like a breath of fresh air and I’m here for it.
If that’s not a more compelling pitch than any of LGs recent smartphones, I don’t know what is. I’ll have to reserve full judgement until the finished product lands on my desk but, even just based on this brief glimpse of it, the look of the LG Velvet has me way more interested than I expected.
Where LG’s last few generations of phones has struggled to tell a story about the brand, the LG Velvet promises to reset the narrative. Rather than chase Samsung and Apple, LG could find their own tempo.
Not every phone needs to be an iPhone-killer and with smartphone sales declining quarter after quarter, it’s becoming clear that the status quo - a price-based race to the top - isn’t doing a great job of serving the needs of either consumers nor manufacturers.
For LG, the Velvet could be an answer to this problem and a chance to redefine what their brand stands for within the larger smartphone landscape. That’s a shot I hope they take.