LG G2: We don't need a 'superphone,' we need a superb phone

LG G2: We don't need a 'superphone,' we need a superb phone

Summary: Speeds and feeds are so last year. If hardware makers want to win the smartphone game, they need to focus on experience.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware
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If you haven't heard, LG's new flagship mobile phone, the G2, has arrived.

You can read the CNET review here and news about the announcement here. In the latter, my talented colleague Shara Tibken explains that the Korean phonemaker "hopes that the gadget's impressive specs can stand up to the best from Apple and Samsung."

Wrong. It's all wrong.

Not Shara, of course—she's reporting what she knows. And the phone indeed lives up to the hardware hype: 5.2-inch full HD display, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, LTE-Advanced capable, 13 megapixel camera, et cetera. 

But this is not how we should be selling smartphones six years into their existence.

We need to sell experience, not specifications.

Remember the PC bull market of the very late 1990s, when every computer maker was vying for a place in the consumer's home? I'm talking about the heady days of Intel's Pentium III processor and the great megahertz (then gigahertz) race. Every vendor wants a key statistic to indirectly convey to potential customers that their product is the best; with PCs, there were an array to choose from, most prominently a processor's clock speed. Bigger is better.

As the market matured, it became clear that the numbers no longer mattered. Sure, you might be able to get someone to rationalize a purchase with them, but they didn't really make an impact in terms of the use case—at some point, PC performance became good enough to handle the majority of the market's needs without sweating. In terms of importance, the technology components began to recede.

Smartphones haven't been around nearly as long as personal computers, but I'm convinced that they're on the same path.

When I first held the T-Mobile G1 in my hand in late 2008, its hardware limitations were obvious to me: it was sluggish, animations were jittery, the handset weighed like a brick in my bag. In short, using it was a drag. Today, I can pick up any full-price phone and feel confident that the screen is crisp, the processor is snappy and the entire thing is light and thin enough to slip into a back pocket. While there remain key differences between phones using different operating systems—iOS and Android and Windows Phone and BlackBerry—the handsets themselves have receded a bit. Screen size seems to be the last big statistic for a buyer to hang on, and that seems to be a matter of personal preference more than anything else.

Which leaves user experience: the true be-all, end-all differentiator of a product. In phones, that's tough: everyone's using the same hardware, more or less, and within Android everyone's got the same operating system, too. Custom user interface skins aside, there isn't much for a vendor to choose from to stand out. Who makes the best little black box: LG, Samsung, Motorola?

So the game often boils down to which vendor is first with a new component.

It should really be around who ties them together the best.

With the G2, LG, needs to tamp down talk about the phone's clock speed (2.26 gigahertz, if you're wondering) and RAM (two gigabytes) and "back button" and play up the innovative things that it's trying to do to knit hardware and software together. Otherwise, LG's just pushing the same kit as Samsung and its other Android-based peers.

For example, the phone's answering of an incoming phone call when you hold it up to your ear. That's a solution that actually improves a person's experience. "Guest Mode" also seems like a decent idea; it allows you to sandbox activity when allowing another person to use your phone. Assuming the feature can be engaged in a single, simple motion, it's a worthwhile solution to address how we use our phones today.

"There have been a lot of innovations in the spec battle," Ramchan Woo, LG's head of LTE product planning, said to reporters during the phone's launch. "However, that doesn't make our life better."

That's a nice sentiment, but it's not really the one being pushed by LG.

News headlines about the G2's recent launch:

  • LG announces G2 with 5.2 inch display, minimal bezel, and buttons on the back
  • LG G2 has zippy '800' processor, back-panel controls
  • LG G2: Back-Mounted Buttons, 5.2-inch 1080p Display, 3,000 mAh Battery
  • LG G2 display: ultra-thin bezels, two touch sensors, Graphic RAM and over 6M subpixels
  • LG's new G2: high-end smartphone in the front, button party in the back 
  • LG launches its G2 smartphone: 5.2-inch, 1080p, Snapdragon 800 processor, rear volume rocker
  • LG G2 smartphone unveiled with rear control key
  • LG's New G2 Is a High-Grade Speedster With One Weird Button
  • LG Thinks Putting A Volume Button On The Back Of Its New Phone Will Make You Want To Buy It

Every single one of these headlines is intensely hardware-focused. That's the nature of the enthusiast tech press corps at large, but also a symptom of LG's inability to change the conversation. We wouldn't know these specifications unless LG released them.

(Take Apple, for example: There's a very good reason why you don't know how much RAM is in an iPhone 5 when it's introduced, and it's not because the number is not competitive. The focus is simply: it's better.)

I'm sure rival Samsung sold many, many Galaxy S3 handsets in 2012 purely on technical specifications, but I suspect it didn't really crack the mainstream market without features such as its eye-tracking ability and its voice-activated personal assistant, an overall "quality" feel that put focus on the device's fit and finish and a metric ton of marketing that told you, essentially, that it had feature parity with the iPhone. (Indeed, Jessica Dolcourt wrote then that the device was no speeds and feeds winner, just a better all-around package.)

Let's face it: components are commodities. It's time for phonemakers to focus on building a better phone. And not just a faster, bigger, more numerically-pleasing one.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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6 comments
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  • HTC one excellent experience

    I have owned HTC devices in the past, but once i hit android, i was sold on Samsung. I soon realized the HTC had a great phone when i got the HTC one. I had 90 days to try and i could have switched b/c i was really interested in Samsung S4, but i ended up keeping the HTC one, b/c of my user experience. I loved the phone, the battery life great, and my experience especially with pictures and videos have been over the top. HTC really did produce an excellent phone. I have to admit i had to root the phone to truly enjoy the experience (Zoe + Video hightlights), but overall the most fun i have had is with the picture taking experience. I do not think i can mimic this on any other phones. HTC you've sold me...
    kparikh82276@...
  • i agree in the android world but not overall

    Nokia has changed the game on hardware. Their touch screens that work with gloves on and in bright sunlight, wireless charging without a snap on back plate, their mechanical ois, their unbelievable new camera and their new several orders of magnitude better than apple/Samsung/htc/moto/etc fantastic microphones. There really still are he differeniators out there.
    Johnny Vegas
  • In simple terms I agree

    There are many things in life that can benefit from added wizzes and bangs.
    If left up to the general public everyone would have the best phone on the market and still not be happy, in my opinion, I have learned people want this nice fancy gadget then not use half of it's potential.
    Yes I do mean potential, if something can do something but is never used that much or at all then it simply remains potential.
    Why not save some money and buy a more basic phone that does what you want to do on it, and does it very well.
    Last example, my girlfriends is on my phone plan so I had to be with her when she upgraded her phone.
    She waited for the newest model of what we will call g4 to come out.
    She plopped down 220.00 for it.
    It is a little larger than the one I got 1 week before her the screen is at bare eye look might be slightly better than mine.
    I have a dual core processor she has a quad core.
    But all that said and done she uses mine more than hers because even though she might have to wait less than half a second my phone does what hers does and it's easier to use and feels better in her hand, and just in case I didn't say I only payed 50.00 for the newest model of my phone.
    Why because I don't need the biggest and baddest phone I just need one with the tech. I need under the hood and at a price that is worth it and what is the most important WORKS NICE.
    johnwick72@...
  • PFFTT........theyre not exclusive to each other

    Way off.....

    Seems LG, with the launch of the G2, has combined both as it should be rather than atempting to separate spec from design or UX. They're part and parcel to the mobility platfom success.

    As example the LG G2 includes the following advancement to the Android OS UX:

    * Answer Me — Automatically answers the call after lowering the ringtone when the phone is raised to one’s ear.
    * Plug & Pop — Recommends options or related features to choose from when the earphone or USB cable is detected.
    * Text Link — Allows information embedded in text messages to be selected and easily saved in a memo or calendar and searched on a map or the internet.
    * QuickRemote — Not only can LG G2
     be used to remotely control popular home entertainment devices, it can also learn from conventional remotes and be customized to operate multiple devices with flexible layouts and keys.
    * Slide Aside — Enables easier multitasking by simply “sliding” open apps off to the side using a three-finger swipe.
    * Guest Mode — Protects owner’s privacy by displaying only pre-selected apps when guests access the phone with a secondary unlock pattern.

    All possible by inclusion of flagship "specs". Seems the superphone and suberbphone are, or should be, all inclusive not mutually exclusive. Flagship level hardware drives th UX innovation allowing the terribly fragmented Android OS platfom to advance in both areas.

    As for the abortive compare and contrast of the PC platform and the mobility platform the "more or less" argument says it all. A fully expanded discusion of these would tend to show too many diferences rather than similarities. The PC platform developed over decades and those devices had 2-4 year ugrade pathways where the OS OEM drove the upgrades where UX gain was possible without awaiting a MSP and only awaiting the hardware OEM to update drivers. When the hardware OEM attempted software UX enhancement the enduser ended up with what we now cal Bloatware. And mobility is a three party platform with OS OEM, device OEM and the mobile service provider. The PC platfrm never had to deal with the susidy paradigm which added complication instead of innovation paths.

    JMHO
    flgengineer
  • Apple may have to deliver the same message as LG, since there's not much

    they can do to make their next iPhone that much better than the competition; therefore, they'll be touting their "experience" and their "good enough" smartphones. Perhaps all smartphone makers will be in the same boat, with not much new to offer, since, they'll all be looking and performing the same, with similar prices and similar specs and lots of available apps.
    adornoe
  • Better user experience advancement is only limited by hardware

    You cannot improve the user experience without the necessary horsepower. From Samsung's eye detection technology to Andrew Nusca's favorite, Siri , more processing power is required to accomplish these tasks. That's right Andrew, don't think we didn't catch on to your biased view. I am a fan of technology and like many others I am excited when a new more powerful device is introduced because I know that an even better experience innovation will follow. You can't knock Samsung and LG for having higher specs just because your favorite is falling behind even though "its better". The iOS is an impressive ecosystem but so is Android. But the most impressive thing is that we have options because we don't all like the same things because we all certainly don't think the same way. So if you are going to write about technology, maybe write about something we don't already know. Also, don't make your undying love for apple so apparent.
    Gunner McStabby