HTC and Motorola have traditionally been the two big power brokers in the Android ecosystem, dominating most of the device sales. In the second half of 2010, Samsung joined the fray and made an immediate impact with its Galaxy S smartphones and the Galaxy Tab, the first mass market Android tablet (before Google was even ready to do tablets).
Another big player could join the Android inner circle in 2011: LG. To be clear, LG released an Android device in 2010 -- the LG Ally -- but it was a low-budget wonder that was mostly distinguished by its excellent hardware keyboard and modest price tag.
In 2011, LG is moving upstream, going beyond its feature phone roots, and planning a flurry of high-end Android devices. After everything I saw and tried out at CTIA Wireless 2011, I now consider three LG products among the most anticipated mobile devices coming in 2011:
While LG has its own Android skin called the Optimus UI -- which is about as lackluster as Motorola MotoBlur and Samsung TouchWiz -- I applaud the company for not putting it on the G-Slate and G2x and just running the stock Android OS on those two devices. On the LG Revolution -- which is a very nice piece of hardware -- the best thing I can say about the Optimus UI is that it looks like it doesn't get in the way too badly (I'll have to confirm that when I actually review it).
None of these three devices have an official launch date, but are scheduled to be released this summer. The G-Slate, which will cost $529 with a $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year contract (for the 32GB version running on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network) might succeed where the Motorola Xoom has failed simply because of better timing. The G-Slate's later launch date will allow time for Google to finish refining Honeycomb and for developers to optimize their apps for tablets. The G-Slate will have to compete with the new Samsung tablets announced this week, but the design of the G-Slate definitely feels more high-end than the plasticy Samsung models.
Another thing I like about these three LG devices is that they all have excellent displays. Since LCDs are LG's primary business, it has a lot of expertise here and the result is that its devices have displays that are among the brightest, crispest, and most colorful that you'll find in any Android smartphones and tablets. Even the pre-production model of the G-Slate that I tested at CTIA had a noticeably more vibrant screen than the Motorola Xoom, which I reviewed recently. The displays on the G2x and LG Revolution are on par with the best screens I've seen on any smartphones.
LG has another Android smartphone called the Optimus 3D, which I tried out at CTIA. It uses a glasses-less 3D technology that is really gimmicky, adds little to the product, and is ultimately a waste of resources. LG has also integrated some 3D features into the G-Slate. In both cases, these devices can capture 3D video and play it back (and upload it to the upcoming YouTube 3D channel). In both cases, the experience isn't great and -- like other consumer electronics vendors -- LG would be better off dumping the 3D gimmick altogether.
Still, notwithstanding the 3D detour, LG is going to be an Android player to watch in 2011.
LG shows off its LG Revolution smartphone using the Microsoft Surface at CTIA Wireless 2011. Photo credit: Jason Hiner