Remembering the best (and weirdest) LG phones

The years before smartphones

Before Engadget, I worked at TechCrunch, and before that, I spent my college years selling phones at Best Buy. And in those days, just before smartphones started to take over the industry, LG made some of the best feature phones you could find.

When I was training to, you know, professionally interact with other humans, the first phone I showed off was the LG Fusic, a largely unremarkable flip phone with a twist. At the time, people were starting to think of their phones as music players, so Fusic had a circular group of track controls just below its external display. I don’t recall selling many of them, but LG was right in one respect: Over time, people would actually ditch their iPods, Zunes, and Creative Zens and rely almost exclusively on their phones for entertainment.

Many other models remain stuck in my head after all these years. There were days when I would sell nothing but the LG Shine, an AT&T exclusive all-metal slider phone with a small bump on the track for navigation. Like the Fusic, it didn’t stand out beyond its design, but you have to remember that in those days, all you could really do on your phone was call people, text, or connect to comparatively mobile data networks. glacial. . When feature sets were so limited, you could say that style counted much more than now.

And then there were LG’s messenger phones. Engadget’s head of social media Mike Morris frequently mentions the stranger named LG The V in random conversations, and for good reason. It was one of LG’s first phones with a full physical QWERTY keyboard, albeit a small one, and he spent hours using it to message his friends on AOL Instant Messenger.

“For people who weren’t using T-Mobile or couldn’t afford a Sidekick, this was the best thing on my 14-year-old mind,” he says.

LG’s enV 2 introduced a generation of teens in the mid-2000s to the pleasure of texting on a keyboard.

After the success of The V, LG and Verizon (Engadget’s current parent company) doubled down on the messaging trend with lots of enVs, more capable models with support for EV-DO data, and improved flip-top keyboards. Engadget Senior Editor Karissa Bell tells me she’s “never been able to text as fast” as she could on her wine red enV 2, and considering how many of those I sold in those days, I doubt she’s alone.

Eventually, the enV line gave way to what, in my opinion, was the pinnacle of non-LG smartphones in the US: The Voyager, which took the idea of ​​a flip-up messaging phone and paired it with a display. external touch screen and a 2 megapixel camera. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine it being one of the most anticipated phones of 2007, but there were at least a few people camped out outside my store expecting to spend $ 300 on a two-year contract.

Of course, anyone in the know understood that LG’s best products can only be found abroad. The same year that the Voyager was launched, LG began selling its all-touch Prada, also known as the KE850. Despite having a 2MP camera with Schneider-Kreuznach optics and the first capacitive touchscreen on a phone, the Prada fell short of its upscale namesake. With no Wi-Fi, and a measly 8MB (yes, megabytes) of storage, all packed into a tiny piano-black plastic body meant the Prada was all flash and low on substance. It wouldn’t be until the debut of the stunningly beautiful Chocolate BL40 in 2009 that LG’s feature phones really peaked. But by then, it was clear that smartphones were here to stay.

Adopting Android

LG’s first wave of Android phones wasn’t very special. The 2009 Arena was basically one of the company’s messaging phones with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, only with improved specs to help it run Android 1.0. It took LG engineers a few more years to step up with devices like the LG Optimus G Pro in 2013. Reviews at the time praised its performance and its 5.5-inch 1080p IPS display, making it one of the first great The telephones.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Optimus G Pro kicked off LG’s oldest family of smartphones, the G-series. And I’d say the company’s next G-phone, the LG G2, was what made it. a serious competitor in the flagship smartphone market. The big screen and powerful specs aside, what still sticks with me about the G2 was LG’s ingenious decision to place the phone’s power and volume buttons on the back. That not only meant that LG could slim down the bezels, but the way the button placement ensured that both left- and right-handers could reach the controls. (It’s 2021 and I still want more smartphone makers to do this.)

LG Nexus 5
The Nexus 5 was a fan favorite, but it had some quality control issues.

Right at the time when Optimus G Pro was making waves, Google turned to LG for what would turn out to be a multi-year deal. LG’s mission: to build an affordable Nexus smartphone series to showcase what pure, unfettered Android could do with the right hardware. That deal started with the Nexus 4, a phone that will remain etched in my memory for a long time. That’s not because I was madly in love with this, mind you, it’s because I worked on my review while stranded in San Francisco while my home state was being hit by Hurricane Sandy. It was some of my most depressing days at work, but I had work to do and luckily there were a lot of things I liked.

“What stands out about my Nexus 4 is that it could have been the last time I was very excited about a new phone,” said Engadget Senior Editor Richard Lawler. “I had an original wireless charger when that was still exciting, and even Photo Sphere was a cool feature back then. Best of all, it lived up to expectations. “

LG’s partnership with Google ultimately resulted in two more smartphones, the Nexus 5 and 5X, both of which debuted to critical acclaim, but ultimately left most of us at Engadget pretty dissatisfied in the long run. I clearly remember that I loved my Nexus 5 and used it until the moment it got stuck in a boot cycle, as many LG phones of that generation did. And a quick survey of our team, Slack, confirmed that nearly every Engadget employee who purchased a Nexus 5X saw it fall apart prematurely.

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