We first heard about a strange LG phone, codenamed Wing, earlier this year. The phone looks like a normal device from the front, but a slide-out section at the back reveals a smaller secondary screen that can be positioned perpendicular to the main display.
My first thought was that it couldn’t possibly be more than a quirky internal prototype. The LG Wing is such a weird concept and runs contrary to the foldable and under-display selfie camera trends we’re expecting to see as the next phase of smartphone design innovation.
However, the device has now been spotted in a real-world video and you know what, I’m okay with seeing this phone come to market. After all, this is just the latest example of LG wanting to try something fresh in a rather homogeneous market. Could this be a sign that the daring LG of years gone is back?
While LG has reined in its experimental side recently, that spirit never really went away. It’s stuck to the quirky Dual Screen accessory ever since the LG V50. It also brought the weird with the LG G8 — gimmick-laden phone exemplified by the Hand ID biometric feature that could read your blood to unlock the phone.
As bizarre as these features are, you could definitely argue that the South Korean firm is still playing it a little safer these days than in the past.
A track record of being different
LG is no stranger to trying new things and its list of gimmicks, innovations, and features it popularized is quite a long one.
Take the now-retired G series. These phones offered rear volume and power buttons that actually made a lot of sense from a purely ergonomic standpoint. Your fingers are already wrapped around the back of your phone when you’re holding it — why not put the buttons there too? You couldn’t reach the volume and power keys when the phone was on the table, but that’s why it borrowed Nokia’s double-tap-to-wake gesture and innovated Knock Knock functionality to let you still unlock the phone.
While others didn’t copy LG’s novel rear power-volume button arrangement, we did start to see fingerprint readers relocated from the front bezel to the back of many phones — at least until in-display sensors became a reality.
2014’s LG G3 was first to offer laser autofocus with technology derived from research for LG’s robot vacuum cleaners. Meanwhile, the following year’s LG G4 was one of the first phones to offer a leather-coated back cover — not faux leather like the Galaxy Note 3 either, this was actual leather. Several Chinese brands would later use leather in phone design, most notably the Huawei P20 Pro and the Oppo Find X2 Pro.
The company’s two G Flex phones released in 2013 and 2015 also demonstrated a similar commitment to unconventional features. The Flex duo had screens that curved from the top to the bottom and could actually bend slightly. If you thought that was a departure from the norm, the company even included self-healing backs to prevent permanent damage from light scratches.
2015 also saw the debut of the LG V10. This featured a manual video mode that’s been aped by a variety of brands since then. A crazier addition, however, was the use of a secondary ticker display atop the main screen, akin to Samsung’s edge panel (but above the main display).
Very few of these features and design decisions were game-changers, but this innovation-first approach to design did influence or establish several now ubiquitous features — including, most notably, the de facto standard triple camera setup we see on most flagship Android phones today.
Of course, you can’t really talk about LG being unconventional without mentioning the G5 — arguably the height of the firm’s weirdness. It marked a major departure from conventional design for both LG and the smartphone world at large as it opted for a modular form factor. We’d previously seen modular concepts like Google’s failed Project Ara, but this was the first modular smartphone intended for the mass market.
The LG G5’s modular design saw the battery sliding in and out of the phone — a bit like a gun magazine — with the option to install add-ons such as a camera grip and an extra audio module. It remains one of the weirdest phone designs of all-time.
LG has a reputation for trying new things, even if they don't ultimately work out.
Sadly, LG’s implementation didn’t live up to the concept. Reviewers criticized the build quality, average battery life, and the fact that the audio module only worked with specific variants (what’s the point if it’s supposed to be modular?).
Following the negative reception and poor sales, LG dropped support for G5 mods almost immediately. Only two were ever released that attached directly to the phone. Motorola would later pick up the baton with the Moto Z and almost a dozen Moto Mods, but modular phones have failed to make a dent in the mainstream market.
The G5 may represent the nadir of LG’s mobile division — enough to force the company into a back-to-basics approach for the LG G6 — but you can’t argue that its willingness to try something different wasn’t refreshing.
A return to goofy LG with Wing
Does this aforementioned list of innovations and gimmicks mean that the LG Wing will actually be successful? It’s impossible to tell until we find out what use-cases LG has in mind for this wacky new form factor.
We’ve already seen one use-case in the video teaser for the phone. This shows the phone in a car phone holder with a mapping app on the main screen and the dialler on the other. Based on this single example, it seems like LG thinks the ability to run two apps at once will be handy. It’s not hard to imagine more scenarios like this. For example, using a notepad on one screen and an internet browser on the other.
Welcome back, wacky LG.
The Wing form factor also opens the door for using the same app across both screens. This could mean having editing tools on the small screen and the edited photo/video on the main screen, or watching a web video on the main display and reading comments on the other. It could also mean browsing a social or chat app in landscape mode while typing on the small display, or filming a video in landscape mode on the main screen while tapping the shutter key and tweaking other settings on the small panel.
Some of this functionality could theoretically be done on an LG phone with a Dual Screen accessory, but this combo isn’t an integrated experience nor is it designed for one-handed use as appears to somewhat be the case with the Wing. The company also has the nascent foldables market to contend with. Phones with foldable screens and true dual-screen devices like the Surface Duo are all looking to reinvent the blueprint for mobile design with an eye on maximizing user productivity.
Even if the LG Wing turns out to be a dud with zero practical use-cases, I’m still glad to see the firm throwing caution to the wind instead of playing it safe. Recent releases like the LG G8X and Velvet have been good all-round phones with very reasonable price tags, but they’ve definitely felt safe.
The LG Wing is anything but safe. Welcome back, wacky LG.