MWC 2019 is certainly turning out to be the show of 5G phones and folding phones, and at MWC today, LG took the wraps off its first 5G smartphone, the V50 ThinQ. It's a tidy looking Android phone with a hefty battery and plenty of cooling for its power-hungry processor. There's plenty of new technology here but LG believes it has done enough with the V50 ThinQ to combat some of the perceived problems with the first wave of 5G-touting phones.
T3 was at a press briefing where Ken Hong, Head of Global Corporate Communications at LG, along with some of LG’s product managers, showed off the new handset and talked about some of LG’s philosophies behind its design.
Hong said that when designing the phone, there were three misperceptions of 5G handsets that LG wanted to prove wrong.
The first is that because 5G is power-hungry, then battery life must be hugely compromised. While agreeing that 5G requires extra power – in part because people are likely to use 5G handsets for more power-intensive tasks – Hong claimed that the 4000mAh battery in the V50 will be enough for 1.2 days of use.
The second misconception, Hong said, is that there would be a problem with heat dissipation – in other words, that your phone gets really, really hot. Xiaomi addressed this issue in its 5G Mi MIX 3 with a heat-capturing layer and six layers of graphite. LG says it has added a “vapour chamber” to the V50, whereas 4G phones generally only use copper wire, apparently. This, said Hong, means that heat dissipation is 40% faster.
The final misconception, Hong concluded, is that a larger battery and extra cooling means that a 5G smartphone needs a cumbersome, chunky design. LG said its primary goal was to make the design of the V50 thin, and in that sense it has undoubtedly succeeded – the V50 measures just 8.3 millimetres thick and weighs 183g, which is only a shade more than the V40, which weighs in at 169g.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G specs
Inside the V50 there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 with a Snapdragon X50 5G modem. The screen is a 6.4-inch QHD+ OLED display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio.
In terms of shooting pics and videos, there are three rear-mounted cameras and two front-facing cameras. There's no unsightly camera bump to be found, either, as everything sits flush under a glass back. And because LG envisages people using 5G for a lot of video streaming, there’s even a dedicated ‘Go Live on YouTube’ button.
That button is a neat idea, though hopefully it can be customised to launch other live streaming services, like Twitter and Facebook, for those who aren't wholly invested in the Google-owned video platform.
As for the display, LG promises this is “the best OLED display the industry has”. Audio comes from stereo speakers – 1.3W on the bottom and 0.7W on top – and the phone has ‘Boombox speaker’ capabilities. This is something that LG has used in previous smartphones and uses the body of the phone to act like a speaker cabinet to improve the sound.
At a show where everyone seems to be talking about dual-screen folding phones – the Huawei Mate X being a real showstopper here in Barcelona – the V50 has its own dual-screen trick.
In what is certain to cause comparisons with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X, LG is also launching an optional add-on of a second screen for the V50. Called the Dual Screen, the additional screen clips into a folio case that the V50 sits in and then the phone transmits its signal to the secondary display using a proprietary shortwave standard (called Keyssa). You then have two screens side by side, like the inside pages of a book, and you can fold the case back itself so that the screens are back to back, like a book cover, or like the pages of an inside-out book if you prefer that analogy.
So it’s another dual-screen phone, just like the Galaxy Fold? No, not quite.
Hong is quick to point out that this is not what the V50 is designed to be. Instead, this is a smartphone that has an optional second screen that you can use to do some fun and useful things.
The LG team then talked through a few of those uses, promising that more would be added later via software updates.
In closed mode, you could take a photo of someone and they would be able to see themselves in preview mode on the screen that’s facing them. In open mode, you could use it for video calls and see yourself on one screen and the person you’re talking to on the other... although frankly, this seems like a use for only the most vain Skype callers. For gaming, one screen can display the gameplay while the second screen shows the controls – avoiding the problem of the virtual joystick crowding the screen. You can also swap between different gamepad layouts. Or you could have a web browser on the top screen and a large keyboard on the bottom screen. Or watch a movie on one screen and search IMDB on the other. Anyway, you get the idea...
We know that LG is perfectly capable of making bendy, rollable screens. Just look at its rollable OLED TV that stole all the headlines at CES. But now is not the right time for LG to be releasing a folding phone, it said.
The company recently told a press conference in Seoul that it has "reviewed releasing the foldable smartphone when launching [its] 5G smartphone but decided not to produce it.”
It added: "LG’s main issue in [the] smartphone business is to regain its market position" and that "it is too early for LG to launch a foldable smartphone".
So what we have instead is an interesting device that is almost certainly not going to have anything like a Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X price tag. That means it will enable people who are interested in a dual-screen phone to experience one without shelling out $2,000 (or perhaps even more for the 5G-enabled Fold when that goes on sale later this year). And if the market for folding phones really takes off, no doubt that’s when LG will come back with a true, one-piece folding phone.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G price and release date
The V50 ThinQ release date is set for the first half of this year and LG says it is partnering with 10 major carriers in markets where 5G service will be launched this year, including the United States, South Korea, Australia and a number of European countries.
In the UK, EE today announced that it has partnered exclusively with LG to bring the V50 ThinQ 5G to UK buyers "later this year." No prices – for the handsets or contracts – have yet been announced.