It’s been years since LG was considered a top tier player in the smartphone space, but the company continues to crank out a handful of new flagship and mid-range Android phones year after year.

Now the company is considering downsizing its smartphone business, selling it off, or killing it outright.

And while any of those options might make good sense financially, it does leave me wondering whether anyone will pick up LG’s torch and continue making weird phones.

LG Wing

Last year LG introduces the LG Explorer project, where the company would dabble with far-out ideas. The first product to come out of that was the LG Wing, an unusual T-shaped dual-screen smartphone. The next Explorer device is expected to be the LG Rollablea smartphone with a flexible display partially rolled up inside the case, allowing you stretch the phone until it’s a tablet-sized device.

LG CES keynote (GIF from Ron Amadeo @ Ars Technica)

But even before LG launched the Explorer project, the company had some weird ideas. Remember the LG G5 with Friends? The company’s 2016 flagship had the kind of specs you’d expect from a high end smartphone at the time, but its most unusual feature was a slot that allowed you to add optional modules like a camera grip with an extended battery, a Hi-Fi speaker, and a 360-degree camera.

LG G5 (with friends)

One can reasonably assume that the modular features weren’t hugely popular with LG customers, because LG scrapped the idea the following year with the launch of the LG G6. But the G6 was one of the first phones to feature an 18:9 aspect ratio at a time when 16:9 was still the norm. That was a time when LG was at the forefront of a trend that has since taken hold throughout the smartphone industry.

Trends that haven’t developed in recent years? Modular phones (with a few exceptions like the Moto Z series and niche devices like the PinePhone) or dual-screen phones with a T-shaped design.

I’m glad a company like LG has been throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. Unfortunately few of those ideas seem to have stuck.

And that may be at least in part because LG wasn’t innovating to fill some sort of unmet need. The smartphone space is intensely competitive these days and it’s hard to make a phone that stands out by having a better processor, camera, screen, or other basic set of features because most phone makers have access to the same components. So from time to time LG has gotten weird in the hopes that it would stumble upon a winning design.

More often than not, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.

But even if LG eventually pulls out of the smartphone business, the company’s technology will likely still play a role in future devices. After all, LG didn’t just design a new smartphone with a rollable display that’s set to launch soon. The company designed that rollable display, which could be sold to other phone makers in the future.

Meanwhile, folks who are still interested in weird phones might have to look to smaller companies like F(x)Tec, Planet Computers, Pine64, and Purism, which have developed phones with features like built-in keyboards, support for GNU/Linux distributions and other free and open source operating systems, and physical kill switches for wireless, mic, and camera functions, among other things.

F(x)Tech Pro1-X with Ubuntu Touch

But these are smaller companies that produce limited quantities of their devices and offer limited support compared to electronics giants like LG or Samsung.

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  1. IMHO most of these companies are/were trying to fight a loosing battle by either copying Samsung (fire a device in all price ranges) or Apple (premium devices only) and forgetting about a differentiating offer that fulfilled the needs of a well defined and understood customer base. Add to that the fact that LG didn’t market most of their products worldwide (US, Korea mostly?!), poor specs (with regards to competitors) and poor support and you get this sort of result.
    The problem is that with HTC gone, Sony and Asus almost gone, Nokia with Identity struggles (Cinese/European, Premium or Cheap, Smart or Feature), Lenovo/Motorola not deciding on what to go for the market (Global not just US) is left in the hands of Samsung, Apple and myriad of Cinese (which most don’t sell globally either).

    My best suggestion to LG would be to create maximum two lines (one mainstream and one explorer) and launch at most two phones (with possible local variants) per year on the first and one for the second. Then they should aggressively price and market those (think Pocophone or Oneplus) and ensure long term software support (Android One perhaps).

    If they sold a 250-300Euro update of the Nexus 5/5X, with Android One, SD 7xx/8xx and dedicated SD slot I would probably get it on the spot. Just like I got the Pocophone F1!

  2. Nokia used to create some innovative phones, and even recently the 9 pioneered Light’s multi-camera setup. ZTE came up with the twin screen phone, and if memory serves me correctly Huawei the periscope zoom.
    I suspect China will offer innovative phones in the future, but whether we get them is another matter.

  3. I have the LG G5 and it is a solid phone that can be picked up for cheap which is still true for a lot of flagship LGs, even outside of the pretty useless lg friends.
    – Replaceable battery
    – 8/10 score in ifixit, I’ve replaced the screen twice already
    – 2017 flagship specs
    – Good DAC and AptX HD codec support
    – regular + wide is a good lens combo
    – IR Blaster!!1

    Also the commerial where everyone is jason statham set to ievan polkka was weird.

  4. All I want is regular and timely security updates for at least three or four years. But nooo… Not gonna happen 🙁

  5. LG has also released a series of good and cheap stylus phones – something I really wish was more widely adopted. With precision input on your handheld you can get some real advanced apps running, for real productivity, like in the good old Palm days. I had real spreadsheets and created advanced music on my Palm device. Doubt that would be possible to do on a finger touch device without serious cursing and pain involved. 🙂 Also, I wish there was a successor to LG Wine Smart.

    1. Isn’t the LG stylus just a simple capacitive one, and not anything like the S-pen, which has pressure sensitivity? As far as I can tell, you can buy the same stylus by itself for six bucks on Amazon, and then use it on any other phone out there. The only downside would be the lack of a stylus slot on whatever phone you used it with.

      1. It seemed to have better precision than the simple ones you can find as accessories in stores (a pointy tip instead of a rounded one). Can’t say for the chargeable active ones you can also find for a slightly larger sum though, perhaps that will give the same experience. But yes, the stylus slot is probably the main feature together with some software adapted for stylus use. S-Pen is no doubt fancier.

        1. LG’s Stylus technology is indeed just a simple Capacitive touch pen, just with a more narrow tip.

          I used an LG Stylus 3 for a few months, and I found the pen useless for anything other than tapping on things. It wasn’t good for writing, as the lack of pressure sensitivity resulted in long trails between words if you didn’t lift the pen off the surface very precisely. Aside from that, the only other thing I found it useful for was using to control my mouse cursor during Remote desktop sessions.

          1. That’s for the cheap phones. The recent flagships (V60 and Velvet) have active (Wacom) stylus support (but no slot, it’s a separate purchase).

  6. All I want is a feature-complete remake of a galaxy s5 with displayport over usb-C and up to date silicon/cameras and freedom to install whatever OS you want/force google to leave you alone without hacking the phone. Surely it’s not crazy to imagine that might sell well enough when the galaxy s5 already did, yet there’s currently no competition in that niche?
    Maybe they can’t do that because google won’t let them; freedom is obsolete, life must suck, and what positivity remains must be illusory and according to some script. Or maybe just it’s something like LG marketing can’t see past its disdain for its customers.

    1. I want that exact same thing, except I want it in a Galaxy S7 body. The S7 was the perfect generation of phone. Everything after it was unnecessary.

      I wonder if replacement phone chassis/screen/glass parts are in enough supply to pull off something like that.