Barely days after Samsung presided over a global launch of two new “phablets” aimed at solidifying its hold on large-format smartphones, the “other” South Korean electronics giant, LG, reminded South Africans of its own credentials across formats large and small.
The star of the show at a Johannesburg media event was the new LG G4 Beat smartphone. This is a scaled-down version of the G4, launched earlier this year to unanimous acclaim for its cutting edge camera. The G4, a 5.5-inch curved phablet, features automatic as well as manual shooting, and provides smartphone photographers with the most control yet seen in a phone camera.
Now the same technology is available in the 5.2-inch G4 Beat. As with the G4, the entire phone is curved, according to LG, to match the natural curve of the palm. The big sister may just have been too big to feel comfortable in the hand, but the Beat really is a natural.
“We have a natural arc in the palm of our hands,” says Deon Prinsloo, GM Mobile for LG Electronics SA. “So we retained the arc in the design of the G4 Beat which allows you have the same distance from the eye to all parts of the phone, and it fits better in human hand. It is narrower and slightly smaller than the G4, without sacrificing display size.”
The smaller screen means it competes for attention with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 rather than with the larger phablets. The display may suffer by comparison – it has nothing like the same resolution – but in many other respects, it is remarkably competitive.
Remarkably, because the Beat comes to the shelves at what seems like an absurdly low price: less than R300 a month on contract, and R4 900 for a cash purchase. The Galaxy S6 costs around R12 000.
Aside from the Beat’s 1.5GHz processor – comparable to high-end phones – it offers Full HD 1080p video recording and playback. The 8MP laser auto-focus camera’s Manual Mode gives fine control over shutter speed, ISO, exposure and white balance – previously not possible on phone cameras.
The phone is likely to find enormous appeal in the youth market, which has in the past proved essential to the cool credentials of technology brands. BlackBerry once owned that market, but was unable to maintain the cool factor.
Can LG claim a foothold here? If not, it won’t be for want of trying.
A second phone in the G4 family is about to make waves in that market. It’s called the G4 Stylus, and it is even more remarkable than the Beat. It is a 5.7-inch phone, meaning it is going up against the phablets, like the new 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the 5.5-inch Apple 6 Plus and Huawei G7, and the giant 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate 7.
But here’s the reason one can once again invoke the word “remarkable”: like the Galaxy Note, it sports a large 3000 mAh battery for extended use and a stylus geared to making notes and drawings on the screen. Unlike the Note 5 and iPhone 6 Plus, it is intended to be an affordable phone for the student market. At under R4000, it even knocks the cost socks of the Ascend Mate 7’s already generous R6000 pricetag.
Prinsloo is not shy about making comparisons with competing devices. In particular, the Galaxy Note: “For many, it is impossible to access the Note. A lot of consumers would like a big display with note-taking capability, but most can’t afford the R600-700 per month contract price. Hence we developed the G4 Stylus, which will cost less than a third of that.”
The core target markets are scholars, teenagers aged 14-plus, students and young professionals. It is likely that, between them, the G4 Beat and Stylus will find no shortage of takers in many other niches, too.
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