To review a phone as radically different as the LG Wing takes time. Time to savor the experience and judge whether it works for me. Over the span of the past two months, I deliberately took the time to figure out whether LG’s pivot to making different and for the lack of a better term, weirdly wonderful phones simply to stand out from the competition was a smart move.
Except, it’s now time to write an epitaph for LG’s smartphone business. LG Mobile, the Korean tech giant’s mobile device business has announced today that it is shuttering the business and stopping production on new phones with immediate effect, with service support and software updates to continue for a yet-unspecified period of time. Where does that leave the LG Wing and its uniquely-swivelling display, aside from “in the lurch”? Is there a genuine multitasking benefit that this form factor delivers, or is it just a cool party trick?
Just take a look at the design, though. In a market of samey smartphone designs struggling to stand apart from either other, this one doesn’t even have to try.
At first glance, the tall and narrow design looks like any other 6.8-inch all-screen smartphone, and the slightly portly thickness is still compact enough that you wouldn’t guess that there’s any more to this phone. There’s no denying its weight, which at 260g is something you simply cannot ignore.
Flick the lower right corner of the phone to the left, and the entire main display swivels into a horizontal orientation, revealing a second 3.9-inch OLED screen underneath. After hundreds of swivels back and forth, the mechanism still feels sturdy and top notch, one that glides into position smooth and snaps shut with an incredibly satisfying click. It reveals a bias towards right-handers though, in the way the mechanism is activated.
Now, while the hardware implementation is exceptional, it’s the utility that matters. You have to account for the fact that there aren’t too many apps that default to a horizontal orientation on Android, with most popular apps like Instagram shunning landscape mode altogether and others like Twitter and Chrome just not looking too great in landscape mode. Games and video are the two exceptions, in that you can imagine having the primary content on the main screen and having media or game controls on the second screen. For instance, while using YouTube, the secondary display will display media controls, or a game like Asphalt will show you the route map on the second screen while you race on the main screen. The first party apps like the music apps and note taking software adapt to the second screen, but support for third-party apps is rare. Apps supporting the second screen requires developers to roll up their sleeves and put in some effort, something I’ve seen happen on far too few apps over the two months I’ve used the Wing – not surprising the niche this device targets – and with today’s news, it’s pretty much the end of the road for any developer enthusiasm.
Running two apps on the Wing opens up a bunch of multitasking possibilities – you could, for instance, run a movie on the main screen and WhatsApp on the smaller screen, or run a Fortnite session and a YouTube walkthrough on the two windows, or watch a Zoom session and take notes on the second screen, or look up movie trivia when watching it on the main screen. While doing so, your mileage will vary – some apps don’t scale to the smaller screen, or be anything short of an awkward experience. Or, you could ask yourself this – is it worth buying a phone just for the few times I expect to want to do all this?
The rest of the Wing is as mid-range as it gets, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset and 8GB of memory and 128GB of built-in, user-expandable storage, so you know that the majority of your money has gone into enabling the Wing’s unique design. In pure performance terms, while the Wing is capable and multitasks well for most daily use scenarios, you could look at scores of phones half its price. The custom skin and the lack of bloatware work in the Wing’s favour, but it’s fairly inexcusable that the phone still runs Android 10 in April 2021 while everyone else is launching or updating their devices to Android 11. Battery life is decent given its 4000mAh battery capacity, but the included 16.2W takes well over an hour and half to fully charge the device.
The camera setup has some interesting additions that play well with the Wing’s design. There’s a 64MP primary, a 13MP ultra-wide-angle with a 117-degree field of view and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide gimbal motion camera with a 120-degree field of view. When folded, only two cameras are accessible, with the third gimbal motion camera coming alive in opened state. Even the app interfaces differ – when you flip the display open, the app goes from a regular app with shooting modes to one with drone/gimbal-like shooting controls on the second-screen. The Wing’s smaller display serves the function of a grip and has a joystick to pan the camera left and right. It’s not a real gimbal mount, and the pan movement is entirely in software using digital crop on a wide field of view. That said, it’s fun to use, but it’s limited to 1080p/30fps videos which go south in low light. There’s even a dual-recording mode which could interest vloggers.
The main camera offers a decent amount of details and dynamic range in the scene, but colours are muted…and its handling of HDR scenes lacks the sort of polish you’d expect from a 60,000-rupee phone. Low-light images turned out well, even without Night mode enabled. Selfies are good.
There’s no denying that the Wing’s swiveling display is engineering well-executed and a super novel toy in excitable hands, but it’s also a perfect example of innovation that just doesn’t have enough of a use case to warrant the outlay. Being different and interesting doesn’t equal good or great in this case, and that’s largely true of LG Mobile’s last couple of years. Unfortunately, Life’s not Looking Good for LG, and this rather unique ability of the company to take a leap of faith on new form factors will sorely be missed in the industry.
Highlights: LG Wing
Pros: Unique design, immersive display, excellent haptics, clean software,
Cons: Display lacks high refresh rate, cameras are middling, mid-tier hardware, Android 10, slow charging,
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar