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With V10 smartphone, LG aims to build a franchise to rival iPhone 6S Plus

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The LG V10 features a unique secondary screen above the main display.
Sarah Tew/CNET

LG’s family tree of smartphones just gained another branch.

The South Korean electronics conglomerate on Thursday showed off the V10, a smartphone with a unique, secondary ticker screen atop the main display that shows commonly used apps, weather information and time. It also sports a pair of front-facing cameras for higher-quality selfie photos.

More important than any specific feature found on the V10 are LG’s ambitions for the smartphone as the foundation of a new franchise. The company said it is already planning a sequel device next year and believes the larger screen will give consumers another premium alternative to the iPhone 6S Plus and Galaxy Note 5.

“This is the beginning of a new series,” Ramchan Woo, vice president of product strategy for LG, said in a roundtable session with media.

The V10 with its 5.7-inch screen marks a more concerted effort by LG to build a competitive phablet, a category of larger handsets that look like a cross between a phone and a tablet. It’s a market that has grown, thanks in part to Samsung and its Galaxy Note franchise. While Apple doesn’t break out specific model sales, the addition of the iPhone 6 Plus with its 5.5-inch screen helped turned last year’s generation of iPhones into the company’s best-seller of all time.

LG is hoping for some of the interest in phablets to rub off on the company.

The brand challenge

Where Samsung and Apple both extended their well-known brands to their phablet lines, LG has opted to create a new brand altogether.

“I can’t think of another major vendor with a flagship line and a premium materials line,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst at Reticule Research.

LG executives debated whether to stick with the G brand, which it uses for its flagship G4 and its G Flex 2 smartphones, or try something different, Woo said. It chose to go with V10 to create a product without ties to the rest of its portfolio. It also wanted a number that was higher than four (as in G4), Woo said in a follow-up interview.

LG V10 shows off two front-facing cameras and screens (pictures)




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LG, often overshadowed by larger South Korean rival Samsung, has long struggled with brand identity, only recently making headway with the G series of smartphones for its advanced cameras and ability to pack a big display in a relatively svelte body.

The progress of its smartphones, particularly the latest G4 and the curved G Flex 2, has given the company confidence to try something new.

“The situation is better,” Woo said. “People are aware of what LG is making.”

Still, LG’s standing in the smartphone world has slipped. The company has dropped out of the top five global smartphone players, falling to sixth behind Samsung, Apple and a trio of Chinese vendors, according to research firm Counterpoint. The company in July posted disappointing second-quarter results marked by lower smartphone sales.

Woo said the company is prepared to invest to establish the new franchise.

‘Little adventures’

While the G4 is designed to appeal to a wide audience, the V10 will go after consumers who embark on “little adventures” every day, Woo said.

That’s evidenced by the company’s focus on the video and photo capabilities of the device. The dual front-facing cameras can take a standard selfie photo or a wider-angle group selfie shot.

One feature allows you to take a few seconds of video throughout the day and have the V10 compile a longer video for you. Another summarizes your videos into 15-second highlight reels. LG also made it simple to share photos and video with social buttons that pop up on the camera and gallery screen.

But consumers are more concerned about the quality of photos than video, Rubin said. “Video quality is a harder sell for the mainstream,” he said.

The ticker screen, meanwhile, will constantly display the information of your choice. It uses the same always-on capabilities found in its smartwatches.

The V10 also has premium features such as a fingerprint reader and a stainless steel frame, making it the first LG smartphone to feature metal in its chassis.

Whether all that’s enough to get consumers to consider LG as an alternative to the iPhone 6S Plus or Galaxy Note 5 remains to be seen.

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