Mobile World Congress looks to be all about funky form factors this year, and following the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X, LG is sort-of tossing its hat into the foldable smartphone ring. LG’s newest flagship, the (deep breath) “LG V50 ThinQ 5G,” is not a foldable smartphone, but it does have an optional case with a whole second screen on it. With two near-identical phone displays next to each other, you can get a lot of the split screen functionality of a foldable smartphone. There are even some interesting new use-cases LG has dreamed up.
On the surface, the LG V50 is mostly a bog-standard 2019 smartphone. You’re getting a 6.4-inch, 3120×1440 notched display, a Snapdragon 855 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, three rear cameras, two front cameras, and a 4000mAh battery. There’s a MicroSD card, an increasingly-rare headphone jack, and a USB-C port. The one thing that makes it stand out from the pack is that this is a 5G phone, with mmWave capability brought to you by the Snapdragon X50 modem. Note that this is not necessarily a good thing, given that this is first-generation 5G hardware that greatly complicates smartphone design.
Form the phone Voltron
You can take your middle-of-the-pack LG phone and strap on the “LG DualScreen” accessory, and suddenly this phone becomes interesting. The DualScreen is basically a folio case, but on the inside, instead of a soft screen cover there is an entire second OLED display. The case adds a 6.2-inch 2160×1080 display to the V50’s built-in 6.4-inch, 3120×1440 display, and a stiff hinge in the middle means you can have two screens side-by-side.
The case connects to the phone over an unspecified short-range Wi-Fi connection and a triple pogo pin connector allows it to draw power from the V50’s internal battery. (I wonder what the 4000mAh battery will be like when it powers two 6-inch HD screens and a 5G connection?) Oddly, these pogo pins are missing from all of LG’s press renders, but in reality they’re just below the LG logo on the back.
There’s a big hinge and bezels separating the two screens, so you won’t be getting any big screen Android tablet action, but there’s plenty of split screen functionality. You can run two apps at once, one in each screen. You can turn the DualScreen+phone combo horizontally, and have a messaging app in the top of the screen, and a keyboard in the bottom, sort of like the old hardware keyboard form factor. There’s an LG GamePad app that will put a game in the top screen, and emulate a controller via the bottom touch screen, like an all-touch Xperia Play. LG’s camera app can show a viewfinder in one screen, and a live preview of all three camera lenses in the other.
Whether anyone wants a sort-of folding smartphone without the big screen tablet functionality is uncertain, though one presumes LG has done its market research. LG isn’t talking pricing or release dates for the V50 or the DualScreen accessory, but we’re going to guess that together the whole package will come in under the $2600 Huawei Mate X and the $1980 Galaxy Fold.
LG says of its 5G service that the company is “partnering with 10 major carriers in markets where 5G service will be launched this year, including the United States, South Korea, Australia as well as a number of European countries.” In the US, Sprint—which is not building a 5G mmWave network—is calling the phone its first 5G device. Sprint says the V50 will be out sometime this spring, and there are already pictures of the V50 with a bright yellow “5G” stamp on the back from Sprint. Verizon has signed up to launch the phone this summer, but there’s no word yet on how many 5G logos the company will manage to silk screen onto the back.
Finally, I should also mention that this phone has an epic name. Remember “ThinQ” is pronounced “Thin kyo͞o” (not like “think”) and with all the post-nominals this is the “LG V50 ThinQ 5G.” At nine syllables, this is right up there with “Samsung Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch” in the pantheon of wordy Android phone names. It sounds like an old Street Fighter game.