TORONTO - It's tough for smartphone manufacturers to make new Android devices that stand out in the crowd.
Samsung alone has more than half a dozen smartphones on the market running Google's mobile operating system.
Then there's HTC, LG, Motorola and Sony battling to convince consumers that they make the best smartphone running Android. And to further muddy the waters, Google has partnered with manufacturers to release its own line of Android-based Nexus smartphones.
Clearly, a new Android smartphone needs something different to stand out.
For LG, which is releasing its new G2 model on Friday, the gimmick is hiding all the phone's buttons on the back.
Just below the phone's rear-facing camera is a panel of three buttons: one to turn the phone on and off and two others to raise and lower the volume. LG says those buttons were strategically placed where users tend to rest their index finger while holding a phone. The manufacturer claims its research found a major cause of phones being dropped is users stretching to reach buttons placed on the sides of devices.
So is it a smart idea or a useless gimmick?
A bit of both. The buttons are well placed and it's easy to blindly differentiate between which is which. But the utility is fairly limited. I wished LG took the idea one step further and enabled the volume buttons to act like Page Up and Page Down keys for moving through web pages.
KnockON is another interesting feature LG came up with to woo buyers, but it's similarly imperfect.
The software feature allows users to double-tap the screen to wake it out of sleep mode or turn it off. It's a handy shortcut when it works, but sometimes it mysteriously wouldn't engage. Even when it works, it's not a huge time saver compared to just hitting the power button.
If you're marking the G2 on unique features it's not a convincing winner. But if you just consider those add-ons to be bonuses, the G2 stacks up well against other top-of-the-line Android phones.
It has a very sharp 5.2-inch screen, a quad-core processor that ably handles any task, a 13 megapixel camera that does a good job taking snapshots and videos, and strong battery life that keeps the phone running at least a whole day and probably longer.
LG Canada's vice president of mobile communications Geoffrey McMurdo agrees when asked if the company is still trying to grow its profile so consumers consider it a top smartphone maker.
According to the measurement firm comScore, LG owned about 12 per cent of the mobile phone market in Canada as of June, compared to a 29 per cent share for Samsung, 25 per cent for Apple and 14 per cent for BlackBerry.
"That's a fair statement, I don't think we're necessarily as top of mind as a Samsung or Apple," says McMurdo, although he adds that partnering with Google to manufacture the Nexus 4 gave the company a lot of credibility.
"I think the Nexus 4 has really helped us this year establish that 'these guys know what they're doing, they build a really good product,' both in the eyes of consumers and the people that sell the phones."
Rogers has revealed that it will offer the LG G2 for $200 on a two-year contract.
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