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LG brings interchangeable 'Friends' modules to flagship G5 smartphone

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 22, 2016
Concept was born two years ago when LG saw smartphone growth slowing

BARCELONA -- LG Electronics' newest flagship smartphone, the LG G5, is a sleek-looking metal and glass Android 6 (Marshmallow) device with an unusual new feature -- a 2800 mAh battery that slides out from the bottom.

The slot can accept a variety of modules when the battery tray is removed, including one that provides enhanced camera controls and another to boost sound quality beyond what's already in the LG G5.

There's even a module being developed with Parrot that can turn the G5 into a drone controller by using the phone's 5.3-in. touchscreen display, LG officials told Computerworld.

The South Korean company unveiled the G5 at an event Sunday on the eve of Mobile World Congress here and said it will ship in many countries, including the U.S. in April. Pricing was not announced, and it isn't clear how the modules will be priced.

Some bloggers are calling the unusual slot a "Magic Slot," but LG hasn't adopted that name. Even so, the modular design offers a potentially endless array of unusual add-ons that will be built internally at LG and by third-party developers who are being encouraged to use LG's module software.

If all this sounds like LG is trying to make a smartphone that's more fun for users, it is. The modules themselves are even referred to by LG as "Friends."

"We wanted something fun and exciting," Ramchan Woo, vice president of smartphone product planning for LG in told reporters. "The mission of the G5 is to wake up the play instinct." (There's even a slogan printed on the brightly-colored yellow-green removable battery that says, "Life's good when you play more.")

Woo showed a series of slides describing how users are seeking something distinct in a new phone. "Smartphones are all the same....I'll just buy the cheaper phone," one slide said, reflecting how typical buyers think.

One of the more unusual fun accessories will be an LG Rolling Bot, though it won't be ready for market when the phone first appears. It doesn't require inserting a module into the battery slot; the controller software is built into the phone. As demonstrated, a G5 user can move the Bot -- a small sphere -- around on the floor wirelessly. The bot functions as a home monitoring appliance, or to entertain a dog or cat left at home. It includes a microphone and speakers.

The insertable camera module, called LG Cam Plus, has hardware buttons for shutter release, zoom and flash, as well as an added 1,200 mAh of battery capacity, atop the phone's 2,800 mAh, for a total of 4,000 mAh. The sound enhancement module is called LG Hi-Fi Plus and includes high sound quality technology from Bang & Olufsen.


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