Android smartphone fans should be smiling.
LG announced today that its new LG G5 is coming to the U.S. in early April at major carriers and retailers.
All three new phones run Android 6.0 (Marshmallow).
Whether the new phones will sell in record numbers is questionable, since U.S. smartphone sales were actually down by 6% in the last quarter of 2015 -- the holiday period when they usually peak.
The downturn came about because even new flagship phones haven't excited buyers in the U.S. as much as in the past, since new features can seem incremental and average users are keeping phones longer. Analysts see upgrade fatigue on the part of average buyers, at least in the U.S. and parts of Europe, where the smartphone market is thought to be saturated.
But the LG G5 might perk up some buyers, at least the early-adopter crowd willing to spend money on new technology.
The phone features a removable 2800 mAh battery, an advance not seen on rival devices. The battery slides out from the bottom of the phone, leaving a slot that can be used to insert various modules for enhanced DSLR camera controls, better sound quality, a virtual reality viewer and more. The modules are called LG Friends and will sell separately in April.
That kind of modular innovation helped the LG G5 win the Best New Smartphone award at the 2016 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last month.
LG, however, didn't announce pricing for the phones or the modules, and wouldn't comment on a rumored off-contract price of $650 for the device. That price would it in competition with other high-end smartphones. AT&T, Best Buy, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon were named as carriers offering the device in early April; now have separately announced prices.
At MWC, LG officials were frank in admitting the global slowdown in smartphone growth and said LG first noticed it two years ago when it decided to focus on something "fun and exciting" in upcoming phones. "The mission of the G5 is to wake up the play instinct," said Ramchan Woo, vide president of smartphone product planning at LG, in comments to reporters in February.
Two years ago, LG "knew this plateau in smartphone popularity was coming and the growth would someday come to a screeching halt," said Kenneth Hong, an LG global director of communications. "We knew we would have to change the conversation and that the discussion had to go beyond hardware."
LG did add a faster Snapdragon 820 processor to the G5, and it comes with an unusual "always on" feature as well.
How LG does with the G5 could be affected by the company's marketing strategy and what it is willing to spend on advertising and promotions. The South Korean company now has 5% of the global smartphone market, but wants to double that number.
Samsung, also based in South Korea, is the world's largest smartphone maker with a 23% share, and seems willing to spend lavishly on advertising and promotions for its new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. They start at about $650 and $750, respectively, off-contract, depending on the carrier.
Both phones got dinged when announced at MWC for looking almost the same as last year's models, but the company has added water resistence and a micro SD slot for storage expansion, among other improvements. Samsung Pay is supported; it's available through a separate app.
Samsung's biggest inducement to early adopters was to offer a a free Gear VR headset and six game bundle, for a limited time, with the purchase of a new S7 or S7 Edge. The package is valued at $150.
Some in-depth reviews of Samsung's latest phones have been mixed, but Dan Rosenbaum in Computerworld recently called both models "currently the ones to beat" and "pretty much the state of the art."