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LG's wacky 'Friends' accessories might just annoy its enemies

The LG G5 comes with a weird bunch of accessory amigos.

James Trew , @itstrew
02.21.16 in Mobile
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LG didn't just roll up with a new phone. It turned up with an entourage of devices in one of the most refreshing, if a little baffling, launches in MWC history. The devices all center around the G5, and include drones, rolling robots and high-fidelity audio accessories: quite the family. LG's calling these accessories "Friends," and while it's a little unexpected, the collection offers something compelling: a line of gadgets that not only plug into the LG G5, but also into pretty much every hot trend right now.

Let's start with the G5 itself. It's a modular phone! Sure, it's not quite Project Ara, but it does mean you can take the base model and snap in a better camera, or more battery. You can collect them all, or just get the one you want. It also helped LG solve a conundrum: how to make an all-metal phone with a replaceable battery (just snap it in!).

Being able to take your flagship phone and tailor it to your requirements is no doubt a crowd-pleaser. Whether it works well or not is yet to be proven, of course, but it's hard not to be enthusiastic about the idea.

As for the "Friends," there's something interesting going on here, too. Take LG's 360 VR accessory. If you watched the live event, you will have caught LG's less than subtle dig about other companies' "heavy gear." And that was because its new VR headset is much, much lighter and smaller than the competition's. You wear it like glasses, and it almost looks like a pair (kinda). The headset doesn't hold your phone -- it has its own display, and connects to the G5 via USB-C. It does mean you have a tether hanging from the headset, but it's a cute/clever solution.

Of course, you'll want a fancy camera to shoot VR video, right? Check. LG's own 360 camera accessory has conveniently got your back. LG added a bit of gravitas to the new camera by collaborating with Google Street view. Your 16-megapixel 360 selfie could end up on the Google service. We're not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but it sounds cool.

Here is where things get really weird. LG caught everyone by surprise by announcing "Rolling Bot," a Sphero-style remote-controlled, well, ball that has a camera and, of course, a laser. It appears to be part useful (you can remotely view your house with your phone, à la a mobile security camera) and part WTF? (it's a fancy-pants cat toy). We're less sure on this one, but points to LG for trying something different.

The last curiosity was LG's drone controller. Yep, a drone controller. Again, it's a collaboration -- this time with Parrot. In short, it's a small handheld device that looks a bit like an old flip phone, with a big knob on it. Apparently you can use it to control drones with just one hand, and -- at least LG seems to think -- with less of the dorky look that comes with regular stick-based drone ground stations. All this without even mentioning the audio DAC accessory, the snap-on camera upgrade for the phone itself, and the promise of more to come.

Watching LG somehow tie all these together was the real curiosity, though. During its launch event, there was a nonstop high-paced dash from one product to the next, and it felt sort of invigorating (take from that what you will). In many ways, much of it doesn't make sense. It almost feels like LG's not sure which way to go, so is trying everything. On the other hand, for those tired of the same old phone launch, it was about as refreshing as things get.

There are lots of unanswered questions, of course. How well does the DAC upscale audio to 32-bit? Who was asking for the drone controller? What is the purpose of Rolling Bot? But also, there were some answers. LG demonstrated that it's self-aware, and trying to differentiate. It's eager to explore new markets, and not scared of hanging the success of its new flagship on one risky idea. That's plucky stuff. The "Friends" idea is a little crazy, but it might be enough to earn them some (rival) enemies.

Originally from Bristol, UK, and currently based in Spain, James began writing for music magazines in the '90s. After a few failed attempts at a DJ career, he'd carve out a living reviewing DJ and music production gear. Now, it's more about drones, fitness tech, and culture. Though he keeps his DJ gear plugged in and on show. You never know.
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