Demand good vibrations from your next Android phone
I’ve been using a pre-production version of the unfortunately named LG V30S ThinQ since Mobile World Congress last month. I didn’t spend more than a few minutes with the near-identical original V30, so it feels like a brand new phone to me, and I mostly really like it. My favorite feature, however, came as a surprise to me.
It’s not the sleek design, lovely as it is. It’s not the camera system, though I like the wide-angle lens a lot. And it’s not LG’s software, because… well, of course it isn’t. It’s the way the phone feels.
The V30 and V30S are reactive and physical to use in a way that almost no other Android phones are, thanks to their best-in-class haptic feedback system. The vibration motors and actuators are used throughout the system in a fun, playful way — you’ll feel cute little bumps when swiping away notifications or adjusting camera settings that enhance your connection to what’s going on behind the pixels.
Few companies have ever integrated system-wide haptic feedback of this kind, with Apple being the most prominent example since the 2015 release of the iPhone 6S. That was the first iPhone with a pressure-sensitive 3D Touch display, which works in tandem with a linear actuator and some zig-zag springs — Apple calls the setup the Taptic Engine — to provide a wider variety of tangible feedback than you’d get from simple vibrations. The technology gives the phone much finer control over the duration and intensity of its tactile responses; Nintendo uses similar hardware for the “HD Rumble” feature on the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers.
It makes a huge difference to the overall experience
Apple expanded on the idea with the iPhone 7, which featured a larger Taptic Engine to account for the loss of the physical home button. But the company also tailored iOS to feature haptic feedback in more situations. Sliders give the tiniest of bumps when pushed to either extreme, spinning number and date pickers “click” in time with the virtual dials, and pyrotechnic iMessage effects like lasers and fireworks are accompanied by crackling buzzes, to name but a few.
This may all sound trivial if you’ve never had a phone with this kind of hardware, but it makes a huge difference to the overall experience. Apps become so much more responsive and fun to use that going back to other phones makes you feel like you’re holding an inanimate brick. Which you are, of course. But true haptic feedback can do a good job of convincing you otherwise.
In some ways, I like LG’s implementation better than Apple’s, particularly around the keyboard. Android phones have had the option to vibrate with each key press forever, but it’s rarely felt right — the dull, mushy buzzes are nothing like a physical key switch. On the V30, though, the snappy clicks are great. I also love the rapid-fire reaction as each character disappears when you hold down the backspace key.
LG worked with haptics company Immersion on the V30, dubbing the collaboration “HD TouchSense.” For once, the addition of a buzzword is justified, and not just because it's literally a word about buzzing. Few of LG’s Android peers are making similar moves, however. Sony’s new Xperia XZ2 has a comparable “Dynamic Vibration” system, but while some flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2 have slightly higher quality motors than devices from a few years ago, there’s been little effort to improve them or integrate them into the operating system.
That’s a shame, because once you’ve used a phone with proper haptics, other devices just feel dead inside. Is it the most important item on the spec sheet? Of course not. But is it something you should expect from an expensive phone? Of course.
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