LG has the right idea with buttons on the back of their devicesAnna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
When new smartphones come out, naturally we expect new features to come along with them. If we had the same old song and dance with every cell phone release, there wouldn't be such a desire to upgrade so often. Granted not every new smartphone that comes out has a whole lot of new "wow" features to it, but most of the time you can come across something worth mentioning. With the HTC EVO 4G you had the first 4G phone, with the iPhone 4S you had the introduction of Siri, with the Galaxy S4 you had more than enough Smart features available for your use. All of these feature firsts made the devices as popular as they were at the time of their release.
But as innovative as features come, lately I've been seeing "innovation" that surprises me at how long it has taken us to realize that they're useful features to have. Most notably, I can think of two recent examples where the design of a phone stands out as being both beneficial to the user and as "innovative design".
The first is on the device that I carry with me currently as my daily drive, the HTC One. The HTC One is the first device to really catch my eye, or my ear, as it were, with the two front-facing BoomSound speakers. I remember toying around with the device in the store, and once I tested the audio and video I was amazed by how loud and clear the sound was compared to any other cell phone or smartphone I had ever used. It was visibly clear why the speakers on the HTC One were so great - they were right there on the front of the device. It was a concept I had never seen before, yet seemed like the only concept that made sense. Why have our speakers always been on the back when most of the time our phones are for personal use anyway? If our screens are already facing us, shouldn't the speaker face us as well? There are so many questions as to why, but you know how the phrase goes: "Better late than never," and although I will probably always wonder why nobody figured this concept out before when it comes to smartphones, I'm glad it's here now.
The second concept that somewhat baffles me on how long it took to figure out is LG's implementation of buttons on the back of the device. Now, this concept doesn't strike me as a completely obvious one that we've been missing for years - at least, not as obvious as the HTC was with front-facing speakers. When I hold a phone in my hand, especially one as large as the HTC One, I'm constantly shifting it around in my hand. With the sleep button being strangely on top of the device, I'm usually shuffling the phone about in my hand to be able to reach places I need for certain functions. Putting my phone to sleep and even changing the volume can be uncomfortable for little hands using a big phone. But if I imagine that there are buttons on the back of the device, the phone is much more stable in the grip of my hands while my pointer finger easily navigates the back. No shifting, no hand switching, just one finger needed in order to maneuver my way around to certain buttons. Utilizing the back of the device also gives more room for buttons that can do more things, such as skipping music tracks.
First shown off in the LG G2, the buttons on the back of the device have had mixed reactions from what I've been seeing. Then again, what new feature or product doesn't? I think it's strange, but I also think it's a good idea to try out. With phones getting as big as they are, it seems like good idea to put the most important buttons in a more easily accessible place for everyone. Since the backs of the device are by and large not used for a whole lot more than a rear-facing camera and a speaker anyway, that leaves a ton of extra room for something like buttons. It might not work for everyone, but I think that it very well could work for some people.
LG continues this concept in the new LG G Flex, which has now been officially announced. This makes me think that LG plans to continue to use this trend for future devices, which is an idea that I think makes LG stand out from the rest of the devices, even if only minimally. So far, I haven't really found LG with any true defining features. However, with the LG G Flex (curved display phone) featuring the back panel buttons on the way, maybe it's about time for LG to get in on some of that sweet spotlight that's so hard to obtain as a primarily Android manufacturer. I know it doesn't seem like a whole lot, but neither is dual front-facing speakers once you think about it, and HTC has gotten tons of praise for this implementation on the One. Who knows!
Readers, what are your thoughts on LG's back buttons? Is it something you like in a smartphone, or do you prefer for the buttons to line the sides of the device? Let us know your thoughts!