by Perry Longinotti
Not too long ago most consumers only associated LG Electronics with kitchen appliances and TVs. Now, LG is one of the most talked about "up and coming" laptop makers in the world. With impressive notebooks like last year’s R500, this year’s P300 and convertible tablet notebooks like the P100, LG has other notebook manufacturers paying close attention.
LG Electronics Canada is one of the largest electronics companies in Canada. LG’s diverse product lines range from digital appliances to consumer electronics, and an IT line-up including optical drives, LCD monitors, and (of course) notebook PCs. LG notebooks have been available in Canada since 2004, and LG notebooks have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Brian Alexander, IT Business Manager for LG Electronics Canada, joined LG in 2007, and is expecting to see further growth in 2008.
NotebookReview.com contributor Perry Longinotti managed to have a candid conversation with Alexander about the things that make LG worth talking about. Let’s see what Mr. Alexander has to say about the present and future of LG notebooks.
Your notebooks have not been available in North America for very long. How is this category performing for LG?
Things are going very well for us. We launched our notebooks in Canada in 2004, so it has been almost 4 years. We are certainly growing and expanding, recently moving our notebooks into Future Shop. The biggest challenge that we have faced is brand recognition. LG has an excellent reputation for premium quality, and offers a huge variety of products from appliances to cell phones, but many consumers are unaware that LG makes notebooks. Consumers who do purchase LG notebooks are usually very happy with them, we just need to get the message out to more people.
LG has delivered some stunning notebooks – from the award winning design of the S1 to big-things-come-in-small-packages P300. However, when folks look at the lineup of LG notebooks it is hard to make out exactly who is being targeted with each series. Does LG plan to bring sub-brands to your lineup – for instance along the lines of Toshiba’s Satelite, Tecra, Qosmio, Portege and Libretto brands?
When we first launched our notebooks, they were under the brand "Xnote". This is actually still used in other countries. In Canada, we opted to drop that and stick with the "LG" brand name. Since we were new to the market, we didn’t want to confuse consumers with two new notebook brand names. As we continue to grow, we could create sub-brands, but this is not something we are looking into at the moment. Our notebooks are designed around chassis (such as R500 or P300), and they are targeted at business and consumer, based on the operating system. For example, we have R500s with Vista Home Premium, and others with Vista Business/XP Pro, while the P300 is strictly a Vista Home Premium model.
Two segments of the notebook market that seem to be generating a lot of interest right now are Gaming Notebooks and Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC and MID). Neither is represented in your current assortment. Do you see that changing?
At this point, we are not looking to these segments in their strict definitions. While full fledged gaming notebooks are typically $2000-$3000, our 17" R700 notebook retails for $1499 CDN and still offers high performance at a lower price. I’m not saying it competes head to head with a $3000 gaming notebook, but the R700 is an excellent alternative for users who want to enjoy games at affordable price. In terms of UMPC, our closest offering is our 10.6" P100 tablet which weighs 1.3kg, but is a fully equipped notebook, so again, does not meet the "UMPC" definition of a low price internet device.
The R700 series in particular seems like it would be a good starting point for a gaming notebook, any plans to offer it with beefier graphics such as the 8800m or recently announced 9800m?
If anyone does not know, our R700 currently comes with the 8600M GT 512MB card. To increase the card would again increase the price. We have had great success with this product at its current price point, so we will aim to maintain that. We are certainly open to adopting new technology as the R700 uses a Penryn processor, but we like the position this product is in right now.
Quite a few people in the NBR forums are interested in the P300. What was thinking behind that product, as it is quite unique in the market right now? What do you think the primary benefit of having a powerful GPU in a 3.5 ultra thin notebook is? Is it aimed at the MacBook Air and ThinkPad X300? Is SSD something we can expect to see in LG notebooks soon?
The P300 was really meant to be a unique powerful thin and light product. We used to have a thin and light 14" called the T1 which did very well, and the P300 is replacement product in this category, which has traditionally been strong for LG. When we planned to design our new thin and light product, we did not want to sacrifice functionality as some other brands have done. Removing the optical drive for example, saves weight for many users who don’t need this on a daily basis, but the glossy black external drive is still included. The powerful GPU allows users to perform almost any function without restricting mobility. While SSD would certainly add to the portability, the cost is still very high. It is definitely under our consideration and we will provide more information in the future.
I saw the P300 on display at Future Shop. When will it be available in the US and do you know what price point it will be at?
That would be something out of LG Canada’s control. I have not heard what the plans are for selling notebooks in the US, or what models would be available.
The S1 and L1 series notebooks have many fans. Can we expect to see the S2 and L2 some day?
Unfortunately the S1/L1 designs have been discontinued. We still have a couple Piano Black designs in the P100 and R200, but as you can see the model names have changed to a new format.
Are there plans to offer custom LG notebook configurations online through your site or a partner’s?
We have no plans to offer custom configurations at this time. We would certainly like to be there one day, but we’re not sure when that will be. We try to offer the best selection of configurations we can while also trying to limit the number of models. I suppose to some degree a partner could offer custom configs by replacing parts for a consumer to their liking, which is always a possibility.
steberg in our forums asks about software support. The perception among some LG owners is that LG seems to be less active in releasing software such as BIOS updates. Is this an area where LG feels it needs to improve?
LG Notebooks come installed with LG Intelligent Update, which automatically finds software updates. They also ship with a disc with drivers for the specific model. Our LG Service website also has Vista driver updates available. Certainly there is room for improvement, and we will continue to strive to make sure our customers get the support they need. We are especially pleased to be able to offer XP Pro support for our Vista Business models. New models ship with a downgrade kit in the box which includes a recovery disc, an LG Intelligent Update XP driver disc, and a language selection DVD (since Canada is bilingual). Other models have XP drivers available through our LG Service website as well.
At one time LG was an ODM manufacturer for companies like Compaq. Does LG still manufacture notebooks for other companies?
We no longer manufacture notebooks for other companies, but instead are concentrating our efforts on our brand. However, LG does continue to supply many vendors with key OEM components such as LCD screens, optical drives(both slot loading and tray), batteries etc.
HP, Dell and Acer are pushing the purchase price of computers down constantly. This is resulting in a market with good notebooks at very low prices. The average $600 notebook now has a dual core CPU, 2 GB of RAM and big HDD among other features. Is that a segment of the market where LG thinks it can compete?
It is true that price competition is resulting in a market with good notebooks at very low prices. LG has a reputation as a premium brand, and we are trying to uphold that in the IT industry. Our vision is to provide the best value to our customers.
What do you think are the LG differentiators that make your products stand out from the other big notebook makers?
First would be our testing procedures. We perform over 3000 quality assurance tests which range from physical abuse tests to application usage tests. Our notebooks are dropped, baked, frozen, rattled, and every hinge, button, and switch is tested 25,000 times. We also do 5,000,000 key taps. In addition to these structural tests, we test software compatibility, we run them straight for weeks, we load viruses on them, all to make sure the consumer receives a quality product. If you compare an LG notebook on shelf, it feels remarkably solid, as you can read from reviews here on NotebookReview.com.
Second is our Multi-Source cooling technology. LG notebooks have copper heat pipes that draw away heat from sources like the CPU and GPU, and distribute it more evenly throughout the notebook, and ultimately disperse it using carbon nano-tubes which are 15X more conductive than copper. Our keyboards also allow heat to dissipate upwards, rather than forcing it all out the bottom. This lets the fan run less often to increase battery life. When the fan does run, it is extremely quiet.
Third is our wireless technology. LG notebooks have High Gain Antennae that run along the side of the LCD screen and are bolted to terminating plates at the top for the greatest reception. Our models with Triple Hexa Band 802.11AGN have 3 antennas, two at the top, and one on the side dedicated for wireless N, and are able to receive 6 sub-bands of frequency.
Fourth is our battery technology. LG manufactures our own batteries. LG 6 cell batteries provide the same battery life or better as other vendors that use 8 cell batteries. Our models with Battery Miser software allows users to customize settings to increase battery life by clocking down the CPU, turning off USB ports, and many other features than in the Windows interface. As mentioned before, the cooling technology saves battery life by decreasing fan use.
Andrew asks: What are your thoughts on this new push for budget $300 / $400 laptops such as the Asus Eee PC and Everex Cloudbook? Is that a space where LG can bring value and differentiation or do you think it is just a fad?
I think people are always going to be interested in low prices. As our society becomes increasingly mobile, the need for portable devices increases, and people now have more options than ever before to meet their needs. The $300-$400 Low Cost PC is still a young market, but I think it will continue. LG is working on a UMPC, and a prototype was shown at CES this year, however, it is more similar to a Pocket PC with a slide out keyboard than a traditional notebook style like the Eee PC.
Where do you see notebook technologies going in the next couple of years?
I think notebooks will definitely become more portable. We are already starting to see this. Macbook Helium anyone? This would include not only size, but wireless connectivity and battery life which will only improve. Of course there is also the other end of the spectrum with desktop replacement models. These will continue to be strong as they are becoming more integrated with TV tuners, high definition drives and screens, reducing the need for multiple machines.
What non-LG computing products are you most excited about recently? Outside of LG whose products do you respect the most?
That would have to be Apple. They have really expanded and come out with some excellent products, and their iProduct integration is second to none.
The HD optical format war is over, when can we expect to see Blu Ray in LG notebooks?
Before the end of 2008.
It has always been my perception that LG and Samsung collaborate a lot in consumer electronics. Do you see that happening in the PC space as you both try to grow market share?
Although I’m unsure at this point on any plans Samsung might have to expand notebooks into Canada, they would be a competitor. More competition would definitely be healthy to draw people’s attention away from the top 5 brands and onto other vendors such as LG.