Kuiper: Rebirth part 3
Last time in Project Rebirth…
LG’s mobile division was well-loved for its quirky designs and bold experimentation in an industry that too often falls into predictable iteration. What if, instead of leaving the industry, LG branched its unfocused brand into hyper focused boutique sub-brands? ART was the first of these I wrote about, expanding LG’s V line into a boutique brand for mobile-first content creators. Here, Kuiper is a consumer tech brand taking on a new segment for LG by leveraging an old alliance: mobile gaming. Instead of just slapping on some RGB and poorly themed icons, Kuiper builds a unique design language and focus on cloud gaming. LG and Google often partnered up to push the former’s hardware and the latter’s software (smartwatches, Google Assistant, networking tech, etc.). This pre-established relationship could easily translate over into cloud gaming with Stadia, which has struggled with mainstream adoption in part because you had to have specific hardware and a Stadia controller to really try it out. Kuiper could build Stadia-focused hardware accessories for its phone and bundle a free Stadia Pro trial. It seems to me like a natural extension of previous LG-Google partnerships.
Kuiper P-1 is a flagship gaming phone with a focus on cloud gaming. P-1 comes with a 6.8-inch 1440p, 120hz screen. Though 5G would provide a consistent 1080p 60fps cloud gameplay, it would rush through carrier data caps. Because of this, P-1 uses integer scaling at 720p to keep lower-than-native resolutions from appearing blurry. This software trick combines 4 pixels into 1, preserving the edges of individual pixels without pointless anti-aliasing of the lower resolution image. Basically, it makes sure you can drop down the resolution to save data without having a blurrier image than native 720p. All of that cloud gaming could lead to heat buildup in the 5G and LTE modem and antennas, which is why P-1’s cooling vapor chamber extends to cover these vital components. Of course, if you wanted to take full advantage of the 1440p screen, you might want to use a wired network connection. In the box, Kuiper includes an ethernet to USB-C adapter (with charging passthrough, of course). This works on the standard bottom-placed USB-C port or the one on the left side. This secondary port is ideal for gaming in landscape orientation and supports all the expected USB-C accessories. You can even charge the dual-cell battery through both ports at once.
Aside from gaming-specific features, P-1 brings standard flagship niceties like a 64mp main camera, 48mp 5x periscope zoom, 16mp ultrawide, laser autofocus, and a monochrome sensor for more accurate contrast, plus a time-of-flight sensor for 3D face unlock. If face unlock isn’t your thing (masks complicate things when in public), P-1 includes a side mounted fingerprint sensor.
Ever since the Razer Phone’s failure, most gaming phones have used blinged-out rounded designs. Like ART, Kuiper hopes to stand out in this regard by using a squared off, more minimal design. Sharp, simple shapes and contrasting textures define Kuiper’s hardware design language. Instead of a flashy logo, P-1 limits the RGB to two simple lines framing the horizontal camera layout, adapting to match the system accent color. The top and bottom of the phone are marked by notched grooves for the optional controllers, coming next.
Any gaming hardware is only as good as its controllers. P-1 takes obvious inspiration from the Nintendo Switch (and some Alienware concepts) with the Kuiper Grip controllers. These, like Nintendo’s Joy-Con, attach to the sides of the phone in landscape orientation. The pair I’ve designed here feature the standard Stadia buttons, showing the proposed collaboration with Google, but there could easily be X-Cloud or GeForce Now focused options. Kuiper could open-source the APIs and open the doors for third party or 3D printed custom controllers for niche use-cases. P-1 jumps into gaming mode when Grips are attached, shifting to a landscape-focused home screen.
Pluto UX is Kuiper’s UI skin built on Android 12 and adding some core changes from ART’s Medium UX. I named this skin Pluto for three reasons: Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, Pluto is half of a binary star system with Charon (like PUX and MUX’s relationship as co-related Android 12 skins), and Pluto was once considered a full planet before this binary system was discovered (mirroring my journey with this concept going from fully independent brand to LG sub-brand). With this skin, I was inspired by Westworld’s various UIs. I wanted to combine the simple, line-driven designs of futuristic UI designs with the trendy depth and blur of glassmorphism.
As an Android 12 skin, PUX features dynamic coloring, though with a simpler system. PUX determines a muted background color and brighter accent color from the wallpaper, applying them across the system. This is theme aware and can adapt to match media cover art when playing. By default, the grey wallpaper leads to a light grey background and neon green accent.
Like MUX, PUX aims to bring notifications closer to users. A similar Smart Space at the top of the home screen connects the swipe-down home screen gesture with the UI and brings notifications and media controls closer within reach, especially on a gaming phone with a large screen like P-1. In the Smart Space, a top-priority notification is expanded while the rest trail as icons horizontally below. A swipe down or tap on these icons brings down the notification shade. Music controls take the top priority spot when applicable, and the clock with date expand into the space when no notifications are present.
Other changes come over from MUX as well, like showing more quick settings tiles on the first swipe, more info on the second swipe, and the more full-featured home screen edit mode. This mode makes arranging icons and widgets much easier to understand, showing available spaces, ‘remove’ buttons on app shortcuts, and resizing handles on widgets.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a gaming phone without some game-specific software features. PUX adopts Android 12’s gaming overlay, with shortcuts to an FPS counter, CPU boost mode, do-not-disturb, screen recording, and a screenshot tool, as well as livestreaming and chat widgets (YouTube and Discord by default, respectively). Attaching Grip controllers switches PUX into game mode, with a gaming-focused launcher. Here, the UI embraces landscape layouts with a carousel of apps and tabs for local Android games, media apps, your Stadia library, and settings.