The LG G5 is one of the first genuinely interesting flagships to be released in years. It’s the first “modular type” smartphone, in that the chin can be swapped out for a couple of optional add-ons that improve either your sound or camera experience, respectively. It also has a dual-lens camera system, and an all-metal build.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our hands on either of the modules (part of a lineup of accessories that LG is calling “Friends”), but we did get to play with them at the launch event; more on that later.
Of course, a big release phone like this needs to be able to function on its own merits. You don’t have to have to fork out extra once you’ve bought it before you see any benefits. Let’s get in to it and see how the LG G5 compares.
Obviously the most notable thing about the G5’s design is the removable chin. It’s fairly secure, and very easy to detach thanks to a little button on the right side of the device. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite sit flush with the rest of the phone. It’s enough that it’s noticeable even when you’re not looking for it, and it detracts from the overall appearance and feel.
That being said, the G5 wasn’t a particularly stunning device to begin with. True, it is a full metal body, but LG has employed a protective coating that feels like plastic to the touch, stripping away what would have been an in-hand feeling of quality, replacing it with a dull lack of tactile impact.
The near-featureless aesthetic design has probably received more criticism than it deserves, but it is true that it won’t turn many heads. It’s a dull grey return to last year’s affordably-priced, LG-made Nexus 5X, a phone that cost between half and two-thirds of this one and was moulded from plastic.
Where your forefinger would sit around the back is the home button, complete with in-built fingerprint sensor. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this sensor placement is a huge improvement over the standard mid-chin front-side style employed by Apple, Samsung, and now even HTC. It might not seem like much, but when the average person unlocks their phone dozens of times each day, you can see how an easier-to-reach option would make a difference.
The other noteworthy feature is the USB-C charging port. Android users, the time has come. Your old microUSB cables are being phased out for the new wave, and LG is an early adopter.
Don’t get angry; redundancy of cable standards is inevitable, and USB-C has a lot to offer.
The G5 has a 5.3 inch IPS LCD - a bit smaller than last year’s model, but not so much you’d notice or care. The resolution is still a huge 2560 x 1440, which is standard for an Android flagship in 2016.
Interestingly, when held side-by-side with its predecessor (the LG G4), the G5’s screen comes across as lacking in brightness, colour vibrancy, and even viewing angles. This was unexpected. On paper the G5 should be significantly brighter at 900 nits, compared to the G4’s 455 nits. Try as we might, we just couldn’t see how this could be so, despite lengthy treks through the menu system and checking online, we just couldn’t pop that brightness up to or beyond G4 standards.
If you weren’t comparing it directly to another phone, you might not notice. After all, it’s still bright enough to see outside on a sunny day, colours are fine and the viewing angles aren’t abysmal, but it’s odd to see a manufacturer, especially one with the kind of display R&D clout that LG has, take a step backwards, however small that step may be.
For some reason, LG decided to ditch the app drawer. That means every app you have needs to be stored somewhere on a home screen. It’s a cluttered and unusual approach to Android, and it’s not one that’s traditionally been met with enthusiasm by the Android user community.
Of course, you can always install another launcher, like Google Now, or even LG’s own Home UX 4.0, which is an older LG-made user interface (UI). Even so, it’s unfortunate that LG chose to dumb its UI down to the point where it needs replacing if you want access to this standard Android feature. At the very least, the option to turn it back on from the Settings menu would have been appreciated.
As far as general speed and handling goes the G5 gets pretty close to top marks. It’s a fast, fluid device with no heating issues that we encountered, and that handled everything we threw at it easily.
If the G5 has sounded somewhat lacklustre until now, let this be the part where it shines. There are three cameras: two on the back, one on the front, and they’re all pretty darn great.
First on the back is your normal 16MP, 16:9 model. It takes fantastic photos by day, and is one of the best shooters on the market when it comes to night pics.
Next is the 8MP ultra-wide angle camera, which can be the difference between a normal shot, and a truly interesting one.
Just check out how much more stuff you can fit in a shot.
In portrait, it can really imbue your picture with the feeling of distance. Did you just walk up those stairs, or did you just walk up those stairs?
The downside of the ultra wide-angle lens is that it suffers quite a bit when it comes to night time shots. It’s by no means terrible, but you’ll probably end up foregoing it once the sun goes down.
The front-facing camera is also 8MP. It’s pretty good, although a wider angle might have been nice, and it’s far from great at night.
Overall, the selfie cam is a standard entrant for a modern day Android flagship, which is to say it’s around as good as a rear camera from a 2-3 years ago, although with a lot less light bleeding when the sun is right behind you. What a time we live in.
In all honesty, this is the best camera experience we've ever had on a smartphone, thanks mostly to that wide-angle 8MP camera round the back, and how easy it is to switch between it and the standard lens.
The 2800mAh battery is hugely variable. Sometimes we got a good day and a half out of it, but more often than not we were searching for a charging port before the day’s end. If you’re a heavy user and plan on doing a lot of streaming, or even mild gaming, you might want to carry around a spare battery with you. Light to medium users should be fine.
In happier news, that USB-C port, which is USB3.0, lets the G5 charge at an insane rate. Even 5-10 minutes of charging can make a big difference, and you’ll go from zero to 100% in well under an hour, as long as you’re using the wall charger that comes with the phone.
LG’s two modules for the G5 are the 'LG CAM Plus' and the cumbersomely-named 'LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY.'
The CAM Plus is designed to improve your camera experience, but actually does nothing to change photo quality. Instead, it has some easier controls with which to operate the camera, and an extra 1200mAh battery to keep you shooting all day. The power boost comes at the price of an extra bulge down the bottom half of your phone, but it’s a price we can see many folk paying willingly for some added juice.
The Hi-Fi Plus was made in conjunction with B&O. It adds an extra element of sound quality, as well as a second 3.5mm headphone jack to the bottom of the phone.
This is one we can see audiophiles getting on-board with. It adds no real size or thickness to the phone, but increases audio quality to 32bit (up from 24bit) 384KHz. It even artificially boosts the sound on standard mp3 files. The difference is absolutely noticeable, and very welcome indeed.
Of course, you’ll need a decent pair of headphones to really benefit from this, but if you’re the kind of person that usually finds smartphone audio a little lacklustre, this might be seriously worth your consideration.
The LG G5 is a good phone, but it doesn’t quite seem like enough to justify over something like the Galaxy S7. The physical design is lacking, the default UI is simplified beyond usefulness, and its main feature – the modules – are optional, added-cost extras that we can see the majority of users totally passing over.
A modular-type smartphone is a great idea, but it either needs more options for customisation (two is a little on the trim side), or to sacrifice absolutely nothing if all you want is the default smartphone. We appreciate what LG was trying to do here, but there needs to be a larger range of modules, or more options than simply replacing the chin, before we can see the sacrifices being worth the payoffs.
In fairness, the G5 camera experience is beyond comparison. The fact that it can go toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S7 for regular shots, but also includes the 8MP wide-angle lens, means that the G5 really has no equal when it comes to the range of images you can capture.
If you don’t mind the sound of the drawbacks we’ve mentioned in this article, then the G5 will be a fast phone with a great screen and better camera. However, for the average user, something more straight-forward and reliable, like the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, might be a better idea.