It seems like every year LG ends up getting the short end of the stick in terms of phone hype. The devices they create are often slotted into a category some would call “sleeper hits”. The devices themselves generally aren’t overly flashy, the design isn’t really “wow”, and the specs are in line with other flagship devices. But more often than not we come away impressed and happy to use one of LG’s flagships as the weeks go on and the newness factor wears off on some of its competition.
For 2016 however, LG got crazy. That is, they went all over the place with ideas. There’s aluminum design, modular design, multiple rear cameras, and another tweaked version of their Android skin. Needless to say, the G5 is a much different beast than previous flagships. But is this brash approach enough to score meaningful sales?
With the G4 and the Snapdragon 810 overheating issues, LG decided to go a different route and instead used the slightly less powerful 808. In real world usage the differences were minor if noticeable at all. Ultimately, the goal was to warn cooler and peg the CPU longer before getting throttled — something the 810 had issues with fairly quickly. For 2016, Qualcomm has seemingly gotten their stuff together as most of the big flagships now ship with the current top of the line Snapdragon 820. Much like other flagships, the G5 also ships with 4 GB of RAM (there is a variation with 3 GB), a 1440 x 2560 display (5.3″), and 32 GB of storage.
Camera wise, up front you’ve got an 8mp f/2.0 shooter while ’round back you’ve got two options: a 16mp f/1.8 and a wide-angel 8mp f/2.4 lens. (More on this later.) Battery size is a tad lower than other flagships these days, sitting at 2,800 mAh. Also on the back of the G5 you’ll find the phone’s fingerprint sensor. If you’re familiar with the Nexus 5X’s finger sensor you’ll be more than aware of how the G5’s works/looks and where it’s at.
The most dramatic and far-reaching hardware aspect of the G5 however, is the modular design. The bottom piece of the phone pops off, revealing the replaceable battery and making way for a number (small, for now) of attachments such as a camera attachment that provides a 2-stage shutter button + additional battery and a Hi-Fi audio attachment with built-in high-end audio amp. LG is hoping more 3rd parties will design and create cool and useful attachments for the G5. It’s worth noting that to many, high quality audio is perhaps one of the biggest pluses of the G5’s modular design, and module partners. For U.S. residents (and several other large countries) at least, we’re going to have to listen from afar. The Hi-Fi audio attachment isn’t coming to the U.S. for now. Whatever the case may be, it’s a massive failure on LG’s part. This is marketing and distribution 101 type stuff. How is anyone going to get excited and buy your device based on the premise of 3rd party attachments, and then be prohibited from purchasing one of the possibly most important attachments? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Moving on… The all aluminum design is a love it or hate it affair. Some will appreciate the more premium feel over plastic combined with the more resilient construction over something like, say, glass. While there are pros and cons to everything, it’s important to list the biggest con of the metal-backed G5 — the lack of any wireless charging. Some call it a gimmick others live and die by it. Depending on which camp you fall into and how high of a priority you place it on your list will determine whether or not the G5 drops off your radar.
Fans of fingerprint readers will appreciate one small (but important) perk to owning the G5 – the fastest (ok, probably tied with the 6P since they’re largely related) fingerprint reader on any flagship Android phone hands down. Seriously. Put your finger on it and much like the iPhone 6s, the phone is already unlocking just as the screen is coming on. And, actually, you don’t even have to click down on the power button for the fingerprint reader to start reading your finger. Simply place it on the reader and it’ll work it’s magic. Considering the normal person unlocks their phone 6-8 dozen times a day (at least), the micro seconds saved will add up pretty quick.
A minor but notable nod has to go to the IR blaster. Samsung and HTC have dropped the feature from their phones, meaning anyone who used said feature to control a TV is out of luck. The G5 however, caters to this (albeit, limited) crowd for at least one more year. If you never used it before it’s a non-story. If you live and die by it, you’ll know. And you’ll appreciate it.
Last but not least, the other notable hardware element to discuss is USB Type C. It makes it a much more future proof phone (if there ever was such a thing) but also makes it a tad more frustrating when you’re out and about and realize you forgot your charging cable. Finding some place, or some one that you can bum some electrons off of is quite a bit harder at this point and time until mass adoption has commenced.
Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow is the shipping version along with LG’s continually tweaked skin slathered on top. In Android 6.x, LG has continued to pair things back in terms of garish design traits and instead done a decent job of incorporating more material design aspects into their UI.
Feature wise there isn’t a whole lot to write home about save for an “Always on” feature similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S7 in which the display will continually show small amounts of information on the display at all times. For an AMOLED like the S7, this isn’t hard since unused pixels are black. And on AMOLED’s, “black” is simply “off”. On a traditional LCD however, there is still a backlight that has to turn on, however dim. On the G5, while it’s the best implementation yet of such a feature on a traditional LCD, we question LG’s claims in the long-run of ~1% per hour of battery drain. Never mind the fact, the AMOLED variant simply looks cleaner given the aforementioned explanation.
The main 16-megapixel camera in the G5 is largely unchained from the G4. It’s a good camera that does a pretty great job in bright light, and thanks to the aperture, a pretty good job (still) in low light — up at the top of the list. Similarly, the front-facing camera is pretty good all things considered as well, handedly holding its own compared to other flagships. That said, it is the wide angle 8mp lens sitting next to the 16mp lens on the back that is the most note worthy. If anything, it’s a lot of plain fun to use. But spend a few days with it and you’ll see how it’s more than just “fun” but also a great way to get some new shots from a viewpoint that would take a lot more complex steps without.
While most shots taken with flagship cameras these days are more or less the same, with some skewing a tad more warm or cold (or a tad washed out saturation wise), we have to say, LG’s approach with the wide angle lens is a nice breath of fresh are that actually brings a new, useful “thing” to mobile photography. You’ll find yourself spending more time composing shots and re-shooting with the wide angle just to see what you can get. Hands down the most used feature of the G5 for us is the wide angle camera.
At first we had some reservations about the smaller 2,800 mAh battery LG packed inside the G5. But after the last week and a half, we’d say that… it’s alright. Is it ground breaking? Certainly not. Are there worse phones? Yep. All in all, the G5 is actually a decent phone in terms of battery life. We routinely went from ~5am-10pm without having to charge and still having between 15-35% in the tank depending on the day. Given the quick USB Type C charging, we’d say that’s about as good as we’re going to get right now (decent to good battery life with fast recharges). The only pain point G5 owners will face in the current here and now is the Type C accessories, or rather the still limited quantities of accessories that support the new plug. Add to that a lot of the public places that offer up built-in chargers of some sort and you’ll have to accept living with the “1st gen” tech adopter problem a bit longer.
TL;DR It’s a good, solid, reliable phone. The software is mostly clean and fluid. It has the fastest fingerprint reader of any flagship Android device. The wide angle lens secondary rear camera is a legitimate joy to use.
Much like computers in the mid-2000s started tapering off in innovation and excitement to a certain degree, smartphones are beginning to enter the same period. Juxtaposed with this is LG’s seemingly uncommon design methods that include the modular construction. But even the “coolness” factor of other plug-in modules and the hallowed removable battery end up feeling like “eh” things after a couple weeks. While we could swap the battery whenever we pleased, we never did. And, the big reason for the design, the swappable modules, was a moot point for us as we didn’t have any to test with much less find any of the very few available options in an actual brick and mortar store. And therein lies the problem with the modular design. The whole plan is only as good as your least committed company. And for LG, they have both very few companies and 3rd parties to start, followed by an always-looking-forward-to-the-next-phone mentality. It never stops. As such, the G5 will never get the focus and time to mature that it deserves.
In the end, the only real solid perk is the secondary wide angle camera. We happen to love mobile photography and playing around with composing shots, editing photos, etc. But if you’re not, then there’s really not much that stands out. It’s a good but safe phone. Of course, one could argue most smartphones are merely “safe” in 2016. They’d be mostly right. The problem for LG, at least, is they don’t have the market share or the brand awareness to survive on being merely adequate.
With HTC’s upcoming flagship dropping in the next few weeks, it’ll be a tough fight between the Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and LG G5. If you really want the best phone for you in 2016 we’d advise possibly waiting until the HTC 10 hits so you can get a real-world feel for what it has to offer and then pounce.