When LG introduced the G5, its 2016 flagship Android smartphone, during Mobile World Congress, the company said it created a unique design for one reason – because components are all good enough and, therefore, all smartphones are becoming “good enough” for consumers.
LG had a point and still does.
One need only look at the phones we’ve reviewed over the past several months: the Nexus 6P, the BlackBerry Priv, the Galaxy S7 – they’re all great phones with satisfactory features. Sure, one camera might be better than another, and one might pack expandable storage while another doesn’t, but nothing is really breaking the mold like phones did just a few years ago.
The industry has become, as LG and Samsung and OEMs know, more about the ecosystem of products. Take a look at the Gear VR, the LG 360 VR, the Gear S2, the LG watch Urbane, the Gear 360 the LG 360 Camera – these are the products that manufacturers hope to sell as complementary products with their smartphones. So LG took it a bit further with modularity.
The LG G5, as you almost certainly already know by now, was introduced with LG’s “Friends.” They’re modular components and accessories that are sold along the G5. LG first introduced two modular components that work with the G5’s special battery compartment during MWC, though only one is currently available in the U.S., which is already giving us pause for the phone’s ability to stand out against the competition.
But still – we must address the phone as a whole and not only its quest to make modularity a “thing.” And is the LG G5 a great phone? Is it a good representation of what LG set out to do and what it is promising customers?
We’ve been testing it for a while now and we’re here now to address those questions.
Can you believe it? LG finally built a G-series smartphone that uses metal! The company introduced the LG V10 last year that was, arguably, its first modern flagship foray into the metal business and, with the G5, it builds on that experience.
It’s a metal smartphone, sure, though it’s coated with plastic in areas that makes it still feel slightly less premium at times than something like the Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge. But this isn’t a knock against the phone, because it’s totally going to depend on your taste. Ron, who also reviewed the LG G5 for us, really liked the build. I love parts of it, like the sharp chamfered edges, that other people dislike.
The LG G5 is super comfortable to hold. You’ll find that, despite the large 5.3-inch display, the G5 doesn’t feel too bulky or cumbersome and is mostly easy to use with a single hand. The screen features a Quad HD 2560 x 1440-pixel resolution though it’s LCD instead of AMOLED as you’ll find on Samsung’s phones. I prefer the latter, especially since the G5 didn’t seem to get as bright. Call me crazy, but I love crankin’ the brightnes up as high as possible.
LG shifted the volume buttons from the back of the phone to the side, which is where I prefer them. I prefer the home/power button on the front, too, but like that LG left it off in this case in order to create the one-hand-friendly experience I just discussed. It allows the phone to have a shorter chin than it otherwise might have. There’s some bulk at the top, though, where you’ll find the wide-angle 8-megapixel front-facing shooter. This is where the glass also slightly curves to the top edge, which has a pleasing effect on the eyes.
The back of the phone is where you’ll find some changes. Again, it’s just the power button that doubles as the fingerprint reader now, no volume buttons. You’ll also find the unique double camera array here. LG added two camera lenses to stand out from the competition, and I dig the strategy. There’s a 135-degree wide-angle 8-megapixel camera that takes some really awesome fish-eye-like photos, and a secondary 16-megapixel shooter. It’s minimalist.
My only beef with the design is where the battery module and SIM tray/microSD card slide out. It’s a clunky experience pulling the battery off and plugging it into another module, and there’s a sharp line in the otherwise clean design. It’s a trade-off for sure, and as I argue later, I like the option to have a spare battery on a flagship phone. It’s just that there aren’t many modules to take advantage of, which brings us to that part of the G5.
When LG first announced the G5, it said there were going to be two modules to start, suggesting that more were on the way. And, eventually, there might be, since third party developers can build the modules (or “Friends” as LG calls them), too. But, as it stands, there’s actually only one that you can buy in the U.S.
The Bang & Olufsen DAC audio module isn’t being sold here and, since I didn’t have a chance to try it, I can’t really talk about it.
The other module is the camera attachment, dubbed the $69 CAM Plus. It allows you to beef the battery up to 4,000mAh and provides physical zoom controls and a grip. It’s neat and kind of reminds me of a similar attachment for the Nokia Lumia 1020, but it’s by no means a reason to buy this phone. So while LG is touting “modularity” there’s just this one module that’s kind of gimmicky and a second one that’s not even available.
As such, there’s no current reason for me to recommend the LG G5 for that capability. Maybe once there are more options or a real use but, until then, it’s just sort of a really cool idea that had really bad execution.
The latest LG software is called “LG UX 5.0.” It caught a lot of flack when it was first announced because it didn’t seem that there was an app tray. There is, though, and it can easily be turned on inside the settings menu. After that, it kind of just feels like every other LG UI I’ve used over the past few years. If you leave the app tray off, it’s similar to a Chinese UI, yes, even iOS.
The nice thing? It’s super, super fast. The G5, to me, felt faster than my Galaxy S7 Edge most of the time. I loaded it up, too, with all of the apps I have on my Galaxy S7 Edge. There’s something about it, maybe LG dug deeper into the code or is managing software better, but it just feels quicker to me despite the same Snapdragon 820 processor under the hood.
There are some nice new features in UX 5.0, particularly in the camera department, where you can take advantage of new effects and use things like 360-degree photos shot with the LG 360 camera as your background wallpaper. I actually found the 360-degree wallpapers really fun for the first few days before I gave up and just moved back to something more static and traditional. There’s a “Smart Doctor” feature that keeps your device and the memory running in tip-top shape, but I found it no different from similar apps offered by other manufacturers like Samsung.
I’ll say this, though, which is a compliment to LG: I didn’t immediately feel like I needed to change the launcher and, now, even after a week with the device, I’m not jumping over to Google Now or another third-party option. The experience is clean and fast, which is what matters most.
I’m not a camera expert but I’ve used hundreds and hundreds of smartphone cameras over the years that I like to think I know what I’m talking about when I take them out for a spin. The G5 is among the top performers in my current arsenal, which is solid considering I believe it’s using the same or a very similar sensor to last year’s G4. And, on top of that module, you get the awesome and super-fun wide-angle 8MP camera. I almost always left this camera on because the shots are so fun, and so unique compared to every other smartphone camera on the market.
That’s LG’s point here, and it’s one worth making again. LG is trying to make this phone better than just “the camera is good enough.” Because, let’s face it, most cameras on most Android smartphones really are “good enough.” Sure, colors might be more saturated on a Galaxy S7 or a bit less sharp on the Huawei Mate 8 but, when you’re sharing a photo to Instagram or Facebook anyway, it comes down to how you’re using the hardware.
The wide-angle camera just makes that more fun – your friends are going to notice that super-wide shot you snapped with the G5 on Instagram. A similar photo, whether shot with the regular G5 camera, a Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6s might not garner that kind of attention.
The wide-angle lens certainly isn’t as good as the 16-megapixel camera, though, so keep that in mind. There’s a lot of distortion in some areas and, when my dog came up for a close look at the camera, her nose became crazy pixelated. You can see a crop of that in the gallery above. That wasn’t always an issue, but there are times you’ll see some problems.
You’ll like the G5 camera, I think. Sure, I think the S7 is a better all-around shooter, but it’s also not as fun out-of-the-box.
The LG G5 has offered impressive battery life, which is actually great for two reasons. I was almost always getting to bed with some charge left and, on two occasions where I wasn’t using the phone too wildly, into the next day. Anyone who’s not constantly trying to get into a new mobile game or chatting on Slack and GroupMe, as I am, will probably find even better battery life.
Here’s the great thing, though: this is the only U.S. flagship right now with a replaceable battery. So even though battery life is great, you can still order a spare and keep it in your backpack for a full charge on the fly. Just pop out the old battery (no, it’s not hot-swappable), slide in the new one and, bam, another day or more of battery life.
Love it, and I know a lot of our readers do, too. The phone also charges mighty quickly if you use the included charger, which is great, but it lacks wireless charging which is the trade-off you’d get with a Samsung phone. Me? I usually lose the spare battery anyway, so I guess I’d take wireless. Both are great.
Alright, we’ve made it this far, to the conclusion of our review of LG’s 2016 flagship smartphone, the LG G5. What do I think? Well, I’m feeling good, really good, just a slightly unsatisfied.
Look, the phone has a great display, great battery life, a fun camera, expandable storage, a removable battery, a metal design and a unique form factor. LG has literally nailed ever point that anyone could ask for, seriously. It even left the IR blaster for folks who like that. If you want all the whole kitchen sink here, then buy the LG G5. It’s a great phone.
The thing is, my job is to look at the whole package.
The LG G5 also promises to be modular. It just doesn’t execute on that very well. One accessory that takes advantage of the “modularity” LG is marketing just isn’t enough to say “Wow, LG is really doing something different.” And for that reason, the phone just doesn’t stand out to me as well as something like the superior design of the Galaxy S7 Edge, which also knocks most of the points above but sacrifices things like the removable battery for an IP68 water/dust ingress protection rating.
End of the day, though? G5 is a great phone. Check it out — just don’t expect it to be some modular smartphone from the future.
Fun wide-angle camera
Solid battery life
Modules are clunky
Only one module in U.S.
Screen could be brighter
Disclaimer: LG sent TechnoBuffalo a review unit that was used for this review. Ron and Todd both used a G5 for more than a week before meeting to create what you see here.