The LG G5 is one of the most unusual flagship Android smartphones we’ve ever seen. Centred around a modular component design, it’s a risky move in a phone market dominated by mostly-iterative annual roll outs of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy lines. It’s not perfect, but our extended impressions suggest that it is great, and on course to be LG’s best phone yet.
So, Why No Full LG G5 Review Yet?
We’ve been supplied with a pre-release, US version of the LG G5, meaning that there are a few subtle but important bugs, problems and software differences that prevent me from fairly giving a definitive, final verdict on the LG G5. These quirks include (but are not limited to):
- A haywire compass
- The phone identifying itself as the LG G Flex 2
- Some broken widgets
- A flaky fingerprint scanner
- LG’s backup / phone transfer app not working
Without a commercial release handset to test, I’m yet to confirm whether or not these are pre-release bugs, or something more substantial.
In addition, LG has yet to supply any of the phone’s modular “Friends” add-ons. Being the G5’s unique selling point, it wouldn’t be right to give a final verdict without trying them – though I’ll speak of them conceptually. But they are optional extras, so if you’re looking for just a breakdown of what’s good or bad about the core LG G5 phone, you’ll get that here.
For the most part, you should be able to treat the following test notes as a “proper” LG G5 review – the phone we have is 95 per cent ready for action – but for the sake of being as comprehensive a review as you deserve, we’ll revisit the LG G5 once the finalised software and add-on components have been tested, too. Our full LG G5 review is going to have to wait a little longer.
So with that preamble out of the way, let’s get started...
The LG G5 is LG’s first all-metal flagship but, first of the phone’s many unique features, it’s not an all-metal unibody. Instead, its bottom lip pops out with a push of a button and a yank, giving you access to a removable battery and space for the modular components (which we’ll speak more on later). This functionality is excellent, but comes at the price of leaving a slight-but-noticeable gap just below the screen on the rear of the phone, marring the otherwise-pristine aluminium finish.
Though the screen is slightly smaller than that of the LG G4 (5.3-inches compared to the 5.5-inches of the G4) both phones are practically identical in size thanks to the removable component at the bottom of the G5, even if the newer phone is a tad slimmer. The G5 feels far nicer than both the plastic and leather finishes of the G4 though, with its metal shaped to form slight curves that meet to form satisfyingly harsh and grippy edges. Despite the size, you’re unlikely to drop this phone, and the decision to put the volume rocker back on the left hand edge, rather than the rear as with the G3 and G4, is a welcome one.
The power button however remains on the rear, and this time it doubles up as a fingerprint scanner. As mentioned above, it’s only worked intermittently, which means it’ll be doubly frustrating for those that prefer their power buttons placed in a more traditional spot. I’ve got a feeling this is down to the small size of the scanner rather than a software bug, which is a shame as, being one of those who quite like the rear placement, it’s often proved quicker to just push the button and enter a pin to unlock. If it’s not working effectively, the scanner may also prove problematic for those looking to take advantage of Android Pay.
It’s all good when it comes to the screen though. Tapering down in a gentle curve from the top edge (perfect for sliding down the notifications panel), it’s a QHD IPS LCD display, offering a 2560 x 1440 resolution for a 554ppi. It’s super-bright with great colour reproduction and viewing angles, being more subtle than the saturated Galaxy S competition. When in standby, the phone keeps ticking over with an always on display, offering white-on-black time, date and notification details (with all the sensitive bits hidden away until you unlock the device). For battery conservation purposes presumably it remains a little too dark to see comfortably in bright light, but for at-a-glance updates – with little to no noticeable impact on battery, thanks to the application processor remaining asleep – it remains a welcome addition.
Under the hood sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by 4GB of RAM. That’s a beastly combo, which tore through basically everything I could throw at the G5 without breaking a sweat. It didn’t get too hot either, showing an efficiency improvement over the last top-end Qualcomm generation. 32GB storage is built in as standard, and there’s support for microSD expansion (though not for adoptable storage, where Android Marshmallow combines built-in and removable storage together).
Battery life will see you comfortably through an average day, but the G5 is no marathon man, especially if you’re using intensive applications such as gaming or GPS tracking. However, equipped with a USB-C port, the G5 packs Quick Charge 3.0 tech, bringing a dead phone back to around 70 per cent charge in just thirty minutes. So long as you’ve a charger and a wall socket handy, you can be road-ready again in minutes.
The LG G5 takes some sublime photos, making use of a dual-lens system. Again, though it’s not the first phone to make use of dual rear lenses, LG is thinking outside of the box a bit. While the main 16MP rear snapper has a standard, tight field of view, the secondary 8MP sensor goes wide-angle for 135-degree shots. It’s a really useful idea, switching between the 16MP unit for detailed intimate shots, and the 8MP rear lens when in cramped quarters or when taking in a particularly epic landscape.
It’s a system not without its gripes though – while there’s a dedicated software button for switching between the two modes, you can unexpectedly find yourself jumping to the 8MP wide-angle lens if you zoom too far out with a pinch of the screen for digital zooming. Also, the wide-angle lens, as you’d expect, produces quite a noticeable fish-eye distortion effect to the edges of an image – it would have been great if LG had included some kind of auto-compensating fix for this unwanted side effect.
Even without the wide-angle lens, the LG G5’s picture-taking abilities would be worthy of applause though. Wide aperture settings (f/1.8 on the 16MP, f/2.4 on the 8MP) let in plenty of light, while there’s extensive manual controls for those that want to fine tune every frame. You’ve options aplenty, and the results are almost uniformly excellent.
The G5 is sporting a minimalist reskinning of Android 6.0.1 That’s minimalist in style, but not in changes. Lots of significant tweaks are made. For starters, you can have as many as seven fixed app shortcuts stuck to the bottom of each homescreen, and up to four Home Touch buttons, giving you an additional option such as screen capture or (my preferred) notifications shortcut next to the standard Back, Home, and multitasking buttons. A few settings options sit in different places, a few app icons have been changed, and there’s LG’s easily-ignored IFTTT Smart Settings phone automation to play about with if you’re so inclined, but overall the tweaks are positive.
However! There is one major change that will prove controversial. As has Huawei, LG has ditched the Apps Tray. That leaves all your app icons sat on your homescreens, ready to be organised alongside your widgets. It’s not massively offensive (just make a folder for all those one-use and junk apps), but it does seem kind of pointless, when at least leaving the app tray as an option would keep all users happy.
Should You Care About the LG G5 Modular Friends?
Again, to be clear, though we’ve played with the LG G5’s modular “Freinds” components, we’ve not been sent any for a more extensive test. But the idea intrigues us, though it has inherent problems.
The Friends, which plug into the bottom of the phone where the removable battery compartment lives, come in a number of flavours. There’s a camera-focussed one with physical shutter controls that doubles up as a battery expansion, another that acts as a Hi-Fi DAC for 32-bit hi-res playback, and another (the LG 360) which turns the G5 into a so-so VR viewer. The design itself also affords the LG G5 the luxury of that replaceable battery – a feature no other all-metal smartphone can boast.
I love the idea of a modular phone, building up a custom beast that’s suited to your every need. And though I applaud LG for “going there” when everyone else is too scared to (this is genuinely the most interesting smartphone idea we’ve seen in a while), the LG G5 feels like the wrong place to test the concept out. While not everyone may agree, I see the modular concept working best with cheaper phones, not premium ones like the LG G5. I see far more worth in picking up an affordable base unit and then incrementally upgrading its powers as my need (and wallet) sees fit. But the G5 is already such a capable phone that the Friends (yet to be priced, remember) are likely to be a tough sell. The camera is already great, the phone already equipped to play back 24-bit audio with aptX HD. Will anyone really be that tempted to throw down more cash on something that offers minor boosts to these features while adding considerable heft to the otherwise-svelte phone at the same time? I hate to say it, but I’m not convinced.
While the jury is out on the Friends, I really like what I’ve seen of the LG G5 so far. It feels lovely in the hand, is super-zippy to use, and has a great camera. The battery life is certainly “good enough” for all but the most demanding of users (and may improve with final software refinements), and its Android reskin is clean and attractive, even if its lack of an app drawer may prove divisive.
We’ve come to expect the unexpected from LG, from its rear power button trend right up to this modular design. The quirky aspects here will not be for everyone, but they’re mostly optional, and sit on top of a very solid base. So far, so good then. Keep an eye out for a final verdict to follow soon.