LG G5 review: Those innovative modules mean nothing

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Now that we’re in April, it’s that time of the year when millions of people worldwide consider the options for their next phone. LG and Samsung will be at the top of the list for many because their new flagships, the G5 and Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, were announced on the very same day before being released in the last few weeks. Samsung is playing it safe by having the Galaxy S7 appeal to the masses, but LG embarked on an innovative journey to create the G5. The company’s fifth flagship doesn’t care about tradition and what the smartphone has always been. It’s is all about being what you want the phone to be, depending upon a modular design to give your G5 the capabilities desired.

Hit the break for our review of the LG G5.

It wasn’t until 2013 with the G2 that LG became competitive in the world. That phone packed a serious punch, and the bar was only raised the following year when the G3 came along. LG pushed out a phone with Quad HD display and fresh design. The G4, though, slowed down the innovation streak as things weren’t too different from what we saw before. This year with the G5, LG is aiming higher than ever before. The phone is sized just right, made of seemingly premium materials, and bears specifications to stay on top for the foreseeable future. And the same can be said for competitors of the phone. So LG is standing out with the world’s first mainstream phone that has a modular design.

At MWC 2016, the LG G5 was born. It’s the the product of high-end specifications and a push to be different than the competition. Let’s see where this modular beast stands.

Design

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By appearance, you’d never know anything out of the ordinary was going on. Nothing is particularly off even when the phone is in your hands. The G5 simply comes across as your run-of-the-mill device until you examine its body. LG is using a metal alloy to construct the G5, causing a stir among critics and consumers.

Looking at the front of the G5, a resemblance of the G3 from 2014 is evident. The current flagship shifted away from its most recent predecessor and borrowed elements from the G3. Practically all of the phone’s front is black and sits behind glass. A small piece at the bottom, which I like to refer to as the “chin,” is metal like the sides and back of the phone. The LG-stamped chin is actually vital to the G5 because it releases and allows modules to inserted and removed.

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Like other LG devices, this phone lacks physical buttons that face you. The call speaker, front-facing camera, ambient light sensor, and notification light sit above the 5.3-inch display while the chin is alone beneath. If you’re into devices with home buttons on the front, the G5 is not for you. Back, Home, and Recents are accessible through on-screen buttons, again playing into Google’s vision for Android.

An extra touch for the 2016 flagship from LG its 3D Arc Glass at the top of the display. It’s a slight curve that doesn’t give the “seamless look” described. The G5’s display is a departure from the curves we’ve seen before from LG.

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The back is little different than what we’ve seen in the past from LG, but it’s still more interesting than the setup on other devices available today. Volume buttons are no longer situated around the home button as LG, likely forced by the modular design, moved them to the left side. The chrome-trimmed home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner sits solo. It’s a setup I appreciate more than the G4’s because now you don’t have to feel around for the right button. With the G5, you know you’re pressing the home button on the back and the volume rocker on the side.

The first time you pick up the G5, you’ll probably doubt that it’s composed of metal. A lot has been said about the materials used to create the phone’s exterior, but LG stepped forward with a final explanation to silence skeptics. From the outset, the company claimed the phone is made of metal; however, early adopters reported a not-so-metal design and pressed the company on its questionable wording. To me, it’s true that the G5 doesn’t feel like metal. It feels like a fancier plastic. The phone does look a lot better than it feels, at least. According to LG, the G5 is covered with a primer that bonds paint to aluminum. The same aluminum allow, LM201b, was developed for use in cars and plans.

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Back edges have a subtle chrome trim

LG’s explanation lets everyone know that the G5 is indeed made of metal, but that metal behind a thick layer of primer.

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Viewing the G5 from the bottom, you’ll catch that there isn’t a micro-USB port. Instead, the phone relies on a USB Type-C port for charging and data transfers. Next to that new port is a speaker on the left and a microphone on the right.

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The auxiliary port is at the top. What else is at the helm of the G5? An IR blaster. The feature that has made sporadic appearances over the years lives on in this phone, enabling owners of the G5 control over their televisions and other electronics and home appliances.

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Design and build quality are disappointing in that the G5 doesn’t quite match the Galaxy S7. Samsung’s 2016 flagship is a marvel of mobile devices. The Galaxy S7 is mixture of metal and glass, which you can see and feel for yourself. The G5 barely makes a meaningful impression because you really don’t get that ‘wow’ impact when it’s in your hands. It reminds you of the plastic phones you loved to hate in the past. That feeling for a flagship should be behind us in 2016. In addition, tightness for the home button and volume rocker are also concerning. The buttons on my review unit were loose. I could actually shake my G5 and hear the power button rattling out of place. Let’s hope that’s specific for this unit and the millions of G5s being shipped since the April 1 release date are not similar.

Better build quality can be found on last year’s LG V10. We’ll have to wait until September or October to see if that phone gets a true success of its own.

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Color options include Gold, Pink, Silver, and Titan. That last one is what you’re seeing in this review.

Don’t let the fact that the G5 is taller and wider than the Galaxy S7 turn you off, measuring 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm against Samsung’s 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9mm. Then it’s no surprise that the LG’s flagship is also heavier than Samsung’s. Height isn’t an issue at all and the side bezels are so thin that you won’t be stretching fingers to reach across the display. Weight, too, isn’t worth worrying about at 159g. The G5 is tailored for the ‘just right’ sweet spot.

Samsung’s Galaxy S7 is so compact that LG couldn’t match without shrinking display size further, and I’m glad LG was able to find a happy medium between display size and overall size. Whereas the G4 felt awkward and uncomfortable in the hand, even without the curves the G5 is cozy to hold for two minutes or two hours.

LG Friends

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As hardware sales begin to slow, companies are building ecosystems of companion services and accessories to remain attractive. LG Friends is a collection of devices that are made to work effortlessly with the G5. It’s where you’ll find LG’s modules, virtual reality devices, and other accessories.

At launch, LG presented two modules. After the release date on April first, we only have two modules. It’s not clear if any more are on the way, but third-party modules are expected to debut on April 18 in a marketplace for software and hardware products compatible with the G5. It’ll definitely be a letdown if LG doesn’t make any new official modules.

LG CAM Plus

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The standout module for the G5 is the LG CAM Plus. This one slides into the phone as a camera grip that has a shutter button and zoom dial for elevating a camera experience that is already top-notch. The LG CAM Plus also has a 1200mAh battery to keep the G5 going after taking countless pictures and shooting gigabytes worth of video.

LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play

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The LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play is the module that surprised and impressed attendees at MWC 2016. It’s a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) developed by Bang & Olufsen capable of playing 24-bit/384kHz audio. It’ll work whether you’re using the auxiliary port or the speaker.

Forget about getting this module if you’re located in the United States, Canada, Korea, and Puerto Rico. The LG Hi-Fi Plus isn’t coming to those countries for an undisclosed reason.

LG 360 Cam & LG 360 VR

The company’s first major step into virtual is a one-two punch to capture and experience immersive content — the LG 360 Cam and LG 360 VR.

The LG 360 Cam is a 360-degree camera with two 13MP 200-degree wide-angle cameras to observe its surroundings. It records video in 2K resolution and audio in 5.1 surround sound because of its three microphones. Whatever is going on around this little thing, it’s going to see and hear for playback.

Support for the LG 360 Cam isn’t limited to the G5; you can use the 360-degree camera with almost any phone. It’s not yet up for sale in the United States but pre-order is a go for $199.

Exclusive to the G5 is the LG 360 VR. It connects to the phone by the USB Type-C, but it’s not like the Gear VR which needs an external display power as well. The G5 pairs with the virtual reality headset to give power to the dedicated display (639ppi) that provides users with an experience identical to a 130-inch television viewed from two meters away.

LG Tone Platinum

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The simplest member of LG Friends is the LG Tone Platinum, a pair of wireless earbuds. Around your neck is the body that stores the battery and buttons while the earbuds themselves extend up to your ears.

Hardware

The LG G5 features a 5.3-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) IPS LCD display covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 4, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 octa-core processor, Adreno 530, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for up to 2TB, a 16MP rear camera with an extra 8MP camera, an 8MP front camera, a 2800mAh battery, a fingerprint scanner, NFC, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.2.

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Supported bands for the different LG G5 models

Performance

Like Samsung, LG has the luxury of developing display technology for its own devices. That in-house factor allows the G5 to have a fantastically bright and sharp display. When you’re spanning across 5.3 inches, it’s downright beautiful. But unlike Samsung, LG uses IPS LCD technology rather than its rival’s Super AMOLED technology. We can go back and forth debating which is better, so I’ll just throw it out there that my personal preference is for Super AMOLED. The display on the Galaxy S7 is richer in color while the G5’s feels cold, a common note when comparing Super AMOLED and IPS LCD. And, at full brightness, the Samsung’s illumination is way stronger than LG’s. Even the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition, at least to me, has a better display than the G5 in terms of vibrancy and brightness. If anything, the G5 just beats the Moto X Pure Edition in sharpness because it has a smaller screen to pack more pixels.

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The display isn’t bad but it is disappointing. Last year, the company really let people down with the Nexus 5X because that phone — although not necessarily a flagship — didn’t even have a good display. LG is disappointing again, and this time it’s with its flagship. If Motorola can go to an outside supplier and get a really good IPS LCD display, LG shouldn’t have a problem developing one itself at an internal research and development facility.

Three of the top devices from LG, Samsung, and HTC ship with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM. Is performance the same across them? Almost. The Galaxy S7 feels the slowest while the HTC 10 feels the fastest. That puts the G5 between Samsung and HTC’s flagships for 2016. Yet again, LG isn’t standing out. The phone doesn’t get sluggish or stumble through tasks; however, there is a minuscule moment of waiting when opening or switching apps.

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To be fair, none of the three phones from LG and its main competitors are realistically slow, but compare them side-by-side and you’ll see exactly where they rank.

It’s easy to see why the G5 ranks between the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 in a real-world speed test. The software on the G5 is lighter than Samsung’s TouchWiz and heavier than HTC’s Sense 8.0.

Whenever I cover sound, I’m always sure to note that I’m not anything close to an audio expert. My analysis of speakers on mobile devices is far from technical. So, without further ado, I am saying the speakers on the G5 are… odd. Despite not being of the front-facing stereo variety, this phone can get loud. The catch is that sound from the G5 is empty. After playing tunes from Google Play Music or videos on YouTube, I kept feeling like something was missing from the G5’s speaker. Samsung put a screen behind the speaker holes on the Galaxy S7 (to enable water resistance) and that phone still produces better sound than the G5. It’s not even worth bringing up the HTC 10 because we all know HTC dominates in this regard.

Altogether, the G5’s performance is underwhelming just like the design. It’s all good on paper and in use, but the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 are better in every way.

Battery

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The 2800mAh battery sitting within the G5 is smaller than last year’s G4. That’s also smaller than the batteries inside Samsung and HTC’s latest phones. Scary, right? It’s not a good sign when a company goes in the other direction with battery capacity while raising power.

During my time with the phone, I was able to push the G5 to reach around 12.5 hours of use on weekdays that include usual actions for me — sifting through emails, checking Twitter, sending messages on Google Messenger or Hangouts, and sporadically playing Alto’s Adventure or Threes! when bored. Rarely do I make calls. This was with the brightness adjusted automatically throughout the day. My results were mediocre because my Galaxy S7 is able to carry me about 18 hours before I start thinking about charging. Thankfully there are advantages for the G5 in this department that don’t exist elsewhere.

Forget about using any of the micro-USB cables you already own because LG’s flagship comes with a USB Type-C port. You’ll need to use the one supplied by LG or, after doing extensive research, purchase a third-party charger. The G5 doesn’t ship with a wall adapter like the Nexus 5X that has a USB Type-C port on it. The included wall adapter has a regular USB port.

Since the G5 supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, you can expect charging to be up to 38% more efficient than the previous technology.

Consumers may flock to the G5 over the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 because of the removable battery. Courtesy of the modular design, you can swap batteries with ease. LG is selling extra batteries and charging cradle to give G5 owners nonstop access to their phones.

The trade-off for mediocre battery life and a new port is faster charging and a removable battery.

Software

It’s no surprise that the G5 ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and it could jump to Android N by the end of the year because of Google’s new strategy to get the next version of Android out to partners before the annual I/O conference. Of course you won’t get stock Android’s appearance as LG UX 5.0 is the software overlay on the G5. It’s been slightly modified to ease up on the now-former overbearing nature, but LG continues to have a lot of work to do. It remains scattered while TouchWiz was refined by Samsung. At least LG’s software overlay looks better than ever, which still doesn’t say much.

The apps from LG pre-installed on the G5 are Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Downloads, Email, File Manager, Gallery, LG Friends Manager, LG Health, Messaging, Music, Phone, QuickMemo+, QuickRemote, Settings, Tasks, and Visual Voicemail.

Quick Settings are what I’m thankful for on the G5. On LG’s phones, I’ve always appreciated the direct access to toggles and other actions by swiping down from the top of the display. And it’s possible for you to choose which items are available and where they’re positioned. Maybe you don’t need Airplane Mode at the ready; remove it and insert a toggle for the flashlight. Your own efficiency will be greatly improved because you’re not diving into menus and poking around to see where everything is.

There’s something missing from LG UX 5.0: the app drawer. In Asia, it’s common for devices to ship without app drawers. In North America, it says “we want to be like Apple.” Android is known for its app drawer, and LG doing away with that was surprising and annoying. There’s no reason for the G5 to not have an app drawer. Not including one doesn’t do anything special for this phone. It just invites people to install a third-party launcher to get what they want.

The backlash from the media and its audience, however, pushed LG to reverse the decision to keep an official app drawer far away from the G5. The company is allowing you to have an LG-made app drawer on the G5 if you install LG Home 4.0 through the LG SmartWorld app. And that LG SmartWorld app has to be installed after downloading through your web browser. A lot of work goes into getting the app drawer back on the G5.

Before we get into the software features unique to the G5, let’s go over what was removed. Q Slide and Multi Window is no more. The G2 brought Q Slide with it as a way to use smaller utility apps on top of regular apps. Multi Window, as its name suggests, was the split-screen feature on LG’s devices. LG may have removed it from the G5 because Android N will be ushering in a split-screen mode for all Android devices. If you want access to multiple apps on the G5, the best you can get is pinning them in the multitasking menu.

Knock On and Knock Code, two staples of LG’s devices, are on the G5. It allows you to tap the phone’s display to wake (with Knock On) and tap specific parts of the display to unlock (with Knock Code).

Wallpapers can give your G5 a special touch of personlization because the phone supports 360-degree wallpapers. Point the G5 in any direction and you’ll get a unique look in a detailed environment. Just be aware that a 360-degree wallpaper will have a greater affect on battery life because it’s constantly active.

Always-on displays are becoming a new normal for high-end devices. The always-on display on the G5 is more like the Moto X Pure Edition’s rather than the Galaxy S7’s. Samsung’s take on the always-on display just gives you the date and time. LG, like Motorola, believes you should get to see which apps are sending notifications your way. But the G5 doesn’t allow you to interact with the notifications that appear on its always-on display. Motorola is still the only company putting quick access to notifications on an always-on display.

Camera

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The single area on the G5 that promises to deliver excellence on a consistent basis is the camera. The phone comes with a 16MP primary camera and an 8MP wide-angle lens. You might rarely use the wide-angle lens, but you know its there anytime you want to take cool shots and capture more in a single photograph. That’s not to say the wide-angle lens is a gimmick, though. It truly pulls off interesting shots not possible with another phone. When you’re using the 16MP primary camera, expect incredible results just like with previous flagships from the company.

Same shot, different lens

See the extra space brought into view with the wide-angle lens. The picture on the left is a closeup shot of my iMac’s keyboard. Opting to use the wide-angle lens expands the view incredibly and adds a little warped effect.

The G4 had one of the best cameras of all-time and the G5 keeps LG’s flagship line strong with photography and video recording.

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Calling the G5’s Camera app amazing is an understatement. Because I’m clueless about camera settings, I called in backup. A close friend of mine who is a photographer and owns an Apple iPhone was floored by the controls housed in the G5. Basically everything he would normally change on his intricate and expensive camera could be altered here.

Closing

The world’s initial impression of the LG G5 was that the phone’s modules would make or break it. After spending multiple weeks with the phone and seeing module support dwindle, the modular design means nothing at all for the G5. This is yet another phone with high-end specifications that tried to stand out and create buzz to shift attention away from Samsung. New modules (and ones that are globally sold) are either going to be priced far too high or never arrive at all. The selling point of the G5 is gone, and it was gone before the phone was even released. Considering the cheap design and lackluster performance, LG can only fall back on the camera.

LG is pushing an empty promise in the G5. The company needs to prove it can be innovative from start to finish. Introducing a modular design, detailing two modules, and making it impossible to get them isn’t how you earn the trust of consumers.

[LG] [Amazon] [Best Buy]


About the Author: Justin Herrick

Born and raised in New Jersey, Justin is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University where he studied marketing with a focus on digital marketing. He's very talkative and enjoys discussing anything from technology and sports to video games and television. As for Justin's current device rotation, he carries around the Google Pixel and Nexus 9. In the rare case that his phone or tablet is not in his hand, he is either flicking through cards on his Moto 360 (2015) or typing away on the Microsoft Surface Book. Justin is patiently waiting for the day that Google replicates the Galaxy Nexus with modern day specifications.


  • kidred14

    Qslide is still there. Have to add it to the home button bar at the bottom of the screen. Daylight mode would be a worthy addition.

  • neural_physics

    The g5 sucks

    • Sgo

      Far from it. Considering it has a SD 820 soc, with 4 gb of ram and 32 gb of expandable storage. Plus it’s the only major flagship with an IR blaster, and a module design to add on new devices, or replace the battery.

      • flabbypissflaps

        Well said! I have the G5 and its Franken awesome… Oh and i have the two modules i wanted it for. The bang and olufson h3 i got with mine are great. The bang and olufson dac audio is truly amazing and for those days where i know I’m going too be taking a few pics the cam plus is very handy. As for the haters, go back to your Samsung rubbish, the G5 is clearly not for you.

      • neural_physics

        So? Those are literally the only good things about it, and the camera. Besides that, the phone is poorly made and I would take an HTC 10 or Galaxy S7 over it any day of the week.

  • Sgo

    I hope they make a Raspberry Pi Zero module or friend. Or maybe an Arduino Nano module as well. Then you could use the G5 to interface and program the boards directly.

  • Jarl

    it’s not only that there are just two unavailable modules, they’re pointless (there are phones with good audio out of the box), they’re not hot swappable either. powering off to add a camera module? too silly

  • Nila

    If you forget about the additional modules and just look at it as a Top of the range spec’d smart phone that has a removable battery you already have a good enough reason to buy it. They shouldn’t have focused so much on the modules for the sales, they should have just stuck to what does make it a great phone – SD card and removable battery. I’m sold (says the guy who just bought the LG G4 a month ago for that exact reason).
    Thank you LG for a great phone that lets ME use it heavily and gives me everything I need (although I would love some waterproofing!)

  • Nunya Bidniz

    All these reviews talk about how pretty it is & how chic, & ooh, look at the modules! The bottom line is: the G5 is the last smart phone with a user-swappable battery, so if you’re like me & keep your expen$ive hardware until it just won’t cut it any longer in the modern world [aka, I’d still be using my LG Octane feature phone if VZW would maintain their cell towers better so I didn’t have to use Wifi calling to be able to receive calls inside my house] and it is FULLY amortized, then that feature alone seals the deal. Downside is that the G5 has only marginal signal pulling capability, so the 4G connection is slooooow or nonexistent where my friend’s IPhone 6s runs fine, so you’d better be using it in an area w/ good coverage. BTW, get your “friends” modules now, since LG has walked away from that idea and they’re going the way of the passenger pigeon…