LG G5 review: Modularity has potential, the price is right, and the camera rocks

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On March 3rd, I started using a pre-production LG G5, followed by my last full week with a production unit. While I know LG is trying to differentiate itself in the smartphone market, I am not yet convinced the design trade-offs for the modular design were worth it.

LG is heavily promoting the LG G5 “Friends” which are attachments and companion accessories. I have yet to try out any of these Friends so I cannot talk about any experiences with them. The only two designed for the slot are a camera grip and a digital-to-analog converter, both which are likely to appeal to a minority of LG G5 owners. The other Friends don’t require the removable bottom design.

The LG G4 was an amazing smartphone that received little respect and then the LG V10 beat it in every area, again with little acknowledgement from the public. Just like these excellent smartphones, the LG G5 may also likely end up as a phone that doesn’t appeal to the masses.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 2.2 GHz quad-core
  • Display: 5.3 inch 2560 x 1440 pixels resolution IPS Quantum QHD with Gorilla Glass 4
  • Operating system: Android 6 Marshmallow
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 32GB internal with microSD card slot
  • Cameras: 16 megapixel and 8 megapixel wide-angle rear and 8 megapixel front-facing
  • Other: Quick Charge 2.0, USB Type-C, Bluetooth 4.2, 802.11 a/b//g/n/ac WiFi, rear fingerprint scanner, NFC, GPS
  • Battery: 2,800 mAh removable
  • Dimensions: 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7 mm and 159 grams

The specs are the same as most other high-end Android phones today, with the exception of the battery capacity. Samsung and others are pushing the battery capacity upwards, often without compromising on the size of the device. LG decided to include a standard capacity battery while maintaining its removable lineage.

Hardware

LG continues to offer a microSD card slot and a removable battery, this time with a metal phone. It looks good, especially with the interesting curved glass along the top of the front.

You will still find the power button and fingerprint scanner centered on the back, but this time the fingerprint scanner is much quicker to respond and is very accurate. LG moved the volume button from around the center back button to the left side and I couldn’t be happier. I regularly press the volume button instead of the power button on the LG G4 and LG V10 so I welcome this shift. By the way, you can still double press the volume down button to launch the camera when the display is off.

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The display looks great with vibrant colors and excellent clarity. I did experience some viewability issues with polarized sunglasses in portrait orientation. Others said their units were fine in both orientations so I may have ended up with a device that wasn’t quite final.

The metal back feels quite thin, especially noticeable when you remove the battery and bottom piece, and I notice some minor material flaws in the back shell. The humps around the camera and fingerprint scanner give it a rather interesting appearance and I’m not sure I like it.

Despite the commercial showing the guy sliding the battery out on the train, it takes some effort to push in the release button and slide out the battery. You can then pry the battery off of the bottom attachment and then replace the battery if you desire.

The edge around the front is smooth and curved, but the bottom edge has a bevel that is a bit sharp with shiny metal. It looks good, but some many not like the sharp feel of it.

One unique feature that it seems only LG continues to support is the IR transmitter so you can control your media with the LG G5 too.

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S7 devices, I never felt like I was going to drop the LG G5 and it isn’t a fingerprint magnet.

Software

The LG G5 runs the latest version of Android Marshmallow while also providing an LG UI primarily focused on enhanced settings and custom notification shade. A few experiences related to software include:

  • Dual window mode is missing: I’m not sure if someone at LG forgot it had the capability to view two app screens at the same time on the LG G4 and LG V10, but there is no option to view apps in dual window on the LG G5.
  • Very limited always-on display: The screen simply shows the time and icons for notifications. There are no actual notifications on the display and no view of battery or signal status. You can switch to show a signature instead of the time, which simply adds a bit of customization to the phone while offering no practical information at a glance.
  • No app launcher: LG apparently heard the outrage from possible customers and we recently saw a video with an app launcher as an option so it will likely come in a future software update. I don’t mind not having an app launcher, similar to iOS, but if you load lots of apps then you may be disturbed by this feature.

LG apps and utilities include Smart Bulletin 2.0, Smart Settings, Smart Cleaning, LG Health, QuickMemo+, Smart Keyboard, QSlide, Knock Code, and Knock On. T-Mobile apps include Device Unlock, Lookout, Mobile Hotspot, My T-Mobile, T-Mobile TV, App Source, and Visual Voicemail. Overall, it’s a pretty clean version of Android and I like most of the customized settings options.

The camera app is the same as on the LG V10, with the addition of a fun pop-out mode that uses both rear cameras to create a photo and a frame. With the new dual cameras, you can switch between a standard lens and wide-angle lens with a single tap. The wide-angle lens comes in handy and LG continues to impress with its camera performance.

Pricing and competition

Just like the free year of Netflix and Samsung Gear VR I was given as a launch offer on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, T-Mobile is offering an LG 360 Cam and LG battery bundle. That’s $280 of value for these extras with a launch price of $629.99. If you buy a T-Mobile LG G5 and want the camera then this is a sweet deal.

The LG extra battery and battery charger promotion comes from LG directly for phones purchased prior to April 17th. It seems LG wants you to swap batteries as it offers this extra one along with commercials showing people constantly switching out the battery. It’s kind of a mixed message if your phone can’t go a single full day with the default battery and I just don’t see people carrying around a spare at all times and switching just for fun.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The LG V10 is one of my favorite smartphones from 2015 and while it is a large device I still prefer using it over the LG G5. However, LG was able to innovate with a metal phone that still has a removable battery, something everyone else seemed to indicate couldn’t be done, but that design comes with some fit and finish compromises.

The LG G5 is fast, the battery lasts most of a very long day, the camera is fantastic, it feels good in the hand, and the curved glass front looks cool. The back metal appears to have some flaws, the curves around the camera and fingerprint scanner give it a bit of an unfinished look, and there is a rather sharp bezel around the sides.

While I often purchased extra batteries for my smartphones that had a removable option, I rarely ever swapped them out and the majority of time the batteries sat in a drawer. As “fun” as LG makes it look to swap your battery out on the train in a commercial, unless you carry a purse I doubt we’ll see many people carrying around the extra battery. I would much rather have a higher capacity integrated battery. The value in a removable battery comes years later when the battery starts to wear down, but I see most people upgrading every couple of years so there seems to be little value in this approach.

The LG G5 Friends seems interesting, but the two modules designed for the slot have limited appeal. The headphones, VR headset, and 360 Cam have nothing at all to do with the modular nature of the design even though that message seems to be lost in the advertisements. LG could make its Friends compatible with the LG V10 or any other LG smartphone. For the modularity of the LG G5 to make sense, I need to see more modules and also trust that future LG phones will be compatible with these modules. However, I couldn’t tell you what these modules might do since it makes little sense to me at this time.

The bottom line is that I have a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with an integrated battery that is 800mAh larger, in a slightly sleeker form factor, with a water resistant build. Side-by-side I would choose the Galaxy S7 Edge or Galaxy S7 every time.

The LG G5 is a fine smartphone and it is priced $150 less than the S7 Edge on T-Mobile, but the S7 Edge is one of the first smartphones to ever satisfy my every desire. I honestly cannot think of one thing missing from it while questions remain around the LG G5.

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