Standing out from the crowd in the competitive smartphone market is tough but LG has managed to do just that with its new G5 device and its interesting modular design.
This was the company, after all, that had the courage to put all of its smartphone’s buttons on the rear panel a few years ago.
So naturally LG’s bold step for its new flagship – the G5 – was to think outside the square again with an idea that gives users both a unibody phone and a way to access their battery and add modules with an innovative design.
But LG also wanted to tick the boxes with its screen, camera and performance and provide an enjoyable experience for its customers. It has achieved that with the G5.
The LG G5 has a slick clean look with an all-metal unibody design and a 5.3-inch quad HD display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 and 554ppi (pixels per inch).
The only buttons on the edges of the phone are the volume controls that can be found on the left side.
On the right edge is the unified SIM card and microSD card tray.
Meanwhile on the back is the on/off/lock button that’s also the fingerprint reader that unlocks the phone in a second.
Having this button on the back means your finger will naturally rest on it when you’re holding it whether you’re left or right handed.
Also on the back are the two lenses – one is a standard 16-megapixel camera while the other is a wide-angle 8-megapixel camera.
But the biggest revelation of the G5 is its modular design.
The chin of the phone detaches to reveal the battery.
This can not only allow users to access that battery and also replace it if necessary, but to also add other modules.
At present there’s a B&O DAC audio module to allow users to enjoy higher quality audio and a grip that has physical camera controls.
Despite its cleverness, the modular design’s success or failure will rest with whether other companies embrace it and develop modules of their own.
Every time you add a new module, the battery is also removed so the G5 is switched off.
There’s no hot swapping – where the G5 can somehow remain on – so it’s an added hassle of having to wait for the device to power back on.
When you place the chin back on the G5 it fits snugly but not seamlessly.
There is a distinct joint on the rear panel and, on our review model at least, there was also a tiny gap where the parts didn’t meet flush.
It still has a solid build quality despite this and sits nicely in your hand.
The device’s 5.3-inch quad HD screen is a standout on the G5. Everything looks great on it – your apps, your photos, your videos and the web.
It also has an always-on display which will show the time and your notifications on the lock screen.
This way there’s no need to unlock the device and burn battery power to fire up the screen when you need to see the time or how many unread emails and social media notifications you have.
Another standout feature of the G5 is the dual lens camera on the rear panel.
These act independently just like changing lenses on a DSLR.
The main camera has 16-megapixel resolution but second lens offers a wide angle 135-degree field of vision.
That actually 15 degrees wider than the human eye’s field of view. So now you can fit a lot more in your photos without having to back even further from your subject.
Onboard are several modes including manual mode to take more control of what you’re shooting.
There’s also a fun Pop-Out Picture mode that uses both the regular and wide-angle lenses on the G5 for your background and subject and apply effects like fisheye, black and white and lens blur.
Image quality was sharp and clear with excellent colour reproduction with speedy focus so you can snap away pretty quickly.
In bright light the G5 had no issues and also produced impressive result in low light but it just took a little longer to focus.
The LG G5 is running the Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow operating system with LG’s user interface on top of that.
LG’s UX isn’t the thinnest in the world but it’s nowhere near as bloated as some rival smartphones.
There are a lot of included LG tools including shortcuts to manage memory, storage, back-up and battery use.
But one thing you won’t find is an app drawer.
Usually on an Android smartphone home screen is a shortcut to see all of your apps – not so with the LG G5 so your screens are going to get crowded and not look as clean.
You will also see doubled up apps like the music player and email client along with all of the Google versions.
A favourite LG app was the QuickRemote which uses infrared to control your TV, audio system, set-top box, DVD and Blu-ray Player and air conditioner and even set up different profiles for each room like a built-in universal remote.
Our TV remote wasn’t working and we used the G5 as our go-to remote until our replacement remote was delivered.
Powering the LG G5 is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
Users can expand the memory through the microSD card slot.
As a result, you’ll have a fast experience whether you’re opening apps and the camera or playing the latest games.
You can see the LG G5’s battery every time open the bottom of the phone. But even though you get access to it – it’s still not the largest battery on a smartphone.
At 2800mAh, the LG G5’s battery has a smaller capacity than the Samsung Galaxy S7 (3000mAh) and the HTC 10 (3000mAh).
But to the G5’s credit it lasted for us as long as these rival smartphones easily through the day.
And when you’re not using it, the G5’s battery hardly loses charge.
But the really cool feature is Quick Charge which can get you back to a full charge in about an hour through its USB-C port.
LG modules and companion products are called Friends and we checked out the Cam Plus ($129), the LG 360 Cam ($399) and the LG 360 VR glasses ($TBA). There is also a B&O audio module ($229) available but we weren’t given this to review.
* Cam Plus: This module snaps onto the bottom of the G5 and is Ideal for anyone who wants to shoot like they’re using a real camera. It provides a grip and physical controls for zoom and capturing. There’s also a built in 1250mAh battery so you can shoot longer without draining the phone battery. We found it a little laggy and button positioning could have been better.
* LG 360 Cam: If you want to create your own virtual reality pictures and videos, the two 13-megapixel 180 degree cameras can do the job. It links wirelessly to the G5 with Bluetooth and stores your images and videos on a microSD card. One issue we saw was a difference in lighting because the lenses are on opposite sides of the device. When they are stitched together you can see the difference.
* LG 360 VR: This allows users to connect to the G5 and enjoy VR pictures and videos. And rather than being big and bulky, the LG 360 VR are more like glasses than a headset. But this means it’s not as good at keeping the light out. And ironically, despite being smaller and slimmer it is a but clunky to control. It’s not as good as Samsung Gear VR and not in the same league as product like the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.
The LG G5 is an impressive smartphone with an excellent camera and solid performance.
But we wonder how much better it would have been if the device was created as a true unibody – without the modular – that was even slimmer and lighter.
The decision to make it modular does open up the possibilities for customers and provides a way to get even more out of the device.
Hopefully there will be a few more module choices including more third party add-ons to give customers who decide to take on the G5 as their go-to device a few more choices.