LG G5 Review

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LG G5. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

The G5 to LG is what the Galaxy S6 was to Samsung, a complete reboot of its flagship smartphone series. It’s a through and through brand new product, which has been developed with a strategy which has no ties to its predecessors. When it comes to LG, experimenting with new technologies and implementing them into devices, which then get released to the masses, is a common practise — its G Flex and V-Series are a perfect example of that.

And if the technology is well-received by the consumers, then the company might bring the tech to its mainstream, G-Series’ flagship product. However, this time around, it’s directly experimenting with the top dog of its product line — It’s a gamble LG is playing on its most premier, best-selling handset.

With that being said, the LG G5 is one of the most unique smartphones I have had privilege to test in recent years, and that’s primarily because of it being the world’s first modular smartphone and packing an eccentric dual-camera system on the back. But, are those two characteristics enough for it to be the best smartphone of 2016? Let’s find out together.

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Design and build quality

LG G5 Design
LG G5 Design. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

Let me start by saying this: I wasn’t too impressed by the design and build quality of the G5, I found it to be inferior to what the competition is offering, especially at this price point.

The G5 is LG’s first all-metal smartphone, despite that, it doesn’t actually seem like metal at all. Let me elaborate. The device does indeed feature a metal construction, but the construction has a layer of paint coated on top of it, and that’s done to hide the ugly antenna bands which are visible on other metal smartphones. This process is called microdizing, it’s used in the automobile industry.

That layer of paint is what causes the device to look and feel like it’s made out of plastic, even though it’s supposed to flaunt a ‘luxurious metallic feel’, according to LG’s reviewer’s guide. And it’s not even just the plastic look and feel of the microdizing process I don’t like, the process also causes visibility of seams and warping (near the bottom chin) on the back, which screams of cheapness in my books. I tested two units of the G5, and both of my units suffered from these issues.

Just like every other person (I’m assuming, I don’t have statistics to back this up) on this planet, I, too, am not a big fan of the antenna bands. I feel like they disrupt the consistency of the overall design, and they are something which are present on every metal smartphone — making them a very common design attribute. I appreciate the thought behind hiding them using the microdizing process, but if the process affects the build quality of the smartphone, why do it?

And over time, the layer of paint hasn’t proved to be long-lasting either. I used the G5 for just over a month as my daily driver, and it has quite a few marks and chips on its back and sides. Now, I’m not saying if the device hadn’t gone through the microdizing process it would have performed better, because that would have solely depended on the thickness of the aluminium used by LG. 

As for the design of the G5, it’s nothing special, even though it’s a modular-type one; I find it to be a bit generic and lacklustre, especially when you consider what Samsung (LG’s arch-rival) is offering with its Galaxy S and Note product lines. It’s clear that LG has given function more importance over form. Gone are the curves of the G4, and the placement of the volume rocker has been shifted from the rear to the left side — both of these characteristics were signature identifiers of LG’s G Series.

While the volume buttons received a change in placement, the company, however, kept the power button at its usual place, at the back. And integrated a touch-based, always-active, insanely fast fingerprint scanner into it. It’s so quick that when I wanted to turn on the device to check my notifications, the sensor would recognise my finger and unlock the device before I could actually press the power button, which would then turn off the display — this got really frustrating at times. Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of rear-facing fingerprint scanners, simply because I can't use them when the device is laying down on a table. The button itself is loose and substandard; it just doesn’t feel right — same applies to the button used to unlock the module mechanism on the bottom left side of the device.

LG has decreased the display size from 5.5 to 5.3 inches, which has allowed the G5 to sport a narrower profile than its predecessor, yet it’s a millimetre taller — 149.4mm x 73.9mm x 7.7mm (G4: 148.9mm x 76.1mm x 6.3mm - 9.8mm). The narrower profile does improve ergonomics of the device and makes one-handed use relatively easy. But due to the Shiny Edge — fancy marketing term for chamfered edge by LG — applied on the back edges, instead of the front edges, the corners of the device feel sharp in hand.

The top and bottom bezels are relatively huge, decreasing the screen-to-body ratio to 70.1% from 72.5%. Usually, the company’s G-Series flagships boast a slim top bezel, but not this time — it’s probably because of the modular chin at the bottom, and LG balancing the weight of the smartphone. To add a little character to the design, the company has mildly curved the glass panel from the top. And I must say, even though it looks a bit strange at first, it feels great to touch, mainly when pulling down the notification centre. The glass itself is made out of Corning Gorilla Glass 4, so you’ll have a hard time scratching it — I don’t have any scratches on my unit, so far.

The G5 is also a tad heftier than the G4 at 159 grams; the added weight certainly does indicate at the device’s unibody metal construction, even though it doesn’t look like it — so that’s a plus.

Now let’s talk about the modular aspect of the design. The biggest reason LG went with a modular design is because it wanted to retain the ability of having a removable battery, as that’s one of its unique selling points for the G-Series. And that reason led it to build a whole ecosystem of companion devices for the G5. These companion accessories are known as LG Friends — more on them in the next category.

Here’s how the modular system works: there’s a button on the bottom left side of the device, which, when pressed, unlocks the base module (bottom chin) for it to be pulled out. The base module then can be swapped out for one of LG’s Friends. 

With that being said, I find the Korean firm’s interpretation of a modular smartphone to be flawed. The device loses power as soon the base module is removed, and that’s because the battery is attached to the module — which means, every time you swap out a module, you need to reattach the battery, too. This would have been a non-issue if there was a tiny reserve battery inside the G5, so the device won’t power off every single time — it takes around a minute to boot back up again. The modules themselves don’t sit flush with the rest of the body, therefore a gap is visible and dust gets in as well.

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LG Friends

LG G5 Friends
LG CAM Plus and LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

There are a total of six Friends available on the market (some are region exclusive) — LG CAM Plus, LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY, LG 360 CAM, LG 360 VR, LG Rolling Bot, and LG TONE Platinum. Only two of the Friends actually physically attach to the G5 as modules, the LG Cam Plus and LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY, the other four Friends connect either wirelessly or with a USB connection.

Alongside the G5, LG also sent me the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY, LG 360 CAM, and LG CAM Plus Friends to test. Despite that, I wasn’t truly able to test the LG Hi-Fi Plus due to it being incompatible with my T-Mobile G5; it doesn’t work with G5s from Korea, US, Canada, and Puerto Rico — so if you live in one of those countries, then the LG CAM Plus is the only Friend you can attach to the device as a module.

The LG Hi-Fi Plus can actually be connected to any Android device or PC, thanks to the USB-C to microUSB cable included inside the box. I tried the 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC with a LG G4 and a Galaxy S7 edge. And I noticed a notable improvement in sound with the G4 rather than with the S7, and that’s probably because the latter has a superior internal DAC than the former.

The LG CAM Plus provides a range of controls over shutter, zoom, power, video recording, and comes equipped with a 1,200mAh — which extends the device’s internal 2,800mAh battery to 4,000mAh. The module starts charging the device’s internal battery as soon as it’s attached to the device, and there’s no way to manually turn off/on the charging.

The LG CAM Plus doesn’t really provide anything different than the device’s stock camera app, which would lead me to take better pictures. Sure, it does improve the overall experience, thanks to the added grip and the double-stage shutter key, but that’s about it. And I don’t think the module adds enough value to justify an extra $70 over the device’s own price. Plus, it looks ridiculous and out of place when attached to the G5, as it’s super bulky.

As for the LG 360 CAM, it packs two 13 megapixel wide-angle camera sensors, which allow the user to shoot content in either 180- or 360-degrees. And I have to admit, I had a ton of fun playing around with this thing and shooting in 360-degrees; not a big fan of the picture quality though (more on that in an upcoming comparison piece between the LG 360 CAM and Samsung Gear 360). It comes with its own 1,200mAh battery, which enables the user to record video for up to 70 minutes with 5.1 Surround Sound — the company has packed the camera with three microphones.

Unlike the LG CAM Plus, the LG 360 CAM isn’t exclusive to the G5, it can be used with any other Android smartphone, and even iOS devices. So you don't really have to buy the G5 to actually use the CAM Plus. There are only two apps which the camera requires to work: LG 360 CAM Manager and LG 360 CAM Viewer, both are available to download from Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store.

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LG G5 Display
LG G5 showcasing its Always-on Display. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

The LG G5 is packing a 5.3-inch QHD (2560x1440) IPS Quantum display with a pixel density of 554ppi. The display is sharper than the one in the G5’s predecessor, as the size of the panel has been decreased from 5.5 to 5.3 inches, hence increasing the pixel density of the display. The viewing angles are great, with no colour shifting whatsoever. 

And the colour reproduction is pretty solid as well, but I found the saturation level to be a bit on the low side, and there’s no way to adjust the colour profile under settings. The panel itself features deep blacks, but as it’s an LCD, it does suffer from brightness leaks, especially from the top and the bottom. Also, this time around, I found the colour temperature to be pretty balanced, definitely not as cool as the G4’s display — which means, whites are white, not a shade of blue.

Then there’s Day Light Mode, which should, in theory, improve the outdoor visibility of the display, as it automatically shoots up the brightness to 850nits. However, in practise, this feature doesn’t work, at all. Technically, it might be able to achieve those brightness levels, but as soon as you go outside, the display gets pretty difficult to look at.

Just like Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, the LG G5, too, is rocking an Always-on Display, which means the display never turns off — well, unless something is blocking the proximity sensor, and the device thinks it’s inside a pocket or a bag. The Always-on Display is used by LG to exhibit the latest notifications and date, and can be set to show either the time or your signature alongside. Personally, I like LG's implementation a lot more than Samsung's, as it actually shows notifications from 3rd party apps, whereas Samsung's doesn't. 

This is probably one of my favourite features of the device, because I found myself not powering on the display every time I wanted to check the time or the type of notification I received — and that’s exactly why LG implemented this feature. And as the display is of an LCD type, you would wonder that this feature would drain its battery. However, the company has redesigned the display’s driver IC memory and power management to only allow a small area of the display to light up. So, fortunately, the feature doesn't really drain the battery that much — only 0.8% an hour.

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LG G5's Manual Mode. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

The LG G5 is boasting a dual-camera system consisting of a 16-megapixel sensor and an 8-megapixel sensor. The 16-megapixel sensor is exactly the same sensor found in last year’s G4 and V10 handsets, which means it’s one of the best sensors on the market right now. It has an aperture of f/1.8 and is equipped with a standard angle lens at 78-degrees. Whereas, the 8 megapixel sensor has an aperture of f/2.4 and features a 135-degree, wide angle lens — which is what makes it interesting.

Both sensors are capable of shooting 4K video (3840x2160) at 30FPS for up to 5 minutes — yes, you can’t shoot 4K video for more than 5 minutes due to overheating issues. A dual-LED flash, OIS (optical image stabilisation) and a laser autofocus sensor, which makes focusing on objects a breeze, are also part of the device’s imaging system.

The secondary, 8-megapixel sensor only plays well with the stock camera app, some 3rd party camera apps recognise it and some don’t — it’s a hit and miss. The stock LG camera app has stayed mostly the same as before, but has been adapted to accommodate the secondary sensor and has received a few new nifty features.

There are two ways to switch between camera sensors: either by zooming in and out using the pinch gesture or by using the two icons in the top centre of the UI. I found the transition to be a tad quicker when using the pinch in and out gesture, rather than using the icons to switch.

The stock camera app has quite an extensive feature set including Manual Control, Multi-view, Slo-mo, Time-lapse, Auto HDR, and Film Effects. While in Manual mode, manual focus gets disabled when using the wide angle, 8-megapixel sensor — keep that in mind. Actually, you won’t really be using the 8 megapixel sensor for your professional photographs anyway, because it’s not as great as the 16 megapixel sensor.

With that being said, as soon as you enable the 8-megapixel sensor for the first time, you're bound to get vowed by its field of view. It does, however, fall apart really quickly in low light situations, resulting in a lot of noise and artefacts in pictures. And the aperture of the lens is also smaller, which means you won't get as much depth of field as with the other lens. 

There is also an 8-megapixel front-facing camera sensor, which takes some pretty detailed shots, but the lens isn’t as wide-angled as the lens in Samsung’s Galaxy flagship smartphones. It can also shoot video at Full HD 1080p at 30FPS. LG has added an Auto Shot feature to the camera app which takes a selfie without you needing to press the shutter button. It recognises the face and as soon as it detects the face is not in motion, it captures an image — the feature actually works really well.

Camera samples coming soon.

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Performance and hardware

LG G5 & LG G4. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

Performance was one one those areas in which the LG G4 really struggled, as it was packing a Snapdragon 808 SoC, which wasn’t even Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line silicon. LG’s G Flex 2 suffered from the same issue, even though it was running the Snapdragon 810, instead of the Snapdragon 808, and that was mainly because of the overheating issues with the Snapdragon 810.

Nonetheless, I’m happy to report that there were no such issues with the G5, it’s actually one of the fastest and most responsive devices I have tested to date.

LG’s latest flagship comes equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor — with two low-power cores clocked at 1.6GHz and two high-performance cores clocked at 2.15GHz — and an Adreno 530 GPU (with a clock speed of 624MHz), 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, and 32GB of UFS internal storage, which is user expandable to up to 2TB via a microSD card. 

No matter what app or game you throw at the device, it will handle them with ease and won't break a sweat. Memory management is quite good as well, it can keep plenty of apps in memory at once, and there’s also an option to prevent apps of your choice from getting cleared from memory by the algorithm. I have to say, I really think that the conversion to UFS from eMMC has played a major role in providing exceptional performance — I noticed a similar boost in performance when Samsung switched to UFS storage with its Galaxy S6.

Connectivity-wise, it sports dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 with A2DP, LE and aptX HD codec, NFC, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, 4G LTE, and USB-C for syncing and charging the device. I live in the UK, but the review sample I was sent by LG was the US T-Mobile variant. Despite that, I had zero issues connecting to my network provider, and received excellent data speeds.

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LG G5 runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

The LG G5 ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and LG UX 5.0 out of the box. And if you’re buying your G5 from a carrier, then lots of carrier bloatware — my T-Mobile unit came with six pre-loaded applications, and there’s no way to uninstall them (they can be disabled, though), so they are sitting in a folder.

Initially, LG was shipping the G5 without an app drawer. Yes, you’ve read that exactly right, and there are chances that you have even heard about this beforehand, too. And I was one of those people who couldn’t live without their app drawer, as we can’t have a cluttered home screen. Fast-forward to the day I received the G5, I didn’t install a custom launcher and forced myself to use LG’s stock launcher. A few days passed and I started to like not having an app drawer, everything was just a swipe away, but then it got annoying.

First of all, I had to go into settings to sort my apps alphabetically — I did this every time I installed a new app, as it won’t do it automatically. Then, if you want to move an app to a different page or location, you would have to make space for it first, as the launcher doesn’t automatically rearrange app icons. Widgets can only be placed on the home screen, that’s it — there’s goes my Google Calendar widget, which usually resides on the second page of my home screen. If you don’t like the sound of not having an app drawer, don’t worry, the company added an upgraded version of its G4 launcher through a software update, so you can choose the one you prefer.

Moreover, LG has significantly cleaned up its user interface, it removed a plethora of useless features and drastically improved its stock app icons. I’m also a big fan of the white and teal theme, I think it looks very minimalistic. And if you don’t like it as much as I do, you can download and install a theme from LG’s SmartWorld, and completely change the look and feel of the entire UI.

Smart Settings is making a comeback from LG UX 4.0, it is an intelligent system which allows the user to perform certain tasks and turn on/off things based on their location or action. For example, a user can set the Wi-Fi to turn off as soon as they leave their house, or change the sound profile from vibrate to normal when they reach their office. Same goes for Shortcut Keys, it enables the user to instantly take notes and open the camera by double pressing the volume up and down key, respectively, while the display is turned off.

I have never been a big fan of LG's skin, but the LG UX 5.0 isn't that bad.

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Battery life

LG G5 Base Module and Battery. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

Powering everything is a user-replaceable — you don’t hear that these days, do you? — 2,800mAh lithium-ion battery. The Korean company has actually packed the G5 with a 200mAh smaller battery than the G4, but at the same time, the G5 is also rocking a smaller display panel and a more efficient processor. With that being said, I was easily able to get a full day out of the device with around 3 and a half hours of screen-on time — which isn’t impressive, but isn’t bad either.

The handset doesn’t support wireless charging, but it does support Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0, which means the device can charge to 80% in 30 minutes.

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LG G5 and Friends. Faryaab Sheikh (@Faryaab)

The LG G5 is a lot of things, but it’s not what LG wanted it to become. I’m not sold on the G5’s modular aspect, and I don’t see anyone investing in LG’s Friends ecosystem. It would have been a great move by LG if they had included an extra battery inside the box, this way consumers wouldn’t need to buy a Friend module to appreciate the modular design. And, in my opinion, neither of the two LG modules are worth the extra price.

The guts of the G5 are great and certainly tick all the boxes, but that’s just not enough in a world where the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge exist. Now don't get me wrong, the G5 does have its unique selling points. But I don’t see myself recommending the G5 to anyone over the aforementioned devices from Samsung, unless they really, really want a removable battery, an IR blaster, or a camera sensor with a super wide-angle lens.

I hope the company rethinks its strategy for its next year's G Series' flagship. Let's see if the upcoming LG V20 — launching in September with Android 7.0 Nougat — is an another experiment or a true successor to the LG V10.



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