Ever since the module design of the LG G5 was released everyone has been discussing whether or not it was a brilliant idea, or a bad one. LG has been making great phones for several years now, and has pioneered different innovative designs. The LG G2, G3, and G4 all sported the rear power and volume buttons. A change that is still debated today. Some people love it, some people hate it. I’ve spent over a month now with the LG G5 and I’m finally ready to give my verdict on this divisive smartphone.
First Impressions / Layout
Right out of the box the G5 looks as good as any of the premium devices out there. It’s light and fits well in your hand, though it is a bit slippery to hold onto. The dual cameras on the back only cause a slight bulge, which is much better than I expected. Directly below the camera area is the power button which does double duty as the fingerprint reader. The volume rocker has been moved to the left edge of the phone in a more standard design. The screen is sleek with a slight bend at the top. The bottom of the screen is actually the module that can slide out revealing the battery.
There was a good deal of news around the “metal” body of the G5. It does indeed have a metal body, but is treated with a special super-secret layer of primer and paint. This means you might get more of a plastic feel. I didn’t mind the feel and I’ve never really gotten too hung up on plastic over metal. Regardless, the G5 looks and feels good.
The top of the phone has your standard audio jack and IR blaster while the bottom has the speaker and microphone. The bottom also houses a USB Type-C connector, which LG has chosen to use instead of the usual Mini USB.
The LG G5 sports a 5.3″ display, opting to to go with QHD LCD instead of AMOLED, which means the colors may not “pop” quite as much, but it’s still a beautiful looking display that aren’t oversaturated. The display has a resolution of 2560 x 1440 and an increased pixel density. It’s a little smaller than it’s predecessor, but I think the 5.3″ size it just about perfect.
Included in the screen is an Always On display. This will show you the time and various notifications, even while the main screen was off. I wasn’t sure how useful something like this was going to be, but now that I’ve used it for awhile I don’t know how I’d get along with out it. It’s easier and more discrete to check the time without having to find the power button or tap on. Very useful in those long meetings I just can’t wait till I can finally escape.
The G5 again diverges from the G4 by putting the speaker on the bottom of the phone instead of on the back. I’m not a huge fan of this move as I often cover the speaker with my hand when using it in a horizontal orientation. I also found that setting my G3 on a table or counter with the speaker on the back reflected the sound and made it sound louder. No such luck with the speaker on the bottom. The speaker is loud however, so there’s no problem hearing it. I did find there was some distortion when cranking it up too loud while listening to movies. I’m guessing due to the modular chin design, they didn’t have an option to place the speaker on the back, but I certainly find myself wishing they were able to find a way.
As previously mentioned, the G5 goes with a combination of previous LG design and standard smartphone layouts. The power button is still located on the back which also serves as the fingerprint reader. The volume buttons are now located on the left hand side as a standard rocker, which is pretty common among modern smartphones. There is an additional button at the bottom left side that is used to release the modular chin at the bottom. It’s fairly small and is flush enough that it won’t be accidentally pressed. It took a little getting used to, but after using it for awhile, I can pop the chin off pretty quickly.
I was very impressed with the performance of the fingerprint reader as well on the G5. When you setup the reader you can add more than one print, and each one is recorded at several different angles. This means I can activate the reader accurately even while touching the sensor upside down. I’m also convinced the back of the phone is a more comfortable position than the bottom-front that you get with the Samsung or Apple devices, but that is likely to be a matter of preference. I rarely had any issues reading my fingerprint and it often took on just the first try.
This leads us into the battery, which is revealed when you pull the modular chin off. The LG G5 contains a 2800mAh battery, which is a little smaller than most recent phones. LG has done a fairly decent job balancing the phones performance to prolong the battery life. Under moderate to heavy use, I usually end the day with around 20% battery left, give or take. This included various levels of game playing, phone calls, checking email, watching videos, etc. Mileage will vary depending on what you use your phone for.
To backup the low battery size, the G5 employs fast charging and a removable battery. I’ve always been a fan of removable batteries. This allows for several advantages including the ability to quickly kill a frozen or boot looping OS, swap in a new battery to get quick power, and easily replace an aging battery if you hang onto them for more than a couple years. I was also very surprised at how quickly the fast charge worked. You can go from around 10% to a full charge in a little over an hour. I was often surprised how much battery was recouped after just having it on the charger for a short amount of time. In my opinion, this more than makes up for the smaller battery.
On top of the G5 you have your basic audio jack and the IR blaster. The audio jack is nothing special, and it works as expected. I’m am, however, once again disappointed in the IR blaster. Much like my G3, it’s apparently far too weak to be useful. I had to get within 3 feet of the TV before it would even register, which more-or-less defeats the purpose of even having one.
On the bottom you’ll find the new USB Type-C port that was used instead of the usual Mini USB. This is a bit of a mixed bag, as I had Mini USB chargers everywhere that I’ve had to abandon and buy USB Type-C chargers instead. It was inevitable that the type of port would change, so at least I’m getting it over with now. Type-C of course has it’s advantages. It is reversible, so there’s no fumbling in the dark to make sure you have it aligned properly. Also, as mentioned above, USB Type-C brings fast charging which is a huge advantage.
The big news of course is the modular design that allows you to swap the battery and use one of the new “LG Friends” that was released alongside the phone itself. The button on the lower left releases the modular chin, giving you access to the battery and allowing you to swap in one of the other modules. Currently, there are only two other modules available, but LG is hoping others will jump on the bandwagon and build additional modules.
The two currently available models are the LG Cam Plus and the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play. The Camera module adds more battery life and and additional controls to more easily manipulate the camera. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add any additional lens zoom capabilities or anything really amazing.
The LG Hi-Fi Plus is a 32-bit DAC and headphone amp featuring an ES9028C2M + Sabre9602 chipset for music up to 384KHz. It has a separate headphone jack and USB Type-C connector as well. So what does all this mean? It vastly improves on the existing speaker and sound capabilities offering additional clarity and detail. Unfortunately (again), it appears this module will not be available in several markets….including the US.
So is the module design a step in the right direction? Time will tell. With only two modules, one if you live in an area that won’t have the Hi-Fi one available, it’s difficult to tell just how useful they are. You do have to pull the battery, which means shutting the phone down, when swapping modules. Other companies, such as Motorola’s Moto Z, will be utilizing a different design that attaches to the back of the phone without powering it down and already plans to launch with twice as many available modules.
If there is one thing that LG phones have excelled at recently, it’s the camera. Certainly the last few phones from LG (LG G3, LG G4, LG V10) have some of the best, if not THE best, cameras available at their time of release. The G5 is no different, except this time it has a few new tricks up it’s sleeve. The front camera is a 8MP camera that, in itself isn’t all that special. It’s the dual camera layout on the back that really starts to set the phone apart. The primary camera is a 16MP sensor equipped with OIS and a f/1.8 aperture. The second camera is an 8MP sensor with a f/2.4 aperture with a wide-angle 135° field of view. This is really a fantastic feature and one I’ve found I use quite a bit. While it’s half the pixels of the main camera, it pulls out and gives a much larger picture. It adds a very slight fish-eye distortion on the edges, but most times it’s barely noticeable.
The camera software hasn’t changed much from the previous versions with several neat little features built in. Slo-motion, Time Lapse, popout, and multi-view are just a few of the built in features that make this a versatile camera. For those professional photo people, there’s even a fully manual mode that allows you to manually focus, adjust ISO, change shutter speed, etc. I’m not a camera expert, so most of those settings were beyond me, but handing it over to my wife who used to do professional photography and she was able to do some pretty amazing things. Suffice it to say she was rather impressed. Regardless of which mode you decide to use, it was hard to get a bad picture using the G5. Images were clear and colors were bright without being over-saturated. If you like taking pictures with your phone, you won’t be disappointed with the G5.
The G5 ships with the top-of-the-line Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, Adreno 530 GPU, and 4GB RAM. There’s no doubt this phone is fast. I have yet to experience any lag moving through the OS, opening applications, or playing games. The phone does tend to heat up a bit after prolonged heavy use, playing a resource intensive game for example, but nowhere near as bad as some other phones. My old LG G3 would literally be almost too hot to hold, something I have yet to experience with the G5.
There are multiple benchmarks available that rank the G5 just above or just below the Samsung line of phones, depending on which test you’re looking at. GreenDot has done a pretty extensive testing here that lays out much of the performance comparisons between the G5 and other recent phones. The G5 certainly holds it’s own and in some instances comes out on top.
The LG G5 comes with their new Home 5.0 built on top of Android Marshmallow 6.0. One of the major concerns with the G5 UX 5.0 when it was revealed was the lack of an app drawer on the main screen. Instead, LG opted for a more iOS layout with all of the apps spread out across the home screens. This was a huge mistake in my opinion. One of Android’s greatest strengths is the ability to customize it the way you want it to look. Forcing a more “Apple” appearance immediately takes that away. I am notoriously OCD when it comes to my home screens, so for me this was especially irritating. I like clean home screens with as little clutter as possible. The app drawer itself was one of the major draws for me to Android, so removing it was certainly a step in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone in this mentality, as LG soon backtracked and provided a way to choose to use the app drawer or not.
That point aside, the rest of the interface is actually pretty good. The OS on previous LG phones was largely filled with gimmicky software features that I found myself rarely using. LG has opted to keep most of these out this time and gone with a design that is certainly closer to stock Android than it’s ever been. Thankfully, you’re also able to disable features such as Smart Bulletin and LG Health cards that often just annoyed me than proved useful. The settings menu also received a slight revamp listing out everything in a series of tabs/cards, or you can choose a more Android stock list view. It’s the ability to customize the OS to look more or less like Android 6.0 Marshmallow that really helps the OS stand out. Unlike with the LG G3, there isn’t any setting in the new UX that irritates me that I can’t disable, and that’s a good thing.
Connectivity and Call Quality
Call quality on the G5 has thus far been outstanding. I have not received any dropped calls or distortion when in a reasonable location. Driving across town or out to some of the smaller cities just outside of the metro hasn’t produced any issues getting a signal, making calls, or using data. While some of this may be thanks to the carrier I use, the radio still plays a large part. Even out in the middle of a lake I had no issues. This is by far the best phone I’ve owned in terms of call quality and connectivity. As usual, your mileage may vary depending on your carrier.
Also included is WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, and Blutooth connectivity. The WiFi seems rather standard and, compared to the S7 Edge my wife uses, gets nearly identical range and strength when we tested both of them together. I’ve yet to experience any noticeable drops either at home, work, or on a random network around town. Blutooth connectivity is equally impressive, though the range seems a bit limited compared to some other devices, including my previous LG G3. I don’t use blutooth as much as most people, so this is something I’m still keeping an eye on. However, I haven’t had any problems connecting to other devices, so I’d rate the blutooth at a solid good with the range being the only potential downfall.
Overall, the G5 is a solid phone that relies a little heavily on the module design which, quite frankly, doesn’t quite work very well at the moment. The G5 is a fast, snappy phone that won’t have any problems running your favorite apps or most demanding games. If you love taking pictures you’ll have a hard time finding a better, more consistent camera in a smartphone. If other manufacturers jump onto the module train and pump out a few more useful modules, opinions just might change on how innovated it really is. In the meantime, the G5 certainly holds it’s own against the other flagship phones currently available. There’s not much to get overly excited about (except for the camera), but not much to really be truly disappointing with either (except the modules).