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LG G5 hands-on: will LG's big gamble pay off?
Another year, another mobile extravaganza unfolding in beautiful Barcelona. Serving as the official start of the Android flagship season, the Mobile World Congress sets the tone for the industry, but before the gates of the show open tomorrow, LG hopes to impress us with something radically new.
LG just took the wraps off the new G5, and it’s probably the most ambitious device in the series. This phone is LG’s big bet, a high-stake gamble that might define its future in a market that’s increasingly hard to impress.
With a metallic unibody and innovative modular design, the G5 also comes with some rather shocking changes on the software side. We spent extensive time with the G5 ahead of its unveiling today, and this is our attempt to answer the question – will LG’s big gamble pay off?
Design and build quality
If you already made an impression of the G5 based on the leaks from the past days, you may want to reconsider. LG G5 looks much better in real life, and not even our high quality hands-on images really do it justice.
The rumors were generally accurate: the LG G5 features an aluminum unibody, with a side-mounted volume rocker, and a power button built into the fingerprint sensor on the back. LG said goodbye to its trademark rear-mounted volume rocker, probably to avoid making the design of the back too busy.
The edges of the G5 are rounded, which goes nicely with the subtle curvature of the bottom cap and of the top of the screen. LG calls this design 3D Arc. Unfortunately, there’s a seam between the back and the frame, that you can feel when holding the device.
Both the camera and the power button/fingerprint are slightly raised, but the bulge is small and it probably won’t stick out. In fact, when the G5 lays on a flat surface, it doesn’t even wobble when you touch it.
The power button has a little give to it and there’s a good click when you push it. That said, it tends to rattle when you do a quick tap, which makes it feel cheap.
If you opt for the fingerprint unlock, you can wake up the phone with just a tap on the button. The sensor is very accurate, and we rarely had to tap it more than once. It’s also noticeably slower than the Mate 8 or Nexus 6P, but not slow enough to become annoying.
Now for the unique feature of the LG G5: the bottom cap can be removed, allowing access to a replaceable battery – a rarity in 2016! – and making it possible to add various modules, like a camera grip or a hi-fi audio module.
To remove the cap, you just press on the lock button on the left side and pull. The cap and the attached battery slide out, revealing the hollow core of the phone. Removing the cap is easy, but it takes a little courage to snap the battery off the cap, which you have to do in a specific way. We can’t help worry that some people will break their phones trying to replace the battery.
To LG’s credit, this design is pretty well implemented and when the cap is on, the phone feels pretty solid. Only the thin seam between the phone and the bottom cap gives it away, and users who don’t care about swapping modules or batteries won’t ever have to bother with it. On a side note, the pin-actioned SIM and microSD tray is located on the right edge of the phone.
G5 and friends modules
If you think the removable battery is impressive, you’ll love the other functionality made possible by the G5’s removable bottom. As rumored, you can replace the bottom cap with various accessories, created by LG or by third party companies.
We were shown a camera grip attachment called LG Cam Plus, that offers an extra 1200 mAh of power and manual controls for the shutter and zooming function. The grip virtually eliminates the danger of dropping the slippery G5, while improving one hand use for mobile shutterbugs, with the added benefit of bringing the G5’s battery life up to 4,000 mAh.
The other module we were shown is a dedicated audio module from Bang & Olufsen, called LG Hi-Fi Plus, that’s geared towards audiophiles. The module includes a 32-bit DAC and a dedicated 3.5 mm headphones port.
LG opted to downsize the G5’s display to 5.3 inches, down from 5.5 inches on the LG G4. That’s an interesting choice in this day and age, but at least the screen is excellent. The display is a Quad HD IPS LCD, and it’s nice and bright, with pleasant colors and good viewing angles.
As teased last week, the G5 features an Always-On mode that shows the clock and notifications at all times. But wait, doesn’t that kill the battery? Not according to the LG folks, who claim that Always-On Display (AOD) typically eats up just 5 percent of the battery per day. The per hour figure is 0.8%, but the display shuts down when the phone is in a pocket or face down on a desk. Plus, you save a lot of power when you don’t power up the phone every 10 minutes to check for notifications – LG estimates that people do that 150 times per day.
Hardware and battery
The LG G5 device is only the second phone announced to feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 820 processor (the first was the Letv Le Max Pro). Coupled with 4GB of RAM, the G5 should perform outstandingly. We’ll reserve full judgment for when we can run benchmarks and put the G5 through its paces, but, bar some major overheating problems, this phone looks like a beast.
The GPU is an Adreno 530, and the Snapdragon 820 also incorporates 14-bit dual image processors, a low-powered Hexagon digital signal processor for always-on applications, and Cat 12/13 LTE. 32GB of storage are available and you can supplement that thanks to the microSD card slot.
The battery is 2,800-mAh, smaller than on the G4, but the G5 is also a smaller device overall. Thanks to Quick Charge 3.0, you’ll be able to replenish 80% of the battery in a whopping 35 minutes. Wireless charging is not available.
Camera: wide angle magic
We’re finally past the megapixels war, and now phone makers are looking at innovative solutions for improving the quality of their cameras. While some companies opted for sensors with larger pixels, LG has used an interesting dual setup on the G5, featuring one normal-angle 16MP camera and one wide-angle 8MP camera.
Depending on the scene, the phone stitches the inputs from the two cameras into one image. You can switch between the wide-angle (135 degrees) camera and the regular one manually from the camera app, and the instant transition is pretty impressive.
We’ve got to test out the LG G5 camera in bright conditions on a street in Barcelona, with excellent results. Indoor shots were also quite good, though the software on the G5 is not final yet. For more on the G5’s camera, check out our Camera Feature Focus and our G5 vs Note 5 quick camera comparison.
Goodbye, app drawer
For years, LG has been criticized for its heavy-handed UI design and often gimmicky features. The good news is LG has followed the example of its hometown rival Samsung and drastically toned down the user interface of the G5. The bad news is a quintessential part of the Android experience has gone by the wayside as well: yes, the G5 does not feature an app drawer.
Now several phone makers, most of them from China, don’t use app drawers, and Apple famously shuns the feature. But LG is the first established OEM outside of China to go down this route, in a move that could signal a bigger trend – if Google is indeed dropping the app drawer with the next version of Android, LG may be just one of many Android OEMs that abandon the venerable app drawer.
Speculation aside, LG insists that the reason why the G5 lacks an app launcher is because users don’t really care about this feature. Removing it entirely makes their life simpler, according to LG.
The UI of the G5 is a clear, and welcome, improvement over the G4. Visually, the notifications dropdown has been revamped, now featuring black or light green icons on a white background, as opposed to the darker scheme from before. Likewise, the settings menu is now organized in a single column and features the same fresh color scheme.
LG actually gave up on a lot of its software features as well. For instance, you can no longer launch two apps on the screen at the same time with Dual Window. Q Slide apps are also gone. The de-bloating of LG’s software is visible in the homescreen, which is positively airy. Just a few LG apps were present on the devices we’ve played with, though the units that ship commercially may differ.
The LG G5 is nothing if not bold. It brings some truly momentous changes to the G series, with its metallic construction and streamlined software. It also brings true innovation to an industry that has become risk-averse.
There are good reasons why LG’s rivals are playing it safe, almost to the point of becoming boring – the stakes are just too high, the competition too fierce. But LG couldn’t play it safe this time, and that’s visible in the G5.
Will phone buyers understand or care about what LG tried to accomplish with the G5’s modules? Is the removable battery still a selling point? Is the design of the G5 up to par? These are questions we can’t answer for now, but we will tell you this – LG deserves huge credit for trying something completely new.
Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of the LG G5, Galaxy S7, and other cool announcements from MWC 2016! And tell us your thoughts on the LG G5!