LG G5 Smartphone Review
LG wants to help you make Friends
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Don’t look now, but smartphone modularity is quietly rising in popularity. And although the LG G5 (MSRP $689.99)—LG’s flagship smartphone for 2016—isn’t as in-depth as the esoteric Fairphone 2, the concept is nevertheless refreshing in a marketplace where pretty much every phone looks the same.
The G5 can be disassembled and reassembled with what LG is calling “Friends,” which essentially are add-on pieces that attach to the bottom of the phone to enhance the G5 experience. Along with these add-ons, users can also swap out replacement batteries faster than you can say, “I can’t believe they actually went with ‘Friends.’”
The dual rear camera set-up—a hardware fixture that also might soon be seeing a rise to prominence—is another welcomed addition, and arguably one of the G5’s biggest selling points.
But on the whole, the G5 feels not-so-fully-realized. It’s a good smartphone but almost in spite of these features, and not necessarily because of them. Look past the modularity, and you'll see that the G5 is one of the best-performing smartphones on the market.
Does that make it successful? I certainly think so. But anyone hoping to hang their hat exclusively on a revolutionary modular experience might find themselves disappointed fairly quickly. Essentially, buy the LG G5 for its performance, not the LG Friends.
About the LG G5
The G5 is all about the freedom of customization. Its modular design aims to give users the flexibility to enhance and extend the life of their smartphone, which is a breath of fresh air in a market that typically nudges people in the direction of biennial upgrades.
Despite being built for longevity, the G5’s internals aren’t modular. Fortunately, LG didn’t skimp out on the hardware—the G5 is a beast.
Display: 5.3-inch LCD (1440x2560)
Memory: 32GB, 4GB of RAM, microSD slot for up to 256GB of expanded storage
Processor: Snapdragon 820
Primary camera: Dual 16MP (f/1.8) and 8MP (f/2.4), with laser autofocus, OIS, and LED flash
Charging cable: Reversible USB Type-C
Battery: Removable 2800 mAh
Also new to the G5 is its fingerprint scanner, a hardware feature that’s quickly moving out of the “nice to have” category and into the “absolutely essential” category. The scanner (which is also the G5’s power button) is smack dab in the middle of the phone’s backside, however, so it might take some getting used to for those more accustomed to a front-facing scanner.
What We Like
The G5 runs like a dream.
There are phones that chug along at a brisk pace, and then there are the behemoths—the Samsung Galaxy S7s and the HTC 10s of the world. The G5 falls into that latter category, and we have the benchmarks to prove it.
In fact, the only Android phone that currently out-performs it in our hardware tests is the Galaxy S7. If buying a top-of-the-line device is one of your priorities, you can do a lot worse than the G5.
Coupled with the G5’s Snapdragon 820 chipset and 4GB of RAM is LG’s sleek Android skin, which does a decent job organizing notifications and software without getting in the way.
Devout Android users will probably panic when they first pick up the G5 and find a very iOS-like home screen and no app drawer in sight, but buried in the Home Screen section of the settings menu is an option called “Easy Home” which restores the drawer and, presumably, order to the universe.
The secondary rear-facing, wide-angle camera
Unlike the Huawei P9, whose dual cameras work in conjunction to form a single composite image, the G5’s 8MP secondary, rear-facing camera shoots independently of the primary 12MP camera to capture wide-angle photos.
Switching between the two cameras is as easy as tapping a button in the camera app—just like you'd do for selfies—and having the flexibility to take wide-angle shots is easily one of the G5’s strongest features.
If you frequently find yourself hiking, taking in sporting events, or just taking pictures with your phone all the time, you’re probably going to love the freedom of shooting this way. Its benefits are immediate and tangible.
The removable battery and its superb battery life
We here at Reviewed love removable batteries. Why wouldn’t we? Anything that puts even a little bit of power back into the hands of the consumer is to be celebrated. In this case, we’re talking quite literal power.
A removable battery means you’ll have a solution two years from now when your G5 doesn’t hold a charge that well but you still aren’t ready to upgrade to a new phone. It means having the luxury to pack a spare battery on your cross-country flight.
The included 2800 mAh battery is a durable one, too. Although it failed to top the HTC 10 and the Samsung Galaxy S7, it out-paced nearly every other Android phone we’ve tested. With moderate-to-heavy use, you can expect a full day’s worth of power. Need more? Just swap out that battery like a boss.
What We Don't Like
The design is a bit of a let down.
It’s nice to see LG part ways with plastic in favor of something a little more premium, but the G5’s aluminum body feels a little chintzy. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the modular design, but the type of metal used lacks the density one usually associates with premium smartphones. It feels hollow and loosely constructed, not heavy and tightly compacted.
And then there’s the modularity mechanics, which don’t feel as polished as they should. Ideally, popping off the bottom of the phone and slotting the battery back in is a ritual that, tactilely speaking, should feel smooth and graceful. The process should involve fluid insertions and satisfying clicks, if only to communicate to the user that they’re doing it right.
With the G5, you’re unceremoniously yanking a chunk out of another chunk and then jamming it back in. Pieces don’t glide into place, they just get shoved. It makes the entire modular concept feel like an afterthought and not the fully-realized ecosystem LG would like me to get excited about.
It may sound like nitpicking, but for crying’ out loud, the detachable piece of the G5 doesn’t even line up with the edges of the phone’s main unit. And even if you discount the aesthetics, the process itself isn’t terribly convenient since it involves you turning the phone off every single time.
I honestly think that, in many ways, the success of modularity relies the elegance of its implementation. What we have here is a very inelegant execution.
The primary camera lacks the speed and performance of some of its competitors.
For the most part, the G5 takes better shots than most of its contemporaries, but it’s not as impressive as we hoped it’d be. Its shortcomings are most notable in low-light settings, especially when you compare similar photos taken with the Galaxy S7.
Optical image stabilization (OIS) does a decent job keeping subjects from getting too blurry, but when there’s not a lot of light to go around, the G5 struggles to capture finer details.
And as much as we love having the wide-angle option, photos taken with this sensor are significantly worse than those taken with the primary camera. At the end of the day, I’d much rather have the wide-angle option than not, but it could be better.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re hoping for a modular experience that will wow your friends and change the way you interface with your smartphone, the LG G5 probably isn’t going to live up to your expectations. As of now, there’s only a handful of LG Friends to actually pair with the G5, and none of them appear to be game-changers.
That said, the LG G5 succeeds wildly at just being a damn good smartphone. It performs at or above the level set by most 2016 flagships, and this is to say nothing of its wide-angle camera and removable battery.
If you look at the G5 as a powerful smartphone with some added functionality and a pretty good set of cameras, you might start to see it as a smart investment. Looking at it this way, the modularity is more of a bonus; you’ll always have the option to take advantage of any modules that come along in the future, and in the meantime, you have the freedom to change the battery.
Either way, the G5 is a fantastic smartphone, even if I don’t think it completely achieved what it set out to do the first time around.