Review in progress: I’ve been using the LG G5 for a week now, but for a number of reasons I’m not yet ready to give it a score. The version of the phone I am using is a pre-production US model, powered by software that isn’t final. We won’t be giving the G5 a score until we’ve tested a retail version with final software and hardware.
What is the LG G5?
The LG G5 is a phone that’s desperately trying to set itself apart from the crowd. It has the specs you’d expect from a 2016 flagship, yes, but that’s hardly the headline story.
In an effort to differentiate it from the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P, LG is betting everything on a fancy new ‘modular’ system of accessories that expand the G5’s functionality.
This, on paper, makes the LG G5 one of 2016’s most interesting smartphones. But, its charms are slightly marred by LG’s inability to make a phone that feels good.
Video: Hands-on with the LG G5
LG G5 – Design and modules
Metal body, removable battery, modular system, rear fingerprint sensor, sloped top, 159g
The LG G5’s design initially feels slightly odd. In pictures it looks curvy and sleek, but pick it up and it feels hollow.
LG played up its switch to a metal body, rather than the plastic of the LG G4, on the G5. But, it really doesn’t feel anything like any other metal phone I’ve used. It has an odd finish that feels much more like plastic than the advertised “microdized” metal.
Related: LG G5 vs Samsung Galaxy S7
It lacks that cold feel of an iPhone 6S or Nexus 6P or the assured strength of the Samsung Galaxy S7. Really, it just feels like plastic. Which is downright odd. It might not feel that great, but with prolonged use I became a fan of the LG G5’s overall design. The rounded corners, slightly curved sides and fairly compact size make it lovely to hold and while it’s not as well machined as the Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6S, it’s still has a precision feel.
It’s very clean too, with just a single volume clicker and SIM-tray present on either side. The volume control, suffers from having a very shallow push, but is still more than usable. While LG has ditched the volume keys on the back, it’s kept the lock switch in the slightly unorthodox position just below the camera sensors.
I think it feels better to have all buttons in the same spot, be it on the back or side. Positioned as they are, I’m forced to move my hands around the phone more than normal just to reach everything.
Related: LG G5 vs LG G4
The standby switch now also houses a fingerprint scanner, a must for any 2016 flagship. V10 aside, which hasn’t even seen a UK launch, this is the first phone from LG to use a fingerprint scanner and it does a really good job. It’s fast, accurate and you don’t even have to press down to unlock the phone. Just glide your digit across and it’ll bypass the lock-screen completely.
As with all back-mounted scanners I’ve tried, it does sometimes go off randomly in my pocket. On more than a few occasions I’d pull it out of my pocket to be met with a message saying ‘too many incorrect attempts, fingerprint blocked’. But, I guess this is a side-effect of it being so sensitive.
The LG G5’s modular system is its stand out feature. Now, this isn’t quite on Google Project Ara levels of customisability so you won’t be switching out the RAM or CPU, but it’s clever and unique nevertheless.
It works like this; along the side there’s an almost indistinguishable button set just about flush to the body. Press this in with the tip of your nail and the bottom chin pops out, you can now pull it off and out comes the battery.
The battery comes off the bottom unit, though it does feel like you’re breaking the entire thing, and then you can attach it to other modules, or ‘Friends’ as LG calls them. At launch, there’s two available and neither are going to sell the phone by themselves.
The camera grip adds a touch more battery, a separate shutter button for both photos and video and a jog dial for zoom. The second module is a DAC powered by some BO tech. The DAC gives you 32-bit audio and an extra headphone jack.
Currently, I haven’t used either of these add-ons so I can’t comment on how good/useful/well-priced they are, but they should be arriving on my desk in the next few days so I’ll give further impressions then.
Related: 5 modules for the LG G5 we’d love to see
Whether they’re good or not, I still find myself wishing LG had started off with slightly more enticing accessories. The DAC is way too niche and likely won’t appeal to many buyers and the camera grip doesn’t actually make the camera any better. It just makes the shooting process ‘easier’. I also don’t like the fact it encourages people to use digital zoom – a piece of photo tech which has universally produced terrible photos on all the smartphones I’ve tested, including the G5.
LG is encouraging third-parties to make their own Friends, so hopefully they’ll be a few more to choose from in a few months. But, if the LG G5 doesn’t sell well there might not be much incentive to build a costly module.
LG G5 – Screen
5.3-inch, IPS LCD, quad-HD display with always-on mode
LG’s last few flagships have had impressive displays.
They’ve not been perfect, but they’ve always adopted new tech and utilised it well. LG was one of the first manufacturers to really bring quad-HD, 2560×1440 panels to the mainstream, for example, and since the G3 it has gone from strength to strength.
I’m happy to say the LG G5 is the best yet. Even though on the surface not a whole lot has changed.
It hasn’t switched to a 4K display, it’s still quad-HD. Though this isn’t a bad thing in my mind. quad-HD is the highest resolution a phone needs to be unless it’s being used for VR. It’s still an IPS LCD panel too, rather than an one of the AMOLED panels favoured by Samsung and Google.
The biggest change is that it’s actually marginally smaller than before, 5.3-inches as opposed to 5.5-inches. But there’s the same amount of pixels crammed into a smaller surface area.
It’s ridiculously sharp, a lot more true-to-life and softer than the Galaxy S7 display (I’m not saying this is necessarily a positive, it’s all down to personal preference, others prefers accurate colours over vibrancy) and viewing angles are on point.
LG has also improved the brightness, not that the G4 suffered much in this area. There’s now 900 nits of brightness when it’s jacked all the way, but there are very few use cases when you need it turned up that high. I normally keep it at about 50%, or there’s always auto-brightness. I really dislike auto-brightness on Android devices and the story isn’t any different here. It’s too obvious, rises in a stuttering motion and always seems to get it wrong.
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The screen’s black level, an area many IPS displays’ struggle in, is also solid. While not as deep as the Galaxy S7’s, blacks on the LG G5 are suitably inky and deep, and mean the display has a great contrast ratio.
Just like the Samsung Galaxy S7, the LG G5 has an ‘Always-on’ display mode, so the time and your notifications are always visible even when the phone is locked.
LG’s implementation is much better than Samsung’s in just about every way. During my tests it used less battery, about 12% a day (8am to midnight). The Galaxy S7’s always on mode used 15% by comparison. The LG G5’s always on screen also displays all your notifications, including those from Whatsapp and Gmail, which makes it far more useful than the S7’s, which only pushed alerts from a limited selection of apps.
It’s less customisable though, and as the display isn’t AMOLED it has to light every pixel up rather than just the clock. This means it’s much more noticeable, and more distracting, in low-light.