LG G5 Hands-on – LG ups the design stakes with its latest flagship
LG’s flagships have been some of my favourite phones over the past few years. They manage to combine excellent specs and oodles of features for an attractive price.
Where previous LG G phones have been improved upon every year, none has delivered any major surprises – until now, that is. The LG G5 announced at MWC 2016 in Barcelona is a complete reinvention, making this handset one of the most innovative phones I’ve seen in a long time.
Watch our LG G5 hands-on video
5 things you need to know about the LG G5
1) It has a modular design
Not only does the LG G5 come with a removable battery and microSD card tray in a metal body, it can also change shape.
So far LG has announced two attachable modules – the LG Cam Plus and the LG Hi-Fi Plus. Both slot into the bottom of the LG G5 to provide extra functionality.
2) There are three cameras
We're used to seeing a front-facing camera and rear camera on smartphones, but the LG G5 goes one better by adding a third camera on the back.
Instead of just upping the megapixel count and low-light performance, this third camera offers a wide-angle, 135-degree lens. That’s a smartphone first and one that lets you get a whole lot more in frame.
3) USB Type-C comes as standard
USB-C hasn’t taken the high-end _phone_ market by storm yet, but LG is betting on it for the LG G5.
It’s v3.0 too, which means the LG G5 supports fast-charging and quick data transfer, unlike the OnePlus 2, which has only USB-C v2.0. On the flip-side, there's no wireless-charging support.
4) It’s extremely powerful
The LG G5 is the first _phone_ from a major manufacturer packing the blistering-quick Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. That should make it one of the fastest around, especially since it’s backed up with a hefty 4GB of RAM.
5) It has “Friends” with benefits
LG has announced three “friends” for the LG G5.
The first is a VR headset called 360 VR, then there’s a 360 camera called the 360 Cam, and the third is a sweet little BB-8-alike robot called the Rolling Bot. These seamlessly connect to the LG G5 via the LG Friends Manager app.
LG G5 FAQ
When is the LG G5 release date? The LG G5 will be available in "major markets" from early April.
How much will the LG G5 cost? The LG G5’s price hasn't yet been made public knowledge, but we expect it to be similar to the LG G4 when that was announced.
What colours will it be available in? The LG G5 will come in four colours: Silver, Titan (dark grey), Pink and Gold
Hands on: LG G5 – Design
The first thing that struck me was how much the LG G5 resembles the Nexus 5X. That isn’t a huge surprise, since both are made by LG. Pick it up and it feels sleek. It’s metal, but not like any metal I’ve felt before.
Just like Colonel Sanders, LG has a “secret recipe” to create the metal from which the LG G5 is made so that it doesn’t require antenna slits on the back – something all metal phones until now have needed. LG uses a process called “microdizing”, but like Kentucky’s finest fried foods, the company is remaining tight-lipped about the details.
Regardless of how it's done, the LG G5 feels sleek and looks stylish. A soft curve at the top of the screen is there just for show, but adds a little flourish to what could otherwise look like every other flat-screened Android phone.
The volume rocker has moved from the rear to the left side of the LG G5. LG has managed to keep this almost flush, so it doesn’t alter the lines of the phone too much. The back isn’t bare though, far from it.
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The power button takes centre stage and comes with a speedy fingerprint sensor built into it. It’s good to see LG catching up with the competition. Fingerprint sensors have been a mainstay of many phones over the past few years, but LG only recently started incorporating them.
I’ve always been a fan of the rear buttons and fingerprint sensors – it’s where your index finger naturally rests when you pull your phone out of your pocket. There’s a reason other manufacturers have emulated this design.
Just above the power button are the two rear cameras. These don’t sit flush on the frame, but the slight raise is softened by a gradual curve, making it slip in and out of a pocket easily.
It’s the bottom of the phone that holds the biggest surprise, however. A small button on the side pops the end of the LG G5 out a little. Pull it and it detaches, bringing the battery with it and allowing you to replace it with a module.
LG G5 – Modules
Google’s Project Ara has promised us a modular phone for some time, but it’s LG which is the first major manufacturer to dive in.
Two modules have been announced so far.
The LG Cam Plus adds to the 2,800mAh battery making it 4,000mAh in total. That’s not all though. It has a dedicated camera and video button, a grip to make it easy to hold the LG G5 one-handed while taking a picture, and zoom control.
Audio is another area on which LG has focused. The LG G5 is the first phone announced with aptX-HD support. AptX is a codec that specialises in keeping detail when streaming audio over Bluetooth. AptX-HD goes one further and ups the bit depth to 24-bit. The 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the LG G5 also supports 24-bit audio.
That’s not enough for LG, however. It’s teamed up with B&O to create a module that brings 32-bit audio quality to the LG G5 for more faithful music reproduction on the go.
Those are the two modules that LG has announced, but since the software API is open, anyone can create a new one. Expect third parties to jump on the bandwagon if the LG G5 flies off the shelves.
Of course, removing the battery means the LG G5 turns off every time you swap a module. This is a little annoying, but I timed it and it was fully operational again every time within a minute.
LG G5 – Screen and performance
A 5.3-inch screen is a touch smaller than those on previous models, but the resolution remains quad-HD so it’s pin-sharp. It’s still a IPS rather than AMOLED screen, but LG reckons this is a benefit rather than a con.
Aside from it being one of the brightest screens around – 900nits at full whack – the LG G5 has an always-on display. AMOLED displays can suffer from screen burn-in, where leaving something on them and in the same place for considerable time could result in a faint, ghostly trace forever. IPS screens are immune to such issues.
LG claims only 0.8% of the battery is drained by the always-on screen – far less than turning the full screen on and off 80 times a day to check the time.
The Snapdragon 820 chipset with 4GB of RAM make the LG G5 feel extremely zippy in use. Skipping through the LG UX 5.0 Android-skinned Marshmallow feels fast, and opening apps is instantaneous.
Unfortunately, since the pre-production model I tested didn’t have Wi-Fi enabled, and nor did it come with any games installed, I couldn’t give my thumbs a workout. There should be little to worry about, however – this is a beast of a smartphone and should play all the best 3D titles with ease.
LG G5 – Cameras
LG's added the same laser auto-focus tech we saw on the G4 to the G5, and with good reason – the LG G5 feels like one of the fastest focusing phones around.
The 16-megapixel rear camera seems just as good as last year’s model, as does the front-facing 8-megapixel one.
That's all well and good, but it's the new 8-megapixel, wide-angle camera on the back that raises the pulse. This isn’t for stereoscopic (3D) photos or video. Instead, it provides a 135-degree field of view – that’s far more than the 70-75-degrees most phones manage, and even more than our eyes can fit in.
Ever wanted to take a photo of a monument such as the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, but can’t get far away enough to get the top in frame? Well a wide-angle lens fixes that. Incorporating one in a phone is a smart idea.
It’s safe to say I’m impressed with the LG G5. The metal body is a step up and LG has managed a design feat at which other manufacturers have failed – retaining a removable battery and microSD slot in a phone that feels high-end.
The modules I’ve seen so far are niche but they add something to the LG G5 that no other phone can lay claim to. Will they take off? I’m not entirely sold yet – we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, it’s admirable that LG is trying something truly original.