The LG G5’s modular design has one flaw
The world was introduced to the LG G5 on Sunday, and it has received almost universal approval from all corners of the internet. The LG G5 is a gorgeously designed phone with some really compelling features and additions. Most notably, LG adopted a sort of modular design with some accessories you can get along with your brand spankin’ new flagship. But, in the opinion of this humble tech geek, LG missed one key aspect when developing the G5’s “Friends.”
First, I need to specify that I have zero hands on time with the LG G5. My opinion is formed from afar, which I grant you is not the greatest view. I can’t definitively nail down all of my feelings until I have the device in hand. Plus, I have admitted downgraded my feelings of the LG G5’s friends from “derisive” to “skeptical.” This may end up reading more like a Weekend Debate piece, but one thing hasn’t changed in all this, and that’s the opinion that the LG G5 shouldn’t have to reboot when swapping out these components.
The thing is, this phone’s modular design is focused around the battery of the phone. Whenever you swap modules, you need to remove the battery, plug the battery into the new component and plug the whole unit back into the phone. Off course, removing the battery necessarily disconnects power to the phone, so it has to reboot in order to go along its merry way. To me, this flies in the face of modular design. Modular components should be easily swapped from one another and forcing a reboot each time doesn’t fall into my definition of “easily.”
It is true that for the moment, only two of the LG G5’s “Friends” – and yes it will be a long time before I’ll be able to write that without quotes – are swappable. The LG Cam Plus and the LG Hi-Fi Plus modules boost your camera and audio experience respectively. But there’s a pretty big roadblock between those enhancements – you have to reboot.
Bad, but not that bad
Ok, so this isn’t a complete disaster of a user experience. Many of you are probably saying, “What’s the big deal?” and I want to be clear – this by itself will not destroy the phone, or its chances at success. But I’m a UX guy for my day job, and having to reboot the phone every time you swap components is bad UX. I get the sense that the intention here is that the pieces aren’t meant to be swapped on the fly, and if that’s the case, then rebooting becomes slightly less annoying. I would imagine the Hi-Fi audio component is one that a user will “set and forget.” You’d make your phone a little longer, and a little less visually appealing, but that seems like the kind of component that an audiophile would want pretty much all the time.
But that camera module. The camera module adds a lot of great camera controls to the chassis of the phone, and some extra battery life as well. But that module is decidedly not designed to be put in place and forgotten about. The added bulk, weight, and general awkwardness of that component is great for a camera, but pretty yucky for a phone. Take it from the guy who carried around a Galaxy Zoom for several weeks as a daily driver. So in the camera module, LG is designing a component that is not meant to stay long term. And yet you need to shut the phone down to get rid of it.
Better to not need it
And that, to put it bluntly, sucks. Sure, maybe you can plan ahead and plug the component in the morning you’re going to need it, and then remove it that evening. But if this is my phone, I have to be honest, I’d rather do without than deal with rebooting the dang phone. Maybe I’m just too picky about this, but it’s a real problem for me.
So what’s the answer? I can think of a couple. It seems to me a small extra battery somewhere in the phone, perhaps at the expense of a few millimeters of thickness, might have gone a long way. My thinking is the phone could live off of the power from this smaller battery while components were being swapped. Would this add complication? Yes. Would it be worth it? Yes.
On the Pocketnow Weekly, there was some thought about perhaps making these devices attach to the USB Type-C connector, removing the need for modular devices at all. In the end, it was decided, and I agree, that integrating components would work much better than relying on USB Type-C controls.
Nevertheless, LG has brought us a flawed product. How much of a deal-breaker that flaw is remains to be seen. Perhaps it merely falls within the realm of “compromise”. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. I don’t want to write an article condemning a device without laying hands on it. But it seems to me some design choices were made that I simply don’t agree with. What will be more important is whether or not the average consumer will agree with those choices.