LG G5 review: Disruptions start with a first step
The year for me was 2001. I was just 21 years old and had just gotten promoted to the job of my dreams! As Operations Chief I would be in charge of managing a fleet of 12 aircraft, and I was so excited and scared at the same time. In this job you just couldn’t make mistakes, and I needed a tool to ensure I never forgot anything, and had computing power for quick calculations on the go. You might not remember this, but laptops back then were huge, and a new product was just surging to rescue people in need of mobile power – the PDA. A company you might remember as Palm owned the market back then, and when buying my first one, the sales guy asked me to check out a new product that had just reached the market. It was around $200 more expensive, but had a color display, ran a mobile version of Windows, and was modular.
The guy had me at “modular.” Expandable storage didn’t exist at the time, and either PDA only came with a lovely 16MB of storage. Yes: megabytes! The modular PDA was known as a Pocket PC we knew as the Compaq iPAQ h3630. An expansion port at the bottom allowed me to swap an expansion sleeve for CF storage up to an extra 64MB (yes megabytes), a GPS sleeve for mapping, and even a GSM sleeve for phone calls. That was the stuff for the future, and that starting point is what has me at Pocketnow today.
For years, modularity was important. It allowed you to only have bulk when you needed, and return to a basic slate when you didn’t. The iPhone killed that in 2007, as OEMs began to follow the mentality of “simple, thin and light.” I agreed to it in a way, as smartphones became really ugly, but we still miss that era of experimentation. As I sat in the pre-brief of the LG G5 and heard that the phone wanted to bring it back without sacrificing that “simple, thin and light” mentality, the geek in me jumped in joy, like the moment the mouse chef served a dish of Ratatouille to the critic in the movie. That scene where the critic was taken back to his infancy on that first taste. Yeah that was me, remembering the origins of my first mobile product.
Since then I had been waiting eagerly for the LG G5. There was a lot of promise in this phone, and the only thing left was for it to walk the talk. And that’s where things got complicated. I pulled it out of the box and there was a lot of good, and a lot that wasn’t. The problem when you have such high hopes over a product is that the disappointment can be just as high. That said, the good thing about the process of a review is that you should never judge a book by its cover, and no product deserves that treatment more than the LG G5.
Video Review · Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance
LG G5 Review Video
There’s a lot of experimentation on this new smartphone, and it all begins in the hardware. From a design standpoint, the LG G5 is a blend of similar and unique. From a distance anyone could mistake it for the typical flat slab. If you’ve seen an LG G3 in the past, I wouldn’t blame you for mistaking it when seen from the front, even if the back is a total different ball game.
The first thing we all noticed when briefed was the top curve. LG dubs it as 3D Arc Glass, which provides a neat curved accent that adds ergonomics when placing the phone in the ear. Yes, that other thing you see at the top is an IR blaster which we’re happy to see make a comeback. Another thing we noticed is that even though the volume buttons are now at the side, the power button remains at the back with the fingerprint scanner. For some this is a problem, but I love the speed of the scanner, and I still feel that the button placement is natural to the index finger.
The metallic finish you see on the back is actually a “microdized” treatment. I had actually never heard that term before the LG briefing, and that’s because it’s a new treatment developed by the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology for use on vehicles and aircraft. In a nutshell this is a coat of special primer and paint that covers the metal beneath, along with the antenna lines we’ve come to hate over the years. The metal beneath the treatment is known as LM201b, and is a die-cast unibody that’s designed to be both sturdy and light.
The result is a phone that feels mixed in the hand. It feels solid, yet incredibly light weight. You see that it’s metal, but you question it because it’s warmer to touch than anodized aluminum.
Experimentation continues when you look at the bottom separation. LG has ingeniously designed this to be a modular smartphone, something we hadn’t seen in at least a decade. The company has designed a set of accessories it’s dubbing as friends that serve to extend what this phone can do. If you want a camera grip that also extends your battery, there’s the LG CAM Plus. If you want a high quality audio DAC, there’s a Friend built in conjunction with Bang & Olufsen. Even better, if you want to replace your battery, this slot can also help you out. The whole process of replacing parts even feels like taking a weapon apart, and LG even made it a point to how you shouldn’t care about unsnapping things quickly. It elevates the potential of the G5 to additional usage scenarios that a traditional smartphone can’t achieve without an ugly case or sleeve, and it now only depends on LG to take advantage of it.
The sad effects of experimentation also came with the package though. The bottom slot doesn’t sit flush with the chassis, and the chamfered bottom can be really rough in the palm. It’s also fast at picking up lint from your pockets, requiring you to clean it every single time. And then there’s the problem that paint isn’t really designed to take a beating, and a minor fall from a foot-tall bench left the chassis with a horrible dent that still haunts me.
Under the hood, the LG G5 brings the standard combo for every flagship in 2016. We have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 matched with 4 gigs of RAM, and the company continues to offer expandable storage through a horizontal SIM tray. There’s also support for various LTE bands depending on your variant, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, a 2800 mAh battery, and fast charging through USB Type-C. The power pack is not only replaceable, but but box included a spare and a nifty charging cradle that can charge the spare, or be used to charge the phone with the spare as a battery pack.
Showing these specs off is a 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS display, which LG claims to be an evolution to the Quantum Dot display we saw last year. Blacks are indeed much deeper on this display, and color accuracy is top notch. The display is even capable of providing users with an Always On mode that provides notifications for third party apps at a glance through icons. It remains static at the top, since it doesn’t threaten the display with screen burn, and sucks on less than 1% of the battery every hour. My only problem with the display is really the brightness. LG claims that the display can go up to 850 nits, but automatic settings favor darker settings, and when these are switched off, the display is dimmer than average if you compare the percentage settings, requiring you to set it to around 70% brightness just to match the level of the Galaxy S7. It’s also not the best in direct sunlight, though LG did fix the terrible experience with polarized lenses we had with the G4. It also takes a full second or two for the display to light up, something that tends to be annoying.
Another mix that includes a certain degree of experimentation is the company’s approach to software. LG’s new UX 5.0 running on top Android 6.0.1 has become another clear form of controversy given the death of the app tray. If you use the international variant, you might be in luck to find a feature that brings it back, but that’s not the case with our AT&T unit. Yes, we have heard of options where you can install UX 4 from the LG store to bring it back, but we can’t do that for the purpose of reviewing a phone as LG intended.
I actually prefer the concept of organizing my apps in folders and not in a general app tray, but the UX is really lacking in organization features. It could really benefit from a quick shortcut to add apps within folders, or at least some sort of feature to help you move them around in stacks. It also marks the death of essentials like allowing you to select which screen you want to default as home, and even the company’s limited iteration of multi-window. It might be because Android N will fix that over time, and LG is rather good at launching quick software updates. About the only thing left is Q Slide apps, and those are limited to LG apps for hovering around.
In everything else, the software approach is actually not that bad. LG has finally decided on a standard and cohesive design scheme, and there’s a certain level of flexibility in this UI that can be very useful. I love being able to control the amount and the order of the navigation keys at the bottom, or the animations when navigating around, and even being able to order settings how ever I want. If you’re after a flexible UI out of the box, this continues to be a good alternative, even if theming could really help out.
Now if I had to narrow the G5 to my favorite feature, it would easily be the cameras. Yes, I said it in plural. The optically stabilized combo includes 16 megapixel camera with f1/8 aperture and a standard 70 degrees of field of view, and a wide angle 8 megapixel camera with f2/4 aperture.
Instead of this wide angle camera complementing the primary, it’s actually independent. No, please don’t say you could just add a fisheye lens to your current smartphone, because this is far from the same thing. If you’re wondering why you should care about it, well the human eye’s standard field of view is around 120 degrees wide, and LG’s camera goes up to a crazy 135 degrees. Meaning that if you’re in Manhattan, the only way you can capture what your eyes are seeing to a certain level of accuracy is if use the LG G5.
The resulting photos from both cameras are simply gorgeous. LG continues its trend of providing one of the best cameras in the industry, with end results that challenge even a point and shoot in color saturation, contrast, and depth of field. Obviously the standard camera is best for low light situations, but the wide angle is no slouch. There are manual controls included, just like with the G4, and you even get support for RAW photos as well.
You can also take photos using all three cameras in case you want to capture the complete moment. The 8-megapixel selfie camera brings f/2.0 aperture, making it great for great for selfies and 1080p video.
Speaking of video, The primary cameras have a neat little trick where you can begin a recording with one camera and then shift to the other without pausing the recording. Oddly it seems the wide angle camera is more stable than the standard, even if the stabilization switch is not independent. Sadly the manual controls that made us praise the V10 in video are not available here, and there’s no word of these coming back later.
Experimentation here has really paid off with the camera, as the common problem for standard smartphone shooters is the loss in field of view when recording video, or when you want to capture a moment just as you’re seeing it.
We’ve tested the LG G5 for 8 days all around New York City. Phone calls have been solid through the earpiece, and this is also one of the loudest speakers in the business, even if blocking it with a finger can be a problem.
Using the phone for day to day use was extremely snappy. You can tell this phone is powerful from how little it takes to boot. Even loading my 148 apps was a breeze from a restore, and I can’t say I have any complaints in responsiveness when on the go. Graphics intensive games are also speedy to launch, and fluid to play. This is definitely a powerhouse in performance, and I love that it doesn’t have any heating issues, even though the microdized treatment could be the reason for that.
Data speeds on AT&T are great in the suburbs, but I found AT&T to be incredibly unreliable in Manhattan, even when trying to stream music on the go. This fumbling of data was clearly evident in our inconsistent experience with battery life as well. While in the suburbs we were easily able to end the day on a charge, with an average of 4 hours of screen on time. Take the phone to the city, and cut that number by a third. Thankfully the G5 not only supports fast charging through USB Type-C, but it also includes the fastest way to charge in under a minute with a spare battery, and a battery cradle that charges the spare on the go.
+ Modular makes a comeback
+ Amazing primary camera
+ Amazing wide-angle camera
+ Outstanding performance
+ Futuristic design
+ Replaceable everything
+ LG Friends
+ Potential for more modules
– Needs more polish in manufacturing the bottom slot
– Why are the chamfers so sharp?
– Microdized treatment feels like plastic
– Aging concerns over paint finish
– The display is dimmer than average
– Inconsistent battery life
While LG has been famous for pricing its smartphones at a slightly lower price than competitors, you can forget that with the G5. Current pricing on AT&T is of $688 without a contract, or $23 a month. It challenges the likes of the Galaxy S7, which is still one of the most refined smartphones we’ve tested this year.
I would argue that even with the added potential, LG could’ve been a little more aggressive with the price, and even more now that there are so many complaints surrounding its build quality.
Just like the first iPhone didn’t allow third-party apps, only connected to EDGE data speeds, and had terrible reception, every new product that intends to be disruptive has a long road to that success. The LG G5 may bring a lot of controversy to the table, but so does every single product that tries to change things.
If anything I feel that the LG G5 is too early for its time, not because the technology isn’t there, but because LG clearly needed more time to polish its manufacturing and tune the display. This wouldn’t be the first time that LG rushed a product to market, and that’s a mistake when trying to compete against tougher players like Samsung and Apple.
That being said, I’m sorry if you came to this review expecting a troll that would just let it all out against LG. I’m sorry; it wouldn’t be fair. I would totally bash a manufacturer for not doing a good job in building an average phone, but this is not an average phone. LG tried a ton of new things with the G5 tries, and the purpose was to solve real world needs in a very creative way and elegant way.
I even find it unfair to compare the LG G5 to any other phone mainly because it’s not trying to be like other phones. It’s a bold move into a new concept of what a smartphone should be able to do, and obviously the road to perfection takes time.
If you’re OK with the typical trend of flat slabs, then maybe the G5 is not the phone for you. I’m not on that list though. I do agree that smartphones have become boring. I consider myself a geek, and not just of the type that would spend hours in front of a computer playing, but of the type that could assemble and disassemble it as well. For geeks like us, phones shouldn’t be average. I praise LG for trying new things with the G5, and I hope we don’t have to wait until the G6 for the hardware bugs to get polished.