LG G5 Review: Easily The Most Interesting Phone of 2016

Reviews Richard Goodwin 11:50, 12 Jul 2016

The LG G5 dropped jaws at MWC 2016 with its modular capabilities. But does it cut it in the real world?

Typical Price: 
Excellent Camera; Great Design; Modular Aspect Has Potential; Excellent Performance; Great Battery Life; All Metal Design With Zero Antenna Bands
Modular Aspect Feels A Little Beta At Present; Switching Modules Is Clunky
A lot of people seem non-plussed by the G5; some even claim it looks boring and lacks the charm of last year’s model. I 100% disagree with this sentiment — the G5 is a vastly superior device to what came before. It has enough new features, attributes and quirks to really stand out from the crowd in 2016 and for me is one of the most interesting releases in recent times.

I love LG. The Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 converted me from a hater to a lover and made me forget all about the days of the LG Optimus 3D and other low-grade piles of rubbish that the company pumped out during the early era of the Android space.

During the past three years LG has consistently pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with mobile technology. Whether display technology, imaging or design, the company has always pushed itself and attempted to do “firsts” with its flagship releases. 

Apple has even taken note of what LG’s been up to recently. According to reports Apple has apparently contracted LG to provide some of the dual-lens cameras for its iPhone 7 Plus handset, which launches alongside the iPhone 7 later on this year.

Sony was apparently the sole supplier up to about a month ago, but then word got out about the Xperia-phone-maker having trouble meeting Apple’s demands, which are said to be around the 78 million mark for launch. Apple then contracted LG to cleanup the shortfall, which obviously lends credence to the capabilities of LG’s imaging technology.

Poor LG G5 Sales Force LG To Re-Jigg Its Mobile Business

Despite the awesome nature of the LG G5 — it still is one of my favourite Android phones of the year — sales have been pretty weak. According to data from HMC Investment, LG has sold just 2.2 million units since the handset went on sale earlier on in the year. Compared to what Samsung’s doing, this is a pretty small number and should be cause for concern inside LG’s HQ — a couple of million units will not take its mobile business out of the red.

As a result of this LG has undertaken some big changes to the composition of its mobile devision. LG says the restructuring was done in order to keep its handset business running amid challenging market conditions. In stark contrast, Samsung expects its operating profit during Q2 to hit $7 billion — a 17% increase from Q2 2015 and its strongest profit for two years.

The iPhone 7 Plus will launch with a dual-lens camera; that much is obvious. Apple will push this as the handset’s USP. But given the developments in the Android space during Q2 with the release of the Galaxy S7 and LG G5, the latter of which already HAS a dual-camera, one could argue that perhaps the iPhone 7’s USP isn’t really all that much of a USP after all… I mean, LG got there first -- so it kind of owns that USP.

And LG is NO stranger to firsts.  

The LG G3 was the first with a QHD panel and laser auto-focus; the LG G4, while not quite a revolutionary as its predecessor, was a solid update that featured key improvements to core areas of the G3. The LG G5 takes things several steps farther, though — and it does it in a completely new-looking handset that carries none of the design language of the company’s past two flagships. 

The LG G5 sits at the top of an upward curve that has been in the making since around 2012. It is a unique phone without equal in today’s mobile space, thanks to its modular capabilities. But this alone is not enough to secure Korea’s OTHER big phone company a place at the top of the Android table.

No. In order to give the likes of Samsung, HTC, OnePlus, Sony, and Huawei a run for their respective monies, LG needs to deliver the goods across the board: imaging, processing power, design, performance, battery life, and software. And in 2016’s phone space, where everybody has come to the fight armed to the teeth, achieving this will be no mean feat.

LG G5 Review: Design & That "Modular" Aspect

I first saw the LG G5 at MWC 2016. First impressions were very good, but this was before I had seen the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 — and Huawei P9, for that matter. A couple of months later, my opinion is much the same: this is a great-looking phone.

  • Size: 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm
  • Weight: 159g
  • Display: 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440 / 554ppi)
  • Battery: 2,800mAh (removable)

But I can see why some reviewers aren’t falling head over heels for it. The overall design itself is fairly unassuming. It isn’t showy, or fancy or all that eye-catching. But it is very well put together, excellently proportioned and it really does feel great in the hand.

I prefer the look of the Galaxy S7 EDGE — its stunning — but the LG G5 is a better proportioned phone in my opinion. The weight, the smooth edges and the thickness are all 100% on point. Constructed from magnesium and finished with a gorgeous matte after touch, the LG G5 is also premium as hell. The matte finish also aids grip too, which is a nice bonus, and the end result doesn’t look too dissimilar to Google’s Nexus 6P

The G5 weighs 159g and measures in at 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm, making it both smaller and lighter than its predecessor. The battery is a removable 2800mAh, which you access, along with the SD card, via the modular component at the bottom of the device. The LG G5 ships with 4GB of RAM and comes with 32GB of storage, but you will be able to supplement this with SD cards (up to 2TB).

Oddly, the LG G5 -- like the Samsung Galaxy S7 -- does not support Android’s adaptive storage feature, which essentially forces the phone OS to view external storage the same as internal storage. Samsung said the reason it excluded support for adaptive storage was because the feature wiped an SD card’s contents if removed incorrectly, and that was a risk it wasn’t willing to leave on the table -- not when its customers’ content is so important. I imagine LG will be taking a similar stance.

As previously mentioned, the LG G5 has a modular component located on the bottom of the device’s chassis. This is the G5’s big USP. Inside, you get access to the G5’s removable battery. This is the dull stuff, though, because the really interesting part is the fact that you can attach accessories to the phone -- accessories like a Bang & Olufsen DAC for superior music quality or LG Cam Plus, which adds 1100mAh battery and hardware controls (hardware key, a video button, zoom controls) to the G5’s camera.

LG is betting big on this for 2016, but whether the gamble pays off remains to be seen. The B&O DAC is very decent, though the volume is a bit low, and the camera attachment is kind of useful, though more from a battery perspective. In practice, though, the modular component of the G5 is VERY clunky to operate; you also have to restart the phone every time you do it as the battery comes out. Plus, if I’m completely honest, none of the launch mods that came with it really floated my boat.

I wanted to LOVE the B&O DAC, but the volume was just way too low. HTC has now usurped LG in this regard too by adding HD audio as standard to its HTC 10. The G5 will be judged on how well people adapt to this aspect of the phone and how much hardware accessory developers pick it up and run with it; this is what the phone is kind of all about, but after all, if no-one makes modules, it's kind of redundant. And while it does have potential, the whole thing does feel a little like a beta test phase, something that may be more refined on the LG G6, for example.

You can read a more detailed breakdown of LG’s Friends in our dedicated review of the LG Cam Plus and the B&O-built Hi-Fi Plus module.

What kind of stuff will we see launched in the coming months? The sky’s the limit, really. Game controllers, photography accessories -- you name it. Personally, I think this is one of the coolest thing to happen to phones in a long time. But whether this aspect takes off will be VERY dependent on how well the G5 sells. No one is going to bother making modular accessories for a phone that tens of millions of people aren’t using.

LG G5 Review: Display Technology & Performance

If you’re buying a top flight Android phone in 2016 you are not going to be disappointed by the display. All major players in the space now use QHD resolution and the results are utterly stunning, especially if you’re coming from an iPhone 6/iPhone 6s with a 720p panel inside it. This is just the way it is in the Android space.

Some panels are better than others, though. Samsung’s OLED setup inside its Galaxy S7 is a masterfully crafted piece of technology. So much so we put together a bespoke feature all about it — A Closer Look At The Samsung Galaxy S7’s Amazing Display. But whether you’re using the HTC 10, Galaxy S7 or LG G5 they all have one thing in common: bright, detailed displays that really pack a punch.

As it currently stands, the Galaxy S7 has the best display on market. However, for the layman, this isn’t really that much of a big deal and the reason for this is because most of what these panels are graded on in reviews is just BIG TALK, a means of comparing the wares of different manufacturers, and will largely go unnoticed in the hands of the general consumer. I’m talking about things like nits, contrast ratio, depth of blacks, etc. Technical stuff, basically. The type of thing you don’t talk about on a first date.

Like its forefather, the LG G5 features a QHD panel. But unlike the LG G4, the panel on this phone is slightly smaller at 5.3in and, in my opinion, all the better for it. LG opted for an IPS panel for the G5 and at 1440 x 2536 pixels (QHD) it is RAZOR sharp. Blacks are void-like and it performs admirably well in glaring direct sunlight as well as locking down 97.1% of the sRGB colour space when switched on.

Videos. Text. Web pages. eBooks — everything looks sublime on the G5’s panel. But in today’s Android market, where QHD is the norm, anything less than excellent would actually be news worthy. Display technology, like processors, has now levelled-out pretty much across the board, so when you attempt to discuss differences between, say, the HTC 10 and LG G5, the actual, visible differences are negligible.

In fact, the only major phone maker dragging its heels in this regard is Apple. The iPhone 6s and iPhone SE use 720p display resolutions, a resolution you now only find on budget Android phones.

The LG G5 uses an ALWAYS ON panel as well, meaning you always have the time and notifications displaying on the screen — even when the phone is locked. This isn’t a new feature on phones by any stretch of the imagination but it is nice to finally see it gaining more mainstream support on big handsets like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5. And best of all this feature only costs 0.8% of your battery per hour.

LG G5 Review: Hardware & Specs

Like most high-end Android releases in 2016, the LG G5 rocks Qualcomm’s brand new and superbly powerful Snapdragon 820 mobile processor. Alongside this you have 4GB of RAM. Combined this creates a story we’re all very familiar with now by now — power, speed and buttery smooth animations across the board.

For the sake of brevity and to make reading this a little less dull, I’ve listed the core specs for the handset below, so we can talk more generally about how the LG G5 performs in day to day scenarios:

LG G5 Specs & Hardware

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with UX 5.0
  • 5.3in Quad HD IPS screen (1440x2560, 554ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, quad-core
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32 storage
  • Micro-SD card slot (up to 200GB)
  • Dual-rear cameras (16Mp 78 degree and 8Mp 135 degree) with OIS and laser auto focus
  • 8Mp front camera
  • 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, Infrared, fingerprint scanner
  • Cat 9 4G LTE
  • USB Type-C
  • 2800mAh removable battery
  • 149x74x7.7mm, 159g

Smartphones in 2016 are sort of like 600bhp sports cars. They’re super powerful, largely over-specced for what you’re going to be doing with them and completely amazing in every regard. And while most people don’t really need all this processing grunt for what they do day to day on a handset, modern chipsets are about a lot more than just making things tick along smoothly.

Imaging. 4K video. Fast 4G connectivity — all these things are handled by the 820. And after Qualcomm’s disastrous 2015, I am very pleased to report the company is definitely back on form with the Snapdragon 820 — this thing is impossibly good. Every handset I’ve tested this year which runs on this new chipset is noticeably faster than last year’s model, and these handsets do a lot more as well, mostly in the imaging department, and still manage to be more power efficient.

That’s called a BIG WIN for Qualcomm. But we’re the real beneficiaries because these new Android phones are some of the most interesting and feature-packed devices to ever appear on market. They do more do more and run cooler. They’re more powerful than ever but kinder to your battery. The camera technology is mind-blowing, yet handled with ease. All of these things are huge boons for consumers. And after the cheese sandwich that was 2015’s phone space, 2016 couldn’t have started better.

I’ve been using the G5 now for a couple of weeks. It flies. Nothing lags, not even things like video-editing on the fly slow it down. I am constantly impressed by how easily this handset handles everything I throw at it; nothing seems to phase the Snapdragon 820. Nothing. And the battery just keeps on going and going and going.

Compared to my daily driver — an iPhone 6 Plus — the LG G5 feels like a phone from a parallel dimension where smartphones became a reality five years before they did here. Benchmarks paint a similar picture too, as you’d imagine. Below are three tests I did which pit the LG G5 against the LG G3, LG G4, for comparison’s sake, and also the Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and iPhone 6s Plus. As you can see the performance uplift is around double across the board.

Bottomline? If you held off updating your Android phone last year and are looking at either the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, you, sir or madam, are in for a MASSIVE treat. These new Android handsets are some of the most interesting the mobile space has seen in as long as I can remember. So much so, I think 2016 will be looked back upon as the year smartphones got interesting again. I cannot get enough of these phones.

LG G5 Review: Imaging Technology & Camera Performance

Camera Specs: 16-megapixel & 8-megapixel, f/1.8 & f/2.4 lens, OIS, laser autofocus; 8MP front-facing setup; 4K video recording

Alongside the modular aspect, the LG G5’s camera is where the company once again tries to do something very original by packing in a dual-camera setup which features one 16MP sensor with a 75º field of view alongside an 8MP sensor with a massive 175º field of view lens — and, yes, that is wider than your own eyeballs can see.

The idea here is to provide a DSLR-type experience on your phone, just without all the heavy lens, weight and cost. And it works very well too. The first time you boot up the wide-angle lens you will be astonished by just how much it manages to fit into the frame. You do lose some detail, however, as this lens is on an 8MP setup.

But for when you’re capturing the interior of some monstrous structure, a group of people or a lovely sunset on a beach you will be glad that you brought the LG G5 with you. Interestingly, this type of camera technology is expected to appear aboard certain models of Apple’s upcoming iPhone 7. The wide-angle lens is also great for video, as it captures everything your eyes perceive, allowing for more natural-looking video.

> Wide Angle Image Below

To switch between the two cameras, you simply tap an icon at the top of the camera UI. The UI itself is nicely designed and easy to operate; it also features a bunch of useful features like the ability to shot in RAW and “Manual” mode which gives you full control over things like white balance, ISO, focussing and pretty much anything else you fancy tinkering with. The camera is fully featured, even by today’s standards, simple enough to use, even for beginners, and all of this comes together to enable really great results in most settings and environments.

In terms of performance, the G5 is very, very competent. In well lit environments images look great and are easily comparable to what I’ve seen from the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10. In lowlight it does lose a bit of ground to the Galaxy S7. There is noticeable grain in images and things appear washed out — you also lose a lot of detail when using the wide-angle lens, but that’s a given as it’s only an 8MP setup. HDR helps a lot in this regard, as you can see below, as it boosts the colour and detail, bringing the G5’s 16MP sensor well in line with the current best shooters on market.

> HDR Above; Normal Below

OIS and LG’s laser-guided autofocus are still present and accounted for and image quality, for the most part, is a big step up from last year’s model. I really love using the wide-angle lens for video and images, and very much like the fact that LG allows you complete control over everything inside manual mode. The ability to export photos in RAW format is also another huge boon for photography buffs.

LG G5 Review: Battery Performance

Oddly, LG opted for a smaller battery inside the G5 than last year’s flagship — 2800mAh vs 3000mAh. The reason behind this is likely to do with the design of the LG G5’s modular aspect. That, or LG was confident it could improve battery performance using a smaller cell. The 2800mAh cell is removable too, so you can hot swap it for a spare just as you could aboard the Galaxy S5.

With respect to performance, the LG G5 is excellent. It lasts all day with heavy usage and, thanks to QuickCharge, can be topped up rapidly if needed. New features inside Android Marshmallow like Doze also help with overall efficiency and this in turn means better overall battery performance. Middling to light use of the G5 mean the handset can easily traverse a couple of days.

For most, though, you’re looking at a solid day’s worth of power from a single charge — 7am to 9pm, basically. If you’re off out after work and know you’ll be using the phone, say, for photos and video, which tax the battery rather heavily, then you will definitely want to re-juice it at lunchtime. You will have to cough up for a QuickCharge-supported charger, though, as LG only includes a USB Type C cable in the G5’s box, the tight buggers!

LG G5 Review: Verdict

The moment I saw the LG G5 at MWC 2016 I knew it was something special. And not just because of its modular aspect, although that was certainly an eye-catching feature. No, for the most part I like what LG stands for, what it’s all about — pushing the boundaries.

The company isn’t afraid to try something completely left field when all those around it are playing it safe. LG wants to be different. It wants to stand out from the crowd and with the LG G5 I believe the company has 100% achieved this. The modular thing was a huge gamble to undertake in a market where phone sales are largely going one way — downwards.

This took balls. The modular aspect isn’t perfect, either. I’ve yet to try any module that actually works as well as I’d imagined, but I respect LG for having the tenacity to push ahead with a new technology when everybody else in the space is happy to play keeping up with the Jones’.

The camera is excellent also. Ditto overall performance and battery life. I also like the way the handset looks and feels. So even if the modular aspect is still something of an unknown, it doesn’t really matter because the LG G5 excels in all other areas as well, making it a unique, all-round solid handset from one of the most exciting consumer technology brands on the face of the planet.

A lot of people seem non-plussed by the G5; some even claim it looks boring and lacks the charm of last year’s model. I 100% disagree with this sentiment — the G5 is a vastly superior device to what came before. It has enough new features, attributes and quirks to really stand out from the crowd in 2016 and for me is one of the most interesting releases in recent times.

Now all you need is a CASE for your LG G5. Luckily, over on PAGE 2 you'll find a bunch of AWESOME ones. 

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