Introduction and design
The LG G5 is a massive change of pace for the South Korean firm. It’s done away with the cheap plastic and confusing leather finishes of the LG G4 in favor of a full metal body, while keeping fan-favorite features like a removable battery and microSD card.
That’s a big deal, because Samsung disappointed a vocal minority when it ditched its swappable battery and expandable storage hallmarks for the Galaxy S6, although it realized the errors of its way as it reinstated microSD support in the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge a year later.
The LG G5 may not be as ornate as Samsung’s glass-and-metal-fused phone, or Apple’s aluminum iPhone 6S, but it’s a step in the right direction after the questionably styled G4.
Not only does it include perks for power users, LG’s changed the way we access the battery with a cartridge-like input so you don’t have to remove the back cover.
This ‘magic slot’ is located in the bottom frame of the phone and doubles as an accessory port. Add-ons so far include a battery grip with physical camera controls and a Hi-Fi audio module.
You don’t really need either of these accessories to enjoy the camera or audio, though. LG G5 has a dual-camera setup on the back, with one lens that provides extra-wide photos.
The front is highlighted by an always-on, 5.3-inch display. It never goes to sleep, with the time, date and notification icons visible when the phone is off.
When it comes to price, you’re looking at around US$650 (£500, AU$890) SIM-free for the LG G5, which puts it slightly below the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S – although they’re all pretty much in the same ball park.
There are lots of parts to the LG G5 – but do they all add up to make a best phones contender? Let’s explore, as I put it through the in-depth review process.
Watch our LG G5 Special preview walkthrough video:
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px4DH1AXl-c&autoplay=1
The LG G5 looks and feels completely different to the G4, and that’s thanks to the all-metal body that rightfully kicks the plastic to the curb.
It feels suitably smooth, although the G5 struggles to feel as premium the likes of the iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S7. That’s thanks to a relatively thick layer of primer-paint mix which LG has used to the color the G5.
Initially I thought the G5 felt more like plastic, and it can be deceiving, but the sturdy aluminum frame becomes more apparent the more you use it. This doesn’t mean the G5 feels cheap, far from it in fact, but the finish doesn’t sing in your hand.
The slender metallic rim which rounds round the edges of the handset on the rear adds an extra layer of class, but it also feels a little sharp. It’s not as cutting on my final unit compared to the pre-production model I had, but it’s not exactly smooth.
Unlike Apple’s handset the LG G5 won’t be notorious for antenna lines. It doesn’t have any of those unsightly bands, instead relying on Micro-Dizing to cover up antenna slits.
This allows you to enjoy color of the device, and in the G5’s case you get a choice of four: silver, titan (grey), pink and gold. The pre-production handset I used was pink, and the color is rather muted. It’s not as dazzling as Apple’s rose gold, but at the same time it seems a little apologetic.
The hue will likely appeal to some, but for me it doesn’t really work. The final review unit I received came sported the silver paint, and it’s more agreeable to the eye.
Another big difference between the design of the LG G5 and its predecessor is the fact that the curved design has been ditched.
Gone is the bananaphone style of the LG G4 and its even curvier cousin, the LG G Flex 2, and in returns the flat frontage which is the norm in the mobile market.
I say flat – it’s almost there, but LG couldn’t help itself, with the G5’s front sloping away from you at the top and bottom. It’s a slightly odd finish which offers little in the way of aesthetic grace or practical use.
LG’s reason for the switch is simple – consumers preferred the flat designs of rival handsets over its own curved offerings.
And I’d agree. The LG G5 feels more balanced in the hand and it’s easier to slip into a pocket.
Downsized from a 5.5-inch screen on the G4 to 5.3 inches and roughly the same amount of bezel, the LG G5 feels light at 159g and easy to hold in one hand measuring 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm.
I can reach apps across the entire display without resorting to using two hands, which ties into LG’s goal of making the phone all about ease of use and something to recommend to mom and dad. This does, of course, depend on your palm size as those with smaller hands will still find the G5 a bit of a beast.
In fact the G5 is almost identical in size to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which despite having a larger 5.5-inch display has managed to keep excess to a minimum.
LG G5’s volume rocker has shifted to the left side of the frame, ending the company’s opinion-dividing practice of having the buttons flank the power button on back.
While I got used to that quirky rear-facing volume keys and clean edges on the G2, G3 and G4, LG’s signature feature was a flaw for many.
I’m relatively indifferent about the new side volume rocker, however it does make changing volume much easier when it’s lying on a desk. Sadly, that same ease of use can’t be said for the fingerprint scanner.
The still-back-facing power button doubles as a fingerprint sensor on the G5, and while it’s better than the questionable experimentation on the LG V10, it’s still too small.
Like the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, it can light up the phone and unlock the screen quickly without you having to press the button. There’s no two-step process, as it was on the press-in-and-hold-hold-hold LG V10.
The gentle volcanic protrusion it rests on also makes it relatively easy to find, but a slightly larger landing pad would have been nice. The real Achilles heal is realized when you place the G5 on a surface.
I tend to have my phone sitting on my desk at work, and if I want to unlock the phone to read a message I’m forced to either tap in my code – ugh, slow – or pick it up and place my finger on the reader.
With the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S, their front mounted finger scanners allow me to unlock far more easily. Even the Sony Xperia Z5‘s side mounted effort is better in this respect.
Sticking with the rear of the G5 and it’s the area where most are likely to decide whether they love or hate the look of the phone. The protruding power key sits below a far larger raised area which house the G5’s dual camera lenses as well as the LED flash and laser auto focus.
It’s a sizable presence, and to some it may look like the phone has sprung a couple of nasty growths. On the other hand the protrusions are minimal and if you opt for the darker titan (grey) model they seem less obvious.
Something I’m not really a fan of is the headphone jack and speaker placement. Headphones plug into the top, unless you have the 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC module that is, as that adds a second headphone jack to the bottom. Odd.
Worse, the speaker is on the bottom. I was really hoping that the LG G5 would upgrade to a pair of front-facing speakers for stereo sound without resorting to headphones. Not this time around.
LG has redesigned its bottom port, however. It uses a USB-C connection, which means all of your micro USB cables are useless. The advantage? It’s reversible, unlike all other USB forms.
That’s a huge win for anyone taking advantage of that always-on display and plugging in their phone in the dark. Just be prepared to carry around both cables, as micro USB is probably going to be used by every other gadget and accessory you own for the next few years.
Display and modular capabilities
The LG G5 doesn’t try to squeeze more pixels into its 5.3-inch display, and that’s something I’m actually happy to see. QHD resolutions (1440 x 2560) on phones are the ceiling that no one needs to break.
Lighting up the phone screen reveals there’s little difference here. The smaller size increases the pixels per inch on the LG G5 to about 554ppi, but everything else looks similar, including the brightness.
It’s not as vibrant as Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, but colors are still strong and the brightness is pleasing, allowing for an excellent viewing experience.
LG has instead, upgraded its IPS LCD to include always-on display functionality, something you won’t see until the phone is asleep.
It keeps most of the screen dark, but leaves minimal information there, like the time, date and notification icons.
The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge tout a similar feature using Super AMOLED displays, but Samsung’s always-on information bigger, brighter and can include the battery life and a faded color background.
Having used the new Samsung handsets extensively, I found the lack of a battery icon on the G5 frustrating, and at times I struggled to read the screen because the always-on display is just that dim.
However the G5 does have one major advantage over Samsung – notifications. While the S7 duo can only show icons for missed calls and text messages, the LG G5’s always-on display will show you ALL your notification icons.
That instantly makes it much more useful, allowing you to decide whether it’s worth firing up the power hungry full display, or to leave that WhatsApp chat for later.
All of this is useful because, when not wearing a smartwatch, I check my phone at least 100 times a day for the time and various notifications. LG says people do this closer to 150 times a day.
Whatever your number is, an always-on display puts the essentials at your fingerprints without you having to wake the phone and its power-hungry processor.
The Moto X Style display does something similar, but the LG G5 pulls it off without the need for hand-waving gestures to trigger a bunch of IR sensors. It’s the true meaning of always-on.
LG says the battery only drains an extra 0.8% an hour with its new second screen, and that seems like a great trade off at first blush.
But that adds up to be 19.2% over a full 24 hours. It may not be worth keeping this feature if you don’t have a smartphone-glancing obsession.
The LG G5 is not alone. In fact it launched with an entire posse, dubbed ‘LG Friends’.
These ‘Friends’ are a range of accessories that are tasked with taking the phone to the next level. I like the ideas of each, but at this early stage I’m still unconvinced.
There are just two modules currently available that you can physically plug into the LG G5, Cam Plus and Hi-Fi Plus – but more on those shortly.
Then there are the accessories which aren’t a modular bolt-on for the G5. The LG 360 VR headset and 360 Camera allow you to record and then watch 360 videos, while LG’s cute Rolling Bot is a fun toy-come-home security camera.
These ‘Friends’ can be controlled via the LG Friends app which comes preinstalled on the LG G5.
LG Cam Plus
The LG Cam Plus replaces the G5’s metal chin with a rubberized camera grip that juts out at the back. It has a physical shutter button, dedicated record key, a zoom wheel and a 1,200mAh battery.
Turn the G5 to landscape ready to snap a photo and the Cam Plus grip immediately comes into its own, allowing you to get hold of your phone properly and quickly snap away without the fear of dropping it.
Finish snapping though and things get much more awkward. Because the Cam Plus bulks out at the bottom, it’s tricky to hold and makes typing and just general usage rather annoying. The saving grace is the power pack, which helps the G5 last a full day – but I’d rather carry a charging cable.
It was satisfying to set autofocus by half shutter key, but it’s not really enough to make me want run out and upgrade my LG G5 with a strange camera grip bump – especially when you consider it costs £79.99 (US$69.99, around AU$90), which seems rather steep.
LG Hi-Fi Plus
The same can be said about the Hi-Fi Plus. It’s a portable Hi-Fi digital-to-audio converter that’s small, but still extends the size of the phone by replacing the metal chin while setting you back £149 (around US$200, AU$280). You can get a decent entry level smartphone for the same price.
It may add a little bit of extra length to the G5, but it’s far less intrusive than the Hi-Fi Plus, and the phone still sits nicely in the hand and slides into a pocket without issue.
Tuned by Bang & Olufsen, LG has cornered the market on 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC in the mobile world. It did a nice job of this on the LG V10, but its bigger phablet had the perk built-in, not as an accessory.
The module has its own headphone input, which means that if you’re using the Hi-Fi Plus your G5 will sport two headphone jacks – one at the top and one at the bottom. It’s not a huge issue, but feels like a slight misjudgment from LG.
Plugging in and the sound is very good, but playback from the stock headphone jack wasn’t exactly poor. A small icon appears in the notification bar during playback, highlighting your enhanced audio credentials.
I switched between the two ports numerous times to gauge the difference, and while Hi-Fi Plus does provide the better experience, I wouldn’t say the gulf between the two is all that big.
The more discerning audiophiles among you may well be able to appreciate the work Hi-Fi Plus is doing, but for someone like myself I can’t say it’s worth spending the extra money on.
Specs and performance
The LG G5 specs keep pace with the Samsung Galaxy S7 thanks to the fact it uses Qualcomm’s latest processor and 4GB RAM, a must-have for an Android flagship handset in 2016.
There’s a Snapdragon 820 chip pumping at the heart of this new LG phone, and that really contrasts with the LG G4 when it comes to raw horsepower.
A year ago, the company purposely held back on the troubled Snapdragon 810 processor by using the steadier Snapdragon 808 chip. Samsung ate its lunch (and everyone else’s, too).
It’s now a more level playing field between the two South Korean phone giants, at least in the US where Samsung uses the same Qualcomm chip. The advantage for LG is that it includes a microSD card slot – with adoptable storage.
That expands its standard 32GB configuration, the same as the G4, to a theoretical 2TB, though someone has to actually make a microSD card in that XXL size first.
LG’s user interface gets a splash of paint, but it’s not a total overhaul. Icons appear to be a little more rounded and the quick settings menu isn’t so drab.
It’s all combined with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which should prove useful for its battery-saving tricks more than anything else.
Scrolling through menus on the LG G5 felt smooth and incredibly snappy, even with all of my apps loaded onto the device.
I was wary of the fact that LG got rid of the app drawer, as my entire home screen exploded with apps when I loaded everything on there. Like an iPhone, all apps are on the main home screen, with folders being my only relief to the clutter.
It was simpler, but not at the same time. Hearing this complaint, LG reversed its decision days before the release date and now the app drawer has been resorted – although you do have to download an old version of the UI to activate it.
Drag down the notification bar and you’ll be greeted with a row of quick settings.
Unlike on stock Android and Samsung’s latest TouchWiz iteration, you can’t swipe down again to expand this area. Instead you have to scroll sideways over the icons to view more settings.
Tapping the pencil icon allows you to reorder, and drop/add settings to the bar – but it’s just slightly less intuitive.
I also found the keyboard on the G5 hit and miss. While it is responsive, I found the accuracy was sometimes a little off and the next word prediction engine isn’t as fluid as third party offerings such as SwiftKey.
Running Geekbench 3 on the LG G5 saw an average multicore score of 5386, a meaty performance which put its on a par with the Snapdragon-toting Galaxy S7 (5398).
What does all this mean then? Super slick performance, that’s what. Apps load swiftly, navigation is smooth and I found the G5 could munch through everything I threw at it.
Line it up alongside the competition, and when it comes to performance the LG G5 won’t be found wanting.
The thing I like about LG and its smartphones is that it always seems to take chances with new technology, and that inventiveness is fully realized in LG G5 dual rear camera.
Round the back you’ll find both a 16MP and a wide-angle 8MP camera. It’s super easy to switch between the two from the camera app. Just hit the rectangle with a tree in to use the 16MP snapper, or the rectangle with three trees in to switch to the wide-angle option.
While the second camera automatically feels inferior thanks to its lower megapixel rating, it’s my actually favorite due to its use of a wide-angle lens.
At a dramatic 135 degrees, the camera actually sees more than the human eye (about 120 to 124 degrees). It’s field of view is able to capture everything you see and more.
That means the iconic tall building, wide beach or long spaceship behind you in vacation photos can be captured without your stranger-photographer having to back up to a seemingly infinite degree.
I was able to capture the entire Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is normally an impossible task in a tight hanger at the California Science Center. Panoramas don’t work with the other people milling about.
The LG G5 camera in wide mode got everything I wanted in the shot, but I did notice a drop in quality between the 16MP normal and 8MP wide photos when blowing them up on a computer.
I also found that the 8MP shots could look a little washed out, with the 16MP images providing more vibrant colors and better exposure levels.
You could resort to a panoramic photo, but that’s more time-consuming and I wouldn’t trust anyone else but me to smoothly pan with my new phone. If I want to get myself, my loved ones and everything else in the shot, this is a cleaner way of doing it.
Snapping away on the beach, I was able to capture the entire horizon from end to end, not just a small segment of the sand. There’s a little bit of fisheye, but it looked good, even if its practicality is limited to a few scenarios.
It’s not without its faults though, and I found WhatsApp defaulted to the 8MP wide-angle lens when I launched the camera from within the app, and close up the fisheye effect is very noticeable. This didn’t happen with other apps, with Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat all choosing the 16MP lens as default.
This could just be a software quirk, as the G5 I’m using isn’t final, so fingers crossed this will be fixed in the final software. It would be nice to have the option to flick between the two lenses within the viewfinders of third party apps – but this option is unlikely to ever arrive.
What is missing is a selfie camera that also offers the same expanded field of view. I found the wide angle format even more useful in the LG V10, but its all-seeing front-facing camera hasn’t managed to transition over to the G5.
My arm is only so long and no, Samsung’s software-stitched wide selfie mode almost always turn out blurry. It’s not a real solution.
I want the best of both worlds, and this one falls short of providing that.
The LG G5 is a rare breed of smartphones, as it is one of the very few now which offer a removable battery.
Years ago it was almost a given that you’d be able to remove the battery from your phone, buy a spare and swap them round when one had died. However, as phones began to demand style and fashion sense, the days of removable batteries are now numbered.
LG is one of the last remaining holdouts for the removable battery form – and a button towards the base of the left side of the G5 allows you to pull the bottom bezel out of the phone when pressed. Attached to this bezel is LG’s luminous power pack which you can up clip – with a large amount of force.
I was worried I might snap the connectors, such was the force required to remove the battery and I fear this could be a weak point going forward for the G5.
That’s a little disappointing, and unfortunately the smaller battery size does show. With moderate to heavy usage I found the G5 wouldn’t get past early evening before dying.
I regularly had to give it a top up before leaving the office if I wanted the G5 to see it through until bedtime – and with a USB-C connection and no wireless charging on offer it made the process all the more frustrating.
Not that I’m complaining about the inclusion of the USB Type-C port – it’s the incoming new technology and more and more handsets are adopting it. That’s a good thing, but while I have a wealth of microUSB cables, I’m limited when it comes to the new form.
You’ll need to remember to take your charger with you if you’re a moderate or heavy user then, as the G5 will need topping up at some point.
Diving into the battery usage details and main culprits are the screen (no surprise), and idle drain (slightly more surprising).
In fact, idle drain could account for up to 20% of battery drain every day – which is a pretty steep loss considering the phone is just sitting there.
Start using the G5 and intensive games such as Real Racing 3 can give it quite a hammering, but even basic web browsing and social networking saw several percentage points drop off.
Some mornings I could find myself down by over 25% within the first three hours of the day, with my commute consisting of Spotify music streaming, a few rounds of Clan Royale and some frantic emailing taking their toll.
The LG G5 doesn’t compare favorably to the Galaxy S7, which I found easily saw out a full day, even with moderate to heavy usage.
There is a power saving mode, which assists in reducing power, background activity and screen brightness to keep you going a bit longer – but ideally I don’t want to be turning this on mid-way through my day.
Imagine my surprise then when I ran the techradar battery test on the G5 and it lost just 9% of juice – an impressive performance.
The test involves playing a 90 minute HD video at full brightness while connected to Wi-Fi and accounts syncing in the background.
That’s a better performance than the Galaxy S7 (13%), which has a smaller – yet brighter – display and the LG G4 (15%). It’s also a significantly better showing than the iPhone 6S (which lost 30%), and Sony Xperia Z5 (25%).
A way round the battery drain is to invest in LG’s Cam Plus module for the G5, which sports an integrated 1200mAh battery as well as a shutter key, zoom wheel, record button and hand grip.
At £79.99 (US$69.99, around AU$90) it’s not exactly a cheap fix, and as I mentioned in an earlier section of this review it does add significant bulk to the handset making it a little tricky to use when you’re not snapping pictures.
Having used the LG G5 for a number of days with the Cam Plus module attached I was easily able to get a full days use from the phone, and at a push I could eke out a day and a half.
Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is the best phone in the world, with its dual-curved 5.5-inch display, powerful performance, stand-out camera and sultry design forming a perfect package in your pocket.
The G5 isn’t quite as beautiful, nor does its performance shine as brightly as its Samsung rivals, but there’s still a lot to love. The full metal body is a strong step forward, the intriguing dual camera setup on the rear gives it something a bit different and the modular support makes the G5 stand out.
Samsung’s made the better all-round handsets though, and whether you fancy the easier to handle 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 or the futuristic and world-beating S7 Edge, you’ll find both are more accomplished than the slightly zany LG G5.
iPhone 6S Plus
With its 4.7-inch display the iPhone 6S is a little on the smaller side to really compete with the 5.3-inch G5, which means it’s the iPhone 6S Plus which finds itself squaring up to the latest South Korean flagship.
The G5 wins the screen battle with its QHD resolution versus Apple’s full HD offering, but the iPhone’s design looks and feels more premium – although it’s also more cumbersome in the hand.
Both have strong snappers, a large slug of power and slick operating systems. Of course, if you want an iPhone you’re unlikely to be swayed by any Android device – and vice versa.
The G5’s predecessor is still available and can be picked up at a reduced price, so is it worth considering?
The good news from LG’s perspective is that plenty has changed between the G4 and G5, including design, build, cameras and power – making the G5 a much slicker, and far more appealing smartphone.
The G4 sports the same resolution, but over a slightly larger 5.5-inch display making it a little trickier to handle one-handed.
If you can afford it, the G5 is the better phone by far, but if you’re desperate to get a phone with a leather back then the G4 is really your only option.
LG always offers up something a bit different with its flagship smartphones. From curved displays and self-healing rears, to leather finishes and modular design, the South Korean firm likes to take a walk on the wild side.
And I like that. In a market where almost indistinguishable glass and metal slabs dominate, LG brings a point of intrigue and interest – although it doesn’t always fully pay off.
The performance of the LG G5 is super slick. The Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB shine – making everything from emails to gaming quick and easy.
I’m also a fan of the QHD display, which at 5.3 inches is excellent for a Netflix binge or a gaming session – although it’s not quite as good as Samsung’s Super AMOLED offering.
The dual cameras on the rear on the G5 are also a great addition – with the 8MP wide angle lens a genuinely useful feature which is easy to use and capable of producing impressive shots. The 16MP snapper isn’t all that bad either – and even on auto mode it can take the odd photographic gem.
Then there’s the modular aspect of the G5 – an area I’m properly excited about, but one that currently feels very much under developed. The technology has to start somewhere, but the somewhat pricey Cam Plus and Hi-Fi Plus modules don’t exactly exite.
The hope is that third party developers will produce some really awesome modules in the next year to further enhance the LG G5. For the moment though, you’ll be taking a punt on whether this will happen if you opt for the G5 now.
My main sticking point with the LG G5 is its battery life. Having used the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the G5 just can’t compete and that’s a real shame.
It all too often found itself running low as I left work, and dying completely shortly after getting home – which means a top up part way through the day is a must for anyone who sees themselves as a moderate or heavy user.
The always-on display is a useful addition, and one-ups Samsung’s offering by showing all notifications, but it’s too dim. Although, with the G5’s suspicious power drain when idle I fear raising the brightness of this with a firmware update will only hamper battery life further.
It’s good to see LG finally embracing a full metal body for its flagship smartphone, but the thick layer of primer/paint mix does take the premium shine off the handset. It doesn’t feel as accomplished as the Galaxy S7, HTC One M9 or iPhone 6S in the hand – and that’s a real shame.
The LG G5 is a bit of a funny one. It’s giving us a glimpse of the future thanks to the modular setup, but its true potential is currently unrealized, and things could stay that way for a while as we wait for exciting, new modules to appear.
Where does that leave us then? There’s still a well built handset with a premium design – although not as premium as its competitors – a huge amount of power and a smart dual camera setup on the rear.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of features then, but somehow the G5 doesn’t quite feel complete. There’s nothing inherently wrong, the battery could be better, but it’s lacking that final layer of finesse to pull everything together into a tidy package.
If you’re in the market for a new flagship Android phone then the Galaxy S7 still delivers the best all-round experience, but for those looking for something a little bit different the LG G5 offers a few party pieces to keep things interesting.
First reviewed: April 2016
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