LG-G5-AH-NS-header

Featured Review: LG G5

April 5, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Of all the manufacturers in the smartphone world, LG’s designs are likely the most consistently interesting. Back in the Nexus 4 days they outfitted their back panel with a unique sparkling grid pattern, and just the next year introduced us to the concept of back facing buttons. LG has also brought with its designs the thinnest bezels in the industry, constantly cramming more screen onto less phone than just about anyone else on the market. Now LG is changing all of that up, moving to not only an all metal unibody design with 2016’s G5, but also introducing a modular design to the market too. Are these design changes for the better or the worse, and how’s that refined UI looking these days? Let’s take a look!

Video Review

Specs
LG-G5-AH-NS-specs

With a higher end price tag one would expect the best of the best, and that’s exactly what LG is delivering with the G5. Sitting on the front of the gorgeous new metal body is a 5.3 inch Quad-HD IPS LCD panel sporting a Gorilla Glass 4 coating. Beneath the glass is a 64-bit 14nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor made up of a dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo CPU and a 1.6GHz Kryo CPU, with an Adreno 530 GPU. 4GB of RAM powers the multi-tasking experience, and 32GB of internal storage is waiting to be filled up with media and apps. Those needing more storage can add up to a 200GB microSD card, which can be placed inside the SIM card tray. Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow ships with the phone, and LG’s UX 5.0 has been introduced here, although there’s no adoptable storage here for better or worse.

On the front sits an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, while the reverse side features dual cameras, dual tone LED flash and separate laser auto focus modules for each camera. The primary camera on back is a 16-megapixel 1/2.6” 16:9 sensor and a 78-degree f/1.8 lens. The secondary camera on the back is an 8-megapixel 1/3.6” 16:9 sensor and an ultra wide 135-degree f/2.4 lens. Connectivity wise you’ll find WiFi 802.11b/g/n/a/ac with 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual band support, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 support and a built in FM radio. A USB Type-C for the very latest in charging speeds and connectivity, and the battery inside is a removable 2,800mAh one supporting Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 technology. The phone measures 149.4mm high by 73.9mm wide by 7.7mm thin, and weighs 159 grams. Lastly this one comes in Silver, Titan, Gold and Pink colors and retails for $629.99.

In The Box

LG-G5-ATT-Retail-Box

LG has been running a number of promotions with the G5, packing in free batteries, modules and other goodies depending on what country and carrier you buy from. Our review unit came with AT&T’s goodies, which includes an extra battery, external battery charging case and a microUSB to USB Type-C adapter. Inside the regular retail box is of course the phone with battery packed in, QuickCharge 3.0 wall charger, USB Type-C cable and a slew of manuals.

Display

LG-G5-AH-NS-display

LG is one of the biggest proponents of using IPS LCD displays on a mobile device, and over the years has really come into their own in regards to display quality of these devices. Pretty much everything about this display is amazing, and honestly I’m having difficulty finding things to complain about. Black levels are about as good as an LCD is going to get, and really looks phenomenal in any light except for a really dark room, where the back lighting on the panel finally becomes obvious. Brightness levels are phenomenal, with ultra bright and ultra dim brightness, perfect for anything between direct sunlight reading and midnight social media browsing.  Even viewing angles are downright amazing, with no visible color shifting at all no matter which angle you hold it at, however there is a bit of dimming going on, especially when held at extreme angles.

Refresh rate is excellent and I only noticed trailing or ghosting on a handful of color changes, such as darker to white sections in particular, and even then only with very specific UI elements like icons moving on the launcher.  The display hovers slightly in the cool range of the spectrum, and ends up making whites look a little blue instead.  Despite this colors look great and pop nicely, with just the right amount of saturation to give them a bit of a wow factor, but not enough to throw accuracy off.  Lastly of course is the digitizer, which is phenomenal as expected.  The phone responded to even the slightest touch, and multi-touch gestures and super fast typing all registered perfectly with zero errors or problems whatsoever.  What’s also interesting to note is that this display is 0.2 inches smaller than the G3 or the G4, an idea that bucks industry trends of bigger and bigger screens.  While that means there’s slightly more bezel here, it also means it’s slightly more comfortable to hold in one hand.

Always on screen
Always on screen

A trend that has quickly developed in 2016 is the always-on display.  We’ve had versions of this for years now on Android, originating with the 2013 Moto X, but those were “breathing” displays rather than always on, and only activated when a new message came in or the device was picked up without being touched.  The new always-on displays are exactly that, always on and always displaying information.  In addition to this they are not interactive, which is actually a good thing for such a feature, as touching the screen to wake the device up would otherwise ruin the point of the always on display.  It’s a fantastic idea that gives you easy glanceable information when you need it, including the time, date and any notifications.  This isn’t detailed information, just icons and such, but they are helpful for knowing exactly how many missed calls or messages you’ve accrued while binging the latest Netflix series.

Hardware and Build

LG-G5-AH-NS-hardware

LG has really knocked it out of the park with the design of the G5, and we’re not just talking about the new all-metal build here either.  Sure it has a metal unibody down to that module on the bottom, meaning 95% of the back of the phone is a single piece of metal, but the curves that match up the sides and the front are what’s really the most beautiful part.  Looking at the back you’ll find it to be mostly flat until you get to the left and right edges, which are curved up toward the screen to give a better feel in the hand.  A micro bevel (90-degree cut) is made right at the point where the back and sides meet, giving the phone a well-defined edge that doubles as a place to grip; something sorely needed in this age of slippery glass and metal phones.  The sides continue their curve upward and inward toward the screen, again creating some really nice grip points and beautiful lines. On the front side you’ll notice that the top and bottom sections are actually curved downward toward the back, making all four corners fold up as if they were wings.  This curve actually makes it easier to pull the notification shade down, something Android users do all day long.

Aside from this gorgeous design the phone really feels incredible in the hand.  LG is actually using a thin layer of plastic on the back of the unit, which presumably is done to add some scratch resistance and extra grip to the metal body. Some will not care for this plastic feel, as it’s fairly obviously plastic coated, but in the end it means we’re still getting a better-built phone underneath.  On that back sits the dual fingerprint scanner and power button, something LG introduced with the V10 last year.  This one sits in a slightly raised hump with a micro-grooved ring around it, and ultimately the button sits slightly nestled inside for ease of finding. Conversely, the camera hump on the back is raised just a fraction of a millimeter higher and sports a very obviously different glass texture to make identifying it without looking easy.  Inside the glass here sits both cameras on opposite ends, with the dual-tone LED flash and dual laser autofocus modules in between them.

The volume rockers have been moved to the left, something curiously different for LG in the past few years, but feels like a design for the better.  While this position is likely preferred for most people, LG really could have done with jutting the buttons out just a tad bit more.  As it stands they blend in too well with the body and aren’t easy to find when blindly pressing around.  Up top you’ll find the 3.5mm headset jack situated almost to the rightmost edge, with the noise canceling microphone and IR blaster next to that.  On the bottom sits a centrally placed USB Type-C port, and to the left of that a single speaker with unique grill cutouts.  On the right toward the bottom is the SIM card tray, which contains a single nano-SIM slot and separate microSD card slot.

All of these things add up to a higher quality feeling handset than LG has made in the past, but it’s not quite as ultra-premium feeling as the Galaxy S6/7 line of phones.  On the bright side it’s quite a bit more durable and will likely withstand drops, whereas the glass-coated S6/7 phones certainly will not.  There’s always nuances with builds that get unnoticed or forgotten, but I have to add just how amazing the vibration motor in this phone feels.  It’s not often that something as rudimentary as a vibration motor stands out, but the one LG placed in here meshes so nicely with the build that it creates almost an experience unto itself.  The sweet, subtle vibrations when typing or pressing on the phone are simply euphoric, there’s just no getting around it, and really seal in the phone’s quality.

Modular Design

LG-G5-AH-NS-modular

The biggest news from the announcement of the G5 wasn’t that it was metal, but that it was a modular phone.  With a click of the little button, located on the bottom left of the phone, the entire bottom region of the phone can be pulled out.  There’s no worry about accidental button presses making it fall out, this isn’t a loose module and it does take some force to pull out, but not so much that your arm will fly back and hit something.  It also returns with a nice click too, so there’s no wondering if it’s inserted correctly or not.  There’s certainly a question as to whether or not this makes the device more fragile, or if it actually gives it a bit of built-in flexibility as a result of the hollow nature of the build.  The battery is the only component that actually slips out with the bottom module, and there’s a single connector just to the right of the battery for various module connections.

At the time of writing LG only has two modules available; the Cam Plus and the Hi-Fi Plus.  The Cam Plus module features an enlarged grip with some extra camera controls including a manual shutter button, zoom wheel and some extra battery power.  LG’s Hi-Fi Plus module actually brings enhanced sound to the G5, something curiously absent by default even though the V10 had it.  There’s of course also the option to just remove the battery and replace it with an extra one, something that’s fairly easy and quick to do.  While there’s currently not a ton of different modules out there, the hope is that we’ll see some more development out of LG, or even third parties as well for expansion, because there’s a boatload of potential here.

Performance and Memory

LG-G5-AH-NS-performance

Sporting a Snapdragon 820 chipset inside means that the G5 ties for the absolute peak of top-tier mobile performance right now, and that means everything you do will be without lag or slowdown of any kind.  LG’s software has often been some of the smoothest OEM skins on top of Android over the years, and their latest UX 5.0 keeps with that trend, delivering fast and fluid animations, motions and response times for everything.  Gaming is faster, sharper and better than ever too thanks both in part to that gorgeous quad-HD panel on the front and the powerhouse Adreno 530 GPU.  Even running at 50% higher resolution than 1080p, you’ll find the latest in console-quality 3D visuals are smooth and fluid.

Multi-tasking is as good as it gets here too.  Utilizing a dedicated overview button and the 3D carousel layout of stock Android, this is the easiest and best way to multi-task around, especially when using the phone with one hand.  Apps are easily identifiable thanks to the thumbnail previews and colored title bars, and apps can also be pinned so that they stay in memory, even when you click the clear all button.

Benchmarks

LG-G5-AH-NS-benchmarks

Cream of the crop, top of the top is what you’ll find on the G5.  Benchmarks allow us to have a more measurable way of quantifying that fact, and you’ll find all the expected results below.

Phone Calls and Network

LG-G5-AH-NS-sim-cards

Dodging a trend that’s been taken up by a number of big-name manufacturers out there, the LG G5 is very much a carrier-specific phone when it comes to supported bands.  While you can get a single unlocked model for use across Europe, no such model exists for US networks or international networks.  This is definitely a let down for those who like universal unlocked phones, and nailing down to specific carriers in the US will eventually make its value less over time because of this.  Regardless of compatibility though the G5 offers the finest in voice and data quality, as well as signal strength and speed.  Dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi 802.11 up to ac is supported, and up to Bluetooth 4.2 is supported as well.  As the G5 is very carrier specific we’ll just cover the bands for the unlocked European model, since there’s only a single one (the H850).

2G: 850/900/1800/1900

3G HSPA: 850/900/1900/2100

4G LTE: 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 12(700), 17(700), 20(800), 28(700), 38(2600), 40(2300)

Battery Life

LG-G5-AH-NS-modular-6

Battery life?  What’s battery life?  Often times I forgot that I even needed to charge the G5 in my use, only to remember after nearly 2 days of regular use when it told me it had hit that magic 15% battery left value.  During this particular 43 hour period off the charger I got around 3 hours of screen on time, a sign that I didn’t use the phone a particularly large amount during the two days, but that shows just how good the standby is.  I’ve got two Google accounts that both sync everything, and I’m very typically taking lots of pictures and video and listening to music as well.  On a day where I used it incredibly heavily I got 9 hours of screen on time.  That included mostly watching YouTube videos nonstop with some additional web browsing thrown in.  If you’re a heavy user this is likely going to be a phone that makes you very happy, and that’s incredibly surprising given that this phone has the smallest battery of any LG flagship in years; 2,800mAh.  That’s 200mAh smaller than the Galaxy S7, but I got way better battery life here.

Remember too that the battery is removable, unlike the S7 and many other phones on the market anymore, and LG has been shipping most G5’s with an extra battery and a portable charging case for that battery too.  Popping the battery out takes about 10-15 seconds, and powering up the phone is as quick as 30 seconds, meaning in under a minute flat you could be up and running with a full battery again.  If you’d rather just charge the phone on your lunch break or something similar, the Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 built in charged the phone for me from 0-75% in 30 minutes flat, a feat that is simply mind blowing considering how many hours of use you’ll get out of a 75% charge.

Sound

LG-G5-AH-NS-audio

Sound was one of the biggest surprises and simultaneously biggest letdowns of the G5 for me.  When we received our pre-production unit about a month ago, that particular model couldn’t play music over my car stereo via the 3.5mm headset jack without excessive amounts of white noise that was actually louder than the volume of the music.  It worked just fine in my truck’s stereo, and every other speaker or pair of headphones I plugged it into for that matter.  No other phone I’ve tried on the car audio had this issue either, leaving me to believe it had to be the phone itself.  Strangely enough, that same problem persists on the retail G5, and it means I literally can’t use the phone’s audio when in the car, a problem that could occur for others and be a complete deal breaker if they don’t have Bluetooth connectivity.

This is rather unfortunate because, even though it only outputs standard 16-bit audio via the 3.5mm headset jack, it’s incredibly clean, crisp and balanced audio.  Those looking for higher resolution audio will need a Bluetooth system with APT-X HD 24-bit support, which the G5 supports out of the box.  And for people who need even higher quality audio than that, LG sells the HiFi module that outputs 32-bit audio the way the V10 did out of the box, adding a stunning level of high-resolution support to its first 2016 flagship.  Even the speaker on the body of the phone was amazing, which is astounding given that it’s a single, bottom-facing speaker.  The phone has deep bass, is incredibly clear and loud, free from vibrations even at the highest volume, and in general does not sound like you might expect.  This is a huge change coming from the review of the Galaxy S7 line where the bottom-facing speaker left a lot to be desired.

Software

LG-G5-AH-NS-marshmallow

LG UX 5.0 brings with it a slew of new features, some tweaks over the previous generation, and in general, a fair amount of changes over last year’s UX 4.0.  LG’s UI has always been among the fastest and most fluid of any OEM Android skin, and that’s no exception this year even through some of the changes.  There’s an absolute boatload of features littered all around the OS, but we’ll just cover the new ones here since LG’s feature set hasn’t actually changed or declined in years.  LG has made a big push for accessories and companion electronics with the G5, labeling the modules and companions as “Friends.”  These friends can all be managed via the LG Friend Manager app, and is a nice little hub to find all your LG accessories and companions in.

LG has also enhanced its LG Health app with new features that help keep you on top of your exercise schedule, and congratulate you when you complete something as well.  It also attempts to keep your phone healthy by giving you notifications when the cache and other temporary files should be removed, when space is getting low and reminders about keeping battery life and performance of the device up.  Lastly is the LG backup utility, which backs up important information to the microSD card inside the phone or internal storage to be kept safe for later.

What I do love in particular about the design are the system sounds, which border on euphoria just like the vibration motor inside the device.  All of the sounds here are simply fantastic and give off a wide range of emotions and themes, all of which are well designed and well executed.  The keyboard typing sound, for instance, is an incredibly pleasant ticking noise, with a lower octave note placed on the space bar when pressed.  It actually made me just want to type all day, and this sort of feeling extends to the notification sounds, ringtones and alarms as well.  Everything just sounds and feels so pleasant with the design, and it’s a shame the clutter described in the section below exists in so many places because it offsets a bit of this feeling.

UI/UX

LG-G5-AH-NS-ux-5

Previous LG smartphone customers will still feel familiar here with most of the UI, as it still features the same horizontal scrolling quick toggles in the notification shade, the same paginated settings menu and the general clutter of LG’s UI.  This latter part has always been the biggest flaw in LG’s design, and while it’s feature rich many times things can be unnecessarily hidden through layers of menus and obscurely labeled options.  Poking around for a while will eventually get you to where you need to go, and thankfully LG has a search feature right on the settings menu for when you know what to look for, but even still it’s not always easy to find what you need.  Everything in the UI is essentially a white background with black text, and very little color or other indicators to help separate things or visually draw items to you.

For instance, when searching for battery stats you’ll need to go into the settings menu, scroll over 4 tabs to get to General, then scroll nearly to the bottom of the list to find the “Battery & power saving” section.  Yes, it has an icon of a battery to the left of it, but it’s a white icon with a black outline, sitting on a white background next to black text just like all the other options in the settings menu.  Minimalism is great when it’s designed well, but this is overly minimalistic that looks pretty but ultimately functions poorly.  There’s plenty of other examples of things like this that should be easier to find, maybe adding them to the quick toggles section or allowing them to be clickable on the notification shade.  Again, for instance, you can’t get to the clock by pulling the notification shade down and clicking the time, you actually have to find the clock app.  Even the default widget on the desktop takes you to weather, not the clock, and is another example of something that users might expect to be able to do and can’t.

Lastly the information presented at times can be a mixed bag.  Back to the quick toggles in the notification shade, for instance, where you’ll find a colored icon when it’s active and a grayscale one when it’s not.  In addition to this excellent way of visually identifying toggles some of the icons will present additional information without having to click them, such as the WiFi icon telling you which hotspot it’s connected to right under the word WiFi.  Unfortunately to change the hotspot connected you have to long-press on the WiFi icon, which takes you to a completely separate screen you were on, taking away a significant advantage quick toggles are supposed to have.

There’s also some curious changes to the launcher, where the default layout doesn’t include an app drawer.  While there’s supposed to be an option to add the app drawer back, not having an app drawer means your home screen will be littered with random icons, all organized in the order they were installed in.  LG says this is a better and more simple way to manage apps, given that long-pressing and dragging an app on the home screen brings up a large “uninstall” section up top, however, this is anything but simple.  The Google Now Launcher, for instance, already lets you do this no matter if you are in the app drawer or the home screen.  In addition to this there’s no way to go to the app info page from the home screen on LG’s new launcher, there’s just simply not an option, meaning you’ll need to trudge through more menus to get to apps, find the app in a list and then get to its settings to restrict notifications, manage permissions or storage, etc.  In addition to this there’s no way to organize the apps alphabetically by default, so even if you click sort alphabetically you’ll find the next set of installed apps still appear at the very end of your mess of home screens.  It’s a horrible launcher by default and most users won’t bother changing this, meaning user experience automatically drops out of the box for many users.

Fingerprint and Security

LG-G5-AH-NS-security

Having a rear-facing fingerprint reader, much like the rear-facing power button, has both positive and negative design trade-offs.  As we’ve seen from phones like last year’s V10, Nexus phones and a bunch of others, rear-facing fingerprint scanners are incredibly comfortable on bigger phones, as it lets you unlock the phone in a more natural way by using your index finger when simply holding it.  Reaching down to press the home button for this on a large phone results in applying pressure, which could very likely result in the phone slipping out of your hand.  It’s also more comfortable because, again on larger devices, you don’t have to shimmy your hand down to reach the home button either as your finger is likely already resting where the fingerprint reader is on the back of the phone.

This fingerprint scanner is also considerably better than what LG had on the V10 and worked almost 100% of the time for me when using the phone.  The only time it failed had nothing to do with the hardware, rather some bizarre software issue.  More than a handful of times since I’ve been using the G5 it would seemingly randomly tell me it “couldn’t use fingerprint, please try pattern” instead.  This was head scratching and I couldn’t find any reason as to why it would do this sometimes, but thankfully it was very rare.  Fingerprints can be used for both unlocking the device and for Android Pay out of the box, although there is the possibility of this functionality expanding as Google’s fingerprint API gets adopted by more developers.

Lastly, of course, is the inclusion of per-app permissions thanks to the LG G5 running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.  Google’s new per-app permissions built into Android will ask you the first time an app tries to access information on the device, be it GPS location, call logs or others.  There’s around 2 dozen permissions that apps can request, and the phone will always ask you when an app needs a new permission.  Permissions can be further managed in the apps section of the settings menu, which is unfortunately hidden a bit as stated in the UX section above.  There also doesn’t seem to be a centralized management section, rather you have to go into each app’s permissions and change them.  This feels sloppy to say the least and makes it difficult to manage what permissions are granted to apps.

Camera Software

LG-G5-AH-NS-camera

LG’s camera software has quickly moved into the most advanced of all OEM camera software on the market with last year’s manual photo mode introduction on the G4, and the manual video introduction with the V10.  The G5 has only has the manual photo mode of the G4, not the manual video mode of the V10 unfortunately.  LG has had some of the best-performing camera software for years, and with a rare exception, this is certainly right up there with the best of them.  The biggest issues again come down to the layout, which has a bit of a learning curve thanks to LG’s rather generic designs and lack of labeling.  By default, the auto mode is the first that launches and lets you easily take pictures and video without having to worry about a thing.  This is easily the best design LG came up with, as the best quality options are checked by default, and the dedicated shutter and record buttons on the right side of the shutter are ultra easy to use and well labeled.  You can also switch between both cameras on the back with a simple touch of the single or triple-tree icons at the top, and easy visual queue that swaps the cameras in about 2 seconds flat.

Once you get past this though it’s more difficult to find things.  Different photo modes are kept in the MODE button and comprise Panorama, Snap, Multi-View, Popout, Auto, Time-lapse, and Slo-mo.  Additional settings like HDR, aspect ratio, timer, OIS and others are found in the settings cog but aren’t always easy to identify visually.  Many of these icons don’t feature any words under them and could be treated too ambiguously while poking around will eventually get you the settings you want, just like in the system settings menu.  Too often I had to hunt around to find what I wanted, and I imagine most people won’t bother with any of these settings for this reason.  LG really needs to get more clear labels on these sections and make it more obvious what things do.  Even the social sharing menu doesn’t make a lot of sense initially, as it’s not labeled at all and only shows icons of different apps in it.  Once you click an icon you realize it just shares the last taken photo or video with the app selected, but again without labeling, this isn’t obvious enough.

Manual photo mode is here in all its glory, but once again is located in a rather odd place.  Instead of being under the MODE heading where you might imagine, it’s actually a UI toggle for all modes.  In the top you’ll find an overflow three-dot button which contains the simple, auto and manual modes.  Once you switch to this you can adjust white balance, manual focus toggle, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, auto-exposure locking and RAW shooting in any sub-mode.  Confused yet?  Now try remembering that you can’t use manual mode when taking a video and you’ll probably be completely lost.  The software also retains this manual mode switch and will automatically launch with it the next time you start the software.  If you don’t like manual mode or didn’t want to launch with it next time you may end up confused again, and unless you remembered where to switch back to auto mode you’ll probably end up frustrated like I did a handful of times and can’t figure out where to take a video.  Like lots of other LG design it’s pretty and fast, but confusing and convoluted.

Camera Performance and Results

LG-G5-AH-NS-06

Performance wise the LG G5 sits somewhere in between the 2015 Nexus devices and the Galaxy S7 family.  It takes about as long to focus as the Nexus family does, which is usually within half a second or so, but isn’t lightning fast like the Galaxy S7.  Taking shots, however, is equally fast as the Galaxy S7 and is impressive no matter if HDR is on or off.  The time between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken is absolutely instantaneous so long as the phone doesn’t have to focus again, which from time to time I found it doing.  Switching between the lenses on the camera takes about 2 seconds, which is a little longer than I might have liked, but it’s nothing too bad.  Launching the camera from a cold start (i.e. the phone being locked) is a little faster, but only by a few hundred milliseconds.  Overall it’s not the fastest camera on the market, but it’s certainly nowhere near being the slowest.

I also found that focusing, although again not the fastest I’ve seen, is definitely incredibly accurate.  In one instance I was attempting to take a picture of a lizard shedding its skin with the G5, and on the first lift of my hand toward it, the G5 was able to focus on the right spot immediately.  The Galaxy S7, on the other hand, focused without me noticing, but absolutely could not focus on the lizard at all.  It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why this happened, but it could be because the Galaxy S7 relies on phase detection autofocus to see movement and contrast in the individual pixels, while the G5 uses laser-assisted autofocus to more accurately pinpoint a target.  Regardless LG did a better job with autofocus and I found it to be as good as the best I’ve seen.

Quality is incredibly disappointing, though, to say the least.  Where the V10 absolutely came in the tip-top class of performers and quality, the G5 falls flat on its face in the quality department.  I really have no idea what LG did here, but it feels like anything that’s not 5 feet in front of the camera just ends up looking blurry.  There’s very little detail at any kind of distance, and things get considerably worse even in slightly less than direct sunlight.  How this can be a 16-megapixel sensor is pretty beyond me, but it doesn’t look or feel anything like the 16-megapixel sensor in the V10.  Even shots in broad daylight aren’t guaranteed to be free from blur or other problems with detail.  This goes for both cameras too, not just the main 16-megapixel one but the wide-angle 8-megapixel one too, and tells me something funky is going on with the software.

The first thing that tipped me off to this being more of a software problem than anything was looking at the shutter speed and ISO in any given scene.  Samsung was overly aggressive with the ISO on the Galaxy S7 family, not allowing it to go above ISO 1250 no matter how dark the scene was, but LG is even worse here.  Even in a nearly completely dark room I never saw the ISO push over 750, a number that’s absurdly low by any standard, and simply doesn’t let enough light into the sensor to do anything worthwhile.  Worse yet they keep the shutter open far too long far too often, which causes too much blur because of natural hand shake.  I’ve got a very steady hand by any measure and even photos in broad daylight turned out blurry at times, something that absolutely should never, ever happen.  The front facing camera is also mediocre at best, and outputs decent photos in daylight at best, and absolutely terrible photos in darker situations.  LG really made a mess here with the quality of the camera, and it’s such a shame given how uniquely interesting that secondary 8-megapixel camera with 135-degree wide-angle lens is.

Video and Wide-Angle Lens

LG-G5-AH-NS-wide-angle

While we already covered problems with the photo portion of the camera software, the value in using this as an action camera or just a way to record wider scenes around you is absolutely stunning.  The lens really opens up a whole new paradigm in video filming from a smartphone, and it does it all in glorious 4K (UHD) too.  The biggest downside to recording in 4K is that there’s no advanced stabilization as there is in 1080p (FHD) mode.

While this sounds like a big deal, in most situations it didn’t seem to be for me.  The standard optical image stabilization, if it’s even enabled at all when set to 4K, seems to keep the video stable enough that even walking one-handed with the phone and filming is very doable.  The same can’t be said of most phones on the market, and it doesn’t matter which camera on the G5 you use either, both are almost of the same quality.  As the sensor on the 16-megapixel camera is larger, it will pick up more light than the 8-megapixel one can, and have less noise doing it too, so using that larger sensor at night is going to be preferable.  Even still the amount of noise is tolerable on both cameras, and you’ll likely be more worried about using the right lens for the scene rather than any quality differences, as they are incredibly minute in nearly every kind of light.

Switching between these two lenses is easy, and can be done on the fly even in the middle of recording.  If you watch the samples below you’ll see that there’s a very obvious pause and some slight slowdown between switching cameras, but it’s done seamlessly enough that it likely won’t bother most people.  Given the fact that you can switch between them in real-time is a huge deal too, and again opens up a world of new possibilities that other phones on the market simply cannot offer.  Check out all the samples and video below to see what we mean, and ultimately form your own opinion on the G5’s camera.

LG-G5-AH-NS-Flickr

The Good

Fantastic new design

Modular build brings lots of possibilities

Great display

Battery life is phenomenal

APT-X HD for 24-bit Bluetooth audio

Snapdragon 820 is ultra fast

Video is among the best on the market

Wide-angle lens makes for some really interesting shots and video

The Bad

LG’s UX 5.0 is as convoluted as ever

Carrier-exclusive band support rather than an International phone

Camera software is confusing

Photo quality is mediocre at best most of the time

Hi-Fi DAC from the V10 was obviously removed to sell the new Hi-Fi module
Conclusion

LG-G5-AH-NS-titan-5

I went into this experience with high hopes and with fantastic first impressions.  LG’s presentation on all fronts is flashy, fluid and attractive to say the least.  They’ve built this one up as something to break new ground, and in many ways, they’ve definitely done that here.  The new build is amazing and interesting and ultimately feels really good to hold and use.  There’s so many high points that it makes the big negatives really hard to understand, and it feels like LG has taken a step backward in some directions while making a giant leap forward in others.  Even with the goofy new launcher and the issues with the camera, the rest of the package is just so solid it’s hard not to recommend.  Be sure to check out the photos and see if what we ran across is a deal breaker for you, but those who love recording video will absolutely feel at home on the G5.  This is another solid release from LG that’s just in need of a few patches, but one that stands toe-to-toe with the best in many areas.