Last week was certainly a big week for the mobile world and all eyes were undoubtedly on LG and Samsung. Both of these South Korean giants decided to launch the G5 and Galaxy S7 on the same Sunday before Mobile World Congress officially opened. The whole world was waiting for the Galaxy S7, but anticipation for LG’s G5 was also pretty high. Coming off of last year’s LG G4, which was well-received, LG is now thought of as a challenger for Samsung, and rightly so. With leaks and rumors pointing to a radical departure in look and feel from the previous G-Series of smartphones, it seemed people were worried LG would end up announcing something that couldn’t be a success.
As we found out though, the G5 has firmly put LG on the map. Announced with a wide array of features that the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge don’t have and a modular design that has people calling it “the Lego phone” the G5 was easily the star of the show for a lot of people. No device is perfect however, and while the G5 might be the phone to beat for 2016 to a lot of people, there will be just as many that won’t like what LG have done. Here, we’ll take a look at what’s good, what’s not so good and what had us asking what LG were thinking in this instalment of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”
The obvious highpoint for the G5 is its modular design, which allows it to become a digital camera or a portable HiFi. This also gives the G5 one-up on the Galaxy S7 – and practically every other smartphone out there – thanks to the removable battery, something that will please a lot of people. Sure, not everyone is going to carry around extra batteries or whatever, but it’s a damn sight easier to simply turn your phone off and put in a fresh battery then needing to use a bulky battery case. The modular design of the G5 really caught my attention during MWC and I think if LG can add modules to their initial offering of two at launch, they could end up building a very strong ecosystem.
The first two modules that LG is offering seem to target two big areas that are “in” right now, and it’s a smart move on their part. You only have to look at the sort of numbers that Instagram and Snapchat to quickly realize that sharing pictures and video is a big deal for younger users. The exact type of people that are likely to go out of their way to swap in another part of their phone. When spending time with any of Sony’s Xperia devices, it’s amazing just how much difference having that dedicated camera button on the side of the device makes. I wish it was on more phones, and what LG have done here is to take things to the maximum, and basically allow users to turn their phones into a camera.
Personally though, the big deal for me and the G5 is the Bang & Olufsen attachment, which adds a much better DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and offers better sound reproduction. I’m AH’s resident audio nerd, and judging from the amount of headphones and amps on my desk, it’s safe to say I have a problem. Like many people however, I do most of my listening on my smartphone, especially when in bed or when on the move. So, for LG to offer up a better audio setup ticks a big box for me, and will please the majority of users out there, too. Despite the arguing behind how much an artist is paid per stream, it’s never been a better time to be an avid listener. Whether or not Spotify is, in fact, the devil is unclear, but it’s never been easier to discover your next favorite artist, and there’s an air of romance returning to the consumption of music these days – the massive spike in vinyl sales proves as much – and LG’s add-on here helps fuel that further.
When LG introduced the world to the G5, they did so while introducing us to the “G5 and Friends”. A whole raft of new devices were set loose by LG, with many of them offering up some great experiences. Pictured above, the new VR 360 – designed to work not just with the G5, but PCs and so on – is lighter than most other VR headsets out there, and has a nice, dense display. This is one example of LG’s willingness to fill in all of the gaps that anyone might have. Further examples include the new 360 CAM to record 360-degree video and even a drone controller, created in partnership with the drone-people themselves, Parrot.
It’s clear that LG have a winning formula on their hands, they’ve ticked a lot of boxes, and the device itself is pretty great, too. With a 5.3-inch Quad HD display and a Snapdragon 820 running the show the G5 is every bit a modern powerhouse. There’s also no need to purchase the camera attachment if you want a decent camera experience. LG have stuck with a 16-megapixel main sensor, but have added an 8-megapixel camera to the back with a wider 135-degree field of view. This allows the G5 to feature much of the same niceties that the G4 and V10 launched with last year, but budding photographers can quite literally see more of the picture with the G5’s double-camera arrangement.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to see why some might not be overly happy with what LG have done with the design of the G5. Gone is the quintessentially-LG look of the G3 and G4. Instead, it’s been replaced with a fairly-generic curvy form factor that channels design from the iPhone, last year’s Nexus 6P and even some HTC phones. Creating something that’s made out of metal and yet still has a removable battery is commendable, but that doesn’t mean the device is good-looking. In fact, some would say that the G5 is the most generic and uninspiring device that the South Korean firm has shipped in a long, long time.
There’s definitely some of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P in the overall design of the G5, and while that’s all good and well, there could be a little more to it. On the front, things are nice and compact, and the LG logo on the bottom plate is certainly a lot more subtle than other manufacturer’s logos (we’re looking at you, Verizon). Even so, this is just not that exciting a look, and certainly feels more of a step back than a definite step forward in the right direction. Last year the LG G4 launched with a slight curve to its display – something I quite liked – as well as the ability to change the back cover to a genuine leather back in a number of different colors.
The G4 certainly had a much more appealing look and feel to it, and changing the overall look wasn’t too difficult at all. If leather isn’t your thing, LG offered a range of plastic backs, too that also offered some interesting textures, too. The G5 on the other hand is take it or leave it, sure there are a number of different colors to choose from, but the flexibility and natural look of last year’s leather just isn’t here. To be fair to LG however, this is the sort of modern look that appears to be selling well for mobile makers these days. It’s just a shame that the G5 has a sizeable camera hump and an overall design that just doesn’t seem to click with the rest of what LG is doing with the G5.
With such a laundry list of new features and fun companion devices, it’s hard to imagine that there would be an “ugly side” to the LG G5, but the world isn’t all roses now, is it? Of course, we can’t pull final judgment on the G5 until we get the chance to review it of course, but there are a few things that could make for a less than stellar overall experience.
The first pain point for customers could be the battery life of the G5. The G5 features a 2,800 mAh battery, which isn’t too big a battery these days. For comparison, the smaller Galaxy S7 manages to pack in a 3,000 mAh battery. Now, that’s not too big a difference in capacity, but last year’s G4 didn’t sport battery life that was anything out of the ordinary, and with a smaller battery than most, the G5 could be heading for a similar fate. Of course, we hope that’s not the case, but with a dense Quad HD display and two cameras to power, the G5 will have to ship some optimized software to squeeze the most out of that battery. During their announcement, the company were reluctant to share definite battery life estimates, which could be because the device isn’t due to hit people’s hands until April or so, or it could be because they didn’t feel like sharing any disappointing figures.
LG’s software has been a thorn in the side of many users for a few years now, but this time, LG may have taken things too far. In a disturbing trend, it appears like the app drawer might be going away in future versions of Android. That is, of course, still a rumor at this point, but both the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 feature ways of turning off the app drawer or, in LG’s case not even shipping with one. This annoys me, greatly. Not everyone will agree with me here, but the app drawer is Android’s lynch pin in terms of not just keeping people sane, but also in customization, too. Having all of your apps neatly tucked away in a sensible and easily-understood order means that users are free to customize and tweak their launchers to their heart’s content. Without the app drawer however, where do all these apps end up? Filed away in folder after folder, nestled in page after page on the homescreen? For once, Samsung has taken the right choice with their software, and given people the choice, rather than leaving them no option, as LG appears to be doing with the G5.
There’s still quite some time before the G5 hits store shelves and arrives on people’s doorsteps, and hopefully we’ll be able to review the G5 before then. No smartphone or piece of technology is ever perfect, but LG’s G5 has a lot of flexibility and versatility on offer here, which could be the key LG is hoping will help users overlook the device’s shortcomings in other areas.