It all started on a Saturday afternoon with UPS arriving at my door. A small white box was delivered, free from any logos or names or any obvious markings as to what I was about to open. Inside was a smattering of green confetti and tissue paper, wrapping up the real gem inside; an LG G5. With such little fanfare it wasn't a surprise to find out that this was actually a pre-production unit from LG, and we got the chance to use it for the past few days to see exactly what LG is planning on delivering with its 2016 flagship. Mobile World Congress wasn't that long ago, but since then LG's announcement of the G5 has been making waves around the world. While Samsung's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are more of evolutionary designs based on last year's phones, LG's G5 is a completely new design, pushing some new ideas and LG's first unibody flagship phone.
Hardware and Design
In fact this new design raised my eyebrows when opening the box, and funny enough I thought it had gotten bent in the shipping process at first. Upon closer inspection it became obvious that this is part of the new design from LG, and it really shows what LG has been doing to redesign the experience users have with its phones. These curves are easily the most eye-catching part of the design, bending in directions that we really haven't seen from other phones on the market. The backside curves in on each side to better contour to the hand as we've seen on plenty of devices, but it's the curves downward on the front that really complete the ergonomic design. Looking at it from the top or bottom make it more obvious as to what LG is doing here, and the curves at both top and bottom help it blend and really just look downright gorgeous.
Looking at the back it more or less resembles the Nexus 5x, another LG design from the end of last year that appears to have begun the work LG finished here with the G5. Centered on the back near the top is the power button, which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. Rear-facing buttons shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's used an LG phone in the last few years, but it's the lack of volume buttons on the back and the new dual-camera module that make things really interesting here. The fingerprint button is ever so slightly raised but features a ribbed ring around it to help your finger identify its position. While the new camera module above the button looks a bit weird at first, its unique look has grown on me over the past few days and I've found myself absolutely loving the look of it.
Moving to the sides we find the volume rocker on the left side, while the dual SIM tray with microSD card slot is situated to the right. As this is a pre-production unit it's not entirely clear if all of these lines and edges will be retained in the final product, but the edge changes from the glass to the back of the phone feel a bit strange in the hand at first. These curves are tapered inward toward the glass just a few degrees, giving a smooth and ergonomic design, but the back side features a 90-degree edge facing downward, which creates a completely different feel from the front of the phone. I'll need a little more time to form a full opinion on this edge but it makes the unit feel like the back is removable, which it obviously isn't given LG's push of the new modular design.
This new modular design is one of the biggest new features of the G5, and marks the biggest hardware differentiator between the G5 and any other phone on the market since the curved screen on Samsung's Galaxy phones. The entire bottom section of the phone is removable via a small button found on the left side of the phone and releases the lock, allowing the entire bottom to slide out. Our phone only came with the original included bottom, which just features the 2,800mAh battery inside, but there's lots of other options for this component as we've already outlined on the site. This module is mostly seamless with the design, although there are obvious lines where the module connects with the metal unibody on the main phone.
On the bottom of this module sits a centered USB Type-C port with Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 capabilities and one seriously amazing speaker. Normally bottom-facing speakers sit pretty low on the excitement factor, and generally are regarded as a middle-ground for audio experience on devices, completely eclipsed by stereo front-facing speakers that some Android-powered devices feature. What's not obvious here until audio is played, however, is the brevity of sound that comes from this little speaker. It's not just loud and clear, it's got deep bass, crystal clear treble and quite simply some of the largest range of sound I've ever heard from any phone speaker, much less a bottom-facing one. Just listening to music or videos on this would make you think the sound is coming from the front, but LG has worked some amazing magic here.
Software and Camera
LG's UI design has evolved slightly over the years and the new UI found on the G5 isn't really anything revolutionary. It's definitely a refinement of what we've seen since the G4 and V10 in 2015, and feels like a cleaner design all while packing in more features at the same time. Some of the convoluted nature of LG's software has been tailored to make a little more sense, and been reorganized to be a little easier to find, although there are still places where things are a bit weird. LG has stressed that this isn't the final software, although it's still a great look at what's to come from LG in the next month or so. Without commenting on any bugs I've found (which aren't relevant since this is pre-release software), LG's new launcher design is pretty suspect to say the least.
If you've been following the trend in the industry over the past few months it seems that app drawers have become taboo for some bizarre reason, and the LG G5 is the first flagship from any major OEM to ship without an app drawer. LG says this was done to simplify design and make things less convoluted for users by removing the "2nd layer" that the app drawer creates, but the mess of trying to find apps in a horrendously disorganized grid of apps is absolutely not simplifying anything for users. LG's launcher design on previous phones featured very few faults and this feels like a massive step backwards in many ways. Thankfully Android still gives us the ability to change out things like the launcher for what we might feel is a better designed one, and the Google Now Launcher quickly became what I ran to after only 2 days.
What's particularly impressive is the absolute speed of everything, from app launching to running the latest 3D games and benchmarks, this thing absolutely flies. The Snapdragon 820 inside is remarkably faster than the Snapdragon 810 or 808 in 2015 flagships, and it really feels like it in every single place in the OS. Since LG uses software buttons it's easy to pull up the Overview multi-tasking interface, and given this one has 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM it's any wonder that I never once saw any apps reload when switching between them, no matter how many apps or games I had open. There's no perceptible lag, no slowdown and no obvious throttling to avoid a nasty thermal situation, everything is just butter smooth and instantaneous as you would expect from a 2016 flagship.
LG's camera software too has taken an evolutionary step with every phone since the biggest changes in the G2 days. The camera software on the G5 is incredibly similar to LG phones in the past years yet offers everything and more from the G4, yet doesn't quite encroach upon LG's video software features from the V10. Instead LG is pushing the new hardware that's found on the back of the G5 here; those dual cameras. The primary rear-facing camera is a 16-megapixel 1/2.6" 16:9 sensor with an f/1.8 lens with 78-degree angle. On the other side of the enclosure sits an 8-megapixel 1/3.6" 16:9 sensor with an f/2.4 lens featuring a 135-degree super wide angle. So far these two lenses have been totally invaluable to me and their differences have come in handy more than once so far. It's amazing just how wide that 135-degree lens is, and the feeling of capturing an entire scene in front of you and then some is really something unique. LG is banking on these lenses to set it apart from the crowd, and I think they will do just that. We've got quite a few shots for you to sample below, so check those out along with some video samples to see how nicely this is coming along!
Experience and Final Thoughts
There are tons of little nuances that you might not think of when using a phone. Things like the notification sounds, keyboard typing sounds, little animations and even the vibration motors and how they interact with the material used to make the phone. In every single one of these little nuance categories LG has absolutely nailed this phone, and the little pieces of the puzzle make the phone incredibly joyful to use. Every time I pick up the phone I have a smile on my face, something that is all too often a feeling I don't have as a reviewer of technology, which can often times be frustrating or annoying to use. What I'm seeing here from LG really is something special, and it's a phone that's very likely to make it to the top of the list of all phones released this year and stay there for some time to come. Stay peeled for our first impressions video with this pre-production unit, and of course once that final retail unit lands on our doorstep we'll be sure to drop the full review.