When LG introduced their latest G smartphone, the LG G5, it was not just the handset that LG introduced. In fact, one of the big marketing points with the G5 was that it is fun. As you might expect, fun is more fun when friends are involved and therefore along with the LG G5, came the 'G5’s friends'. In more simple terms, LG announced a number of new accessories that are being sold alongside the handset and ones which adopt modular traits. While not truly modular in nature, they are swappable aspects which look to improve specific functionality. One of those modules was the LG CAM Plus, a friend which looks to improve the camera functionality and usability on the G5. A friend which is currently priced through LG at $69.99.
To sum up what is on offer here, the LG Cam Plus comes equipped with an additional grip which is designed to offer increased comfort when taking images and generally using the G5’s camera. There are also a number of physical buttons provided on the actual grip which include an on/off button, as well as buttons for taking an image, video recording and autofocus (by half-pressing the 'take an image' key. There is also a scroll wheel which adjusts the zoom. While the CAM Plus also comes with a built-in 1,200 mAh capacity battery. In terms of the physical dimensions the LG CAM Plus measures 2.91-inches x 2.42-inches x 0.63-inches and weighs in at 1.95 oz. LG lists the CAM Plus as compatible with Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular, & T-Mobile in the US and the one we are testing was kindly provided by Verizon Wireless.
Hardware & Design
The first thing to note about the design of the CAM Plus is that while this is designed to be a module, this definitely feels more like an accessory than a swappable item. This is largely due to the sudden size differential that is in place when the CAM Plus is attached. While the CAM Plus is designed to offer an increased level of grip, what is far more noticeable is the increased weight and depth which is added to the phone. Although, due to the placement of the CAM Plus, the weight is only added to the bottom portion of the G5, which does mean that the whole phone immediately feels too lopsided Therefore, you are always very acutely aware that the CAM Plus is attached and very acutely aware that this is an accessory, in contrast to a module.
Which leads to the next issue of sorts. With such a prevalent awareness of the CAM Plus when attached, it would be expected that G5 owners are likely to want to keep swapping the CAM Plus for the standard G5 base. If you need a better grip for an event, then swap in the CAM Plus and then when using the G5 for more daily use, swap in the G5 base. While this is certainly the intention from LG, this is easier said than done. For a unit which is swappable, swapping the G5 base for the CAM Plus is quite an awkward and difficult task to do and this is due to the CAM Plus requiring the G5’s battery to be swapped as well. In spite of the CAM Plus coming equipped with its own battery, this is a battery which only looks to provide additional battery life and to presumably stop the CAM Plus from draining the G5's battery. It is not a battery which in any way can power the actual handset and swapping the battery from the G5 base to the CAM Plus does require what feels like an unnecessary level of force. A level which constantly feels as though you are about to snap the connections inside. Whether this is an initial issue and one which will ‘break in’ after time (resulting in an easier ability to swap the elements) certainly remains to be seen. Either way, during testing, this was far harder and more difficult than it should be and certainly harder than you would expect from a unit which is designed for easy usage. In fact, you would certainly be forgiven for either deciding to leave whichever base you currently have on the G5 in place (and not bothering to swap as routinely as you would like) or of course, buying an additional G5 battery and just swapping the unit as a whole each time. While either option is fine, they both do go slightly against the grain of what the purpose of this unit is supposed to be.
Moving on to the actual unit and the CAM Plus comes loaded with what is essentially a camera grip. This is a large surface area which extrudes out at the base of the phone. In principle, this is designed to give you additional surface area to grip and steady a shot before taking. At a very basic level, this does do what it sets out to. It is certainly easier to hold the grip side of the G5 with the CAM Plus attached, than it would be with the standard G5 base attached. Especially, considering the G5 base is rather smooth due to that brushed aluminum finish. However, whether it adds enough additional grip to justify the additional price (or weight and depth) is going to be largely subjective. This is not really as effective as it could be and does feel slightly gimmicky in this respect. It is a solution to an issue of the G5 being thin, but not really the most effective solution.
The CAM Plus also comes with a textured back (or front, depending on which way you look at it) and this is again another means of adding grip. Although, the texture is more aesthetic than functional. While the texture is there and you do feel it on touch, it is not one which adds much grip to the handset. In much the same vein as the last criticism, it does what it says it does, but not to a very large, significant or worthwhile degree.
In terms of the button placements, generally speaking much of the CAM Plus remains largely unused, with the right hand side (front of the G5 view) being where the majority of the added features are located. From top to bottom, this is where you will find an LED light (which provides insight to whether the battery is charged or not), the ‘start video’ quick launch key, the ‘take photo’ key, the zoom scroll wheel and a quick launch key for the camera.
Overall, when it comes to the design of the CAM Plus it is difficult to say with any firm degree that this is designed well or not. It is not poorly designed, but it just feels at times to be too much for the little value that it adds. There is no denying that the CAM Plus adds significant weight and size to the G5, as this is its intention. But expecting this in a way that adds value is the trick and due to the awkward way in which the CAM Plus is swapped in and out means it is not as well-designed and certainly not as easy to use as it could have been. It seems unlikely that many will want to carry this accessory around with them as the swapping in and out is just not that fun or fast and this is where the biggest design flaw seems to be. The CAM Plus would literally have been better and easier to use if it was a snap on item and one which did not require the base to be removed at all.
Easily the most useful feature of the CAM Plus is the actual quick launch camera button. This comes in the form of a button which instead of being pressed is more of a switch. This is especially useful in ensuring you do not keep launching the camera by accident. The quick launch switch does work extremely well and certainly saves a couple of seconds compared to using the on screen controls and especially as the switch can be used when the device is in a screen-off mode. However, what seems largely counter-intuitive is that flicking the switch again returns the G5 to the main home screen and not screen-off/sleep mode. This was a very disappointing trait as this somewhat makes the switch a one-route feature. When the G5 is on, flicking the switch effectively adopts the position of the home button, albeit, a switch which is more difficult and slower to use than the actual home button. Therefore, it was felt this would have certainly benefited from being able to turn the phone back off again (into screen-off mode) instead of returning to the main menu. Although it is easy enough to press the rear-side power button to sleep the phone, due to the very purpose of the quick launch camera switch, it seems strange to have it going back to the home screen.
Moving on to the scroll wheel and this is likely to be the next most useful feature, as again, it does do what it sets out to do - adjust the level of zoom. This is again likely to be subjective but personally speaking, the ability to adjust the zoom via the wheel is certainly more useful on a smartphone than making use of a pinch-to-zoom on-screen feature. However, the wheel is not the most responsive or the most sturdy and it is very difficult to gauge how much or how little you are scrolling. Which does mean using the scroll wheel quickly becomes a matter of trial and error. Not to mention, it is a little inconsistent as well. Sometimes the scrolling is fluid and smooth while at other times, it is a little haphazard and jittery. So you do find yourself having to go back and forth far too much with the wheel to get the zoom level right. For a unit which is attempting to offer a more camera-like zooming feature, the scroll wheel while useful, is not fluid enough, responsive enough or measurable enough.
Of course, it should be made clear that one of the largely unspoken features of the CAM Plus is that it comes equipped with what is essentially a power bank included, although it does not actually act as a power bank. With the CAM Plus attached you are gaining an additional 1,200 mAh capacity on top of the G5’s 2,800 mAh battery, which a very nice addition when you consider that the grip is there anyway and although the battery does come included without affecting the size of the attachment, the same cannot be said for the weight as the additional mAh is one of the aspects which contributes to the increased weight when attached. In addition, the way in which the power from the CAM Plus is applied is a little confusing. This is a trickle charge sort of bank so it does not provide direct power to your G5 and is more geared towards replenishing the power the G5 may have lost while using the CAM Plus. So the best way to understand the additional battery is that when you use the CAM Plus, it provides a small charge to compensate. Once you use the actual CAM Plus in any way, you will then notice that although the G5 is not plugged in, it states the device is charging for a brief period. Unfortunately, the additional power cannot in any way be used to actually power the G5 and it certainly wont keep the phone alive once the G5 battery is running on empty.
Then there is the issue(s) with charging in general. As the CAM Plus replaces the charge port on the G5, the device overall takes longer to charge when the CAM Plus is attached - as the charge port charges the phone’s internal battery as well as the actual CAM Plus in the one sitting. So while you can charge the G5 until it is full and then simply unplug the phone from charging, it did seem to be clear that you cannot charge the CAM Plus without charging the G5 first. Likewise, you do not seem to be able to just charge the CAM Plus (when it is not connected to the G5) which was another disappointing aspect. The CAM Plus does seem to need to be connected to the G5 in order to be charged. It also seems to disable any quick charging capabilities as the charge port on the CAM Plus is the primary charge slot when attached and not the actual G5 quick charge-enabled port. So you are looking at a slower charge rate when using the CAM Plus in all respects.
There is also an app available specifically for the CAM Plus. However, in reality and compared to what the app could have offered, this is largely a non-functional app. It seems the only purpose of the app is to be able to provide updates to the CAM Plus. So after downloading and installing the app, if the CAM Plus is up to date, the app is largely useless.
The LG CAM Plus is one of those strange accessories that has come through of late and at the moment feels more like a proof of concept accessory than a worthwhile one. This is certainly not a compulsory purchase, as what it does offer it does not offer at enough of a degree to justify its use. The zoom wheel and quick camera launch functionality do feel like the best features on offer here and neither are particularly needed features. Especially considering the scroll wheel is not the most usable at the best of times. The actual grip does add better handling to the phone but only when using the phone with two hands and this coupled with the positioning of the capture key does mean that taking photos is easier. Not phenomenally easier, but easier nonetheless. Although, the grip does come at the expense of the weight and size of the handset. If you're someone who is not too keen on a bulky smartphone, then the CAM Plus is unable to escape its bulky nature. You will feel this is your pocket and you will be extremely hard-pressed to find a case that fits the G5 with the CAM Plus attached. Of course, as this is a swappable element, you can just swap to the CAM Plus when needed. Although, with swapping being a little harder than you might expect, it is debatable how often you will actually want to swap the CAM Plus in or out.