The smartphone world is a cut-throat space. While lesser phones squabble over features and price, flagships must stand apart and give people a compelling reason for choosing them. Apple’s iPhones stand out by offering a unique platform, Samsung offers a best-in-class camera and gorgeous design with its S7 Edge and HTC makes do with stylish design.
Where does LG’s G5 fit in? It’s certainly got the makings of a flagship, offering powerful hardware, a dual-camera setup and a “modular” design. But is that enough? Let’s find out.
Design and build: 6/10
Right off the bat, we can see a glaring flaw in LG’s claim to the flagship club. The phone just doesn’t look or feel the part. LG has gone to great lengths to explain that the body is actually all-metal and that it uses die-cast metal that’s coated in primer and paint infused with metal particles. Whatever the case, the body just doesn’t feel as rich as flagships like the S7 Edge or iPhone 6S.
Using LG’s own analogy, a car is made of metal and then coated in paint, same as the G5, but if you take a Bentley and coat it with oil paints, it’s not going to look that nice.
We’re not arguing with the durability of the product itself. It certainly feels very solid and there’s no flexing as with plastic-bodied phones. The problem is with the feel of the device, however subjective that may be, and with the fit and finish of the panels. The metal insert that separates the back panel from the bezel makes for a sharp edge for example. Even the SIM card tray doesn’t sit flush on the side of the device and is slightly depressed. You won’t cut yourself on it of course, but it’s at odds with the seemingly premium nature of the device.
The base of the device can be pulled out, to aid in modularity, but the mechanism of doing that is very, for lack of a better word, inelegant. You have to press down hard on a very hard-to-press button and then tug forcefully at the base. The battery is then mounted on a mount that feels very flimsy and which doesn’t lend much confidence in the design.
When the modular nature of your phone is its USP, one would expect more thought to be put into the design. The current mechanism could have been forgiven on a lesser phone, but not on one that sells for upwards of Rs 50,000. The mechanism should have been slick, assured and intuitive, not temperamental and clunky.
If you can move past the fit and finish, and for some obscure reason you actually like the feel of the device, everything else is quite nice. The screen feels really smooth and the gentle curve at the top is a nice touch. The front indicator LED is unobtrusively nestled under the glass, as does the front camera. The rear camera and fingerprint scanner that doubles as a power switch do bulge out a bit, but not much. The bulge also makes it very easy to access the fingerprint scanner.
As far as specifications and features are concerned, the LG G5 is packed to the gills. A gorgeous 5.3-inch IPS LCD with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 (554 ppi) graces the front of the device. Under the hood, you’ll find Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM. The 32GB of internal storage comes as standard, but you can upgrade it up to 200GB via a microSD card.
On the camera front, you get a dual-camera setup on the rear (16MP + 8MP) and an 8MP front camera. We’ll go into more details about the camera in the camera section of this review and they’re definitely worth talking about.
The rest of the features are as you would expect from any flagship these days. You get support for WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, fingerprint scanner, GPS and FM radio. You also get the usual assortment of sensors in the form of an accelerometer, compass, barometer and so on.
Setting the LG G5 apart from just about every other phone on the market today is its “modular” design. The idea is that you can rip out the bottom of the device and switch it out with a module of your choice. There’s a camera module that adds better camera controls and aids grip, another adds a higher capacity battery, another improves the audio quality and so on.
Sadly, LG didn’t send us any of the modules for testing so we can’t comment on the feasibility or functionality of said modules. They’ve also got an intelligent backlight system that enables an always-on display even on an IPS panel.
The LG G5’s display is almost perfect. It’s a 2K IPS LCD display, but you’ll readily confuse it for an AMOLED one because you won’t notice any backlight bleed and the contrast ratio is spot on. The display also comes with an always on feature, something that’s normally been relegated to AMOLED displays.
Normally, an LCD screen needs to be fully backlit even when you need just a portion of the screen, this is a significant drain on the battery. LG has managed to work around this with some clever engineering. They’ve adapted the backlight to focus on the centre of the screen when the display is off, minimizing power loss. Aiding this is a separate IC and power unit for the always-on mode. LG claims that this will only drain around 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent battery life per hour. It’s very well done and if we didn’t know about this ourselves, we’d have placed our bets on the G5 carrying an AMOLED display.
One slight issue with the display is that it’s not very good in direct sunlight. Side-by-side with an iPhone 6 Plus, the G5’s display is almost unreadable in bright light. But that’s the only real niggle we can find in an otherwise amazing display unit.
There’s nothing truly significant on the software front. The G5 is based on Android 6.0.1 and there’s an LG UI on top of that. However, it’s really just there for the sake of it and doesn’t interfere too much with stock Android.
You get a choice of homescreens, one that’s similar to Google Now, one that dumps the app drawer for a more Apple-like approach to apps and one that attempts to simplify the whole UI. There is some amount of bloatware in the form of LG’s own apps that you can’t remove, but you do get 32GB of storage and it’s easy to just dump them in a folder and ignore them.
Personally, I found the modification to the quick settings and notification panel to be very irritating. When you swipe down, the quick panel and notifications slide down together. The problem with this is that if you just want to see your notifications, especially when you receive a large number of them, the quick settings panel takes up almost half the screen space. I prefer Android’s default two-step process.
Other than that, there’s nothing to really complain about. Everything’s fast and zippy and there’s not even a hint of lag to be found.
Whatever else you might say about the LG G5, it’s an exceptionally powerful device. We’ve only tested one Snapdragon 820 powered device earlier, the Xiaomi Mi 5. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge that we tested was the Indian variant with an equally capable Exynos 8890 chip and these have been the most powerful phones that we’ve ever tested.
The LG G5 gives both those phones a run for their money. The S7 Edge sneaks ahead in our Quadrant and GeekBench 3 multi-core benchmarks and the Mi 5 manages a higher score in PCMark for Android, but in every other department, they’re soundly thrashed by the G5.
The camera setup on the LG G5 is an interesting one. To get it out of the way, the front camera is an 8MP unit that’s fairly decent at what it does. The real star of the show is the dual-camera setup on the rear of the device.
The rear camera setup consists of a 16MP f/1.8 regular camera as well as an 8MP f/2.4 fish-eye lens toting unit. LG says that the second rear camera is a wide-angle lens, but it’s not. It’s a fish-eye lens.
Hint: Wide-angle lenses have a wide field of view, but horizontal lines remain horizontal. Fish-eye lenses distort images in a circular pattern.
When it comes to image quality, the 16MP unit churns out some impressive images in any lighting. There is visible noise in very low light, but it handles indoor lighting quite well. Images in daylight do seem a bit oversaturated though.
The wide-angle lens is a lot of fun to use, especially if you’re looking for creative shots, but it’s smaller aperture means that it’s not as good in low light and there’s a marked increase in noise. You’ll also have to be wary of camera shake as the shutter speed will be slower in low light.
The camera software is simple and intuitive to use and offers an effective manual mode that lets you take complete control over the camera.
Video recording was quite good. Videos turned out to be quite stable, though not as stable as those from an iPhone 6 Plus, and it’s nice to have the option to switch between wide-angle and the regular lens on the fly.
Battery Life: 6.5/10
Our standard battery benchmark pegged the LG G5’s battery at 7 hours. This is a fair score for a 2,800mAh battery on Android, but disappointing for a flagship device.
With my use, which involves at least two hours of browsing on LTE, some videos on YouTube, an hour or so of music, a tonne of email and WhatsApp and a handful of calls, the phone just couldn’t get me through a day without a recharge in-between.
To put things in perspective, my daily driver, an iPhone 6 Plus, gets me through all of that with 20 percent battery to spare by the time I get home.
The phone does come with a very good fast-charger though. 20 minutes will easily take the battery from zero to 50 percent.
Verdict and price in India
The LG G5 is priced like a true flagship, and on paper, is also built like one. Unfortunately, reality paints a different picture.
The phone holds a lot of promise. It’s rare to find a phone that performs this well and offers so much. If only LG had taken the trouble to really work on the fit and finish of the device and put some more thought into their “primer,” this would have been a real contender for the flagship throne.
With the G5, LG should have abandoned the modular design, integrated the very best audio processor, more camera controls and a better battery into the device from the start, and worked on the design and finish.
The kindest thing I can say for the G5 is that it’s an acquired taste. Don’t buy this phone on an impulse. Try it out first, compare it with the competition and then decide. If you like it, good for you because other than the finish and battery life, there’s nothing really wrong with it.
Tech2 is now on WhatsApp. For all the buzz on the latest tech and science, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Tech2.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.