LG G5 Review: Innovative but in need of refinement
The LG G5 offers features you won’t find on any other Android phone, along with a few quirks that need ironing out for what is meant to be a premium device.
Of all the phone manufacturers in the premium space, LG has arguably made the biggest changes to its flagship line in 2016. Gone is the rounded back of the LG G4, as is the leather look and feel. Instead, it has opted for a modular approach that sees not only the battery but the entire bottom section of the G5 removable so that add-on "friends" modules can be utilised. It’s a bold new step for the South Korean phone maker, but is it one that pays off?
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 820|
|Resolution||2560 x 1440|
Upsides: Why you’d want the LG G5
- Modular design: Looking at competitor devices such as the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, it’s easy to see how they represent evolutions of the older premium devices those manufacturers sold. The LG G5 is something new, with a stripped-down, modular design. The first time you pull out the battery from the bottom of the phone, prepare for people’s eyes to boggle out as though you’ve just disembowelled the phone itself.
- Solid performance: The LG G5 is based around Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, which should put it neck and neck with the HTC 10 and the international version of the Samsung Galaxy S7 (we get the Exynos S7 locally). The difference in performance between the G5 and HTC 10 is quite remarkable in benchmark terms. Here’s how the LG G5 stacks up against competitor handsets using Geekbench 3’s phone benchmark:
Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better) Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2169 6446 Samsung Galaxy S7 2156 6240 LG G5 2305 5243 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 1492 4893 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge 1324 4626 Google Nexus 6P 1251 4597 Samsung Galaxy S6 1347 4569 Apple iPhone SE 2538 4455 Apple iPhone 6S 2540 4410 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 2491 4391 HTC 10 1942 4191 Sony Xperia Z5 1358 4134 LG G4 1190 3313 Google Nexus 5X 1188 3198
And here’s how the top handsets compare using 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result LG G5 29597 Apple iPhone SE 29276 Samsung Galaxy S7 28903 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402 Apple iPhone 6s 28171 HTC 10 27392 Google Nexus 6P 24703 Sony Xperia Z5 19197 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus 17981
Benchmarks never tell the entire story, but even anecdotally the LG G5 impresses with slick response and a generally easy-to-use UI. It’s not quite as clean as a Nexus device if you like your Android experiences stripped down, but it’s fairly close.
- Camera choice: Every vendor wants you to believe that their camera module wipes its backside with the inferior sensors of its competitors. The reality in the premium space is that there’s often not that much between them if you’re shooting in full automatic mode, and if you do go manual you can create some great shots with most cameras. LG has done something decidedly different with the LG G5, however, opting for a straight lens as well as a wide angle lens. Shifting between the two is as simple as a tap on the screen, but doing so does open up a wide variety of photographic possibilities that other phones can’t quite match. We don’t imagine LG will hold this space for long, but while it does, it’s the camera to beat.
- USB 3 connectivity: Like the HTC 10 and Nexus 6P, the LG G5 uses the newer USB 3.0 connector at its base, which means you can’t plug the connector in the "wrong way". It supports fast charging with its supplied charger, and if you’re the type that sends data over a cable, that should be quicker too.
- Good battery life: The LG G5’s battery is removable, and you can buy an external charger for a spare battery as well if you’re travelling constantly. That being said, the LG G5’s battery life was surprisingly solid; we somewhat expected the LG G5 to fall in the mid-range pack, because that’s where the HTC 10 did, and both share the same power-hungry Snapdragon 820 processor. The LG G5, however, appears to sip at the battery a little more conservatively than the HTC 10. Here’s how it compared against a range of other devices using Geekbench’s battery test with screen dimming enabled:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150 Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 9:18:00 5580 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 8:24:10 5041 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681 LG G5 7:36:10 4561 Alcatel Go Play 7:21:10 2941 Google Nexus 5X 7:14:20 4062 HTC 10 6:54:30 4145 Samsung Galaxy S6 6:51:30 4115 Google Nexus 6P 6:39:20 3754 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 5:42:00 2276 Sony Xperia Z5 5:41:30 3414 LG G4 5:27:50 3224 BlackBerry PRIV 5:25:40 3256 Huawei P8 Lite 4:39:40 2768 Apple iPhone SE 4:27:10 2671 Apple iPhone 6s 3:52:10 2321
- Modular design opens up lots of possibilities: The real party piece of the LG G5 is the "Friends" ecosystem that incorporates, amongst others, a high end audio module, camera grip, 360 degree camera, VR headset and rolling robot accessory. The idea of buying one phone and extending it with specifically designed, app driven accessories is a very clever one, because it potentially gives the G5 more than just a year’s shelf life, therefore extending its value to the customer.
Downsides: Why you might not want the LG G5
- Doesn’t entirely feel premium: Premium handsets demand premium pricing for premium designs, and while that’s a little repetitive, it’s also true. The LG G5’s design is smooth and simple, but it lacks the wow factor of designs such as the HTC 10, iPhone 6s or Samsung Galaxy S7
- Removing the battery bay is a chore: Swapping the battery bay out for the camera grip showed us that it worked, but also that it wouldn’t be something we’d want to do multiple times a day.
- Camera colour calibration can be odd: The LG G5’s two cameras mostly performed well, and we appreciated the flexibility of twin lenses. However, we did notice when switching between fixed and wide angle lenses that the LG’s own colour calibration often changed remarkably, especially when going from fixed to wide camera. Undeniably it’s capturing a wider scene and interpreting it accordingly, but on full auto (which is what we suspect most smartphone shooters use) it can leave you with some odd colour tints in photos.
- Camera delay: It’s unavoidable, because you’re not just switching to a simulated "wide" effect, but a full separate lens, but there’s a second or two delay between the two cameras. If you’re shooting something fast and work out you need wide or fixed lenses, you’re going to miss some of the action.
- Not all Friends are made equal: LG supplied us with the LG 360 Cam, Cam Grip and LG VR headset for review. The Cam Grip is a nice enough battery pack and fixed camera button that mostly works well once you get it snapped into place, but at $129.95, it’s a pricey prospect for what is just a slight battery addition and a button. The 360 Cam works well for capturing 360 degree pictures, and it seems that every vendor figures this is the must-have accessory for 2016, but again that’s a photographic choice, and one you’ll be stung for $399 for. The VR headset is... well, it’s lousy, and that’s putting it kindly. It is nice and light compared to the Samsung Gear VR, but the sense of immersion is nearly always shattered by the fact that way too much outside light gets in the way while you’re wearing it, and it’s especially poorly suited for those who wear glasses. The rolling robot is a neat gimmick, but we can’t quite see the justification in asking $399 for. Essentially, while there’s a lot of scope in the "Friends" ecosystem, at launch only around half the devices are particularly handy, and few are aggressively priced to sell.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
LG’s really put itself out there with the G5, producing what’s easily the most fascinating smartphone of 2016 to date, simply because it’s the most ambitious redesign of a flagship phone from any manufacturer.
That being said, it’s not without its flaws. The design is innovative but lacks that premium polish you might expect, and the Friends ecosystem feels a little underbaked at launch. The latter could well improve, and if you’re a fan of phones with removable batteries it’s well worth consideration.
The $1,099 asking price for the LG G5 means that there’s only a smattering of handsets that officially sell for more; specifically the Samsung Galaxy S7/Edge and most iPhone 6s/6s Plus models, although you can always check for bargains in that space. Within the LG G5’s asking price range you could opt for the HTC 10, Nexus 6P or Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
Where can I get it?
LG is offering the LG G5 outright for $1,099, or if a contract suits you, via Optus and Telstra. One interesting note here is that the discounts on contract are quite considerable compared to other premium handsets, so there are some solid bargains to be had that way if you’re happy with a two year contract.