Can LG take on the Galaxy S7 with a metal design, dual-cameras and an accessory slot? Here's our first LG G5 review, focusing on LG G5 design and build, LG G5 specs, LG G5 cameras and LG G5 software and apps.
The LG G5 is one of the most radical phones to come along in a while and we’re glad the firm has shaken things up with the modular design. The G5 is innovative and interesting with unique features but it’s a shame the design and build feels unfinished in areas. It’s a top-notch device which can hold its own with the best phones in performance and cameras, but it’s LG’s modular design which is the real selling point here. There is bags of potential but the future of this is unclear so it’s hard to be definite right now. The G5 is one of the best phones around but for completely different reasons to the Galaxy S7.
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Alongside the Galaxy S7, the LG G5 is one of the biggest phones (not literally) to launch in 2016 – and we’re not just talking in the Android world. It’s one of the heavyweights and LG will be looking to set the market alight with the G5’s alternative and innovative modular design.
It’s a tough world out there for smartphone makers and LG has taken the bold decision to shake things up with the G5. Far from being a new version of the LG G4, the phone is different in a lot of ways. We’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with the G5 at LG’s launch event in Barcelona so here are our initial thoughts. You can find all the important details in our piece: LG G5 release date, price, specs and features.
However, that initial price had been bumped up to £529 which is in-line with
Amazon but the retail giant has already dropped it to £499. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
This makes the LG G5 one of the cheapest flagship phones on the market with the Galaxy S7 priced at £569. Also see:Samsung Galaxy S7 vs LG G5.
LG G5 review: Design and build
It’s great to see LG doing something different with the design of the G5 – it’s easy to follow a formula but the firm has effectively ripped up the blueprints for its flagship phone and gone back to the drawing board. Brand recognition is important but over the course of years, devices can become a bit boring and too similar if the same design is simply tweaked each time.
It seems the battle to make the thinnest and lightest phone on the market may have ended. The big names seem more bothered about features than simply the race to nothing and we’re all for it. The LG G5 is an average 7.7mm in thickness and 159g in weight.
The phone fits well in the hand but the small groove, which runs around the edge, is a little sharp which makes things uncomfortable which is a shame. The phone has a much more pleasing shape compared to its predecessor. The front looks more stylish and we like the way the glass curves away at the top. The G5 is available in Titan Grey, Silver, Gold and Pink.
Due to the large camera module on the back, which does stick out a little but not as much as we feared, LG has had to say goodbye to the RearKey. The volume buttons are now on the side as is traditional, while the power button remains on the back as is combined into the fingerprint scanner.
A uni-body metal build?
Since announcing the phone there’s been some controversy about the metal build of the G5. In this teardown video on YouTube,
JerryRigEverything takes to the back with a blade to show what looks like a layer of plastic with an aluminium layer underneath. That’s not the kind of metal uni-body which we were all expecting.
LG has commented on the video directly with Ken Hong, senior director of global communications at LG stating: “What you’re seeing there is primer, not a plastic cover. As you know, primer is used to get paint to bond to aluminum, which is what we used for the G5’s body.”
He goes onto explain that LG has used an aluminium alloy LM201b (patent pending) in order to integrate the antenna bands so you can’t feel them and keep weight down. The process means tiny particles of metal are infused in the coating and bonded to the aluminium.
The bottom line is that the back of the G5 is essentially metallic paint rather than solid metal and while we can understand what LG is trying to do here – a “smooth, seamless metal finish that’s durable and lightweight” – but it results in a different feeling to the touch. The phone doesn’t instinctively feel metal like, say, the HTC One M9.
More worrying than the texture is how durable this makes the device. Of course metal can scratch but this paint method is more likely to show up marks, dinks and potentially gouged.
The frame around the edge is solid metal and feels great, however, the shiny pin stripe around the edge stops twice on the top of the phone which is odd and looks unfinished. It’s also slightly sharp which seems unnecessary and the overall look would be improved if it simply wasn’t there.
Fans of Samsung are delighted to see waterproofing back on the Galaxy S7 and while LG hasn’t gone down this route, it’s done something more unique.
The modular design of the LG G5 isn’t like Project Ara or the Fairphone 2, you can’t replace or upgrade individual parts. Instead the chin of the phone is removable which, for starters, gives access to the battery (something which isn’t a feature of the S7). It also means you can add modules should you want to buy them separately.
These modules are called ‘LG Friends’ and the main one is a clip on battery pack which adds some photography controls called the Cam Plus which is the cheapest at £69. Audiophiles fans will be tempted by the Hi-Fi Plus from B&O which is a DAC (digital to analogue converter) – it costs a bit more at £149.
Not all the LG Friends plug directly into the slot at the bottom, though. There’s the 360 Cam for, er, 360 degree photos and videos and the 360 VR headset, too. These are the more expensive accessories at £199 each and it’s worth noting that you can get equivalents for the Galaxy S7.
Note: Sadly we’ve been unable to test any of the modules properly yet but hope to soon. Since these are quite important, we’ll update the review once we do. There’s certainly potential but the future of the G5 and its modules (LG or third party) is unclear so it makes it difficult to come to a conclusion on this element. Hopefully developers get on-board and make some interesting accessories.
The LG G5 features a 5.3in screen, which is smaller than the previous two models. We’re pleased to report that LG has stuck with the Quad HD resolution which it initially led the way in the market with the G3, instead of bumping things to unnecessary 4K territory. A pixel density of 554ppi is plenty for us and we’ve got no major complaints about the screen.
That said, compared side-by-side with the Galaxy S7 and
iPhone 6S, the LG G5 offers a dimmer experience with poorer viewing angles and colours are also less vibrant and contrast isn’t as impressive. While the SuperAMOLED screen on the S7 might have colours which pop too much, Samsung offers different modes. There’s no such option on the G5 and it’s slightly sub-par compared to the competition. The stage we’re at with smartphones means we have to get a little pedantic on the details to highlight how they stack up.
Although the brightness isn’t the best at full whack, make sure it’s in auto mode when you need it to be higher as it can push it further than when in manual mode.
Always on screen
Like the Galaxy S7, the LG G5 has an always on screen but it’s not the same experience. Neither has got it right if you ask us with each getting it right and wrong in different ways.
On the G5 there’s far less control so you can only choose between displaying the time or your signature (along with the date) with no choice of fonts or styles. However, it shows more notifications – not just calls and texts – and doesn’t ping distractingly around the screen. What it really needs is the ability to control how bright the information is as it’s a little on the dim side so can be difficult to see at times.
Processor and performance
The G5 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor – something which the chipmaker essentially announced on Twitter before the launch. It’s a quad-core chip and has an Adreno 530 GPU all backed up by 4GB of RAM which looks like it will be the standard for many Android flagships this year.
Surprisingly, the Galaxy S7 has the Exynos 8890 in the UK, so we’re in for a good old-fashioned processor-off.
While the LG G5 isn’t technically the fastest in Geekbench 3 it set some impressive numbers on the graphics side of things. The bottom line here is that flagships have long reached a point where performance is more than plentiful and shouldn’t be where you decide between two or more rivals. The G5 is smooth and speedy in operation throughout.
Storage, connectivity and fingerprint scanner
Storage sits at 32GB and LG continues to offer expandable storage with the Micro-SD card slot which supports up to 200GB cards. That’s not as much of a unique selling point now Samsung has added it back to the Galaxy S7.
Connectivity remains a strong point with the G5 offering 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX, Cat 9 4G LTE and GPS. LG still offers NFC and an infrared port which is gone from the S7. The two big additions are a Type-C USB port 9 (which Samsung has avoided) and a fingerprint scanner on the back.
The best position for a fingerprint scanner is debatable but on the back is certainly ergonomic when you’re holding the G5 – not so much when it’s sat on a flat surface, though. What’s impressive is how accurate and fast the sensor is, even when touching it at an awkward angle.
Despite rumours of a 4000mAh battery, the LG G5 has a more modest 2800mAh cell. Although it doesn’t sound great and there’s no wireless charging, the G5 supports Quick Charge 3.0 so you can pump it full of juice in less time – around 80 percent in 30 minutes. The key here, compared to the Galaxy S7, is that it’s removable.
In our battery benchmark, it’s no surprise to find the G5 a little way behind the leading handsets with its smaller cell. It managed a respectable six hour and 51 minutes with a score of 4111, though. The Galaxy S7, however, went more than nine hours.
Back in the real world, the LG G5 lasted comfortably through a day of varied usage for us. It will potentially last a couple of days if you are a light user – we’re talking no gaming or other power hungry tasks like watching videos.
The LG G5 comes with a set of bundled earphones which are terminated by a straight 3.5mm jack. We would have preferred a gold-plated right-angled 3.5mm jack to be included, but this is unlikely for any bundles earphones.
The cable is made out of a fabric material that seems like a nice idea at first, but created cable noise (microphonics) when it’s brushed on clothing. To eliminate the microphonics, you can use the earphones over-the-ear; however if you have a big collar, you might find the Y-split a little too short. Speaking of which, the Y-split presents an in-line mic with a one-button remote. On the plus side the earphones are very light and can be worn for long listening sessions.
The sound quality of the earphones is decent for bundled earphones. We found them to provide a great soundstage, whereas most earphones that come bundled with phones have a closed soundstage. The lows (bass frequencies) of the earphones are a mixed bag. We found the earphones struggling to extend into the sub-bass regions, whilst being able to reproduce a clean, controlled and precise mid-bass impact. The mids are well presented and provide a good forward-sounding presentation, albeit being slightly recessed. The highs are rolled off, but do provide somewhat of a sparkle at the top-end frequencies.
Overall, the bundled earphones are very impressive and we find them a fantastic inclusion to the LG G5’s accessories. Some phones don’t even come with any.
We found the LG G5’s speaker to be very loud and clear, scoring an impressive 8.5/10 in our speaker volume tests. We would have preferred the G5 to come with dual speakers, as it would have been able to compete with the loudness levels found in the
Marshall London or better still the
Google Nexus 6P, both of which have dual front-facing speakers. The LG on the other hand has a single downward-firing speaker which is located on the left-hand side of the phone. We should mention that at maximum volume, we noticed vibrations that could be felt through the phone’s metal body; thankfully there were no signs of distortion.
Moving on to the sound quality, we found the bass to be somewhat disappointing, with the sub-bass being non-existent and the mid-bass lacking real impact. On the plus side, we were impressed by its mid-range reproduction, which was forwarding-sounding. The highs are rolled off, but do provide a decent sparkle at the top-end frequencies.
We found the soundstage to be slightly odd, with the culprit being the decay heard within the speaker’s chamber. We felt the sound had an odd percussion which resulted in the sound being somewhat different from the other speakers we’ve previously reviewed.
The LG G5 uses Qualcomm’s WSA8815 Audio Codec, through the use of the SoC (system on chip) Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, which enables it to playback 24-bit audio files. Unfortunately, we found the G5’s internal audio quality to be mediocre at best, with its soundstage particularly disappointing for a flagship phone.
The LG G5 also needed a lot of power to be able to drive low impedance earphones and headphones. We performed our tests at 85-90 percent volume, where in comparison the
Samsung Galaxy S6 which managed to output the same volume at only 55-60 percent.
We found the placement of its audio jack slightly odd, with it being placed on right-hand side of the phone, whilst being at the very edge of the phone’s casing.
We also tested the LG G5 through an amplifier, which tests the interference and internal audio capabilities of the internal audio chipset whilst having its signal boosted. These tests would apply if you are plugging-in your phone to your car, which acts as an amplifier.
Through our tests, we found the LG G5 to be a huge step-up over the
LG G3 (we didn’t test the audio capabilities of the LG G4), which suffered a lot of internal interference problems. The G5 on the other hand only had a small static pop sound when unlocked past the lockscreen. We should also note that this small static pop was also audible without an amplifier connected to its 3.5mm jack.
Moving on to the sound quality, we felt the overall sound signature was good, but due to its closed soundstage, found it to negatively affect the sound presentation on the G5.
The lows (bass) are slightly cut-off in the sub-bass regions, where we would have liked to hear a little more extension in the low-end frequencies. The mid-bass is a little soft on impact and isn’t controlled, which makes the mid-bass sound a little tamed. On the plus side, we found the mid-bass to have the right quantity of bass, where it didn’t over-power the mids.
Speaking of mids, we found them to be accurately reproduced and really provided the highlight of the G5’s sound quality. We were impressed by its forward-sounding mids and the way they were presented.
The highs on the other hand didn’t extend that well, but did have a nice sparkle to them, adding life to music.
As mentioned above, we found the soundstage to be the G5’s greatest weakness, where it was closed-sounding and lacked room to breathe. The instrument separation could have also been a little improved. However, we did find it to have good width, depth and positioning.
LG G5 review: Cameras
Most of the G5’s specifications were predictable but the dual-camera setup is not something we’d have put money on. But unlike other phones with two cameras, the G5 is completely different. One is 16Mp with a regular field of view while the second 8Mp shooter has a wide-angle 135 degree lens so you can fit more into the photo – much like an action camera. At the front things remain at a decent 8Mp with the ability to record 1080p video – just like the G4. The rear pair have optical image stabilisation (OIS) and laser auto focus, also like the G4.
Once again LG provides a compelling experience on the photography front with a decent camera app which launches quickly and offers plenty of modes and features to get creative with.
It’s quick and easy to switch between the two cameras and you can even combine them with the Popout mode which allows you to add or even stack effects such as lens blur and vignette. Multi-view can combine two, or all three cameras for something quite unique and there’s a Manual mode if you want to get stuck in with controls such as ISO, shutter speed and white balance.
Photos from the wide-angle camera are hardly brimming with detail (this is as much a factor of the lens as the sensor) but exhibit good contrast and colour. You won’t want to zoom in and crop photos but they’re perfectly good for sharing online as they are, and wide-angle is the whole point, after all. The 16Mp main camera is an excellent all rounder providing great results in natural light and low light indoors. Overall, the G5 is up there with the best smartphone cameras around and the narrow-and-wide setup is unique. You can see how it compares to the Galaxy S7, Huawei P9, iPhone 6S, HTC 10 and other phones in our best phone camera roundup.
For some reason, the G5 reverses photos when you take a selfie – presumably because it thinks you want to see yourself as you do in the mirror. In any case, selfies are a little washed out and soft at the edges:
Both rear cameras can shoot video, and both have stabilisation and support recording at 4K. The only box left unchecked is 1080p at 60fps, which is frustrating if that’s your preferred mode.
Here’s a 4K clip from the main camera:
And another from the wide-angle camera.
LG G5 review: Software and apps
As you would expect, the LG G5 comes pre-loaded with Android 6.0 Marshmallow which is the latest version of the mobile OS and also LG’s own UX 5.0 UI.
There’s not a great deal to say about it with most things generally how they were before. However, LG has committed an Android crime which normally only Chinese manufacturers do. The firm has removed the app menu/tray so all your app icons now sit on the homescreen panels like iOS. Why, LG? Why? You can get it back by switching to the EasyHome layout but we don’t want to have to do that so we suggest getting the Google Now launcher if you share our desire for the app menu.
Update May 2016: LG is bringing back the app draw via an OTA (over the air) software update due to ‘popular demand’. However, rather than overwriting the current interface, it will be available as ‘Home & app drawer’ in the G5’s home settings. The firmware also brings a burst mode to Cam Plus owners.
LG has gone with a light coloured interface with a mint green accent colour throughout with lots of Material Design. It would be nice to be able to customise this, though. What you can do is get different themes from the LG SmartWorld store. Features which we’ve become accustomed to over the years are still around such as being able to double tap to switch the display on and off.
Smart Bulletin, which debuted on the G4, is still part of the UX but it’s switched off by default so you’ll need to head into the settings if you want it active. We’d suggest trying it out if you haven’t used it before.
While recent apps is the stock Android card style, other elements of the users interface are LG’s own way of doing things. For example, the settings menu is split into four tabs. We like the drop down notification bar, which can be customised so you can make sure the things you need the most often are front, and centre.
It’s also handy to be able to personalise things which you can’t on other devices such as the navigation buttons. LG lets you, change the colour, rearrange them but also add other buttons such as one to open and close the notification bar down so you don’t have to stretch for it every time.
LG has kept things light on pre-installed apps with just the usual Google selection, some LG apps such as QuickRemote and QuickMemo+, plus the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Evernote. Inside the Management are some handy apps which helps you keep on top of things like battery, memory and storage.
There’s no ability to display two apps at once which is a shame. Instead LG offers Qslide which means certain apps, such as calendar and calculator, can be used in a floating style with a transparency slider.
LG G5: Specs
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
5.3in Quad HD IPS (1440×2560)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
Micro-SD card slot (up to 200GB)
Dual-rear cameras 16/8Mp with OIS and laser auto focus
Tech Advisor's Reviews Editor, Chris has been reviewing all kinds of tech for over 10 years and specialises in audio. He also covers a range of topics including home entertainment, phones, laptops, tablets and more.