lg-g5_hands-on_01With this 2016 iteration of their G-Series line of product, LG has taken a somewhat unexpected and refreshing step. LG wants to make things much easier, and more interesting for users. They want to bring back this marvel that was pervasive during the early days of Smartphones. It was when people were eager to try new apps, do new things, find new usages. LG came up with a bold new plan to make this happen, and the LG G5 has already created a discontinuity in the G-Series line.

Key Specifications

  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Processor
  • Display: 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440 / 554ppi)
  • Memory: 4GB LPDDR4 RAM / 32GB UFS ROM / microSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera: Rear: Standard 16MP, Wide 8MP / Front: 8MP
  • Battery: 2,800mAh (removable)
  • OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Size: 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm
  • Weight: 159g
  • Network: LTE / 3G / 2G
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / USB Type-C) / NFC / Bluetooth 4.2
  • Colors: Silver / Titan / Gold / Pink

Industrial Design: beautifully simple

lg-g5_hands-on_07

Simplified design

The idea of making things simpler must first is visible in the LG G5 industrial design. The LG G5 design looks elegantly minimalist. It has a slight curvature on all sides and is very agreeable to hold, thanks to its organic shape. I don’t think that there’s a single flat surface on this phone since even the sides have a gentle curve.

"THE LG G5 DESIGN LOOKS ELEGANTLY MINIMALIST"The LG logo can is found on the bottom/front, and it’s not too invasive. I hope that carriers will exercise restraint with their logos… The good news is that there is little room for more logos.

The camera module is housed in a curved bump in the back, and so is the Power button, which also serves as an always-on fingerprint reader. If you look at the camera module closely, you will see two lenses, and that’s another major change from the G4 and V10 designs. More on that shortly…

Learn moreHow do Fingerprint Scanners Work?

LG has done a spectacular job hiding the antenna slits, those plastic lines visible on the back of iPhones (metal normally blocks radio-waves, so the lines are made of non-metallic material) by a process called Micro-Dizing, which we’d love to hear about in depth. The phone will be available in 4 colors: Silver, Titan (gunmetal), Pink and Gold.

Modular battery compartment

lg-g5_hands-on_18The LG G5 is a rare, if not the only, all-metal smartphone that has a (2800 mAh) removable battery. LG made this work, thanks to an ingenious removable battery module. Upon clicking on a button at the bottom of the phone, the battery will unlock. From there a firm pull will take out the whole battery module.

In general, we found that having a spare battery has the benefit of giving you a 100% charge instantaneously. However, we would highly recommend using a stand-alone charger for the secondary battery because it is a bit cumbersome to swap batteries to charge them both.

This also has the advantage of making sure that in a few years, you can replace the battery if the charging cycle becomes less efficient due to the normal aging of the battery.

More modules to come

As you may have imagined, a battery “module isn’t a battery “trap” in the sense that other modules can be connected, among them: a Camera Grip and a HiFi module. The general concept is: the original battery can be moved by the user from module to module. This does not preclude modules from having a different battery, or even a secondary battery. "3RD PARTY COMPANIES TO CREATE MODULES FOR THE LG G5"

LG has confirmed its intent to let 3rd party companies create modules for the LG G5, and it is working on the SDK right now. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the industry will come up with, and let’s hope that many Kickstarter projects will join as well.

LG has confirmed its intent to let 3rd party companies create modules for the LG G5, and it is working on the SDK right now. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the industry will come up with, and let’s hope that many Kickstarter projects will join as well.

While not mandatory, making the modules compatible with more than one generation of handsets would greatly lengthen their lifespan and overall value. At this time, it’s probably too early to tell. The LG G5 must be a commercial success on its own to become a growth engine for the accessory ecosystem.

LG Cam Plus camera grip module

DSC03590The Cam Plus module turns the LG G5 into a more ergonomic camera. As its name indicates, it adds a grip on the phone, along with 1200 mAh of extra battery capacity. Once turned into a compact camera with this module, the G5 gets physical controls in the form of an analog zoom dial, a camera ON/OFF button, shutter, and video recording buttons. Just like a real camera, a half-press of the shutter button will trigger an autofocus (AF) search.

LG Hi-Fi Plus high-quality DAC and amp module

lg-g5-modules_02LG was promoting this audio module designed in cooperation with Bang and Olufsen (B&O), a top audio company. Introduced with the LG V10, LG’s Hi-Fi has been well received by audiophiles. LG didn’t get too deep into the details of this Hi-Fi module, but we think that it is using the same ESS technology that was in the V10.

We took it for a spin, and with the same B&O H3 headphones, the difference in sound quality with the built-in 3.5mm jack would be very obvious to anyone in my opinion. It makes sense, since it has upscaling capability for regular audio signal, and the built-in amp will help quite a bit.

LG points out that the module can also work as a stand-alone Hi-Fi DAC+amp, in case you want to use it with an iPhone, or a Mac/PC laptop/computer.

Display: optimized for always-on information

lg-g5_hands-on_04

The LG G5 has a 5.3” IPS LCD display (2560×1440) using Quantum Dots, which looks very good, very much like the G4 in terms of image quality, except that the G4 had a 5.5” display. The display is protected by a hardened glass, which is very slightly curved. LG produces the best IPS LCD displays for handsets, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Learn moreWhat is PPI?
Learn moreHigh PPI displays: do you really need them?

LG’s Dr. Woo (VP of Product Planning) has made it clear that displays are “good enough” and implied that further increase of the pixel density would bring diminishing returns. He’s got a very good point, although LG does make excellent AMOLED displays that are a bit superior to the IPS LCD ones in terms of image quality. Therefore, LG has focused on adding something new: Always-on information. "THE AVERAGE USER TURNS A PHONE ON 150 TIMES A DAY"

The idea is simple: many studies has shown that the average user turns a phone ON 150 times a day. That’s mostly to check the time and various notifications. Removing friction from that process would be good. In the past, companies like Motorola have tried waking up the screen when the phone is moved, or turned, with mixed success.

The solution to this is simply to leave the screen ON 24/7, with critical information such as Time, Calendar and more (possibly by 3rd parties too) for the user to glance at whenever it’s convenient. The fact that LG made this work with an LCD display is amazing. OLED displays are easier to deal with because black pixels don’t consume any power. On an LCD, a backlight is required, even if the screen is mostly blacked out.

The LG G5 always-on information brightness is not as bright as the Galaxy S7’s, so in an outdoor setting, things can be difficult to read. Otherwise, it’s very nice to have access to time and have some idea about what notifications just rang.

lg-g5_hands-on_28It may sound crazy to leave an LCD back panel ON 24/7, but LG has found a way to build a backlight and tweak the internal panel reflection/diffusion in a way that is extremely power-efficient for this mode. As a result, LG says that leaving the screen ON at all times only requires 0.8% of the 2800 mAh battery: impressive. It’s a skill that was learned while building always-on IPS displays for smartwatches.

The final piece required for leaving the screen ON 24/7 is to have a video controller that is independent of the main processor (SoC). LG had partially learned how to do this by separating some of the display controller from the SoC in the LG G3.

LG Also points out that LCD displays don’t suffer from burnout as much as OLED displays. In reality, I don’t think it’s a real concern either way: I have yet to see a bad case of burn-in on an OLED phone. Secondly, it’s possible to automatically move content just by a few pixels to spread out any burn-in effect and avoid them from becoming visible.

Software

Simplified UX Design

lg-g5_hands-on_25Continuing in its “simplified” mantra, LG has changed the look of the home page, the main piece of UI which is exposed to users hundreds of times a day. From now on, every app that you download will land on the home page. The LG G5 will not have an “App drawer”, which is the separated “app section” that has existed in all versions of Android.

OpinionWhy do Phone Makers Create Custom Android Skins?

LG may also be anticipating an upcoming removal of the App Drawer by Google itself, which is said to doubt the usefulness of this particular feature. Huawei and LG are removing support for it in their handsets. Who will be next?

Most power-users don’t mind the App Drawer, but it can be confusing for the novice, or for users coming from the iPhone. It’s arguably an odd concept to start with, but LG’s research indicates having a single place or apps is beneficial to users. I have to say that I agree: after weeks of use, this works perfectly (for me).

Since most people have few apps, in the order of 15+preloaded ones, it shouldn’t matter to them. Not having a drawer also simplifies the removal (uninstall) of apps, which done by removing them from the main screen.

LG Friends Manager

In the same vein, LG has created a new app called LG Friends Manager to help people setup/configure various accessories and companion devices. Friends Manager will take care of setting up the WiFi network on remote devices; it will download the proper apps automatically, etc…

LG said that some of its companion devices would work with non-LG handsets, but without LG Friends Manager, more setup work will be required. Simplicity is an advantage that LG intends to leverage, without closing the opportunity to sell to the widest possible customer base. It is a pragmatic move that has no downsides.

The G5 gets two cameras (in the back)

lg-g5_hands-on_02We named the LG V10 one of the best phone camera on the market, and the good news is that the LG G5 features the same 16 Megapixel camera hardware. It may be surprising that LG didn’t announce the usual upgrades such as better optics, larger sensor, etc… but LG has decided to change its strategy.

LG’s pitch is that cameras are good enough, so incremental progress on the usual metrics isn’t adding as much value to the user. Instead, LG has added a second 8 Megapixel rear camera module which features a wide 135 Degrees lens. To give you an idea, this is almost twice the field of view of a conventional 70-75 Degrees lens that most handsets have.

The wide-angle lens is great to shoot outdoor scenes, concerts and any other photos where you would like to see as much as possible. Today, people can use a partial Panorama shot to do that, but it’s not practical if the scene is dynamic for example. Being able to capture a single-shot wide angle photo brings tremendous benefits.

lg-g5-photo-samples_006

But why 8 Megapixel? LG says that people who snap wide shots don’t zoom into them. It may be so, but I’m pretty sure that 16 Megapixel wouldn’t hurt. In any case, I don’t blame LG: they are putting another complete camera module. Internal space and cost need to be considered carefully. If this proves to be a success, the company will push it further.Both rear cameras can shoot at the same time, and simultaneous photos can be composed to make artistic mosaics.

"WIDE SHOTS: UNBEATABLE"

In practice, the wide angle is an amazing differentiator and makes the LG G5 a superior camera-phone in many instances. While we would definitely put the LG G5 in the top 5 camera phones using only its normal camera, the wide shots give it a special flavor that no-one else can beat right now. It is really a thing in itself, look at this shot below:

lg-g5-wide-photo-samples_04

Looking forward, it would be great if data from both cameras could be used to snap a single shot, supplementing one another, using computational photography. Maybe they could take shots at different focus points, to allow for bokeh and other imagery tricks.

Battery

lg-g5_hands-on_20The LG G5 features a 2800 mAh battery, which is very decent, but a little smaller than the 3000 mAh battery of the G4. It makes sense since it is a noticeably smaller handset, and hopefully, users will be appeased by the presence of the removable battery (and Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 or QC 3.0 fast charging).

The phone doesn’t have a built-in wireless charging capability, but a battery module with a built-in wireless option is possible. It’s a bit strange that LG doesn’t propose one out of the gate. The current module design seems to have enough room for it.

The modular design offers a lot of potential for exotic battery designs, or possible replacements of the original battery from LG with a better (higher density), yet compatible package. However, it’s too early to tell if the potential will be realized.

lg-g5-battery-capacity-2800mah lg-g5-battery-charge-speed

When we tested the charging speed, the LG G5 was slightly faster to charge than everything we had seen before: it hit about 54mAh/mn, which means that it can charge 1620 mAh in just 30mn (~56%/57%). We do these tests with the display OFF. Also, we noticed that the G5 sometimes wake up and asks for the boot unlock password at full brightness, beware because this will slow down the charging process noticeably.

System Performance

Qualcomm CEO snapdragon 820 ces 2016With a Snapdragon 820 chip at its core, the LG G5 is equipped with one of the top processors available to handset makers. During tradeshows, it’s too early to run benchmarks, since the firmware is not finalized, and we’ve learned in the past that a “trade show firmware” often focuses on stability and features, rather than on performance. We have seen leaps in speed with the LG Flex 2 between its launch and its availability.

Learn morewhat is a SoC or System On a Chip?

It is fair to say that many high-end smartphones will run on the same Snapdragon 820 platform. We already know that Snapdragon 820 competes well with HiSilicon’s (Huawei) Kirin 950 chip (as seen in the Huawei Mate 8) and it remains to be seen how it will fare against Samsung’s new Exynos processor. But according to all leaks, the next Samsung handset will also use Snapdragon 820 in some regions.

lg-g5-3dmark-slingshot lg-g5-basemark-os-ii

Snapdragon 820 is slightly disadvantaged in heavy multi-core tests (like Geekbench) because it has fewer cores (4) than some of the competitors that may have eight or even ten cores. But in the real world, it’s difficult to use all those cores at once, and single-core performance remains extremely important in real world applications, and Qualcomm’s new custom core is really good at that. To learn more about this, read our article: Are More Cores Better?

Regarding 3D graphics, Snapdragon 820 performs extremely well, thanks to its Adreno 530 graphics unit (GPU). It’s not clear if the LG G5 supports the new Vulkan graphics API, but this should be clarified soon, and Google has pledged to add it in an upcoming Android 6.x update.

Conclusion (very good+)

lg-g5_hands-on_23The LG G5 reflects a significant change in strategy for LG. The company continues to commit to excellent performance, but no longer wishes to push the limits of raw computing or camera sensor power just to win the technological race. Instead, it tries to synthesize and emphasize real-world scenarios that maximize user value.

"LG G5: A HIGH-PERFORMANCE MINIMALIST PHONE, WITH A UNIQUE CAMERA APPARATUS"The G5 design simplification reflects that, and could extend the appeal of this handset to pragmatic, no-nonsense users who search “ease of use and efficiency” vs. raw power and extreme performance.

The LG battery module is a very nice way for LG to differentiate itself and creates a huge potential. The companion accessories and the LG Friends Manager app can add a systematic advantage for LG. Everything hinges on the commercial success of the LG G5 (as measured by shipments volume). LG has taken calculated risks that could pay off in the intermediate future.

In the short-term, the LG G5 is a high-performing, beautifully minimalist, and easy to use smartphone with a very unique camera apparatus.

Overall product rating: 9/10

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about LG, LG G5, MWC and MWC 2016.

Display
5.3"
2560x1440 IPS LCD
Price (approximative)
~$365 - Amazon
Camera
16 MP
F1.8 Aperture Size
Image Stabilization
Weight
159 g
Battery
2800 mAh
Removable Battery
Launched in
2016/02/01
System
4GB RAM
Snapdragon 820 + MicroSD
Storage (GB)
32
LG G5 Review
Ubergizmo Rating: 9/10
User Comments