LG G5 Review: The LG G5 is one of the most exciting new phones of 2016, boasting the ability to expand via the funky pop-off modular bottom. We test the G5’s performance, battery life, camera and other essentials to see how it compares to rival flagships like the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s.
The key word with the LG G5 is ‘potential’, at least for now. Don’t get me wrong, this is as complete a phone as you’ll find out there, offering all of the usual flagship features. You get a super-sharp Quad HD screen, just like LG’s last two flagships, as well as the blisteringly fast Snapdragon 820 processor for serious performance. And then there’s LG’s all-new dual-lens camera, which slots neatly into that gorgeous aluminium frame.
But at this early stage, we’re still yet to see what LG can do with its most stand-out feature, that modular functionality. The ability to snap off the bottom of the phone and slot in a module that adds new features is seriously intriguing, although so far we only have the promise of a camera attachment (which adds extra controls and a secondary battery) and an audio booster. And those aren’t hitting the UK for another week.
As such, this LG G5 review is focusing solely on the stock hardware, the phone that you’ll get when you first lay down your cash. And as these G5 modules emerge, we’ll review them separately from the phone, before returning to write a whole new G5 review in a few months which considers the whole package.
LG G5 Review: Design
LG always seems to be fighting a battle when it comes to justifying phone design, but I love how hard the Korean company tries. With the LG G2, it had the balls to try sticking the main buttons on the back of the phone instead of the side. It was a gamble, but the system worked well. Then, after the plastic/metal internet uproar of the G3, LG stuck a finger up at critics and slapped a funky leather finish on last year’s LG G4. Talk about an opinion divider.
Now we have the LG G5 and already, days before launch, it’s causing controversy. This is LG’s first flagship to rock an aluminium body, but the internet has once again got itself into a flappy state of outrage at claims from a YouTuber that it’s actually part plastic. The reality is that this ‘plastic’ element is actually just primer, used to bond the G5’s paint job to the metal frame and also isolate the antenna.
So, how does the LG G5 actually look and feel? In two words, blooming lovely.
This is my favourite LG design so far, sporting a gorgeous brushed metal finish that puts to bed the plastic fantastic demons of LG’s past. At 5.3-inches, the G5 sports a more compact body than last year’s G4, although it’s also quite a chunky chap thanks to that modular functionality.. One-handed use is just about workable, but I struggled to reach the notifications bar with my thumb; the Galaxy S7 definitely wins in that respect, with its slender build and edge-to-edge screen.
(Luckily there is a way to pull down the notifications bar from the bottom of the G5’s display, as you’ll see in our G5 tips and tricks feature.)
Still, the G5’s curves make it comfortable to clutch and the rear end is almost completely flat, with the merest bump highlighting the camera lenses and the power button. Yes, LG has once again housed the on/off switch on the back, and this time it doubles as a fingerprint sensor (more on this in the features section). However, the volume buttons have shifted to the side for the first time in years, which LG tells us is to keep the rear plate smooth and flat. That’s fine by me, as they’re still easy to find and toggle when needed.
So far the G5 feels suitably rugged and seems to be putting up with plenty of abuse, with no sign of wear and tear. Here’s hoping that’s still the case in a few months. However, there’s no water resistance beyond the standard splash-proof design, so if you want something to play with in the bath, check out the Xperia Z5 or Galaxy S7 instead.
Read next: LG G5 vs Galaxy S7 vs Xperia Z5 vs iPhone 6s
LG G5 Review: Screen and media
LG was a pioneer when it came to Quad HD mobile displays, impressing us all with the G3’s insanely sharp 2560×1440 resolution. Of course, these days most flagship boast the same pixel density, with rivals like the Galaxy S7 matching the G5 for resolution.
In terms of image clarity, the G5 is just as strong as the G3 and G4 before it. Ultra HD images look fantastic, with incredible amounts of detail on display. You can’t play with colour warmth, like you can on some rivals, but the G5’s palette is still pleasing to the eye and contrast levels are strong. The G5’s screen also appears to be a little more powerful than the G4’s on maximum brightness, so you won’t have to squint when you’re using it out in the sun.
Check out our G5 vs Z5 vs S7 vs 6s comparison to see how the G5’s screen stacks up against rivals.
The G5 doesn’t boast in-your-face audio, the kind we loved on HTC’s flagships, but the tiny speaker hidden in the bottom edge does a decent job with music and video. There’s no real bass or body to speak of, but the G5’s audio is nice and clear, and reasonably loud on top volume. It certainly does the job for YouTube videos and the rest, but you’ll want to use headphones to really enjoy your tunes.
If you prefer to carry around your media collection rather than streaming it, the good news is that the 32GB of on-board storage can be quickly and easily expanded using a microSD memory card.
LG G5 Review: Features
So, as already mentioned, the big whoop around the G5 is its modular functionality. Depress a tiny, subtle button near the bottom edge of the phone and that entire end can be peeled off, revealing the battery inside. You can then replace that bottom edge with one of LG’s G5 ‘Friends’, which for now is limited to a camera module and a speaker module.
We’ll be reviewing these modules in full as they hit the UK, but for now it’s simply an intriguing and original system that offers a lot of expandability potential. Here’s hoping we see some gamepad modules, serious pro photography modules and perhaps even a drone module, complete with fold-out propellers for lifting your G5 up to the clouds. Now that would make for some impressive aerial photographs.
This is also the first LG flagship phone to sport a fingerprint sensor, and like the Nexus 5X before it (also manufactured by LG), the rear-mounted scanner is fast and accurate. The sensor itself doubles as the G5’s power button, so simply push your finger down on the surface and you’ll both turn on the phone and unlock it with your print. That rear positioning makes it comfortable to use, certainly a lot more comfortable than the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s equivalents. And the only times I struggled to get it to recognise my prints was when my fingers were wet or oily.
LG’s own UX 5.0 sits on top of Android Marshmallow, offering a few bonus LG features. The most annoying change is the culling of the apps tray, which means that all of your apps are now sat on the desktops instead. Thankfully this can be easily rectified (see our G5 tips and tricks for more info, and more of the G5’s hidden features). Besides that, it’s pretty much business as usual, with the same useful notes features as before and some handy additions like an easy migrate tool.
Read next: The best (and worst) features of LG UX 5.0
LG G5 Review: Performance and battery life
The LG G5 is one of the first phones we’ve seen packing Qualcomm’s latest, all-powerful Snapdragon 820 processor. This is one of the fastest mobile chipsets around right now, which in turn means that the G5 offers one of the smoothest experiences we’ve seen.
You’ll not notice any undue stuttering or other ill effects, even when running dozens of apps in the background and blasting your way through the latest demanding Android games. We’re hoping that the G5 continues to perform well over the coming months, but for now it’s certainly no slouch.
As for the battery, the G5 can be charged using a bundled Type-C USB cable and Quick Charge 3.0 is supported, one of the fastest charging techniques around right now. Even better, it’s one of very few phones that still allows you to remove and replace the battery, by pulling off that bottom edge and snapping the old battery out. LG’s own battery pack, which is a secondary cell doubling as a portable charger, should be out in the next week or so, giving you plenty of options for staying powered up on the go; a flexible system that most other flagships are missing.
Check out our LG G5 battery review, where we reveal how long the G5 lasts in everyday life and under intensive testing, as well as the effectiveness of Quick Charge 3.0.
LG G5 Review: Cameras
After the G5’s modular design, its biggest talking point is definitely the dual-lens rear camera. Unlike previous dual-lens mobile snappers like the HTC One M8 and the recently-launched Huawei P9, these two lenses are actually separate entities, to be chosen between. One is a standard 16-megapixel snapper, capable of shooting photos packed with detail, while the other is an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, perfect for group shots and vistas.
We’ve already reviewed the G5’s camera in great depth, complete with a photo gallery and various video samples, so you can see how strong the image stabilisation and other video features are. Check out our G5 camera review for more info. And we’ve also taken a look at the special camera modes that LG sneaked into the G5, including a multi-shot mode and some funky video modes.
LG G5 Review: Verdict
Even if you have no interest in LG’s modular functionality (which is yet to prove itself worthwhile), the G5 is still well worth considering as your next full-time smartphone. The dual camera setup is brilliant, offering impressive flexibility, while performance is up there with the best. And in terms of media performance, the G5 again does its job, offering strong, striking visuals. This is also one of the few phones out there to offer a removable battery, to keep you going on those super-long journeys.
However, only time will tell if the G5 is simply a great flagship phone or an essential and innovative device that can be expanded and upgraded at the owner’s behest.