LG G5 is here, Flagship taking another dimension

LG brought its A-game to MWC 2016. The LG G5 is a proper head-turner with its always-on display and a hardware module expansion platform of sorts. The handset is also big in the camera department, bringing two separate shooters with different fields of view, allowing for zooming action and some cool effects.

Design and controls
The eagerly-anticipated LG flagship offer is officially here and most of the rumors turned out true. First thing first – the phone now has a metal body and side-mounted volume keys – huge departure from the “G” series legacy.
The reason for this is simple – with the back now carrying two cameras, keeping the previous key arrangement would have made the whole thing too busy and likely not very attractive. That’s why the only proper control left on the back plate is the round fingerprint reader that still doubles as a power key.
The body itself is very clean. The shapes are nicely rounded and LG even added a curve on top of the front panel to make the whole package even more attractive. The top houses the 3.5 mm jack and the bottom has the USB Type-C connector, a microphone and a speaker grille on the left. Upon closer inspection of the bottom bit one of the G5 major oddities becomes instantly apparent. The chin below the screen slides by pressing a key to its side to reveal the user-removable battery.


There’s more to that design however – you can actually plug in different accessories here, including a full on camera grip.
The mechanism seems sturdy enough to hold the battery in place and probably won’t detach on its own. And the clever mechanism instead of a removable back means the body of the G5 has gotten slimmer than the one on the G4, even with the increased battery capacity.

The G4 had a rounded back with thickness ranging from 6.3 – 9.8 mm, while the new one sits at 7.5-8mm. It is also worth noting that the usual antenna strips are gone, thanks to what LG calls micro drizzling. The truth is there are some different-color metal edges on the back but those go around the back side rather than through it. And while it does looks prettier than plastic inlays there’s a small downside to that – you can feel them with your fingers depending on how you hold the phone, taking away a bit from the nice smooth feeling.
Another important departure from the “G” family roots, definitely worth noting is the absence of an App drawer within the OS. It is still Android with Sens UI on top, but LG has decided to skip the traditional Android set-up, which is also sure not to turn off many fans. Interestingly enough, a menu is still present within Easy mode.
Hardware
Moving on to the guts of the G5, we find a few other novelties. Right off the bat, we have LG’s new Always on display feature. The concept is simple – have a way to display the time and notifications without wasting too much power. Not using an AMOLED panel that can only turn on individual pixels LG came up with a rather unorthodox solution.
Apparently, the main 5.3-inch display has a second controller included, that only has power over a limited number of pixels on the screen. They are intended to stay lit up with a date and time, as well as notifications. You can also swap the clock for a lot less useful signature if that is your desire.
Of course, the whole thing is intended to be power efficient and LG claims that the small secondary screen mode eats through 0.8% of battery per hour. A study conducted by the company discovered that people take out their phones and wake them up to check the time over 150 times a day so it might even balance out.
As for the main display, it is pretty bright, so sunlight legibility shouldn’t be a problem and viewing angles were rather impressive. Its contrast also seemed great although the conditions weren’t the best to judge that.
Moving on to the battery, the G5 is equipped with a 2,800 mAh pack, down from the 3,000 battery of the G4. The actual power unit has a bright lime finish, along with logos and slogans, which shows some nice attention to detail by LG. The pack actually snaps on to the detachable bottom part of the body, which helps everything stay in place and not rattle around.
The LG G5 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, just as expected, along with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage with an additional microSD card slot. That is going to be the setup of choice for a lot of the 2016 flagships and it should be quite powerful. During our time with the G5, we actually managed to sneak a quick AnTuTu benchmark and got a score of 72681 points. That’s slightly lower than the best score we’ve got so far (Huawei’s Kirin 950), but since what we had for testing was a G5 unit running early software the score was actually very impressive.
Camera
The camera is shaping up as a major selling point for the LG G5, just like it was for the G4. Rumors checked out here and the new flagship comes with a dual shooter setup on the back. The G5 inherits all the goodies, like Laser Auto Focus, Advanced OIS and the Color Spectrum sensor from its predecessor, but now focuses its improvements in another important area – zooming. The handset is now actually capable of capturing 135-degree Ultra Wide Angle shots in addition tot he traditional 75-degree snaps.
The extra spacial awareness comes courtesy of an additional 8MP shooter on the back. It sits alongside the 16MP F/1.8 camera – identical to the one on the LG G3 back. On the software side, the phone is not only smart enough to quickly let you choose between shooters and how much you want inside the frame but can also leverage on the two snappers to produce various shot effects.
In our brief time with the LG G5 we managed to take a couple of snaps with both of its cameras.
Below you can see a sample taken with each camera. The preliminary results are promising even though the venue was rather poorly lit.
Since the LG G5 uses pretty much the same camera, on paper, as the G4 we wanted to see how the two compared. Below you can find the newcomer on the left and the older smartphone on the right. On the surface we can see that the LG G5 renders colors more neutrally while the G4 saturates everything. Unsurprisingly, The level of detail looks equally great on both phones.
We’ll be sure to make more detailed comparisons when we get a retail LG G5 to play around with but for now, it looks like the phone is at least as good as its predecessor while the second, wide-angle camera is innovative and holds great potential.
Accessories
Now we get to the really “out-of-the-box” stuff. The affectionately removable chin is definitely a bold concept and very much a breath of fresh air in a smartphone race too obsessed with specs. So, LG’s decision to include an expansion slot of sorts into its flagship will definitely make for an eye-catchy commercial campaign, but we do have out fair share of doubts concerning actual usability.
LG has made it clear, that its ultimate goal is to get as many third-party companies as possible interested in creating accessories, but to kick things off, two modules are ready by the company itself.
First up is the LG Cam plus. The bulky contraption offers a nifty handle and balance point for improved hand-held photography, as well as convenient hardware buttons for shutter release (two stage), zoom dial and flash toggle. It also has an additional battery on board (1,200 mAh, bringing the total capacity to 4,000mAh).
This all sounds fine and we could actually see the contraption as being somewhat useful to some, but the only problem is that its build isn’t the best. The faux leather covering the grip part feels too hard to be any sort of premium and the dial has no feedback, which makes it rather hard to use. It’s also not a particularly pretty thing to attach to your phone, but that was to be expected when talking an actual photography grip.
The other Magic Slot accessory available at the show is a Portable Hi-Fi DAC, courtesy of Bang & Olufsen, or B&O. It is a 32-bit DAC, over the 24-bit default one within the phone. We guess the added quality will be appreciated by some audiophiles or perhaps find use in a party environment, but there are some aesthetic concerns.
It almost seems like LG forgot to inform B&O of the materials and color pallet of the G5, as the final Hi-Fi Plus module stands out in a rather unattractive way when connected – all black and with no traces of the shiny rims of the device or its materials and finish.
Hopefully some more useful concepts will come along soon.
Overall the LG G5 is a rather solid smartphone that should help LG solidify its position as a premium manufacturer. While the marketing focuses very hard on pushing its flashy side tricks, which might or might not end up very useful, it’s quite clear that underneath those sits an excellent device with a great screen, blazing performance and a powerful camera. We’ll just leave it at that, at least until we get out hands on the G5 for an in-depth review at some point in the future. Considering its market release is expected for some time early in April, that shouldn’t be too long now.