Differentiation is tough in the 2016 smartphone market. Just about every flagship Android smartphone looks the same on the inside, forcing smartphone makers to bank on camera upgrades and physical design to get an advantage on the competition. With the G5, LG took a different approach by addressing a very vocal contingent of Android users frustrated by the movement away from replaceable batteries. Instead of sticking with plastic builds, LG combined an all-metal build with a bottom-loaded battery module that could be ejected, allowing users to pop in a fresh battery or use one of a couple alternate modules offering different features like a camera grip or a DAC for better audio.
It’s a rare original idea in the smartphone world, and that makes the G5 feel like a first generation product. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s not — the battery module on the G5 isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely worth looking into if you want to encourage LG to continue down this path.
Note: This review is of the 32 GB storage/4 GB RAM configuration. We did not have access to the LG Friends modular accessories that can replace the stock battery module, so we won’t be discussing those in this review.
The LG G5 is a 5.3″ phone (7.7 mm thick, 159 grams) with a metal build and curved 2.5D glass over the display. There are virtually no bezels on the front of the phone, save for the large one at the bottom, which is the removable modular part. The back is slightly curved with a small camera bump, and has a soft feel to it that contrasts with the hard, steely feel of most premium Android smartphones. The curvature, relatively small size, and softness of the G5 make it the most comfortable to hold out of all of the 2016 flagship Android phones.
The battery module can be ejected using a small button on the side of the phone. It’s a little difficult to press given that it’s flush with the phone’s body, but that also ensures no accidental ejections, as you have to push it with a fair amount of force to trigger the mechanism. Once you do, the bottom part of the phone slides out along with the battery, which can then be replaced. There are a couple problems here, the most obvious being that there’s no way to eject that module without shutting the phone down. We suspect LG might put in a small backup battery to fix this problem in future generations, but for now, it means that you can’t hot swap batteries with the G5. The other issue is more of a sinking feeling on our part — while the ejection mechanism is sturdy, the module is made of plastic and has a bit of give to it if you push on it too hard. We’re worried that without a case, this part could easily become loose or damaged after a drop or two, and it’s not even perfectly flush with the metal body to begin with.
One longtime LG quirk has been putting the home button/fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone. As always, this is a divisive design choice. Fortunately, the G5 has an always-on screen you can activate so you can see time, date, and notifications at all times, and there’s tap-to-wake so you can unlock your phone while it’s laying down on a table. However, that changes if you want to use your fingerprint to unlock your phone. You’ll still need to pick the phone up to use it in that case, which is an advantage for phones like the Galaxy S7, which put their home buttons/fingerprint scanners on the front. On the other hand, the backside button is much more comfortable and intuitive when the phone is already in your hand, so which one is preferable depends on how you usually use your phone.
Inside, the LG G5 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4 GB of RAM, and your choice of 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage (the dual-card tray supports Micro SD cards up to 200 GB). In our first impressions, we noted that the G5 got a bit hot while downloading apps — it gets warm when streaming HD video and gaming, too, but not nearly as bad as it was with many 2015 phones running on a Snapdragon 810.
The Snapdragon 820 is as good as it gets in the U.S. market smartphone game right now, and the numbers bear it out. The LG G5 scored between 5452 and 5565 over three runs of the PC Mark for Android benchmark test and between 113035 and 123376 over three runs of AnTuTu. That falls a bit short of what we saw from the HTC 10 and what the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are said to be capable of. It beats the Huawei Mate 8 in AnTuTu, but the Mate 8 still just about reigns supreme in the more utilitarian PC Mark test. Bottom line is, the LG G5 is in excellent company — it might be a hair slower than its flagship compatriots, but that’s not a dealbreaker.
The Snapdragon 820 SoC uses Adreno 530 graphics. The LG G5 scored a 2044 in the 3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1 and 1,626 frames in the GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan offscreen test. This is where Huawei phones struggle the most, and that’s clearer than ever in 2016 — the G5 scored twice as much as the Mate 8 in both tests, and because the Huawei P9 is using the same GPU as the Mate 8, we suspect results will be similar for that phone. Interestingly, the G5 scores significantly lower in both tests than the HTC 10 and the Galaxy S7 family, so it’s safe to say that the G5 won’t win the crown for best performer in 2016.
But, we might be running the risk of splitting hairs. When playing 3D games or watching HD video, the LG G5 performs very well, with few hiccups or dips in frame rate. Even if it’s not technically as powerful, for whatever reason, as the other flagship Android phones, it can still handle just about all the graphics- and processor-intensive content you could throw at it with aplomb.
The 2560 x 1440 LCD display is as good as it’s ever been — colors are sharp and it gets bright enough to be clear in direct sunlight. Color contrast isn’t going to match the AMOLED displays found on the Galaxy S7 series, but we don’t find that to be too big of a problem. The only issue is if you’re planning on using your smartphone to power a VR headset. It’s worth noting that LG’s headset, the VR 360, doesn’t use the G5 as a display, instead using the phone as a processing unit while the headset has its own 1080p displays. But, 1080p displays aren’t great for VR, and the superior contrast and resolution of the S7 and S7 Edge paired with a Gear VR headset is a far better bet for early VR adopters. We’ve also heard rumblings that the LG VR 360 has problems with light leakage, so the Galaxy S7 series has the clear edge here.
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