After weeks of speculation, the LG G5 is finally here. This is the fifth generation of LG's flagship smartphone, and this time around, the phone has been completely reimagined: The G5 has an aluminium case, includes a crazy expansion slot that we've never seen on a phone before, and supports a handful of accessories that make the phone feel more like a toy than a smartphone.
The G5 doesn't include any major design elements from its predecessor, meaning the company was trying to do something starkly different. Although the G series was never accused of being ugly, it undoubtedly made some people hesitate when they saw aluminium-and-glass phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 or Apple iPhone.
Magic slot exposed.
Now, the G5 is like Slayer — pure metal. And though the G5 does look good cloaked in that aluminium, it kind of feels like LG is playing catchup to companies like Samsung and Apple who just have more experience building smartphones with these materials.
The impression I got from my brief hour or so with the phone is that the G5 is an unpolished first effort. Impressively, with some hardware ingenuity, the G5 can still replace its battery thanks to a removable bottom bezel. LG believes that using metal doesn't mean sacrificing hardware utility and giving your phone an expiration date, like the Galaxy S7 or iPhone.
No bad battery ruining a phone's lifespan here!
It is that same battery trick, called the "magic slot" in several rumours leading up to its launch at Mobile World Congress, that lets the G5 do some extra cool things with other gadgets in tow. One is a camera grip that slides in the bottom just like the normal battery slot. It offers physical zoom and shutter controls along with some extra juice, which supercharges the G5's battery to almost 4,000 mAh — an outrageous amount of power for a 5.3-inch smartphone. Another module includes a hi-def audio DAC, which is significantly less useful for anyone but you audiophiles.
The LG camera module, with physical camera controls
LG's roll-y ball for your cat to annoy and your dog to destroy
LG's VR headset, a no-phone needed headset that isn't much of an Oculus-killer
LG's 360-degree came that looks suspiciously like a Ricoh.
Many of the other added "features" are standalone gadgets like a Ricoh-like 360-degree camera, LG's own lightweight VR headset, and even a smartphone-controlled ball that lets you watch your home or annoy the shit out of your pets anywhere in the world. These extra devices are operated through a pre-loaded controller app that automatically connects with a device when both are turned on. The controller app can even download secondary apps for those connected devices in the background. The idea is to create a seamless, hassle-free Bluetooth connection between the smartphone and whatever accessory you might have. Each gadget is sold separately.
But this desire to do something different comes with a few unfortunate missteps. For one, the physical seam between this "magic slot" and the rest of the phone isn't great. On the edges you can see design lines that are mismatched and make the G5 feel cheaper than it actually is. It also annihilates any hope of this phone being waterproof or dustproof and the power button/fingerprint sensor on the back feels somewhat wobbly, a similar problem that found its way on last year's V10.
That seam is rough. Like, really rough.
You need to push that small button in order to release the battery slot.
The G5 is outfitted with Snapdragon's beastly 820 processor, which makes the phone super responsive. LG's also improved its excellent 16-megapixel camera by adding a second 8-megapixel sensor and a 135-degree lens. The few photos I was able to snap were incredible wide-angled shots that were made by stitching information from both sensors together in real time. So friggin' cool!
On the software side of things, LG has continued to make some big improvements. The G5's notification menu feels much more compact and well-designed than what debuted on last year's model. Menus look less bloated, and unnecessary software — at least on the model I thumbed through — isn't out of control. The biggest perk is that LG didn't include a second screen display, that gimmicky ticker display on last year's LG V10. Instead, it included low-power "always on" notifications from the lock screen.
But LG's UI still has a few blemishes. The biggest one is LG's reasoning behind ditching the apps drawer. Now, every app you download will take up display real estate on the home screen, like on iOS. LG says this makes the smartphone more clean, but I feel exactly the opposite.
Since this is technically an Android phone, you can easily fix the home screen by downloading a custom launcher. But it's strange that LG would be so adamant about keeping traditional Android hardware, like a removable battery, but then get rid of one major feature that makes Android unique.
From left to right: pink, grey, silver and gold.
The LG G5 feels like the prototype of a smartphone we'll all be using years from now. It sews together powerful hardware, like a great camera and modular design, but falls short on looks. The G5 will launch in four colours, pink, grey, silver, and gold. While no price was mentioned, LG confirmed "premium" pricing. Considering last year's model launched at $US600 ($839), we're probably looking at around the same price.
In my short time with the G5, it became apparent that LG is thinking far outside the box, which is good! But first impressions were not enough time to definitively say the G5 is worth your money. For that, we'll need to spend a little more time with LG's vision of one possible smartphone future.