LG has tried something a little bit different with the G5. While its predecessor was a decent handset with a solid collection of features, it didn’t sell as well as LG was hoping due to strong competition from Samsung and Apple. So instead of just iterating, LG has completely redesigned their flagship smartphone to include revolutionary new ideas in an attempt to capture the eyes of buyers. It’s a bold move by LG, and in this case I’m not sure it was the right one.
So what are these new ideas LG has brought to the G5? The biggest and most obvious one is the modular design, which sees the battery slide out the bottom of the handset attached to a swappable module. This gives LG the ability to sell additional modules that pack in other features, and it makes the G5 the most flexible handset on sale today.
LG has also given the G5 an all new design that finally includes actual metal. The camera system has seen an upgrade as well, with the rear module now packing two cameras, one for normal shots, and one with a wide angle lens. And of course internally LG has used Qualcomm’s new and extremely powerful Snapdragon 820 SoC.
There’s been a lot of criticism in the media about the G5’s metal design, and some of it is definitely valid. Rather than delivering a truly metal body, LG has coated the metal frame with plastic, which is an odd and deceptive move. LG clearly advertises the G5 as a metal smartphone, and while that’s technically true, the plastic coating hides the pleasing texture and sheen of the metal frame, giving the G5 and look and feel that doesn’t match true metal handsets.
I find it strange that LG would bother to coat the metal with plastic considering it reduces the visual appeal of the G5. Surely the handset would look better if the metal was exposed, and at the same time, LG wouldn’t have to face criticisms about their use of plastic. The only reason I can think of that explains the plastic is that LG figured it would be more durable and scratch resistant: a valid concern, although in the metal phones I’ve used previously I never had any issues with durability.
With the complaints of plastic often dominating discussion of the G5’s design, the one crucial thing that has been overlooked is the ergonomics of this handset. LG has done a fantastic job making this phone fit well in the hands of users through subtle sculpting and curving of the edges. The corners have also been rounded to perfection so that the bottom edge doesn’t dig into your hands, which can be an issue with other devices.
The G5 doesn’t fall into the trap of being slippery or hard to grip, which is a big issue with the G5’s main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S7. The plastic-coated metal helps in this regard, whereas the glass on the back of the S7 is a slippery fingerprint magnet. Sure, the Galaxy S7 looks nicer and uses a better array of materials, but the LG G5 is easier to hold and less fragile.
The front panel of the G5 is one of my favorite aspects of the device because it avoids being a bland black slab of glass and display. There is still a large 5.3-inch display protected by smooth glass, but I really appreciate the way LG has curved the glass to each side, and particularly at the top of the handset. This subtle curve along the top bezel is an interesting and attractive design element, while the metallic area below the display adds a much needed accent to the body.
The back has two slightly raised areas: one for the wide dual camera module, and the other for the fingerprint sensor. As expected, the fingerprint sensor is extremely fast and accurate, making it a speedy and secure way to unlock your handset. I’m also a fan of the positioning of the sensor on the rear of the device: it’s more convenient than having the sensor below the display in most cases.
On the flip side I’m not a fan of how the fingerprint sensor doubles as a power button. It may be easy to hit the fingerprint sensor when initially picking up the handset, but after use my finger doesn’t rest near the button. This means that when I need to power off the display, I have to adjust my finger, whereas a side power button requires minimal finger movement to activate. While this is a small annoyance, it’s something that could be improved to strengthen the overall experience.
Around the edges of the G5 is a 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster on the top, and a volume rocker on the left. On the right is a large tray for inserting nano-SIM and microSD card slot. The USB-C port and single loudspeaker can be found on the bottom edge. I’m a huge fan of USB-C on smartphones and it’s great to see it here on the G5, but I don’t like the single speaker that’s easily blocked. The best phones on the market have stereo front facing speakers, so the G5 is a disappointment in this regard.
The G5 is slim, at 7.7mm, though its weight of 159 grams is nothing to get excited about. If anything, the G5 could perhaps be a little thicker to add in a larger battery and remove the slight bumps for some elements on the rear panel.
This brings me to the G5’s modular slot, which can be ejected by a small button on the left edge. LG has done a good job to minimize the impact of the seam created from the removable bottom section, and the bottom section itself is compact enough not to cause complaints. Some users will no doubt enjoy the ability to hot swap batteries on the go, and even though the G5 has moving parts due to the modular slot, the entire build feels very sturdy.
However, I don’t think the concept of the modular slot enhances the G5 experience. The entire removable battery assembly has left the G5 with a smaller than average battery: 2,800 mAh compared to 3,000 mAh in the more compact Galaxy S7. This impacts the vast majority of consumers who have no interest in hot swapping batteries. I also generally believe that external battery packs are a more versatile way to keep your battery charged on the go.
The advantage the G5’s modular slot has over a regular removable battery is the ability to add in other modules, but LG’s range of modules is very uninspiring. The high-end audio DAC could have been integrated into the phone itself, making the removable unit mostly redundant. And the camera grip feels cheap and doesn’t really enhance the camera experience in any significant way. It does include a small extra battery, but I can’t see anyone leaving the bulky unit attached to their G5 for any extended period of time.
The modular slot would be a compelling feature of the G5 had LG bothered to create actually decent add-on modules. There’s still a chance we’ll see clever uses of the modular slot in the future, but for the moment the feature is a dud.