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LG G5 Review: Fixing What Isn’t Broken

LG has been firmly planted in Android since one can remember (the LG G5 isn’t the company’s first high-end smartphone in Google’s mobile OS), but the Korean manufacturer hasn’t found its place within Google’s mobile OS. Google itself makes Nexus phones, which tend to overshadow all others when it comes to the latest and greatest updates (Android N, for example).

Apart from updates are software offerings, and Samsung dominates when it comes to software features in TouchWiz — which is far more feature-rich than other “skins” from other Android manufacturers. Then, there are all the other parts of the smartphone experience (cameras, display, processor, battery and battery life, etc.), and in years past, Samsung has soundly defeated all other Android OEMs when it comes to these areas.

LG is also overshadowed by Samsung since both companies are fellow Koreans, which makes it hard for LG to showcase its own capabilities. Of course, one can also make the case that LG just doesn’t have the right resources to combat a giant like Samsung.

2016 could prove a new year for LG, if the company’s latest G5 gets the results LG is hoping it will. The LG G5, the latest smartphone from LG, showcases a new modular design that replaces the “removable leather backs” found in the LG G4 with an aluminum design that offers a removable bottom instead.

We here at Aptgadget decided to take the Verizon-branded LG G5 for a spin over the past few weeks to see what all the hype is about, and we now know how this phone stacks up against its rivals. What do we think? You’ll have to read our analysis below before coming to a conclusion about the matter, either way.

Display

lg g5 in hand right side lean

The LG G5 features an image plane signaling (IPS) liquid crystal display (LCD) screen with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. Currently, in the smartphone world, Quad HD displays are the brightest and best that you can get in the smartphone experience, and the G5’s seems to be one of the brightest you’ll find.

While colors are considered to be more true-to-life than on Samsung’s AMOLED displays, for example, I find the color palette of these colors to be less than ideal for my tastes. I like bright, punchy, in your face colors, and LCD screens, no matter how high the resolution, will never provide that.

Additionally, the display isn’t as bright at the minimum levels on the LG G5 as it is on minimum levels on the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (which I’ve also been testing alongside of the LG G5; stay tuned for our review on this as well), which means that you’ll have to crank up the brightness levels to achieve the bare minimum brightness output for Samsung’s AMOLED panels. As a result, battery life will tank quickly. LCDs are also weak when it comes to battery conservation, with AMOLED displays conserving battery life because the displays themselves are light-emitting and don’t need a backlight.

Overall, though, the LG G5 display is gorgeous and fine to look at — but after you’ve experienced AMOLED displays, everything is too dark on the G5 display. That’s not surprising, but it is something you should be aware of if you do intend to give a Samsung alternative a spin.

LG G5 UX And Software

One of the most important parts of the smartphone experience is the user interface and software, seeing that most consumers get over the honeymoon phase with smartphone hardware quickly (unless it’s something that’s so gorgeous to look at that you can’t eliminate it from memory). I felt the need to include this section here because of the fact that this is not a phone from a single manufacturer with its own operating system; rather, this is LG’s G5, which runs Android, Google’s own mobile OS, and so we need to consider how LG’s UX differs from vanilla Android (Google’s basic Android software only, nothing added). It is to the LG G5 user interface and software that we now turn.

Icons

lg g5 icons

The LG UX will be familiar to some, but some of LG’s icons are really weirdly drawn and need to be scrapped and redrawn in LG UX 6.0. One such example is the camera icon, which, as has been stated by tech reviewers time and time again, looks like a washer and dryer (yes, washing and drying machines). If it doesn’t look like that, it looks like the eyeball of Mike “Wiz-ow-ski” (pronunciation spelling) from the Disney movie “Monsters Inc.,” and it hits me every time I turn on the LG G5 display.

It’s quite a hideous icon for a camera when you consider that Samsung, Google, and others have rather nice icons to look at. Sure, for most consumers, the camera icon design isn’t going to matter if they love the phone, but something that visually sticks out like a bad drawing is going to be easily noticed the more you stare at it. It’s akin to the flat tire at the bottom of the display on the Moto 360: the more you wear the watch, the more you’ll notice it. I didn’t pay much attention to the camera icon at first, but, over time, it’s become more of an annoyance to me than it was at first.
The gallery app has another icon design that I find hideous. It attempts to create an animated mountain scene, but it’s actually reminiscent of the gallery app icon on the Asus-Google Nexus 7 from 2012. The gallery app icon of the LG G5 also matches the desktop wallpaper made available on the Nexus 5 (which was made by LG) from 2013, and the icon tells how old it really is. The icon doesn’t look terrible, but it does look kiddy-like without the realism I expect of icons on my desktop.

It isn’t as bad as the washing-machine camera icon, but it is bad enough that it, too, needs to be replaced with something a little more “lively” and dynamic. You can download a theme for the LG G5 to replace these terrible icons, but you may run into some complications with LG SmartWorld (I’ll get into more information about this later in the review.).

Pouring into the drop-down notification window, you’ll get more of LG’s UX than you bargained for. The manufacturer has decided to use white pastel for a large portion of the notification window and settings panel, with black icon outlining and “glow-in-the-dark” green when you activate a settings toggle (say, turn on your 4G data). We’ll return to this in the Phone Settings below, but I wanted to point it out so as to let you know what to expect.
Of course, the design language follows Google’s Material Design, but I’m not a fan of really flat icons that don’t have any, to use for a lack of a better word, “decoration.” I am someone who doesn’t mind the skeuomorphism of Steve Jobs’s era, so I don’t find flattened icons and UI design all that appealing. With that said, there are a number of manufacturers whose flat icons I find appealing and don’t turn me away. Unfortunately, some of LG’s icons in the LG G5 do turn me away.

Phone Settings

LG G5 quick settings          LG G5 phone settings

While the camera and gallery icons are unattractive to me, it gets even worse for the LG G5 when you visit the G5’s phone settings. The phone settings have a white background with black words and bright neon green toggles that light up when you activate a feature. While LG’s setup seems minimalistic, designed to get you to the settings you need when you need them, it just seems to be poor decoration and anti-aesthetic.

As I said above, you can download themes that may help in this regard, but the original setup out of the box is a bit bland when you’ve been using the Galaxy S7 edge with its vibrant hues and then pick up a G5 for the first time. The pastel white, with the black words and neon green toggles, looks, to coin a word that doesn’t exist in the English language, “drabulous” (a play on the words “fabulous” and “drab”).

The color scheme of the phone settings is just a drab, lifeless, dead, lacking any vitality and life, and it’s such a drag that I don’t want to hang around in my phone settings. The LG G5 doesn’t have phone settings that I find attractive, mainly because it seems as though LG just wanted to be practical at the expense of good design: get people to their information without trying to appeal to their visual side). At the same time, someone who appreciates fine artwork as I do will not appreciate the lack of attention given to icons, colors, and color schemes in LG’s UX.

At the same time, apart from the color scheme, LG does provide some functionality that you won’t find in Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge. For example, you can know the exact percentage of brightness your phone is on (say, 35%), which you won’t find on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. As a tech reviewer and journalist who’s always wanting precise numbers for battery stats to share them with family and friends, I’d like to have more transparency in brightness with the Galaxy S7 so that I can help users who need to know how to save battery.

Another unique feature native to the LG G5 that you won’t find on many other smartphones pertains to the Screen timeout options. Screen Timeout options allow you to set a certain amount of time to keep your screen on before the display turns off, but LG gives you something here that Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 edge do not: it lets you select a “keep screen turned on” option. In other words, your screen, with this option, can stay on unless you turn it off with the power/standby button found on the right side of the handset. You won’t find a screen timeout option that keeps the screen on indefinitely on either Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 or its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge.

One other key feature you will find enjoyable pertains to the home touch buttons, the buttons at the bottom of the display (what we’d call navigation buttons). LG calls them “home touch buttons,” just so you know, and we tell you so that you won’t be confused by their label in the G5’s home settings. The home touch buttons section allows you to change the combination of the buttons. The G5’s original button setup came with the back button on the left side; since I’m a diehard Samsung fan who’s familiar with back buttons on the right side, I rearranged my navigation buttons to produce a combo I can live with.

If you’re a Nexus user, you’ll likely enjoy the original setup of the LG G5, but the wonderful thing is that you can add 5 navigation buttons to the phone’s display (not just the traditional 3: back, recents, and home). I added Capture+ and the drop down notifications navigation buttons so that I can capture on-screen material with Capture+ and retrieve my notifications without having to move my hands from the bottom of the display to the top just to see what email I just received.

These are 3 phone settings features you’ll enjoy using on your LG G5. These 3 features are a breath of fresh air to an Android device that is but one of many high-end Android handsets, and it’s nice to see some uniqueness on LG’s part in what would otherwise be a dull device.

App Drawer

LG shipped the LG G5 without an app drawer, which wasn’t well-received from diehard LG fans and Android fans alike. The app drawer is important for a number of reasons, one being that it allows you to maintain a photo or picture on your phone desktop without it being hidden behind app icons.

If you’re an artist who wants to display your artwork on your Galaxy S7 edge, for example, you can put all your apps in the app drawer and leave your phone screens to model off your artwork or family photo. This works great for me because I love looking at my niece and nephew on my desktop. The app drawer allows you to store all your apps there, but place the ones you want on your desktop and hide the others. If you only want 5 apps on your main screen, then you can place those 5 on your main screen and leave the others in the app drawer until you need them. It keeps your phone desktop organized and clutter-free.

What made LG do it? We don’t know, but it seems as though some customers told the company that creating an app drawer made things “too difficult” for them, and that an Apple-like layout, as Apple does in iOS, would simplify the LG G5 for new customers who may leave Apple for LG. It could be the case that LG removed the app drawer to herald the upcoming Android 7.0 N update, but why would LG remove this beforehand? It doesn’t seem to be usual behavior for an OEM, which is why LG just released an update to return the app drawer. Something tells me the move was meant to attract iPhone users rather than prepare the LG G5 for Android N. The app drawer wasn’t broken, so why did LG try to fix something that didn’t need repair?

You should know that LG has added it back (check your software update in phone settings to retrieve it), but LG didn’t have to remove it in the first place. Apparently, it assumed that it wouldn’t matter to consumers if the app drawer was removed, but the Korean manufacturer discovered a different result.

Always On Display (AOD)

LG G5 Always On Display

The Always On Display is a setting within your phone settings, but I wanted to tackle it here so that it gets the treatment it deserves. The AOD, as I call it, is one of the standard features of the year that I expect to arrive on all 2016 devices (even if some disappoint and do not), because it is a convenient feature that, once you have it, is difficult to live without.

The AOD on the LG G5 has its strength: namely, it provides email, text, Slack, Telegram, app update, and other Android notifications, but the one major drawback to the display is that it’s just too dim. At no point in using the AOD (which I’ve kept on since the day the G5 arrived at my doorstep) did I ever feel that the display was bright enough. Again, it may just be that I’m too familiar with Samsung’s Super AMOLED AOD on the Galaxy S7 edge, but the G5’s AOD just doesn’t stack up.

The first day I received the device, I was turned off by the viewing angles of the LG G5. I am nearsighted, which means that my farsighted vision is poor (at best). Viewing the LG G5 from a small distance (say, from a couch to a chair immediately in front of it), I couldn’t see the G5’s AOD notifications at all (I could barely see the time on the AOD). This alone is one of the factors that makes that LG G5 AOD a hard sell.

Put the LG G5 beside the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, and view their AODs; it won’t take long to convince you which is better. Even if you prefer the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge AOD, however, LG’s G5 AOD does live up to its promise that it only drains about 1% battery per hour. I used the phone yesterday morning, then left it sitting at around 40%. I picked up the LG G5 again after leaving it sitting idle for 19-20 hours, and it was down to around 20% (which is a drainage rate of about 20%, or 1% per hour).

On-Screen Navigation Buttons

LG G5 on-screen navigation buttons

A number of LG G5 buyers have bought previous smartphones from LG, so it’s likely you’ve become familiar with LG’s on-screen navigation buttons. At the same time, however, I’ve come to the G5 with a large portion of Samsung experience, which puts me in a good position to help Samsung users who’re ready to give some other Android OEM a shot in the smartphone market.

If you’re coming from having used Samsung handsets for a few years, the on-screen navigation buttons will take some adjustment. Whereas Samsung’s Galaxy S7 places its power button on the right side of the handset and a physical home button at the bottom of the front display (with two capacitive touch buttons to the home button’s left and right), the LG G5 has no front home button or right side power button; instead, LG has decided to go with software buttons at the bottom of the display that, as we said earlier, can be customized to fit your preferences.

These software buttons are not everyone’s cup of joe, and I’ll be the first to say that they don’t appeal to me. Whenever you rotate the screen to watch a video, the on-screen nav buttons slide to the top of the handset – which is a place where few people hold their hands when watching a movie. Being in the tech business and taking screenshots of unboxing videos, I’d like to have physical buttons near the bottom of the front display that don’t rotate when the screen does. It makes it easier to take screenshots without having to use the power button located on the back of the device to take them. It also prevents me from having to view the buttons themselves at a different angle if they would remain stationary. LG seems to think it is fixing a problem some consumers have and giving choice, but again, this implementation of its software buttons is fixing something (in this case, physical and capacitive buttons) that isn’t broken.

Theme Store (LG SmartWorld)

LG Theme Store

LG’s Theme Store, LG SmartWorld, isn’t raved about all that much in tech circles, and there seems to be a reason for it. While this seems to be a selling point for the LG G5, you’ll be displeased to know that, if you purchase the Verizon-branded handset, you won’t have access to the LG Theme Store immediately. Verizon doesn’t support the theme store, though you’re free to download it directly from LG’s own website (here’s the link to it).  I can also confirm, unfortunately, that AT&T in the US doesn’t support LG SmartWorld, either.

You may think that downloading the theme store will solve your problems, but it won’t: you’ll get access to LG wallpapers for the G5, but you still won’t get theme access. For some reason, Verizon has decided not to support the LG Theme Store while the carrier does support the Samsung Theme Store.

For what it’s worth, the Samsung Theme Store is better in my opinion, but LG customers still deserve to experience theming and customization on the G5. You won’t get it with Verizon, though, which leads me to become suspicious of it: if Verizon, America’s largest carrier, and AT&T, the nation’s second telecommunications giant, won’t support it, how good is it, really?

Processor

LG G5 overheating sensors

The LG G5 is powered by a quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that outperforms Qualcomm’s “hot tamale” predecessor processor, the Snapdragon 810. The 810 was something of a hot potato, but the Snapdragon 820, for the most part, has thrown off the bad reputation of its older sibling.

While the Snapdragon 820 is formidable, it does have its moments in which, either through it, the LG G5 software, or both, disappoints. Having used the G5 for weeks now, I can attest that there are times when the Snapdragon 820 does overheat and the front display and back cover turn extremely warm. This has happened more than once since I first received the handset, with the G5 sensors getting to as high as 52 degrees Celsius (or 126 degrees Fahrenheit) before cooling down and going back to their original temperature.

Again, as I said before, this happened on more than one occasion, and I didn’t game to get the handset that hot: this was accomplished with mere web browsing on WiFi. The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, both bearing the Snapdragon 820 processor in the US, overheat at times as well, so the problem is not specific to the G5 but to the Snapdragon 820 processor.

In addition to the overheating or excessive warming, the LG G5 also struggles with lag at times. On one random day, I used the G5 to type out an editorial idea I had maintained in my head onto the digital screen with Google Keep, but the G5 lagged. Google’s keyboard has rarely lagged for me, but it did with the G5. Now, the G5 keyboard lag happened with not only Google Keyboard but also SwiftKey. A simple reboot fixed the issue, but contrary to what some have said about the Snapdragon 820, it still has its problems.

Geekbench Score

While the processor does overheat, its performance speaks volumes, and its benchmarks don’t lie. The LG G5 got a score of 2,323 points in single-core scoring and 4,699 points in multi-core scoring by way of Geekbench, a real-world app that measures authentic performance commensurate with that of most consumers. To put this in perspective, the Galaxy S7 edge received a single-core scoring of 2,315 points and a multi-core score of 5,198 points via Geekbench. The HTC 10, another 2016 device featuring the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, had 2,053 points in single-core scoring and 4,725 points in multi-core scoring. While the LG G5 and the Galaxy S7 edge received similar scores in single-core scoring, the G5 isn’t quite as fast as the Galaxy S7 edge in multi-core scoring (the HTC 10 doesn’t keep up with the S7 edge, either).

lg g5 single-core comparison          lg g5 multi-core comparison

 

lg g5 geekbench benchmarks

Battery

The LG G5 has been decent on battery life, providing 14-17 hours of battery life on a typical charge. The issue with battery life is, as always, tied to brightness and cellular data vs. wifi, since any of these factors can affect battery life. I was pleasantly surprised with battery life on the device, considering that it has a 2,800mAh battery housed within it, but perhaps this is where we see the strength of the Snapdragon 820: its success at optimizing processes and performance.

LG seems to have optimized its battery, with the device giving me as much battery (and then some) that I could handle on any given workday. Using the device at work on a 10-hour day, I’d leave work with plenty of battery (at least 30%) remaining, sometimes more or less depending on what I did with it at work. I’ve been intentionally reckless with the handset, setting my screen timeout option to “keep screen turned on” just to see if it would drain battery life; fortunately, the phone has still managed to get 10 hours SOT performance even on long workdays.

In a review where I share my criticism of LG and its G5, let me say this: the LG G5 has surprised me in battery life. The 2,800mAh battery is more than sufficient for my needs (and I’ve used it nearly every day since it landed at my doorstep on April 20, with a battery that doesn’t seem to slow down. Reading for hours, watching YouTube videos here and there, it is as fast as reviewers have said it is.

The LG G5 had SOT (screen on time) scores that could match those of the Galaxy S7 edge, even with 800mAh less battery than its Samsung rival. At the same time, though, the G5 did have one hiccup: it drained, with only cellular data running, from 81% to 61% in about 30-45 minutes, which is something of an anomaly for a handset that’s worked well otherwise.

Even with the good battery life, it still doesn’t match that of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge, which could get me anywhere between 16-21 hours of battery life on a single charge. You can view the LG G5 battery stats in the photo gallery at the end of this section.

I tested the device with Skype video calls, where I got to see just how well LG’s 2,800mAh battery could hold up to the competition. LG’s battery could carry me into 3 hours of Skype video calls before dying; a subsequent test carried me to 4-4.5 hours on video chat. While this seems sufficient, it doesn’t best Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge that took me through 5-6 hours of Skype calling. With a larger battery, I’d expect Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge to win the contest, but then and again, few consumers will use the device for video calling and won’t mind this anyway.

The LG G5 has USB Type-C charging, and this helps the device charge in as little as 65-67 minutes, though it could take up to 90 minutes to charge if you place the device’s charging wire on a surge protector or alternate charging source outside of the typical wall charging. You can arrive at 70% battery life after just 38-39 minutes of charging time.

One peripheral issue that is somewhat tied to the battery concerns the battery stats on the G5. Unlike battery stats of the Galaxy S7 edge, the LG G5 doesn’t display as many. I’ve had days where I’ve been reading through some news apps for hours at a time; unfortunately, the G5 doesn’t register that I’ve spent so many hours in a given app. Outside of the “screen,” “phone idle,” and “cell standby,” few other apps get mentioned in my battery stats. Telegram, a secure messaging app does, but even then, seldomly. Outside of the ones mentioned above, sometimes I’ve seen “network” and “Google app” appear on the battery stats, if not “Google Play Services,” but little else.

The problem with the LG G5 battery stats is that it’s hard for me, even with the screenshots below, to prove to you or anyone else that I’ve been using the device. I could get these stats from simply staring at the screen, so there’s little proof outside of these to prove what I’m doing. Of course, I have taken photos of my recents menu to show my usage of the device, but it just highlights the problem with transparency regarding LG’s battery stats. Android Marshmallow brought more detailed battery stats to Android, but sadly, it seems as though LG missed the point completely. Scour the internet looking for tech reviewers who’ve also reviewed the G5, and you’ll see similar battery stat layouts to mine. It just doesn’t make sense that tech reviewers can’t get detailed battery stats on a high-end Android device.

I’d like to see LG provide more detailed battery stats in its statistics. It’s disappointing to use Google Keep for 5 hours, along with the use of Google’s Chrome browser, and not see either appear on my LG G5 battery stats.

 

Camera

LG G5 camera app

The LG G5 camera setup consists of dual cameras, one main camera and one additional wide-angle camera that is akin to what I call a “panorama camera.” The main camera is a 16MP back camera with an f/1.8 aperture, but the additional wide-angle camera is an 8MP camera with an f/2.4 aperture.

In other words, the second back camera, touted by many as LG’s greatest feature, turns out to be one of its greatest undoings. Yes, it gives you wide photos at the tap of a button on a screen, but its aperture is insufficient for lowlight situations. Why didn’t LG give the second camera the same aperture and megapixel count as the first one? We don’t know the answer to this question, but we do know that it would improve whatever photos you may take on your own handset.

We suggest that you take photos outdoors if you intend to make the most of these cameras, since indoor photos will still bear the typical “yellowish” tint due to indoor lighting. Even outdoors, though, the LG G5 has OIS but it doesn’t show all that much when compared to the Galaxy S7 edge. It appears as though photos taken tend to be blurry, and the only photos that really shine with LG’s latest back camera (sans the wide-angle lens) are those taken at a distance (say, photos of the sky and trees).

With a lowlight aperture that isn’t as top-performing as, say, the Galaxy Note 5 with its f/1.9 aperture, it makes you wonder why the dual camera setup is being touted as LG’s winning combo in the LG G5. We think LG should improve its wide-angle lens for next year’s LG G6, and that the company should increase its megapixel count and lowlight aperture to help it be just as good as (or rival) the primary back camera. Without similar performance, consumers will see the wide-angle back camera as nothing more than an impressive gimmick from afar that will never go mainstream.

Build Quality, Design, and Implementation

It is here in yet another important discussion of the LG G5 that we find out what else LG offers consumers in this year’s flagship. The G4 was a smartphone that was made of plastic, with LG resorting to plastic and leather back covers that remained removable to accommodate the removable battery that many consumers demand (and by keeping expandable storage with the veteran microSD card slot).

While LG retained a number of factors that consumers wanted, the company’s build quality was questionable indeed. Apart from the famous leather brown back cover with double stitching that appeared in press photo after press photo, LG also made some purse material back covers (yes, there’s no other way to describe the red, blue, green, and yellow back covers resembling female purses) that were the ugliest I’ve ever seen.

This year, though, LG’s build quality in the G5 is something respectable: the company traded in the plastic and faux metal look for a genuine leather look that’s buried beneath a coat of paint (primer). Don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel the cold, hard metal build quality: LG has already gone on record with its statement that it buried the metal beneath some primer on the device. The coat of paint isn’t water-resistant (we’ll cover this in some detail below when we cover design), but the build quality has improved. If I saw the G5 at a distance, I’d pick it over the leather-backed G4 any day.

With that said, though, the metal LG G5 is a step up from the plastic design of yesteryear’s LG G4, but there are still some problems with the company’s build in terms of design and implementation. It is to those that we now turn.

Design

We’ve covered a lot about the LG G5, particularly its software, battery, and camera performance, but we decided to save the best discussion of the device for last. After all, the LG G5 isn’t just another plain Jim phone; rather, it’s a phone that is known for its modular design as well as button placement.

First, the button placement. I covered the on-screen navigation buttons in the software section, but LG does have its volume rocker on the left side (which was formerly on the backside; the G5 is the first LG phone to have a side volume rocker) and its fingerprint sensor/power button double on the very back of the device, close to where the volume rocker once sat. The side volume rocker is typical of what Samsung has been doing in the Galaxy S, Galaxy S Active, and Galaxy Note series for some time, and we’re glad to see LG finally bring this design over to the G5. Yes, I’m aware that some LG G4 users won’t like the button placement change, but I welcome it.

I do think that LG didn’t take button placement changes far enough, though: the company added a fingerprint sensor this year, the first for the G series, but decided to follow its design of the Nexus 5X and add it on the back of the device where the volume rocker was. If the volume rocker wasn’t in an optimal location on the back of the phone, what made LG believe that the fingerprint sensor should go on the back of the device?

Yes, LG has some reason behind its fingerprint sensor implementation: the company wanted to place the fingerprint sensor where your fingers automatically rest on the back of the device; at the same time, however, the fingerprint sensor is embedded in the power button, which makes its back cover placement problematic. As someone who’s always taking screenshots of unboxing videos, it was difficult to use the volume rocker on the front of the device and the power button on the back of the device to capture a screenshot. On the Galaxy S7 edge, I need only press the physical home button and the power button (on the right side) to take a screenshot.

If you don’t use LG’s Capture+ home touch button (software implementation only) to get screenshots, you’ll be forced to use two physical buttons at two different places on the handset. Perhaps LG wants users to take advantage of Capture+, but I see no reason for them to when the software feature itself mandates stylus integration (there is no set stylus given as an accessory with the LG G5).

As for the fingerprint sensor, it lies on the back of the device, and is rather well implemented. Its location seems to be an intuitive move until you consider that many individuals don’t use their phones on the desk, but instead, keep them in their hands regularly. Can you use your fingerprint sensor if your phone is lying flat on a table or desk (and the sensor is placed on the back of the device, which is on the desk)? No.

This is what makes the fingerprint sensor a waste of time to set up and use, and what makes a home button with an embedded fingerprint sensor a much better, more natural choice for users. Users who are making the most of their phones will struggle to use the back fingerprint sensor when Samsung, Apple, HTC, and even OnePlus have embedded sensors into their home buttons. It’s a successful trend that I don’t understand why a company like LG would buck against.

The back of the LG G5 features the fingerprint sensor-embedded power button as well as LG’s dual camera and flash setup. While it’s admirable to see what LG would do with dual cameras, the question remains: why implement them in such a way that, as one tech reviewer has said, they look like two robot eyes (the power button being the nose of the robot) on the back of the handset? If design is important, and beauty and precision matter, then LG missed it here. I’m not a know-it-all when it comes to implementation, but if Samsung’s Galaxy S5 couldn’t get away with looking “like a giant Band-Aid,” as one famous tech reviewer said, then LG’s G5 can’t get away with looking like it’s got robot eyes on its back.

As for the fingerprint sensor and power button, I’m a firm believer that this setup on the back of the device is not a good move. LG seems to combine the power button and fingerprint security into one button, which some perceive as a wise step in eliminating multiple buttons, but the company doesn’t seem to know what it means to craft an intuitive experience. Most smartphones on the market now feature home buttons (including the new HTC 10, Moto G, and the upcoming OnePlus 3), and it just doesn’t add up as to why LG chooses to remain stubborn and combine these two functions and place them on the back of the device.

The power button is important for those who want to take a screenshot using it and the Volume Down button (hold both down at the same time), and, in this regard, LG’s G5 is a step up from the G4 that didn’t have any buttons on the front or side and had all volume buttons on the back of the device with no fingerprint sensor in sight.

My aunt has an LG G4 and didn’t even have the faintest idea about how to take a screenshot. I even struggled to show her how to take one until I examined the device even further, because LG has done its best to craft a minimalistic experience (the fewer [buttons], the better). The problem with this is that buttons are a way for new users to learn how to navigate the device – so, if you strive to remove them from a handset, you’ll likely push consumers to some handset that does provide them.

The LG G5 is better this year because 1) the volume rocker is on the left, a familiar layout, and 2) there is a fingerprint sensor, but the experience now seems fragmented. As I take screenshots of whatever’s on my display,  I can’t recall the number of times I attempted to screenshot something and ended up turning down the volume because of the buttons and their placement on the device (one on the side, one on the back). It’s a different and awkward implementation of hardware buttons as compared to those on the Galaxy S7 edge that allow me to use the power button (on the right side) and the home button (at the bottom of the front display) to screenshot something.

The fingerprint sensor is in an awkward place because you have to train your fingers and learn a specific placement to get the sensor to work. In contrast, I don’t have to worry about finger placement on the Galaxy S7 edge: I can have my fingers be placed in any myriad of ways while seeing the way I intend to use the fingerprint register – then just place my finger on the home button whenever I access the contents of my phone and bypass my lock screen. I can also use my Galaxy S7 edge on any surface, including flat ones, but the LG G5 is limited in this regard because the fingerprint sensor, on the back of the phone, prevents you from unlocking the phone if it sits on the arm of your couch.

The primer coating that prevents the cold, hard metal feeling on the device isn’t water-resistant. Sure, the handset isn’t either, but something about the coating must be said. I left my G5 in the rain for 10 minutes, unexpectedly (it fell out my pocket), and when I returned, I picked up the handset. The next day, I started noticing that my fingerprint sensor was peeling, with the paint coming off the small sensor. Since LG resorted to using a coat of paint atop the metal build, the primer is vulnerable to the elements. Unlike Samsung, LG didn’t implement water or dust resistance (or high element resistance) for its handset.

Now, we go on to the new portion of the LG experience: modularity.

LG G5 Modular Implementation

LG G5 battery and module go into display

The LG G5 isn’t just another smartphone on the market, but a modular one. What does it mean for the G5 to be modular? It means that, with the new phone, you can take parts off the phone and attach other items to it (what LG calls “modules”).

The way to take advantage of the modular LG G5 is to detach the bottom portion of the phone. First, press the small button on the left side of the bottom of the phone (where the speaker and USB Type-C port are located), then slide out the bottom portion until you see the battery. When you remove the bottom portion, you’ll notice that the battery is connected to the modular piece. In order to get the battery aloose, you’ll need to pry it apart from the modular piece, then take a new battery and attach it to the same modular piece before sliding the connected combo back into the G5.

If this process sounds exhausting, that’s because it is exhausting. The old way of removing the battery in the G4 involved taking off the back cover, popping in place the new battery, and putting the cover back on: 3 steps, easy-peasy. Unfortunately, the new LG G5, in its efforts to have a sophisticated metal unibody, a display with few buttons on the front (one on the back and a volume rocker on the left side), and retain the removable battery, made what was simple and effective (the old removable battery method) complex and more difficult. It’s nearly tiring to remove the battery now, and the cumbersome process is made even more cumbersome because you have to pry apart the battery from the module piece (and hope that you don’t break either item).

Add to this the fact that the modules are expensive and some are unavailable for the US market, and LG’s problems with the G5 grow exponentially. The modules currently available for the US are the Cam Plus (priced at $69.99), the LG 360 VR headset ($199.99), and the 360-degree camera ($199.99). Another module is available, called the B&O Hi-Fi DAC, but LG will not release this for the North American market (the company has yet to provide an answer as to why). The modules are quite expensive considering that you’ll pay $624 full retail price (or $26 a month for 24 months) for the G5 on Verizon’s network, which makes investing in these modules a hard sell.

Since the modules were unavailable at the time I received the device, I did not get to review them for this review specifically. As I gather more information on the modules, however, I’ll be sure to return and update this review.

Conclusion

Before concluding with words, I’d like to take time to encapsulate what I’ve said here about the LG G5 with “pros” and “cons.”

Pros:

  • Always On Display provides app notifications, Google notifications, and detailed notifications
  • Main display, as a Quad HD IPS LCD is pleasant to view, though not up to par with AMOLED displays
  • USB Type-C charging ensures your device goes from 0 to 100 in a little over an hour
  • Brightness percentages help you replicate battery life more precisely
  • Battery life is incredible for a handset with a reduced battery capacity (2,800mAh vs. The G4’s 3,000mAh battery)
  • G5 build quality is impressive and the device feels sturdy in hand
  • Battery is removable and lets you quickly recharge
  • Device stays cool most of the time
  • The volume rocker is correctly placed on the left side of the device
  • The G5’s dual-lens camera setup allows you to take images up close and at a panorama view; these, plus the “auto,” “simple,” and “manual” camera controls give users more control over their photography experience
  • LG offers a theme store (SmartWorld) to let users customize the look and feel of their devices
  • The G5 is affordably priced as a flagship, with many carrier and unlocked models selling for as low as $400 currently on eBay

Cons:

  • The primer coating steals the “cold metal” feeling that all consumers want when purchasing a metal handset
  • The removable battery is even more difficult to remove from the G5 than in previous models
  • The G5 does get excessively warm when quick charging (not just the USB Type-C reversible cable)
  • The Always On Display is just too dim for distance viewing, making notifications irrelevant
  • The modules are just too expensive and not all of them are available worldwide, including the US
  • The 16MP primary back camera isn’t good, even with OIS, doesn’t have much digital zoom ability and has lots of noise in photos and the lens before shots, and the secondary camera, placed at 8MP with an f/2.4 aperture, is fun to use but doesn’t work well in all cases and provides photos that are too dark
  • The LG SmartWorld theme store isn’t supported on AT&T or Verizon’s network in the US, so these customers are stuck with a bland-looking UX
  • LG’s pre-installed UX is too bland with odd colors (pastel white, black icon traces, and glow green toggles), and icon design is so simplistic here that it’s horrendous to look at
  • LG implemented a metal build quality but forfeited wireless charging, a more convenient way to charge the G5 than USB Type-C charging
  • The fingerprint sensor/power button on the back of the device is unintuitive and difficult to use when you must take a guess at finger placement to register your fingerprint and unlock the device; the fact that the volume rocker points toward the display and not the back cover is even more indicting
  • The dual camera setup on the back of the device is horribly designed; LG has to work on fixing these cameras to coexist without such a terrible camera bump and hump that resembles a robot
  • Battery stats are too generic, with little information about how battery life is consumed

At the end of the day, it’s possible that more could be added to the pros and cons we’ve mentioned here, but it goes without saying that there is never enough page space for the most exhaustive reviews, is there?

The LG G5 isn’t a terrible device. LG has optimized its 2,800mAh battery to a point where using this handset can be a real joy. But it becomes less of a joy when the Always On Display is too dim to see, the fingerprint sensor is on the back and feels unnatural, the phone coating starts to peel off after just two weeks of use, removing the battery, an action once easy that has now turned cumbersome, among other problems.

LG doesn’t master intuitiveness, and I fear that the company doesn’t know what it means to create an intuitive experience. The company claimed that with the LG G2 three years ago that placing your fingers on the back of the device was a natural move, but it isn’t natural for most individuals (which explains why so many rival companies have implemented a fingerprint sensor-embedded home button instead. The same can be said for the new modular implementation of the removable battery, a method requiring consumers to line up the battery with certain small slots on the battery rather than let them take the battery out of its compartment and pop a new one in.

In the final analysis, the LG G5 seems to be a solution in search of a problem with a modular design that appeals to a side of us that we didn’t know was there – or that we didn’t really care about. I mean, yes, it’s nice to have phones that could become easy to repair, allowing diehard tech geeks to “fix” their audio or camera when they want, but why not implement all these “modules” into the G5 itself without mandating additional modules for $70 and $200 each? And the future of this modular phone’s support is terribly in question.

LG wanted to bring fun back to phones, but I fear that the fun takes too much work and eliminates what little fun is left rather than adding to it. So with that said, I think that the LG G5 appeals to a certain type of consumer who’s willing to try modularity because it’s the new fad, and who doesn’t seem to mind back buttons and something of an unintuitive experience because of the new cameras. As for me? I’m going to be honest and say that this device isn’t for me.

LG’s customer service is also a problem. The company says that you have to register for the free LG G5 battery promo on its own website. I did as instructed, expecting my free G5 battery, but it never came. When I contacted LG about the missing battery that never made it to my residence, I was told that a representative would get in touch with me about it. It’s a month later, and I’ve still received no follow-up email from LG, nothing to show that the company even cares about me being a disgruntled customer. In contrast, I have a Galaxy S7 edge wireless charger that was lost in transit to my residence from Amazon and, upon contacting them, received a free replacement with free one-day shipping, no questions asked. This is another indictment for LG: when your product is already questionable enough, and you don’t try to meet consumer needs when they have a grievance about their free battery, you’re only sinking your own ship.

When it comes right down to it, LG’s G5 doesn’t have what it takes to best its fellow countryman and rival, Samsung with its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. Before you plunk down money on LG, I suggest giving Samsung’s 2016 beauties a spin.

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Deidre Richardson (dual B.A., History and Music, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) stumbled upon tech a little later in life than expected. After picking up her first smartphone (the Galaxy S3), the rest is history. She currently writes for SamMobile, the largest Samsung fan site worldwide, as well as smartwatch site smartwatch.me.

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    KHAN December 17, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    YES THIS TUTORIAL WAS HELPFUL — BUT APPARENTLY LG 5 IS TURNING OUT TO BE PAIN. SO OFTEN IT GOES IN SAVE MODE AND TO BRING IT UP BACK — I HAVE TO KEEP PRESSING THE BACK BUTTON.. IT REALLY ANNOYS — EVERY CELL I HAVE HAD I JUST RECHARGED AND IT READY TO GO.

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