Cellular

Hands On With the LG G5 Smartphone

Thanks to competitive mimicry within the smartphone industry, many smartphones across leading brands now share the benefits of longer battery life, dazzling displays, better cameras, and other desirable traits. Of course, this tends to makes them a bit too much alike. The LG G5 smartphone is a refreshing mutation, with a clever design twist that allows it to improve substantially while it’s in your hands.

As we noted in our preview, the LG G5 has a clip-style removable bottom that allows you to swap in new audio or camera hardware in just a few seconds. These modules not only look like they’re natural part of the phone but also act that way: They promise to function smoothly because they plug directly into the phone's core systems.

The LG G5’s cameras are interesting, too. The phone has a relatively high-resolution, 8-megapixel selfie camera, along with two rear-facing cameras that work in tandem to bring its users the benefits of zoom without the bulk of a single telescoping lens. The 16-megapixel camera has a 78-degree viewing angle used for most shots, while the 8-megapixe ultra-wide-angle camera puts its 135-degree viewing to work when it’s time to zoom out and capture subjects in the outer periphery that would otherwise be cropped out.

Other forward-thinking features include a USB Type-C port, which support ultrafast data connections of 10 gigabits per second and don’t have that "wrong-side up" insertion issues of the soon-to-be extinct micro USB cables.

Smarter control layout. The often-confounding, rear-mounted controls that defined LG G-series smartphones has improved . . . slightly. While the fingerprint reader/home button is still on the back, LG mercifully moved the rocker-style volume controls from the back to the upper-left side of the phone, which is significantly easier to reach—at least for right-handed users.

Twist and tug cartridges. The bottom portion of the LG G5 is designed to easily slide in and out to allow you to swap in new modules, such as the CAM Plus cartridge, which adds convenient camera controls and spare battery power to G5.

But I had a little trouble with it. While these modules slide into the phone quite easily, pulling them out took a bit of effort, at least on this prototype model. There’s a release button on the lower-left side of the phone, but I still had to tug firmly on the module, alternately pulling from left to right until it came loose. Pulling out the CAM Plus module was not that difficult because its protruding sides gave my fingers an excellent perch. But getting a firm grip on the smooth, nub-like “regular” cartridge was a bit tougher.

Also, the LG G5’s slab-like 2,800mAh battery has to be inserted into whatever module you are installing on the phone. That means you have to yank the battery out of the old module and insert into the new one before you switch. That process was also a little rough. You have to gently pull on the battery while rocking it from left to right until it pops out of the cartridge. Given how often I anticipate G5 users will be changing cartridges, LG should definitely consider a more substantive eject mechanism for the battery.  

Nifty camera. We can’t yet say how well the G5’s new cameras will perform until we test the finished retail model, but I was impressed with the dramatic zoom effect delivered via the two-camera combo. Though at close range, subjects captured with the wide-angle lens appear quite distorted, sort of like seeing your reflection in a mirror ball.

There are multiple ways to switch between regular and wide-angle cameras. For instance, you can toggle between them by tapping either of two rectangular squares at the top of the screen. One has a single pine tree, which activates the regular camera; the other has three pine trees in it for the wide-screen camera.

You can also launch the zoom feature by placing two fingers on the display and pulling them apart to come in tight, or bring them together when you want to zoom out. The onscreen zoom-range indicator, besides showing your locations on the zoom continuum, also shows you the point at which one camera will hand off to the other. And you’ll want to know that when you’re shooting video because the hand-off is noticeably jumpy.

Another cool camera feature: You can instantly flip between the main and selfie cameras just brushing your fingers up or down on the touchscreen.

CAM Plus accessory. Smartphone camera buffs will definitely want to check out the CAM Plus camera module, which includes dedicated buttons for operating the shutter, flash, and zoom functions as well as an 1,200mAh battery that the phone will use first, before accessing the phone’s primary 2,800mAh battery. While the module makes the bottom third of the G5 a notably thicker 0.3 inches, it does make the phone easier to grip when it’s being use as a camera. The buttons work well, too. Gliding your fingers over responsive, well-placed camera controls is definitely less distracting than clawing at a touchscreen. The zoom wheel, in particular, helped me take zoomed video shots appear less jerky. 

Dropped drawer. Oddly, despite all its useful new features, LG dropped one of the more significant advantages Android has over iPhone: the App drawer. The app drawer helps Android users keep their phone’s desktop tidy by providing an accessible place to keep all of the apps and widgets installed on your phone out of sight yet easily accessible. It appears that the only place LG G5 users will have for hiding little-used apps will be a folder. LG confirmed the app drawer will not be available on the final version of the G5, and we’re still waiting for the reason for its removal. While the App drawer will be MIA on the G5, the new phone does have one interesting app-related convenience: The Recently uninstalled app, which allows you quickly reinstall any apps you removed within the last 24 hours. 

Always on display. Just like the Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphones, the LG G5 display has an always-on feature that shows the time, date, and battery status continuously when the display goes to sleep. However, its readout appeared a little too dim for my liking, and there didn’t appear to be a way to make it appear brighter.

Stay tuned for the test results of the full test results of the LG G5.  

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