LG’s booth at MWC is a wild flurry of activity: loud music with plenty of colour to showcase its wildest flagship smartphone to date: the G5.
Each year, LG fights a close race with Samsung for the throne of best Android smartphone, and this year’s edition is extra fascinating because of the radically different approach LG has concocted.
Perhaps they knew what the Galaxy S7 would be (well, half the world already knew anyway), and decided to take a gamble bigger than even the G Flex. The G5 boasts flagship hardware and a new dual-camera setup, but the ace up its sleeve is the semi-modular design.
True to its fun and cheeky approach, the G5’s modular accessories are known as the G5’s “friends”: the Cam Plus and Hi-Fi Plus. Each enhance the G5 in their own way, effectively making this the first-ever modular smartphone in the world.
That in itself is a huge triumph for engineering: LG has proven that a modular device (strictly speaking, the G5 is semi-modular) can work, and work as a flagship device at that. Simply remove the bottom portion, snap off the battery and onto a Friend, slot it back in and suddenly you’ve got an enhanced smartphone.
For now, LG is only introducing two Friends, which either enhance the camera or audio experience of the G5. Both are likely to be sold separately, which could severely dampen the reception if priced too far from consumers’ reach.
Unsurprisingly, working units of the G5 at the LG booth had their bottom portions sealed shut – with thousands of people clamouring to test the phone’s modularity feature out, this is a stress test no smartphone can endure without failing.
Thankfully, there were dummy devices for users to try swapping the G5’s accessories, and to be honest, it’s dead simple to exchange the G5’s bottom portion. The plastic hooks on the G5 battery and Friends are thick, so chances of them breaking is very small if they are removed correctly.
As for the phone itself, the G5 is bound to split opinion. It’s got a metal unibody frame with a removable bottom portion, and a black camera strip that evokes design cues from last year’s Nexus 6P by Huawei. The round fingerprint scanner below it is strikingly similar to the Nexus, though on the G5, it is also the home button.
The G5 is also surprisingly smaller than previous LG devices, the compactness further giving the phone a solid feeling.
Personally, the G5 design is rather bland. There is nothing outstanding that we’ve come to expect from LG, no crazy curves or leather back covers; when compared to the modular features the G5 design feels restrained, and it’s perhaps not advisable to put it side by side with the Galaxy S7 edge in a design contest.
Round the back, the black camera strip gives it a very odd look. Perhaps we saw the Nexus 6P and are used to the full-length black strip. Regardless, I can’t shake off the first thing I called the G5 when I first called it: a Cyclops Phone.
Moving into the software, LG has surprisingly (and pleasantly) refined its Optimus UX, hiding or completely removing some of its preinstalled apps that cluttered the UI. Perhaps there was a good reason for it, too: the G5 does not have an app drawer.
Yup, it appears LG has taken a cue from Chinese smartphone companies. Again, personally I’m questioning the wisdom of this move, because while Chinese Android ROMs like MIUI have built-in features to easily move app icons around, Optimus UX does not.
Semi-modularity isn’t the only radical thing LG featured on the G5. The smartphone packs two rear cameras, but unlike HTC’s version for the One M8, where one sensor supported the other, the G5 lets you switch between the two cameras.
There is the standard, excellent 16MP sensor with 78 degree field of view, coupled with a smaller 8MP sensor that’s paired with a fish-eye lens that offers a 135-degree FOV. Switching between the two cameras is just with a tap on the camera UI, with a very cool animation that warps into a larger frame when switching to the 8MP camera.
As a flagship level smartphone, the G5 naturally delivers where it counts. The 5.3-inch 2K display is beautiful and crisp, the Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM kept things buzzing effortlessly, while the introduction of USB Type-C plus the removable battery and microSD card slot completes the G5 package.
Whether or not the G5 is reviewed to be better than the Galaxy S7 is a moot argument. LG’s smaller distribution scale means it will predictably sell less units, too. But none of those matter.
The G5 heralds a new age of smartphones, one where you can easily plug and play different accessories tailored for your needs on a smartphone. The only real question is whether consumers are ready to embrace this new wave.