- 1 Video Review
- 2 The Good
- 3 The Not So Good
- 4 Hardware and design
- 5 Display
- 6 Battery life
- 7 Storage, wireless, and call quality
- 8 Audio and speakers
- 9 "Friends"
- 10 Camera[s]
- 11 Performance
- 12 Stability
- 13 Software: New features and changes
- 14 Software: in general
- 15 Conclusion
LG is a company whose smartphone products have gone from bottom of the barrel to highly competitive in under four years. Once the butt of bad phone jokes in the early days of Android, the company has lifted itself up into prominence in particular with the G Series, the originator of that lineage being the Optimus G.
The original G was a model for the Nexus 4 - the glass front and back blended a fairly bold design with modern and high-end components. LG's software really wasn't quite there yet, but they quickly stepped up their game with the G2 in the following year, and in the eyes of many fans perfected that formula in the G3. The G3 was advertised heavily here in the US, I recall it on TV during major sporting events, on billboards, in commercials, and magazines. It seemed like LG was quite possibly ready to take on Samsung's dominant Galaxy S series directly.
Then the Galaxy S6 happened. And while far from perfect, it made LG's G4 look a bit lackluster. I liked the G4 a lot at the time it launched, but in retrospect, the S6 featured a more modern, "premium" design, a noticeably better display, excellent camera, powerful processor (the G4's 808 was fairly mediocre), and an "edge" model with a curved display that made LG's banana-phone curve look a bit simple by comparison. (LG's other semi-flagship early last year, the G Flex 2, was not great.) While the V10 won LG some real fans, the G4 simply didn't compare well to Samsung's new look and feel, and the Samsung advertising and marketing juggernaut went in for the kill, launching the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+ in the fall, and the latter is a phone I now see regularly in public. I even see more V10s than I do G4s - and I think that's a signal of Samsung's clear victory in early 2015's smartphone wars.
It was clear that for 2016 the ball was in LG's court - Samsung issued a[n excellent] refresh of the S6 and S6 edge+ formula this year with the S7 and S7 edge, and the G5 has to be able to stand up to those devices on numerous and important fronts. The sad truth is that it simply doesn't. The G5 drops the ball in too many areas to be a legitimate threat to Samsung, and I simply don't see a place for it at that level. LG is asking $600-700+ for this phone in the US - Galaxy S7 money - and that phone walks away with the win in most key respects. LG fans may find something to love, but to those looking for a reason to stray or see what LG has to offer, the G5 offers precious little to get their attention, let alone keep it.
Short on time? Not a fan of... well, written words? Check out our video review of the G5 below. (Note: opinions in video review will vary, sometimes substantially, from the written review. Our video reviews are authored and shot by Mark Burstiner for the Android Police YouTube channel.)
|Display (in sunlight)||The display is definitely better in direct sunlight than the outgoing G4 thanks to substantially increased maximum brightness from the IPS panel.|
|Quick||The G5 is a bit quicker than Samsung's 820-powered versions of the S7 and S7 edge, though I'm not sure you'll notice it much in day to day use.|
|Wide-angle camera||The quality is debatable, but the point of view it offers is absolutely unique among today's smartphones. I kind of love it, even if I wish it could do a bit more in terms of resolution and overall imaging performance.|
|Swappable battery||It's the only phone in this class with one anymore. That's certainly something.|
|Battery life||Mediocre at best. I get maybe a bit over 4 hours screen on with most of my time sitting at home on Wi-Fi only. Around or under three hours, definitely, if I'm out and about on mobile data. So, a lot like a typical phone from 2015 running Marshmallow.|
|Camera||One really good and one OK camera do not combine to make one truly excellent camera. The G5's cameras are both just that: OK (wide-angle) to really good (narrow angle). Totally passable for the person who doesn't linger on image quality, but bested in multiple respects (particularly low light performance) by devices like the Galaxy S7 or Nexus 6P/5X.|
|Design||Alright, I'll say it - this is not a pretty phone. It's an ugly phone. It's a mish-mash of questionable design and ergonomic decisions that just don't look or feel right. LG's UI layer doesn't make it any prettier, either.|
|Overpriced||Paying the same or even close to the same price as a Galaxy S7 for this phone is unthinkable to me. Even if it were $100 or $200 less, I'd still have a hard time even recommending it over a Nexus 5X.|
Hardware and design
Well, it's happened: LG's gotten on the metal body bandwagon. And... I'm not sure it was a good idea. Not only has this phone been regularly ridiculed on the internet as outright ugly, removing hyperbole from my critical lexicon for a moment, nothing about the outward design feels especially inspired or adventurous. Gone are the rear-mounted volume buttons - a circular physical power button and fingerprint reader combination remains - and a body color "chin" on the front of the device simply looks awkward. The phone really does look like two different teams designed the front and the back and then reconciled the competing results along a thin, beveled edge.
Left: G5, right: G4
The large, pill-shaped dual camera module provides some rather odd busyness on what is otherwise an unusually clean backplate, and the "break" for the chin module along the bottom draws your eye on an otherwise naked surface. It's as though someone at LG really wanted to build a phone with no breaks or bumps along the back, and an engineer simply said "well obviously that won't work," plopped some components onto the back of the phone and called it a day. I know that sounds harsh, and it is, but this phone really does not come together visually for me, it's just awkward all around. It doesn't help that the camera module and fingerprint reader / power button look like a surprised robot.
Oh, and you want something that'll really drive you crazy? You can see straight through the phone on the left and right edges of the chin. You're welcome. Not to mention the chin creates a noticeable edge where the glass meets the metal, and the gap is not exactly perfectly flush. And yes, this is on every G5 if you look close enough. The gap may vary in size, though it's about the same on both of my devices.
As to the rest of the front, the G5's vertical bezels are only slightly larger than the S7's, but that contrasting chin element makes the phone look oddly chunky for some reason. LG's attempted to smooth this all out with a bit of 2.5D glass that curves up at the top of phone, but frankly, it just comes off as another strange and random design choice, like the top of the phone is melting or something. If I had to guess, I would suspect the G5 simply didn't have enough time in the industrial design labs - or perhaps too much. I can't know, obviously, but something really did go wrong here. Many people won't care about the phone's design (it'll end up in a case, etc.), but when LG's chief rival is building arguably the prettiest smartphones on the market, this stuff does start to matter.
On the subject of more functional concerns, I'm not sure how I feel about a power button fingerprint reader combination button now that there's a side-mounted volume rocker. Why not just keep all the buttons on the back? It's something I really came to like on the G4 (after hating it on the G2 initially), but largely because all three functions were in one, easily accessible place. When it's just a power button, it actually kind of feels less convenient. You can't turn off the display using LG's Knock On from a custom launcher's homescreen (correction: you can use Knock On to turn off the display from the notification bar), so you have to use the rear-mounted power button to turn the display off. This means if you're using it on a flat surface, you have to pick up the phone to turn off the screen. I don't think this is optimal. I also found the fingerprint reader a bit temperamental at times, and I just ended up putting in both of my index fingers twice in the system, and that greatly reduced the number of bad reads I got on the scanner.
LG has improved peak brightness compared to the display on last year's G4, but this is still plainly an LG IPS. It has a noticeable blue tint and the colors are artificially saturated, resulting in an unnatural look that basically comes off as a Super AMOLED knockoff. But it does do better in the sun than the G4, a common complaint among owners, so prospective G5 buyers will likely be pleased to hear that.
The quad HD panel offers strong viewing angles, but LG's IPS panels simply don't make the screen pop in the way Samsung's Super AMOLEDs do, and overall the G5's screen just seems rather average (well, as average as a Quad HD display can be!) in anything but the improved sunlight experience.
In addition, LG still doesn't offer an ability to change the white balance or color saturation of the display a la Samsung's display modes, which is a bit disappointing. I find a more accurate mode can be especially beneficial when taking and reviewing photos, as the oversaturated default mode makes it hard to tell if the camera is really getting nice, vibrant colors, or the display is just making me think it is.
Oh, and backlight bleed? Don't worry, LG's new chin module seems to bring plenty of it. For the life of me, I really don't understand why they've gone with this design. It just seems so compromised. On the left is a pre-production G5, on the right is a final T-Mobile retail unit.
I compared both to a G4 I had laying around, and while the G4 had some bleed along the top and bottom, it was nowhere near as obvious and did not have such bright "hot spots." Any type of OLED display, of course, has no backlight and is not susceptible to this issue, which is why I find it especially baffling that LG continues to use IPS panels.
In a typical day on Wi-Fi and a bit of mobile data, I can eke out around 3-3.5 hours of screen-on time. I could probably push it to over 4 hours on Wi-Fi only. I regularly managed 4.5-5+ hours on the Galaxy S7 edge under similar mixed-use conditions (around 6 on Wi-Fi only), and I'm guessing the standard S7 would still manage to get near that with its reduced battery and display panel size. On mobile data only? Under 3 hours. The S7 edge was closer to or slightly above 4, so again, the standard S7 (let alone the Exynos variant, which gets observably better battery life than the Snapdragon), would likely be fractionally less than its larger sibling.
The G5 feels like a phone with the sort of battery life I came to expect on last year's phones, maybe slightly better, and that's not a compliment. While doze mode does allow it to sip very little power while sitting idle, in-pocket and in use battery life is subpar, especially when you crank up the display brightness. Generally, I'd call it average on the basis of 2015's flagship phones.
I think two things are really to blame here. First, the G5 feels noticeably quicker at times than the Snapdragon 820 version of the S7 and S7 edge, which tend to exhibit fairly aggressive thermal throttling behavior. A less restricted processor probably means increased power consumption. Second, an IPS LCD simply isn't going to be as efficient as a Super AMOLED, and it really has to crank that backlight to get you solid contrast outdoors.
When the phone is doing a lot of heavy lifting, too, it drains the battery pretty damn quick. My review unit consumed 50% of the battery during the setup process (restoring apps, signing into them, setting up phone how I like), which lasted a little over an hour with about 45 minutes of screen-on time. Typical usage proves far less expeditious in consumption, but when that Snapdragon 820 spins up, it is thirsty.
Storage, wireless, and call quality
The 32GB G5 comes with a little over 23.5GB of storage out of the box, a little less than an international Galaxy S7. The storage itself is fast, and benchmarks only a bit slower than the GS7, and really only noticeable in one metric, so I'd say the capabilities of the NAND are roughly on par with Samsung's - it's possible they're even the same part. The G5 is, like most Android phones as of Marshmallow (which requires it), full-disk encrypted out of the box, and this feature cannot be disabled by the user. There's a microSD card slot available, too, and while adoptable storage isn't exposed in the UI, you can enable it via ADB.
Wireless connectivity on my international unit has, frankly, been subpar. I don't want to judge LTE performance until I get a proper AT&T version of the phone in my hands (I was sent a final T-Mobile variant with a bum SIM card), because oftentimes band support isn't the full story when it comes to network performance on LTE. I will say Wi-Fi range hasn't been especially great in the outer reaches of my apartment on the G5, though it has been far from unusable.
Voice calls worked and sounded fine, I had no real issues.
One feather in the G5's cap versus most of its competitors? It still has an IR blaster and the accompanying remote app. So if that was a killer feature for you (which Samsung does not offer on the GS7 or S7 edge), the G5 leaves it intact.
Audio and speakers
Audio from the G5's headphone jack is quite good. I found that at typical listening volumes, it's all but indistinguishable from the Snapdragon 820 Galaxy S7, perhaps with a touch less dynamic range, but not anything most people will notice. The maximum output of the headphone amplifier does seem to be lower though, and the quality of audio and maximum output is a bit worse. But that's taking the hardware to its limits, and not a typical listening scenario. Overall, in a reference test against my desktop DAC and headphone amplifier, I still firmly stand by the notion that high-end smartphones today reproduce audio very well even in difficult usages like high-impedance over-ear headphones and that all but the most discerning (read: picky) listener is going to find they work well even with high-end listening equipment.
As such, I find the notion that the G5 needs its own external DAC and amplifier utterly silly, and in my informal testing, the audio the B&O attachment produces doesn't sound "better," it just sounds shaped. There is no "fog" being lifted off or "clearness" coming through, it just sounds like someone ran the sound through some EQ and processing effects.
Oh, and the DAC's companion app doesn't actually... do anything. It just lets you know you're using the most recent version of the app (or the DAC firmware?) and that's it. There's an area in settings that confirms you're using the DAC and mentions that the sound quality is "optimized" for connected devices, which to me reads a lot like the DAC is not meant to be transparent, but rather is "enhancing" the sound through processing techniques. Which sort of defeats the purpose of an accessory like this.
The G5's speaker is a bit louder than the Galaxy S7's, but the fidelity is a bit more questionable. While similar, the G5's speaker is tuned noticeably more mid-heavy and tends to come off a bit shrill, and things like static or wind noise are oddly emphasized. It's a fine speaker, though, and is less sharp and slightly more clear than the speaker on the G4 to my ears. I do prefer the S7's, though. Granted, the Nexus 6P kicks all of the above speakers' collective butts.
LG's removable "chin" modules are an interesting idea - on paper. I'm going to play the bad guy here, but interesting or not, I seriously doubt they'll take off. There are simply too many hurdles to overcome and too little incentive for partners to develop hardware modules for a specific phone that probably won't even sell all that well. The engineering is undoubtedly clever, but the business case seems bunk. Samsung can't even get more than a handful of bespoke USB accessories for their uber-popular phones, what makes LG's effort any more likely to succeed? It's basically the hardware equivalent of launching your own app store. Why develop for a single phone in an ecosystem of hundreds? It's silly and seems utterly foolhardy.
LG has provided a few of the initial batch of Friends for us. the Cam Plus module is a 1200mAh extended battery with camera control buttons. It sounds like it'll be priced at $70. For the right person, this could be handy, I guess? Maybe? I'm not even really sure I get the use case aside from the extended battery - the camera controls are alright, I suppose, but they don't do anything exciting. You've got a toggle to launch the camera, a shutter, a video record key, and a digital zoom knob. The stuff you might actually want - ISO, shutter speed, EV, white balance - all still has to be done in the camera app. This isn't a mobile photography enthusiast's tool so much as an extended battery with some buttons slapped on it.
The second chin module is a B&O Hi-Fi DAC and amplifier, and whatever it costs, I suggest saving your money unless you've already decided you're buying it, in which case I'm not convincing you otherwise. By the way, it sounds like unless one of the US carriers decided to actually stock the B&O attachment, it won't come to America at all. LG's current version of the dongle is not FCC certified and US phones refuse to boot when it is inserted, so don't go importing one and thinking it'll work.
The modules require removing the chin slot, which turns off the phone, removing the battery from the standard chin, placing it in the new one, then attaching the new chin. This is easily a 1-2 minute process when you factor in Android's boot time - you also have to have somewhere to stick the stock chin if you plan on doing swaps on the fly.
Part of me feels like LG did it this way at least 50% for the gimmick factor, 25% for battery access, and 25% for space-saving. Sure, it does mean you effectively "reduce" the amount of volume these accessories will probably take up, but this could just as well be implemented via the external USB-C port. And in that case, you likely wouldn't even need to reboot the phone. Is the way LG did it cool? Sure. But it seems largely to have been done that way simply because LG could do it that way.
The other "friends" include the 360 VR headset and 360 CAM (oh, and a rolling robot), which we aren't covering in this review - I will be reviewing the 360 CAM separately, because I do think it's quite interesting. I will say of the VR headset that based on my limited time with it at MWC, I much prefer Gear VR. LG's solution's one real advantage is that it's a lot lighter to wear, but it has a lot of environmental light bleed (the headset does not "seal" around your face) and thus the LCDs inside the headset have to operate at relatively high brightness, causing huge amounts of motion blur when you move your head. The Samsung Gear VR is, visually speaking, a tremendously better experience, and costs half as much. The 360 VR seems DOA to me.
Is the second, wide-angle lens a gimmick? Yep. But it's a really fun one, I have to admit (and since it has been asked before: no, it doesn't work with 3rd party camera apps, at least yet). You can shoot wide angle video at 4K, even, and the quality of the optics is a huge improvement over those stick/snap-on lenses you see on iPhones sometimes. For big group shots or really "capturing" a room, the wide-angle lens is a tool that mobile photographers may genuinely come to appreciate. Here's the thing: the quality of the 8-megapixel images it produces is nothing to write home about (they're good, but not great), and realistically, it's not going to be terribly useful in all but a few situations. It will be a hard sell to consumers, even if I'd personally love something like this in my next phone. I just don't know if it justifies the cost of a second sensor and lens.
Compare that to a shot taken from the same spot with the standard camera.
As far as the interaction between the wide angle and standard cameras, it works like this. You launch the camera app and it defaults to the standard cam. Pinch to zoom out, and you'll go to the wide angle. Zoom back in enough, and you'll be thrown back to the regular camera. Got it? There are photo modes that allow you to create a sort of picture-in-picture composite using both sensors at the same time, but the novelty value of that feature seems likely to wear off quickly if you ask me. There's just not much use to it. There are no nifty stereoscopic 3D or other tricks you can do with the cameras of that nature (likely owing to the mismatched lenses and sensors).
The standard camera is a 16MP unit (the wide angle is 8MP) and it's not my favorite camera ever - it's solid, but it really doesn't stand up to the Galaxy S7. It exhibits much of the same smoothing behavior and similar character in low-light situations as the G4's did last year. It's a good camera, it's just not in the same league as the great ones we've been seeing on recent phones. Compared to the S7 in low light, the G5 has very noticeably poorer edge detail and contrast and substantially greater noise. It also tends to come off a bit pink in certain lighting, and the S7 easily bests it in terms of auto-focus speed, capture time, and general capability in low light. The below photo was taken in a darkened room with both phones set to auto (HDR off). The G5 took longer to focus and capture, and the end result is noticeably inferior in most respects. The white balance is also off.
Left: Galaxy S7 edge, right: LG G5 - in a dark room
In short, LG is depending on that second, wide-angle camera to be a point of consumer excitement over competing phones. Will they opt for an occasionally-useful, fun secondary mode in favor of overall superior image quality and better night and low light performance on competing devices? I kind of doubt it. In addition, for whatever reason, LG's G5 still lacks a 240FPS high-speed capture mode, despite the fact that the Nexus 5X produced by LG last year does support it (correction: it does not). That seems a bit odd. (The Galaxy S7 also supports 240FPS capture.)
For every area I found myself underwhelmed or disappointed in the G5, performance was not one of them. While not the CPU benchmark firecracker that is the Exynos Galaxy S7, the G5 does beat the Snapdragon 820 version of the S7 in some key respects. Using a CPU monitoring app, I overlaid a constantly-updating (1ms) readout of CPU clock speeds of the G5 and SD820 Galaxy S7 while running Google's Octane web benchmark, which I've already shown to bring out some odd performance disparities between the Qualcomm-powered S7 and the Exynos version. What I noticed was an immediate difference in the ways the G5 and S7 handled the intense CPU workload.
The Galaxy S7 began throttling the "big" two cores of the Snapdragon 820 within around fifteen seconds, down from their 2.2GHz limit to 1.6GHz fairly quickly. Now, the G5 throttles as well, but it tends to try to bring those cores back to peak clock for bursts, whereas once the S7 begins throttling them, it holds them there (or keeps lowering them all the way down to 1.2GHz) until the thermal load subsides for a while and the phone can get back down to "typical" operating temperature. The G5 bounces back much more quickly for the most part. This means that during periods of extended screen-on use, especially as the phone heats, the [Snapdragon 820] Galaxy S7 may start to experience more consistent lag than the G5. For example, I noticed more incidents where the Galaxy S7 would "chug" for extended periods, whereas the G5 rarely experienced this condition. Granted, reproducing this requires taxing the phone quite hard - light to moderate users will likely never notice it. Smartphone gamers, though, probably will (not in-game, though likely after leaving the application).
Overall, the G5 just feels a bit quicker, too. Animations complete more quickly, apps often load a bit faster, and the phone feels snappier overall. Granted, the difference is not huge, in fact, it's something most people won't even notice - it is definitely marginal. And given how much more power-efficient the Galaxy S7 even with the Snapdragon 820 is than the G5, any performance gains are completely offset by the latter's poor battery life.
I've not had any strange behaviors or bugs with the LG G5, even on my pre-production unit I received prior to our retail review unit. LG seems to have things ironed out pretty well, in my experience, but as I said in our Galaxy S7 review, bugs and issues often don't reveal themselves until later in a phone's life, or simply aren't obvious at first.
That said, it's been smooth sailing so far!
Software: New features and changes
LG tells us every year that the new G phone ships with a new version of the company's "LG UX," and this time the G5 gets, you guessed it, LG UX 5.0. Considering we're coming from LG UX 4.0, you'd be forgiven for thinking this means big changes. A whole version number, after all, seems like a significant jump. If you're expecting anything beyond a fresh [and thin] coat of paint, though, you're really aiming too high. This is a gentle re-skin (much like the re-skins LG seems to do every year), so let's break it down piece by piece.
There's no app drawer! Well, LG kind of said, "lol never mind we were totally kidding" after the internet collectively poo-pooed on that idea when the G5 was announced at MWC. The G5 will ship with an app drawer on the stock launcher, supposedly (my T-Mobile version does not have a drawer nor an option to enable one), not that it matters, because you really should be using a custom launcher anyway, since they are simply better. LG's obnoxious Smart Notices are now gone (I don't believe those were on all US G4s), and the Smart Bulletin pane in the launcher is no longer enabled by default. You can no longer manually add empty home panes, and the pinch gesture for doing so now does nothing. Basically, the launcher has been hugely reduced in prominence. You do, however, get some new options.
You can change the grid size (4x4, 4x5, 5x5) and... actually, that's it. They also removed the infinite looping feature, though that was disabled by default on the G4, so I doubt many people even used it.
Long story short? Use a custom launcher. Tell your friends, family, and acquaintances to use a custom launcher. Stock launchers, aside from arguably Google Now Launcher on Nexus devices, just aren't very good.
Notification and power controls
In essence, all we're seeing is a re-theme. Instead of a dark theme, the notification area and power toggles now have a light theme. There are new options to add file sharing and screen sharing (Miracast, already on the G4) quick buttons on the notification bar, which you should immediately disable because they take up precious notification space.
LG's added a button to quickly modify this area in the top right of the notification shade, and there's a new drag-and-drop interface for managing which toggles you want to appear versus the old list-toggle layout on LG UX 4.0, so it does look slightly more polished (i.e., actually finished). I personally like the old dark theme better, but to each their own, I guess.
In settings, LG largely seems to have done housekeeping, removing legacy features and toggles that simply have no place on your average smartphone or that duplicate existing functionality (like a mode in Bluetooth settings to force Bluetooth to be discoverable, when the phone goes discoverable any time you're on the Bluetooth settings page). For example, LG no longer tries to preempt Android Beam with its own product (SmartShare Beam), and just allows you to toggle Android Beam instead now.
LG still allows you to toggle the color and layout of the navigation keys to your liking, though gone is the "dual window" shortcut key, as LG has removed this feature from the G5. I would not be surprised if this is in anticipation of multi-window in Android N, which will be finalized this summer, mere months after the G5's launch.
If you're a fan of LG's smart settings features (a bit like a similar feature on Sony's phones), they're still here on the G5, with a more pictorial interface, though functionality appears unchanged. Battery and power saving features are mostly unaltered, though there is now a toggle in power saver mode to automatically disable the always-on display feature that is new to the G5.
LG's shortcut key feature has also stuck around, allowing you to use the volume rocker to quickly launch an app or snap a photo when the screen is off by pressing at either end of the key twice.
LG's always-on display has a leg up on Samsung's largely owing to LG's Knock On feature, which allows you to turn on the display by simply tapping on the glass twice. Samsung's phones can only be woken with the home button or power key. The second advantage to LG's always-on display is that it actually shows little notification icons, albeit without any text or other context. The always-on display can be set to show either the time or... a signature (plus the aforementioned notifications). That's it.
Its power consumption is extant (LG says around half a percent an hour), and on a phone with this kind of battery life, that means you should probably be turning it off regardless of any marginal utility it provides. Unlike Samsung's always-on display, LG's does not appear to adjust its brightness, and operates at a set (and very dim) level constantly. I struggled to even photograph it outdoors.
Software: in general
LG's UX 5.0 provides little in the way of compelling reasons to exist. It's certainly not bad to use, but unlike Samsung's TouchWiz, which tends to be packed with quite a few features and options unique to Samsung phones, LG's software has a fraction of the additional functionality and, let's be honest, even more of the ugliness. TouchWiz, for all the berating it gets, looks far less like an amateur's theme engine creation than it did a few years back. I don't know that I can say the same of LG's UX 5.0. That bright teal / sea-green contrast really needs to go. But again, the theme is inconsequential in the larger scheme, so let's not stick around there too much.
So. much. teal.
LG, for its part, has largely followed the advice of critics and avoided stuffing phones to the gills with software gimmicks that users generally don't tend to appreciate or often discover in the first place. The result, though, is a phone whose software can't even pretend to make up for a phone that is in many other respects quite so mediocre. LG's software is fine - it's a bit ugly, sure, but it's largely just a theme. You've got LG Health and a few other LG preloads like Quick Remote to utilize the IR blaster, but otherwise there's just not much else floating around in terms of value-adds here. LG has instead chosen to ride its fortunes on the "friends" ecosystem of accessories and the accompanying app, but that seems like an ill-fated strategy to me. When Samsung has a killer feature like Samsung Pay, a theming engine (LG's appears to be gone on the G5), or even situationally useful tools like the edge display and game launcher, TouchWiz finds occasional justifications. LG UX doesn't really have that clout.
The one thing G5 owners can likely count on, if history is any guide, is quicker OS updates than Samsung, unless Samsung suddenly changes its tune with the S7 and S7 edge. The G4 began receiving Marshmallow in Korea well before the end of 2015, and even US variants started receiving it in December (granted, some got it as soon as last month, too). The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge Marshmallow update only began in earnest in Korea back in February, and a number of variants of the phone still don't have it. That's nothing to sneeze at, and if the G5 wasn't saddled with other issues, could be a major plus for this phone. The thing is, everything else about the G5 makes it difficult for any one advantage to really shine, and quicker Android OS updates than Samsung simply isn't enough to lift this phone above its rivals.
The G5 feels like a tacit admission from LG that the company simply can't compete directly with Samsung in the realm of design, ruggedness, battery life, camera performance, or even software features right now. I realize this comes across as a brutal assessment, but I don't want to sugarcoat it by pretending the G5's primary competitor doesn't exist. That's not fair to anyone. The LG G5 simply is not as good a phone as the Galaxy S7. There may be niche cases to be made for it, but for the vast majority of consumers, I see absolutely no reason to consider the G5 when it is even remotely close to the S7 in price. Hell, I honestly don't see a reason to get this over the increasingly-affordable Nexus 5X. At least the 5X gets OS updates direct from Google and has an overall better camera, not to mention a much more palatable design. The battery life is probably about the same, too.
I have rarely given a "do not buy" to a modern, high-end smartphone, but the G5 really is trying me here. It starts to push up against the line of "for this amount of money, this is a bad phone." Does the G5 have redeeming qualities? Sure, but you do have to look for them. The wide-angle camera is a novelty no one else can yet claim, and the chin modules, for what they are, are unique. And it's the only modern flagship phone with a removable battery, something that is near and dear to the hearts of many of LG's modern fans.
As to the accessories and chin modules? I realize there is a desire any time a novel hardware feature launches to "give it a chance," but in my opinion, LG has not adequately demonstrated why anyone needs any of these things or, more specifically, why LG needs to build them. They're an illusion of ecosystem and of specialness - an attempt to make the G5 look like more than an ordinary smartphone. Any smartphone can have an extended battery case, camera buttons are not a game-changer. Any smartphone can control a novelty R/C robot, see Sphero. Any smartphone can do basic VR, and much more cheaply, see Cardboard (and Samsung inarguably does it much better with Gear VR anyway). 360-degree cameras will be coming fast and furious to the market soon enough, and while getting one for free is great (as LG has offered as a pre-order perk here in the US), when has LG ever been at the forefront of the camera or action cam business? As to the DAC/amplifier chin, I'm not going to pick a fight with audiophiles again, but I think we can agree no ordinary consumer has need of such a thing.
This is the G5 that LG wants you to see - an ecosystem of functions and tools. But at the end of the day, the G5 is still just an Android smartphone.
At the end of the day, the G5 is still just a smartphone, and despite how LG will market it, consumers will still see it for what it is: a phone. In that sense, the G5 is misguided and, in my opinion, a misinterpretation of the future of smartphones. In its attempt to be a Leatherman in a world of simple pocket knives, the G5 just ends up a mediocre phone with a couple of interesting ideas no one else has bothered with for reasons that will probably become evident when the G6 launches without them next year. It's also woefully overpriced in proportion to the experience it provides on its own - I'd barely consider paying $400 for this phone, let alone $600-700. As such, I simply can't recommend the G5. Samsung has opened up an even greater lead over LG (and many of its other rivals) with the S7 and S7 edge in terms of raw smartphone fundamentals, and LG hasn't been able to even maintain the gap. And yes: I am AP's resident Negative Nancy. I get it. But I rarely - note I didn't say never - come out of a review disliking a smartphone on the whole, and this wasn't an easy review to write. I hope LG can "wow" us again with the V series later this year, as the G5 simply doesn't stack up.