In my surroundings, I am known as the "LG girl." I switched to the brand in 2013 when the G2 was announced and fell in love with the big screen, the great camera, and even LG's own software additions on top of AOSP. I recall showing friends and acquaintances photos I'd taken with the G2 while hiking, flipping the phone to landscape, and telling them to swipe through the pics. "It's like holding only a screen, the bezels disappear," was my own way of explaining why I loved the G2 so much. It never failed to impress.
Then the G3 came along. It was bigger, faster, bad-asser. The screen's colors and outdoor visibility were small drawbacks, but the rest of the experience was just as wonderful. It is up until this day my favorite LG smartphone. When the time came to move on, I did so begrudgingly and gave it to my mother. It's still in the family, so to speak, and so is my G2 by the way, which moved on to my father.
From the G3, I went to the G4. On paper, it was the G3 on steroids, improving two of the most important aspects of the phone: screen and camera. In the hand, however, we didn't connect. It was way too large, with weird outward-facing border angles, a palm-unfriendly curved back, larger bezels than what I was used to, and weight distribution that didn't feel right. Despite my apathy toward the external design, I kept using the G4 for almost a year because it still fit the bill in every other respect. The large, high-resolution display was fantastic and the camera never failed me on hikes, family occasions, or whenever I wanted to capture a moment. And the front 8MP camera was just as nice to have, for those fun selfies.
When the G5 was rumored and then announced, I found myself intrigued by the Friends concept, but it wasn't the only thing that piqued my interest. I kept wondering about the design and in-hand feel. You can see all the promo shots and real life photos, you still won't get a feel for a phone until you hold it in your hand. And going as far back as the Nokia E71, my interaction with my phone, this object that I carry around and touch way more than anything else every day, was built on how well it fit in my hand and how much at ease I felt while holding and using it. The G2 and G3 had set the bar high, but the G4 had disappointed me in that regard. I was hoping the G5 would bring redemption.
Then the online reviews started dropping and to say they were mitigated is an understatement. But like any true fan of a brand would do, I refused to make any judgements until I had the G5 in my hand and could form my own opinion. I guess the criticizing reviews, like our own from David, had set the bar so low in my mind, that when I finally saw the G5 in person, I was positively surprised.
Not only did the device look good, in an inconspicuous and unassuming kind of way, but it felt great in the hand. I was so incredibly relieved to sense some ease, and even joy, while holding it for the first time. The rest of my experience, over the past month or so, is chronicled in the review below. And like the introduction, prepare for it to be subjective and written from the perspective of someone who intricately knows and more-or-less loves all of LG's recent flagships.
Before you go on, it's worth pointing out that this second take on the LG G5 comes from a very subjective perspective with focus on the aspects that personally matter to me. If you want a more objective and more thorough review of the phone, you can read David's text review, watch Mark's video review, and see the five things David loves about the phone.
Functional and familiar design
There have been plenty of tirades written about how the G5's design feels a little rushed and incomplete. To me, most of it doesn't really matter. If the Galaxy S7 Edge appealed to the perfectionist, elegant, and confident side of me, the G5 talks to the shy and underdog side. It's simple, a little flawed in some respects and quirky in some others — have you seen that surprised robot face on the back? I find that hilarious and even though the cluster of lenses and elements might irk some, I think it looks nice.
Shocked robot says :O
The fingerprint sensor's position on the back actually makes a lot of sense. Contrary to other smartphones (Samsung, Apple, HTC, OnePlus…) that require a mastery in balancing them with one hand to reach below the display to the fingerprint sensor that's at the far bottom, unlocking the G5 is more natural with the back fingerprint sensor/power button. There are drawbacks to this positioning too, though, especially when I'm trying to unlock it while it sits on a desk or in a dock. I either have to pick up the G5 to unlock it with the back button or leave it, double tap, then enter a pin. It's inconvenient, but not a deal-breaker.
The only two features that I don't like that much are the side volume buttons and the USB Type-C port. The former are an annoying departure from LG's signature back buttons for someone who's been used to them for 3 years (accidental presses happen when grabbing the phone, taking a screenshot requires two hands now whereas it was possible with one on the G2/G3/G4, etc…). And the latter is an unavoidable leap we'll all have to make, but I just wish I didn't have to deal with it now and get new charging cables everywhere. My first world problem is that my two EverDock Duos still don't support USB Type-C so I have to use a regular wall charger for the G5.
In this configuration, the design of the G5 actually reminds me a lot of the company's Nexus 5X. The materials and style are different, but everything is in almost the exact same place, save for the speaker. It's a setup that LG is familiar with, and I guess this is why I find it comfortable to hold the G5. It's the Nexus 5X, but slightly curvier on the edges.
Compared to the S7 Edge, though, it's a more conflicting story. The G5 is nicer to hold and use, the S7 Edge is nicer to hold and stare at. That boils down to the exceptional materials and finish on the S7 Edge compared to the rough cuts of the G5, as well as Samsung's stubbornness to put the Back button awkwardly on the bottom right as opposed to Android's more traditional bottom left that LG follows. The G5 also doesn't suffer from the usability quirks of the Edge display. All of that makes it a lot easier to use one-handed than the S7 Edge.
Smoothing out the sharp edges
When I first got the G5, the first questions I received online were about the misalignment and gap between the removable battery cover and the rest of the phone, as well as the super sharp edges around the bottom. I was aware of the former, but I hadn't noticed the latter until it was pointed out to me.
My G5 has a barely visible gap that you'll only notice if you stare too hard
Luckily, the unit in my hand doesn't have such a wide gap between the battery cover and the phone, and the edges aren't that sharp. I don't like that these issues exist in the first place, but I think that most users either won't notice them or won't care about them. Besides, I simply put my G5 inside a clear TPU case and I don't have to worry about any of that again.
Those misalignments (right)! A TPU case smoothes out all rough edges (left).
I don't like the implementation of the removable battery though. The first time I tried to dislodge it from the bottom cover, I couldn't figure it out and had to check the manual. It requires force and a certain disregard to that inner nagging voice that says I'm about to break it. That unease returns when I try to put it back in. Honestly, I would have preferred LG kept the battery non-removable inside the phone and made the bottom cover separate from it. That way you could replace the Friends without having to turn off your phone and you wouldn't have to worry about dislodging the battery each time. It would have also allowed the engineers to theoretically stick a larger battery than 2800mAh inside the G5.
Dimmed out and not so proud
I was using the G5 for several days before someone asked me about the display's brightness. It's good, I replied, but that got me wondering. So I brought it up to full brightness and used the same image on it and the S7 Edge, also at full brightness. I was dumbfounded. The difference in maximum brightness is staggering. I tried to take a photo to show you my point, but the auto-exposure was so different when focusing the lens on the G5 or the S7 Edge's screens that I had to resort to this shot with an overblown S7 Edge screen (I focused on the G5).
Autofocus and auto-exposure on the G5. Both phones on full brightness. Check that difference.
A tiny part of the issue, I think, is due to the fact that I have kept the pre-installed screen protector film on the G5's display, and these can sometimes interfere with brightness, but they can't possibly be causing this much difference. Just take a look at the photo above with the G5 (with screen protector) next to the Nexus 5X (without), both at full brightness. They look the same, which is a far cry from the S7. And it doesn't help that the G5 uses an LCD screen as opposed to the S7 Edge's AMOLED. I usually don't care either way; I appreciate both the vibrancy of AMOLED and the realness of LCD. But in this case, the tame colors on the G5 just make the difference a lot more flagrant.
Where LG had fixed the G3's lackluster screen brightness with the G4, we're back to the same problem with the G5. It mostly affects usability in the sunny outdoors but also forces me to set a higher brightness level than necessary indoors.
Wider, further, better camera
The one feature I am most impressed with in the G5 is the camera setup. As someone who goes hiking fairly frequently, loves nature shots, and likes tinkering with the camera's features, I find the G5's photography capabilities awesome, whether it's on the hardware or software front.
A couple of quick shots taken with the G5 in Auto.
The wide-angle camera is fantastic for landscapes. It encapsulates more of the scene as if I'd taken several steps back without needing to make a single move. Take a look at this small pond for example. The regular camera couldn't even fit it within the shot, but the wide-angle lens had no problem showing it all. Again, this is while standing in the same exact spot.
Regular lens (left) and wide-angle lens (right) from the same exact spot.
This choice of lenses gives me more artistic liberty to work with. Do I want to focus on a super detailed 16MP scene or do I want to fit more information inside a lesser detailed 8MP shot? It's all up to me and now that I've experienced this freedom, I want it in all of my phones going forward.
Regular lens (left) and wide-angle lens (right) from the same exact spot.
This versatility of sensors is complemented by a really great camera app interface. I dig the swipe gesture to switch between front and back camera. I also love the choice between different camera UIs: Simple is fantastic if you want to shoot without wasting time (and also for not-so-tech-aware people), Auto is great if you want to choose your focus point and modes, and manual opens up the ISO, Exposure, White Balance, and other intricate settings.
Auto (left), Simple (middle), and Manual (right) shooting modes.
LG also included plenty of modes and options in its app, like slow-motion recording, panorama, HDR, multi-view, image stabilization, but by far the one I like the most is the pop-out picture.
It uses both the regular lens and wide-angle lens to merge photos for a popping effect, but I can tinker with the shape of the pop-out and the effect of the background (fisheye, black and white, vignette, and lens blur).
Here are a couple of shots from my pharmacy with different pop-out shapes and effects. From top left to bottom right, they are: no effect, fisheye, black and white, and vignette.
All day long… maybe
The G2 started out with a 3000mAh battery, the G3 and G4 kept it at 3000mAh despite a larger screen, but now the G5 is taking us down to 2800mAh. That sounds ludicrous for a 5.3" smartphone, and I notice it in my use. But not always. See, at first I was appalled by the battery, especially coming from a month with the S7 Edge's spectacular 3600mAh behemoth, but in day to day use, I didn't feel the difference was that flagrant.
Sure, I have to watch out more with the G5, especially since I can't recharge it everywhere because of that Type-C port, but the phone does really well in standby. That's all thanks to the new Snapdragon 820 processor and the benefits of Doze Mode on Marshmallow. I can easily go above 20 hours away from a charger with a little juice left at the end of a grueling day. But the gist of the story is that even though the battery drains fast(ish) when the display is on, I'm glad I can rely on the G5 not to die on me when it's at 20% and I have 2 hours to get home. I only need to make sure the display stays off as much as possible, and not worry about changing any other settings. It'll get me through.
Please don't compare my screen-on times with other reviewers because I use the hell out of my phone (Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, 4G, Google Now, location, etc…).
I also tried the ultimate hiking test with the G5, the same that I did with the S7 Edge. It was down to 13% after more than 5 hours of GPS tracking, photo taking, HSDPA on, Bluetooth connected to my Wear watch, and so on. Commendable, but I still desperately needed to charge it by the time I was done.
Software joys and woes
LG's software layer is very familiar to me by now. I've lived with it day in and day out for three years, so I know my way around. Say what you will about "pure Android," I still like that there are manufacturers out there trying out new ideas. As history has told us, many of these changes will even eventually get implemented in AOSP.
You may find LG's interface boring or irksome, I find joy in some of its features. I like the Capture+ (previously Q-Capture and QuickCapture) quick setting toggle that easily lets me annotate and crop part of any screen, then share it without taking a screenshot first.
Capture+ is super handy and well integrated in the OS.
I love the double tap to wake the phone, and even better, I love double tapping on the notification bar from any app to turn the display off. I also appreciate the built-in clipboard that keeps my last copied items handy for whenever I need to paste something, no third-party needed. Plus, I dig LG's idea of customizing the navigation bar and I always set the fourth button for the notification drop-down. As a matter of fact, many of you have asked me over the past years what that fourth button on my nav bar is. It's so I can easily drop the notification shade or pull it up, without having to raise my finger to the top of the display. Classic laziness syndrome, but super handy.
This is where the fourth button on my navigation bar comes from.
And I applaud LG for sticking with the InfraRed blaster. Why other manufacturers have taken it out, I couldn't tell you, but it's super convenient to have. LG's QuickRemote app is also fantastic for setting up remotes and assigning them to different rooms. My only grief is with the removal of the QuickRemote toggle and mini-app from the notification shade. That was practical.
However, the downside of this familiarity with LG's software is that it no longer surprises me. Almost everything works the exact same way it did in 2013, it only changed color hues and looks more modern now. But where Google's Material Design shines with its white and colors, LG's interface looks duller and flatter than necessary. And I'm starting to get bored with it functionally too. Very few radical changes have been introduced since 2013, and even those that did were more annoying than useful.
Why the separate app updater (left)? Cloud storage integration in the file browser (right).
The removal of the app drawer? Just no. The insistence on using LG's own app update system instead of uploading its apps on the Play Store for easier installs? Not a fan. The duplicate features of LG Health and the in-house Calendar and Music apps? Pass. And the fact that you have to learn new emojis compared to WhatsApp and Google's? Come on! Why fix what ain't broken?
Why do I have to learn yet another emoji set design?
The only thing that made me raise my eyebrow was the new Smart Settings section that lets you automate a few actions, and the surprising support of IFTTT for an "LG Smartphone" channel.
Smart Settings (left). IFTTT LG Smartphone channel (right).
Once connected, you can create all kinds of automation recipes between your phone and hundreds of other services. The phone can act as a trigger or as an action, so you can for example send new screenshots to Dropbox or turn NFC on when you get home.
IFTTT opens a ton of possibilities for automation on the G5.
LG G5, misunderstood, underestimated
I like the LG G5. I like it a lot more than I did the G4, but I'm not sure I've reached a stage where I can say I love it as much as I did the G3. It fits much better in my hand, it's easier to hold and use one-handed, it's more balanced externally and internally compared to the G4. It's a big departure from LG on the hardware side, and part of me can't help but wish it had the same departure on the software side. Its Android interface is in need of a major overhaul: some items are worth keeping around, but others need to be abandoned or rethought.
But whether in its modest appearance or in some of its moderate specs, it's easy to discount the LG G5 as one of the least impressive flagships of this year, especially if you don't care about the Friends ecosystem. (Speaking of the Friends, I'll try to post my quick thoughts about them separately in a few days.) The unassuming design is a little bland in places and peculiar in others (again, surprised robot face!). Some seams and joints and alignments are nowhere near the clean lines we've seen from the G2, G3, and G4. The battery is smaller, the display is smaller and even duller, and the removable battery uses a very quirky mechanism.
But, my past month with it has taught me that there's a lot more to love about it than what is on the surface. The wide-angle camera provides more artistic freedom than I've had in any recent flagship, the battery can last me — with my superuser needs — a full day (almost reliably), and the software has plenty of useful additions that I only learned to appreciate with time or when I had to do without them.
Honestly, before I got the LG G5, I thought the choice between it and the Samsung S7 Edge was cut and dried. From waterproofing to stunning design and excellent hardware, Samsung had ticked so many boxes right that it's hard to argue with the appeal of its current flagship. But after the honeymoon period of both phones settles, the difference is a lot less obvious in average day-to-day use. The S7/S7 Edge have perfected their approach for wider appeal, but the G5 talks to a quirkier userbase that could be craving something a little different.
You may notice that my conclusion is quite divergent from David's take on the G5, maybe it's because I try my best to approach everything from different and balanced perspectives, maybe it's because I appreciate LG's idiosyncrasies more than he does, and maybe it's because I still carry the love of the G2 and G3 in my heart. Regardless, in my opinion, the G5 is more capable and deserving than its unpretentious looks would have you think.