LG has been working on advancing its design for the last few years, but it has always been held back by its commitment to modular features like a removable battery. With the newly announced LG G5, it isn't giving up on features like that. In fact, it's taking the idea of a modular smartphone more seriously than ever, but it's also experimenting with a solid aluminum shell and revamped design language.
The G5 doesn't look like LG's past phones, and that's going to take some getting used to. Let's see what's going on with the upcoming LG flagship.
The LG G5 has an interesting look. Gone is LG's blade-like aesthetic from the G4, replaced by a rounded all-aluminum frame. It's completely smooth with no visible antenna cutouts. There's no removable back this time, and the trademark rear-facing buttons have been altered. You've still got the power button on the rear, along with a fingerprint sensor a la the LG V10. However, the volume toggles have moved to the side of the device like every other phone on the planet.
The most interesting aspect of the G5's design is the bottom section, which pops off to provide access to the battery. You can just slide a dead one out, and insert a fresh one. This is actually similar to a system HTC used four or five years ago when it was tinkering with aluminum frames prior to making them completely unibody.
The bottom cap with the LG chin is where LG's new accessories come into play. The LG G5 will have several replacement modules that connect to the bottom of the phone in place of the stock cap. LG has only shown off a few of these modules, but they are... interesting. For example, there's a camera grip add-on that gives you physical camera controls and a larger battery. They also have a high-quality DAC for HiFi audio processing. There are a lot of things you can do with this concept. Many of those things are cool (imagine a FLIR IR camera module), but are they going to sway any purchases? Either way, it's a very bold approach.
On the front of the device is a 5.3-inch 1440p LCD. That's a little smaller than LG's last few flagship phones at 5.5-inches. There were rumors in the lead-up to the announcement that the G5 would have a second screen like the V10, but what we have instead is an always-on display. It can show the time, battery level, and notification content. However, this is an LCD, not AMOLED. Traditionally, keeping the backlight on for an LCD to remain active drains the battery much faster than an AMOLED, which can light individual pixels. LG says it has compensated for this, but didn't go into detail.
The G5 shares a lot of hardware with the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S7. We're looking at a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage standard. Of course, there's a microSD card slot in addition to that. LG also skipped the Snapdragon 810 like Samsung last year, but it went with the slower Snapdragon 808. Stepping up to the high-end 820 this year should give the G5 a noticeable jump in performance compared to the G4.
Samsung took a "less is more" approach to its camera this year, but LG is pushing the envelope with a second camera. There are two cameras on the back of this phone -- one 16MP just like last year, and another 8MP. HTC tried this a few years ago, and the results were mediocre at best. LG is using the secondary camera in a different way, though. You'll be able to take standard high-resolution images with the 16MP sensor, but the addition of the 8MP offers 135-degree ultra-wide shots more like what you'd get from an action cam. You can capture a lot more of a scene than other phones, which would have to take a multi-part panorama.
LG decided to get with the future and move to a USB Type-C connector for the G5. It's a bit of a pain now as none of your old cables will work, but Type-C is the future, and having a reversible connector is great. This is actually a USB 3.0 Type-C port, which no other phones have shipped with. There's also Quick Charge 3.0 for ultra-fast charge times. You might be recharging more than you thought too. LG stepped down to a 2800mAh battery this year from 3000mAh last year. The improved screen and SoC efficiency might help matters, but it's odd to see LG have a smaller battery than Samsung.
LG is launching the G5 with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, so that means you'll have all the usual Android 6.0 features. Doze mode will help stretch that smaller battery a little longer by keeping the phone asleep more when it remains untouched for a little bit. Google Now on Tap can pull up contextual information when you long-press the home button. This feature hasn't lived up to my expectations, but it can improve over time and the G5 will be able to take advantage if that happens. You've also got better control over application permissions in Android 6.0.
This phone will still run LG's skinned version of Android, which has been cleaned up a little this year with less drab colors. However, LG has taken the unusual step of removing the app drawer from this phone. That's something that Chinese OEMs regularly do, but it strikes me as a clear step backward in user experience. All your installed apps are just heaped on the home screen, making it easy to lose track of things. This is one of the worst things about the iPhone UI, and it's bizarre LG would adopt it. LG says this is easier for people to use, but I think that's only true if they only install a handful of apps.
On the plus side, LG has ditched some of its built-in apps that no one used including Q Slide and dual window. Carriers will still load it up with bloatware, though. Like the GS7, LG won't support Android's adoptable storage setting for SD cards. That means you can swap cards without issues, but the cards won't work as system-integrated storage.
Okay, when can I have it?
This one is still up in the air. Samsung announced a release date for its phone at MWC, but LG is playing coy. LG says that pricing information will be made available in the last week of March, and the phone will be released (probably) in early April.
This phone will likely cost a bit less than the Samsung Galaxy S7, but not much. LG is stepping up the materials this year, so I'd expect to see a more premium price tag too. Maybe around $600. The attachments are also an unknown right now. If LG wants to make this modular phone concept work, it's going to need to sell them for reasonable prices.