LG has almost all but pre-announced all its MWC 2016 newcomers. Almost. It did so to move them out of the way and put all the spotlight on its real star of the show, the LG G5. You may have already heard all about the “unique” features that the smartphone might have and, as the say, fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. Or in this case, both stranger and better. The LG G5 does match up with out best expectations of a 2016 flagship smartphone, including, finally, a premium build and design. And on top of that, LG pours on odd yet interesting feature that could make the G5 the talk of the town for weeks, even months.
First, the hard facts of specs. Qualcomm wasn’t really coy in revealing that the LG G5 indeed runs on its latest Snapdragon 820, so that isn’t much of a surprise. It has a generous serving of 4 GB of LPDDR memory, coupled with a base 32 GB of storage. In true LG fashion, that is still expandable with a microSD card. The 5.3-inch screen still maxes out at QHD resolution and still flaunts the OEM’s “Quantum IPS LCD” display tech. It has a trick up its sleeve though, but more on that later.
What will be immediately noticeable is that the G5’s body, which stands at 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7 mm is now 159 grams of metal, finally throwing out the plastic construction that was so two years ago. Of course, there’s still a touch of plastic, particularly for the antenna on the back, but LG cunningly masks that behind what it calls a “Microdizing” process to seamlessly paint over that portion. That rear side has also changed considerably from previous generation of the G flagships. Noticeably gone are the rear side buttons that LG used to boast about. The power button is still there, however, now complemented by a fingerprint sensor. The volume rockers, however, have been moved back to a more conventional edge placement.
The camera is the next most prominent change in the G5. Now we have two of them at the back, a 16 megapixel sensor with a 70-degree lens and an 8 megapixel sensor with a 135-degree lens. The new camera app for the LG G5 automatically switches between the two sensors, depending on the zoom level. You can, of course, also use both at the same time. On the front is an 8 megapixel shooter for selfies and video chats.
In terms of software, LG’s on UX 5.0 is almost as vanilla as it can be. LG claims it has made Android startup faster, to make up for the fact that one of the G5’s key features below will require turning the smartphone on and off a lot. One other change that LG has made, which might be the most controversial, will be the removal of a separate app drawer. In short, something like what Apple and some Android OEMs like Huawei do. It is most likely to irk a good number of Android users, LG fans or not, but, considering recent rumors about Android N, there might be something afoot.
You might have heard how the G5 might inherit the LG V10’s second screen functionality, and LG was only too glad to deliver. And, indeed, this time the whole screen is the second screen, giving users an always-on glimpse of notifications, without having to turn the screen on. Now, that in itself might not be much of an innovation if LG were using an OLED screen. However, as mentioned, the G5 uses an LCD panel, which doesn’t have the properties to make an always-on screen economical. So how does LG pull it off? It actually borrows the local dimming process it uses on its LCD TVs, only brighting up enough parts of the display to display the notifications. Still, there will be a battery hit, though LG downplays that to 1.8% per hour. That, according to the manufacturer, is still considerably less than the power consumption when repeatedly turning the display on and off multiple times a day.
That, however, isn’t the only fancy feature the LG G5 has however. It is, to some extent, making the dream of a modular smartphone come true. While not to the same extent as Project Ara, the G5 does have a “modular” bottom edge, a piece of the smartphone that can be pulled out with the press of a button. Be aware, however, that the battery comes off with that piece as well. Once removed, users will be able to slot in several accessories to give their G5 new powers. These modular pieces, as well as other independent accessories, are being marketed as “Friends of G5”, almost like a nod to Apple’s own MFi program.
At the moment, there are only a very few number of such modular accessories. The most promiment perhaps is the G5 CAM Plus that offers a better grip when using the G5 as a camera as well as dedicated physical controls for recording, zooming, and launching the camera app. It has its own battery too, though a measly 1,200 mAh compared to the LG G5’s native 2,800 mAh pack. The other accessory is a Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play addon, giving the G5 its own 32-bit DAC. What’s interesting about this accessory is can actually function independent of the G5. The cover has a USB port that you can then attach to a laptop or computer for the same quality audio experience.
There are other “Friends of LG” that aren’t attached to the smartphone and if you’re guessing they have something to do with virtual reality, then you’d be right. LG is also debuting the LG 360 CAM, which is a 360-degree camera that resembles something more like a Dropcam or a Ricoh Theta than other VR cameras you might have seen in news. It uses two 13 megapixel sensors with 200-degree lenses back to back. It can function on its own too, with a dedicated shutter button, 4 GB of internal storage, and its own 1,200 mAh battery. That. however, is only true for capturing and picture processing. For videos, you’ll need a LG G5 specifically, though LG is mulling over a desktop app as well.
That said, it really wants LG 360 CAM users to view content using an LG 360 VR, LG’s dedicated virtual reality headset. What’s rather unique about this headset is that it is, on the one hand, compatible with Google Cardboard but, on the other hand, has its own display instead of slotting a smartphone in. That means, however, that you’ll need to connect the LG G5 to it via a USB-C cable. That, however, makes it lighter at least, about 118 g. LG isn’t saying the exact resolution of the 360 VR beyond 639 ppi, though it falls somewhere in between HD and Full HD. For audio, you’ll have to plug in your own headphones, or pipe it through the G5, or use Bluetooth headphones. For controls, the headset itself has a back, select button, and a gyroscope for moving through menus. For everything else, you can use the G5 itself as a control pad. Yes, the LG 360 VR headset is, at least for now, compatible only with the G5, but that’s more a software issue than a hardware lock in.
LG has a Friends Manager app that manages all these “Friends”, connecting wirelessly to those within range. It does show LG’s intent to have more accessory makers on board, even going as far as providing an SDK in the near future. However, that doesn’t mean manufacturers will come rushing in. Especially if there’s an open question of whether the friendship will extend to future models. Specifically calling it “Friends of G5” might not be that reassuring.
For all the excitement that the LG G5 and its friends might generate, LG itself might be dousing cold water on it by not announcing when the smartphone and its accessories will arrive. There’s perhaps little doubt that it will all happen by second quarter of this year, but exact dates, not to mention prices, are still up in the air. When the LG G5 does come, it will arrive in shades of Titan Gray, Silver, Gold, and, of course, Pink.
The LG G5 side-by-side the LG V10
The LG G5 side-by-side the Huawei Nexus 6P