On paper, the LG G5 seems like a great device. There's an innovative modular design that gives you both a removable battery and an aluminum unibody enclosure. It's got the usual high-end 2016 flagship specs: a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and a 5.3-inch 1440p display. All the little extras seem to be there too: a microSD slot, a USB Type-C port, a fingerprint reader, and an IR blaster.
There's more to a device than what the specs look like on paper, though. And when you take a closer look, the LG G5 starts to disappoint. Our review unit fails to meet really basic manufacturing and engineering standards. Exposed edges in commonly-touched places are so sharp that they're uncomfortable. Components don't line up correctly, the backlight isn't even, and in general it feels more like a rushed engineering prototype than a polished, finished product.
There has been some controversy online as to whether or not the G5 body is metal. This video shows large plastic-looking chunks being shaved out of the G5 with a razor blade. LG felt this was damaging enough to issue a press release:
When a company says "metal body," we usually take that to mean "the outside of the phone is metal." That doesn't seem to be the case here. LG appears to have started with a metal unibody, coated that body in an "insulating primer" that feels a lot like plastic, and then covered that plastic in a metallic flake paint to make it look like metal. You get some of the benefits of metal—the G5 gets a stiff, sturdy body with a minimum material thickness—but it doesn't really feel like metal.
Anodized aluminum is what we typically think of when we hear "metal body." This is used for devices like the iPhone, MacBooks, and the Nexus 6P. Anodizing aluminum is a dyeing process—it gets colored, but you're still touching aluminum. In contrast, the painted surface of the G5 is an additional layer on top of the aluminum. That extra layer feels more like a high-quality plastic than metal. It's not awful, but anodized aluminum would have been better. It also seems backward to spend the money and do the engineering associated with a metal phone yet still end up with a non-metal exterior.
The color scheme on the G5 is odd. Like most phones, the bezel around the display is black, and this black color extends up to the top bezel earpiece area. It's not symmetrical on the bottom though, that comes in the color of the body. On the bottom the phone actually goes from a glass-covered black bezel to an exposed black plastic bezel to the colored bottom piece. It's a busy design that would have benefited a lot from making everything black and symmetrical.
On the back of the G5 you'll find the power button, like on most LG phones. Here it also doubles as the fingerprint reader, which seems to be the standard issue tap-and-hold sensor that we've seen on the new Nexus devices, the Galaxy S7, and iPhones since the 5S, which is to say it's fast and accurate. There are no volume keys on the back this time though—they're back to the standard location on the side. The volume buttons have seemingly been moved to make room for the massive camera assembly, which houses two cameras, an LED flash, a laser autofocus system, and a color spectrum sensor.
The design of the LG G5 tries something really interesting—it's a modular smartphone. Press a button on the side and the whole bottom of the phone comes off, pulling the oddly neon yellow battery out with it. Look inside the phone and you'll mostly just see a hollow metal tube. On the right side is a pair of edge connectors that transfer data and power to the removable bottom piece, which also houses the USB-Type C port, microphone, and speaker.
LG has accessory modules that can completely replace the bottom piece, giving you options like a higher-quality audio chip or a camera grip with a larger battery (sadly, we don't have any of those in for review). The 2800mAh battery is removable not only from the phone, but also from the bottom piece so it can be connected to these accessories.
Since removing the bottom piece also disconnects the battery, every time you swap modules without turning the phone off first you're causing a sudden, unexpected power loss to your pocket computer. We haven't seen anything from LG that recommends powering the phone down before swapping modules, and even when we were really stupid about when we removed the battery—like in the middle of an app install—we never witnessed any problems or data loss. The G5 seems to deal with it rather well.
After swapping modules, you'll have to manually power the phone back up by pressing the power button. Booting takes about 30 seconds from a button press to hitting the Android desktop, which isn't too bad.
Making a smartphone where the entire bottom comes off is no doubt a complicated engineering challenge, and LG seems to have settled on a solution that isn't quite up to the manufacturing standards we're used to in a $700 smartphone. The seam that is created for the bottom piece doesn't evenly meet the rest of the phone. When looking at the back of the phone, it's very clear that right side of the seam—the side with the release mechanism—is tighter than the left side of the seam. In fact, if you look closely at the loose side of the seam, you can see right through it! One side of the bottom part doesn't quite make contact with the rest of the phone.
The shiny ring that runs around the rear perimeter of the phone doesn't line up correctly between the body and the bottom piece, either. So rather than a continuous line, it shifts vertically and the line is broken. The shift is a significant amount—about 50 percent of the height of the line. The bottom piece settles into an orientation that is actually too high on one side, and too low on the other.
The majority of the line is shiny and looks like exposed metal, but at certain intervals it gets covered in a matte gray paint. On our unit, LG meant to put some of this paint on the metal line as it approached the headphone jack, but the company overdid it a bit—it looks like some of the gray paint overshot the line and ended up on the back of our device.
It's not just this bottom piece that has fit and finish problems. On most devices any time an edge or corner is created the natural sharpness is "broken" by rounding the edge or using a chamfer. Not on the G5, though; every edge is a sharp as can be. After the initial cuts were made, there was no effort made to "clean up" the edges. This is not only present in all the little cutouts for the USB port, headphone jack, and speaker but also for the shiny rear perimeter accent. The ring around the rear of the phone creates a sharp edge that digs into your hand right at the corners of the phone.
In the same way you would test a knife's sharpness, you can drag a fingertip across any of the edges of the G5 and feel it scrape against your finger. I really want to take a metal file to the phone and clean up the edges up myself. The sharp edges make the device feel unwelcoming and unpleasant to hold. Maybe these literal rough edges will wear down over time and the phone will become nicer to touch, but out of the box we're used to more refinement than this.
Our unit has backlight evenness issues too. As you can see from the picture in the above gallery, there are hot spots around the edge of the display; especially near the bottom of the phone. The SIM tray doesn't quite fit into the slot either, causing it to stick out a bit and form yet another sharp lip. With all of these fit and finish problems, the consumer G5 still feels like an engineering prototype.
The LG G5 runs Android 6.0.1 with LG's skin slathered on top. There isn't much here that is too different, except that LG made a home screen that doesn't have an app drawer. Every app piles up on the home screen, just like on iOS. Of course, you can (and will probably want to) change this by installing a third-party launcher.
As for the important parts you can't change yourself—the notification panel and recent apps screen—there have been some tweaks. LG removed the quick settings pulldown, opting instead for power controls that scroll horizontally. You can edit the order of the power controls and remove the extra shortcuts to "screen sharing" (Miracast) and "File sharing" (Bluetooth). There's a "clear all" button at the bottom of the recent apps screen screen and a "pin" button on each app, which will keep it locked on the list.
LG also messed with the navigation buttons. The icons are a lot larger than usual, and in the settings you can change the bar between black (the normal option) and white. Besides the usual "back," "home," and "recents" buttons, you can also add buttons to the navigation bar. LG has added three extra ones. One opens the notification panel, another takes a screenshot that you can draw on, and a third opens LG's multi window mode. You can also rearrange the navigation buttons, so if you prefer the "Samsung order" with the back button on the right, you can do that.
The multi-window mode is called "QSlide" and only supports LG's apps like the dialer, calendar, and calculator. The mode works how you would expect; you can drag apps around with the title bar, resize them via a corner widget, and close them with the "X" button in the corner. There's also a slider in every title bar that adjusts the transparency of the window. LG introduced this on the G2 in 2013, but it's hard to take seriously with zero developer support.
There's a section in the settings called "Smart settings," which will change your volume, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi settings based on your location. It can also auto-open apps when you plug in headphones or connect to a Bluetooth device. Third party android apps like Tasker, Llama, or IFTTT will all do the same thing.
There are a few nice extras. The G5 is one of the rare non-Nexus devices that actually supports Google's "always-on" voice commands. Dig into the settings of the Google app and you can have the phone respond to "OK Google" even with the screen off. This is my favorite feature of Nexus and Motorola devices, so it's nice to see it supported. The G5 also offers double tap to wake.
The G5 ships with a MicroSD slot, but as with the Galaxy S7, it doesn't support Android 6.0's awesome new adoptable storage feature. In stock Android, adoptable storage lets you format the SD card so the phone treats it the same way it treats permanent internal storage. The removable storage is merged with the onboard storage and automatically managed by the OS, allowing you to install tons of apps or store media. It's a perfect solution for removable media provided you want to semi-permanently increase your phone's storage capacity rather than constantly removing and re-inserting cards. Whatever apps and media were stored on it will go missing, and since Android encrypts the card to protect the data on it you won't be able to remove the SD card and stick it in a card reader to see the contents. We'd prefer users to be able to make the choice between removable and adoptable storage for themselves, but LG (and Samsung) apparently disagree.
The rest of the skin is pretty standard. It's a bunch of reskinned apps that look like their AOSP counterparts but with wonky colors and icons that belong in iOS. They're all fine but of little consequence since they're so easy to replace.