LG G5 review: LG's appetite for risk is admirable, but doesn't pay off

With an improved battery swapping system, the LG G5 isn't a bad phone, per se. But various other features probably looked better in the R&D lab than they do in real life.

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With Friends like these, who needs accessories?

To put a kicker on the entire confusing G5 story, the two Friends accessories left us wondering why LG created them at all.

Let’s start with the Cam Plus, a somewhat chunky module that boasts physical controls for toggling on the phone’s camera interface, snapping the shutter, starting and stopping videos, and adjusting zoom. The Cam Plus includes a 1200 mAh auxiliary battery (giving you a total of 4000 mAh with the module in use), and has a grippy texture that’s intended to make the G5 a more comfortable, secure shooting device. You install the Cam Plus with the same procedure required for battery swaps.

lg g5 inserting battery Dan Masaoka

Using the Friends modules also requires battery swaps. Note that the Cam Plus shown here includes a 1200 mAh auxilliary battery.

It all sounds intriguing, but I found the Cam Plus’ed G5 to be too bulky in my pocket, and I always feared losing the phone’s original chin. But even worse, the physical camera controls just don’t provide enough benefit to justify the accessory’s $70 price. I appreciated the ability to quickly toggle back and forth between LG’s camera software and home screen, but that was about it.

The jog dial for the Cam Plus zoom feature lacks resistance, and is difficult to use for smooth, gradual zooms. It’s just inexplicable that such a feature-limited accessory would foul up this one function so badly. Beyond that, all I can say is that a much more useful Cam Plus would provide physical adjustment for all of LG’s wonderful manual camera controls.

lg g5 cam plus controls Dan Masaoka

The Cam Plus Friends module is a clever but poorly executed idea. The jog wheel for controlling zoom just isn’t easy to use.

Next up, we have the Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play, a digital-to-audio converter (DAC) that’s supposed to improve the G5’s sound quality. It’s not currently cleared by the FCC for sale in America, and probably never will be. But that’s okay, because when I tested the Hi-Fi Plus with the pre-production Korean version of the G5, I couldn’t hear any improvement in sound quality whatsoever.

Would the DAC suddenly make a difference if the G5 was feeding its signal to an external DJ set-up? Perhaps. But who’s going to do this? For that matter, who will tolerate cold-swapping LG’s chins just to listen to slightly better sound fidelity? Fact is, the G5’s standard audio is quite good and loud, so who needs more?

lg g5 three chins Dan Masaoka

The three chins. From left to right: Cam Plus, Hi-Fi Plus, and the standard chinny-chin-chin.

It’s also worth noting Hi-Fi Plus introduces an even wider “chin gap,” and only works with wired earbuds, which I no longer use in this age of Bluetooth headsets. Finally, the module slightly lengthens the G5’s total package, and, like the Cam Plus, forces you to find a home for the chin that came with the phone.

lg g6 chin gap Jon Phillips

Here’s the chin gap with the Hi-Fi Plus installed. You can see daylight through the other side.

Paying the price for bold ideas

I was more enthused by the G5 when I wrote my 24-hour impressions of the pre-production unit. But now that I’ve spent quality time with the phone, and have had a chance to play with the Friends, I’m left disappointed.

We have to applaud LG for taking so many risks—overhauling battery extraction, ditching the app drawer, adding a second camera, and beating other manufacturers to the modular accessory punch. But each of these innovations is flawed to one degree or another, casting a dark shadow on a phone that otherwise does have a lot of offer. 

If a friend said she was thinking of buying the G5 for its state-of-the-art processor, breathtaking screen, killer manual camera controls, and removable battery, I wouldn’t try to dissuade her. But this is still a phone that earns 3.5 stars. It’s just got too many problems to earn a higher score. 

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At a Glance
  • The G5 isn't a "bad" phone in the big scheme of all available Android phones. But despite a great display, awesome camera controls, and an improved battery swapping system, it's still notably flawed.

    Pros

    • Improved battery swap system.
    • Beautiful, high-res display.
    • State-of-the-art processor.
    • LG's awesome manual camera controls.

    Cons

    • Flawed industrial design.
    • Extremely dim always-on display.
    • Wide-angle camera is more gimmicky than useful.
    • Modular "Friends" accessories aren't very good.
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