The LG G5 is a landmark smartphone. You’ll remember it fondly in the future, but that all depends on whether LG’s modular wager pays off and consumers start demanding more options.

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The G5 carries many of LG’s flagship G-line hallmarks, but introduces an entirely new design language.

First there’s the full metal jacket, albeit of the confusing plastic-coated variety. Think of it as similar to the trick the Korean company pulled last year with the leather veneer over plastic, but just with a thin aluminium core smothered in primer. I like it. But I also liked the feel of Samsung’s faux leather on my personal Galaxy S5.

Next is the volume button migration back to the more conventional side. The power button is still on the back and it now gains fingerprint-scanning powers. It’s in line with Google’s placement of Nexus Imprint and LG probably took a page out of the Nexus 5X playbook for that. Fingerprint scanning is a bit slow compared to offerings from Huawei, Apple and Samsung, but you won’t notice.

In all LG has crafted a competitive flagship device that is every bit as fast as its competitors in terms of task accomplishment and adds a few twists.

The bottom chin is removable and replaceable with modules that LG is calling “Friends”. You plug the friends into the “Magic Slot” and transform your device into a G5 with a high fidelity amplifier from Bang and Olufsen, or into a G5 with hardware zoom and shutter (video and camera are separate) buttons and some extra battery.

Currently the friends are limited to the Cam Plus camera grip and the DAC. LG is lumping the 360 Cam, VR headset and toy-cum-cat-exercising Rolling Bot together with the friends, but they’re separate devices. That leaves just one more point of difference from the 2016 Snapdragon 820- equipped flagships: camera.

The G4 had arguably the best camera module on a phone in 2015 and LG has left it virtually as is for 2016. I suspect they neutered the optical image stabilising to a standard two-axis set-up, but the lens is still f1,8 bright. Alongside is an 8 MP unit with a 135-degree field of view. You access it within the same viewfinder and this gives the never-before-seen powers of negative zoom. It truly is amazing and because the edges of the frame warp to near fish-eye levels you can be very creative with close-up shots.

While there are many clever touches on the LG G5, the package seems a bit rushed to market. You can tell by the way the removable chin doesn’t line up with the rest of the device and the burr on the chamfered edge (the shiny chamfer is chipping off of the review device and showing the plastic antenna lines).

The camera is also a bit slow to launch and LG threw the app draw baby out with the cluttered UI bathwater in the latest iteration of its Marshmallow flavour of Android skin. There’s a lot to love in the G5, but the review experience was peppered with infuriating discoveries where I wanted to slap LG with the hand of common sense. The company was expected to build on the strengths of the G4, it chose instead to try to learn three entirely new skills and didn’t master any.

Vital LG G5 information

Screen: 5,3-inch QHD IPS LCD with backlight zoning for always on display
Memory: 32 GB storage, 4 GB RAM, microSD support
Cameras: 16 MP main, 8 MP wide angle, 8 MP selfie
Sensors: Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, colour spectrum, proximity, fingerprint
Price: R11 800, lg.com

LG G5 Test Notes

The always-on screen is nice, but because it’s an LCD screen, the light bleed is quite severe and I found myself switching off the function to get better sleep at night. This is a USB type-C device, wireless charging would’ve help reduce the stress of forgetting the cable either at home or at work, but LG aren’t playing that game yet. Battery life was average and made it to 7 PM from 5 AM regularly, but beware the QHD screen is thirsty for power.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.