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Phones

Galaxy S7 vs. LG G5: My preorder dilemma

It's not just specs. Here's why this CNET editor can't pick between the hottest new smartphones.

Josh Miller/CNET
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I want the best phone I can buy. Don't you? And right now, I'm having a hard time deciding between the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7, the two latest, greatest Android phones just announced at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona. I don't have any brand loyalty to either of these South Korean companies, but I'm pretty sure one of these upcoming phones will be my next.

Spoiler alert: I haven't actually made up my mind which phone to buy. Like most of you, I haven't touched either of these smartphones yet, and I typically like to wait for reviews.

But let me walk you through the factors I'm considering in my buying decision -- in case they apply to you.

The Samsung Galaxy S7.

Josh Miller/CNET

Look and feel

Choosing between the LG G5 and Galaxy S7 feels like déjà vu. Just last year, I picked a Galaxy S6 over the LG G4. The deciding factor? I didn't want to carry around a phone with a large plastic body. I've always preferred smaller phones, and Samsung's Galaxy S6 also had a particularly pleasing metal and glass body at a time when LG still relied on creaky polymers to do its thing.

But the new LG G5 is a shiny all-aluminum phone -- and one that's also a good bit smaller than the G4 I rejected last year. The G5's got a 5.3-inch screen instead of a 5.5-inch one, and it's only a few millimeters thicker and a few grams heavier than Samsung's new 5.1-inch Galaxy S7.

Plus, the G5 now has a fingerprint sensor neatly placed on the back. I know the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor can be polarizing, but I loved it on LG's Nexus 5X -- particularly how it let me whip the phone out of my pocket and securely log in without ever shifting my grip. I hate having to reach down for the fingerprint sensor/home button on my Galaxy S6.

The LG G5.

Josh Miller/CNET

All that said, I personally don't think the LG phone looks nearly as sleek as the Galaxy S7. (It looks kind of like a dull metal pillow from the rear.) Meanwhile, Samsung's S7 has added the curved glass back that I really loved on the Galaxy Note 5 last year. It made that huge 5.7-inch phone way easier to grip, and it looks great on the Galaxy S7 as well.

Both phones have super high-res 2,560x1,440-resolution screens, each of which come with an "always-on" mode so I don't have to power them on to check the time. Traditionally, I've preferred the deep blacks and vibrant colors of Samsung's AMOLED screen, but I can't say I'd prefer the GS7 to the G5 there until I've seen them in person.

Advantage: Too close to call.

Josh Miller/CNET

Under the hood

The chips inside these two phones don't make my decision any easier: they're practically the same. In the US, both the G5 and GS7 have a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 gigabytes of memory and 32GB of storage to start, and this year both of them have a microSD slot to expand that storage to 200GB or more. That's more than enough for me.

But the LG G5 still does have one advantage: a removable battery. Yes, I know the Galaxy S7's pack is a tad larger at 3,000mAh compared to the 2,800mAh I'd get with LG, but I'm more worried about how much battery life I'd have after six months or a year of use. (Batteries tend to last shorter and shorter periods the more you use them.) Since the Galaxy S7's battery is sealed inside the phone, I won't be able to swap it after it starts wearing out.

Then again, am I more likely to wear out the battery, or accidentally drop my phone into the tub? The Galaxy S7 is water resistant; the LG G5 is not. Actually, I can answer that: I rarely drop my phone at all, and I also barely ever use the three wireless chargers I bought for my Galaxy S6.

(Wireless charging is another feature the LG G5 lacks, but I've got plenty of USB cables at home and I rarely see wireless chargers in the wild.)

Advantage: LG, as far as I'm concerned.

Josh Miller/CNET

Camera upgrades

I love my dSLR, I love my Sony compact camera, but I'll be realistic -- unless I'm on assignment, I'm probably snapping pictures with my phone. For me, that's a pretty recent thing: The Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 were the first Android smartphones that bumped up the image quality to a standard I felt comfortable sharing.

Now, both Samsung and LG are taking it to the next level, but in very different directions. Samsung's going with fewer megapixels than before, but larger ones that let in more light and focus far faster. I'm definitely OK with that. But LG's got a pair of cameras on the back of its phone -- one with a wide-angle lens so you can get a zoomed-out view of the action. That seems pretty gimmicky, but I have to admit the pictures my Galaxy S6 takes are a little narrower than I'd like. Maybe I'd shoot more with a wide-angle lens in my life.

Advantage: Honestly, I think I'd be fine with either of them.

Josh Miller/CNET

Modularity

Here's the most exciting thing about LG's phone: it's modular. I could slot in accessories like a camera grip (which includes an extended battery!) or a Bang & Olufsen digital-to-analog audio converter. I love the idea of a modular phone, and I'd totally pay for a beefier battery that I could slot into the phone for long trips.

But honestly, I'm not sure I'd use any of the particular accessories that LG has already announced -- that camera grip won't fit in my pocket -- and I worry that LG will have a hard time getting other companies to build more. (Nearly a year later, I'm still waiting for my Pebble Time watch to get its first smart straps.)

The Samsung Gear VR.

Nate Ralph/CNET

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S7 already slots into something I definitely do want to use: the Samsung Gear VR headset. It's a blast, and that's partially thanks to virtual reality pioneer Oculus throwing its weight behind Samsung to ensure there's a decent selection of games. The only major issue I've had is that my Galaxy S6 tends to overheat in VR games, but a new liquid cooling system inside the Galaxy S7 might fix that.

LG did announce a VR headset for the G5 that looks even easier to wear, but I've got no idea how well it works or what it might actually play. I won't rule it out, but I also wouldn't buy it sight-unseen. Whereas it's really tempting to pre-order a Galaxy S7 when each of them will come with the $99 Gear VR for free.

(Full disclosure: My wife works for Facebook, owner of Oculus VR.)

Are you wondering why I haven't mentioned the Galaxy S7 Edge even once in this article so far? It's because Samsung's curved edges tend to let in light when you plug them into a Gear VR. And again, I tend to prefer smaller phones. Still, I'm sure some folks will prefer the wrap-around curved screen and larger 3,600mAh battery capacity of the S7 Edge, despite its higher price.

Advantage: For now, Samsung.

LG's VR headset.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Which to buy?

Now that LG's phone is smaller, sturdier and more powerful than before, it's a real option for me. I don't think I'd feel uncomfortable wielding a LG instead of a Samsung, and I don't care enough about looks to pick the Galaxy S7 on style. I definitely like the option to replace the LG G5's battery, too, and I care about it more than wireless charging or water resistance because I rarely drop my phone.

For me, almost everything else is a toss-up between LG and Samsung. Virtual reality is a real factor, though. I'm already a huge fan of VR, and part of me wants to pick the Samsung because it's been the best mobile VR solution so far. But if I wind up buying a home VR setup like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, do I really need VR on my phone as well?

Your mileage may vary. If you're planning to pre-order one of these phones, you might use the same observations I've made to come to a very different conclusion.

But I should warn you that I haven't actually come to a conclusion at all. For one thing, we don't actually know how much the LG G5 or its accessories will cost. More importantly, we haven't seen how well these new processors, cameras and batteries actually work.

That's why I always wait for full reviews of products. I never pre-order anything, even if it means I miss out on a free Gear VR here or there. Yes, I know it's a little self-serving for a CNET reviewer to say "wait for the review," but that's how I spend my own money.