X

LG G5 review: Mix-and-match design can't beat Samsung's S7

Surprisingly, the main draw of the G5 is its removable battery, not the unique modular capabilities.

Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

See full bio
9 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

LG phones often play it safe, but this modular G5, which lets you swap out some parts, is all risk. I love the innovation -- no other company has gotten this far with a modular phone -- but unfortunately the device falls short on execution.

lg-g5-6143.jpg
8.4

LG G5

The Good

The LG G5's unique modular design lets you swap in fun accessories. It has (two!) great rear cameras, expandable storage and a replaceable battery -- a rarity in high-end phones.

The Bad

Although you can swap out some parts, there aren't enough to make this feature compelling. You can only access the phone's app drawer in a specialized theme.

The Bottom Line

This is the phone to get if you want a removable battery, but it fails to live up to its world-changing Swiss Army Knife potential.

Swapping out parts means you turn off your smartphone each time, and there just aren't enough modules right now to make this truly captivating. (LG is selling two components, but they don't pique my interest all that much.) Maybe if there were more inspired modules, and more partners on board lining up cooler add-ons -- I love the idea of a swappable camera lens, for example -- I could be more excited about the G5, or at least more forgiving of its growing pains.

But it's not all bad news. Forget the modules and the device is the best handset with a removable battery, which is becoming a rarity in the phone world. Its aluminium build looks and feels great, and the two cameras on its back are a pleasure to use.

Overall, the G5 still isn't as good as Samsung's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge when it comes to processing speed and battery life, but it'll work very well for all the things you really need to do: take photos, browse the internet, and watch videos throughout the day.

(For more on the G5's hardware specs and how it compares to other flagship handsets, scroll to the end of the review.)

LG's elegant and unorthodox G5 (pictures)

See all photos

Design: This is not your modular fantasy

When LG first showed off the G5, it made a big deal of it being the first phone with modular capabilities. This ability to swap out and customize certain hardware parts has been a longtime fantasy for mobile users. Like building a personal computer, you can upgrade certain components that are important to you or fit a certain need. If you're going somewhere where you're going to take a variety of photos, for example, you might want to swap out your handset's stock lens for a fisheye or macro lens.

To use the feature, you'll need to push the small button on the device's left edge. The bottom of the G5 will pop out, allowing you to yank the attachment off the battery, clip the battery into the new module and push it all back together. Because the battery is attached to the bezel, the handset powers down every time you swap something out. This isn't a huge deal, but it takes time to fire up the phone after a switch, and if you swap parts often throughout the day it can be a power drain.

lg-g5-6164.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-6164.jpg

The G5's bottom bezel can be removed and swapped out for another accessory.

James Martin/CNET

Google attempted to make a modular handset with its Project Ara, but development on that stalled. The fact that LG got this off the ground is a win, but the feature is limited for now because there are only two accessories (so far) that take advantage of it.

One is called the Cam Plus. It's a camera grip that has a physical shutter button to record and capture video, and a zooming wheel. It also has a built-in battery, which you can use on top of the phone's battery for extra juice. The other accessory is the Hi-Fi Plus, a portable digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that boosts audio playback for high-definition sound files. Because the Hi-Fi Plus includes an audio grill, a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, you can leave it attached to your G5 and use it all the time.

lg-g5-6176.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-6176.jpg

The LG Cam Plus camera grip, which can attach to the handset.

James Martin/CNET

Swapping out the bottom bezel was a bit difficult at first. The pieces fit tightly, and the unlock button that lets you to detach the chin lies flush with the surface of the device, so I had to dig my nail in to press it. After a while, I got the hang of it and got faster at swapping the parts out. That doesn't mean I ever got to the point where I could walk around, stop and switch out the bezel casually. There's still some wrangling involved, and due to the sheer fear that I'd accidentally fling the top part of the handset across the room when I pulled out the chin, I felt compelled to find a place to sit down to switch out the parts.

With these two official add-ons and no plans to make more, LG will need to rely on third-party developers to expand the usefulness of the phone's current modular features. As a top-tier handset in and of itself, the G5 is a great device. But solely in terms of modularity, it has a ways to go.

VR headsets, robot balls and snap-on phone gadgets: Say hello to LG's amazing new G5 accessories

See all photos

Software: Making a few compromises

You know the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Well, LG tried to fix it.

On the refreshed user interface for the G5, LG buried the option to have an app drawer, the grid of icons that holds all of your apps. A bunch of other Android phone-makers, such as Huawei and Xiaomi, do something similar by getting rid of the drawer altogether, but if you aren't used to it, it can drive you crazy.

I like the app drawer, as this iPhone-like layout means I can't organize my homepages exactly how I want. If you want the drawer back you'll need to dive into Settings and launch a totally different layout called EasyHome. (Hat tip to Techno Buffalo for pointing this out.) Unfortunately, the EasyHome theme enlarges the font size on your home screen, which you can't adjust, and gets rid of the dashboard, which is a row of up to five apps that you can choose to display on the bottom of your home page.

lg-g5-screenshots2.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-screenshots2.jpg

The device's Home layout (left) without an app drawer, and the simpler EasyHome layout (right) which has an app drawer but removes the bottom dashboard of apps.

Lynn La/CNET

Basically, you have to choose between having a dashboard and no app drawer, or an app drawer with no dashboard and really big text. Neither choice is ideal.

Luckily, there are some software goodies to help counterbalance this. One is the always-on display. Like the Galaxy S7, the screen continuously displays the time, date and any missed notifications on the display, even when the handset is sleeping. Because the information is "always on," you won't have to wake it up or wave your hand over the screen (like on Motorola phones).

The feature is useful, and it does save me a tap whenever I want to check the time. However, it's limited compared to Samsung's always-on feature. With the Galaxy S7 you can choose different clock faces and there's a monthly calendar option. On the G5 you can add a "welcome message" but that's pretty much it. And while its always-on text is visible in sunlight, it's not as bright as on the S7.

Editors' note, May 3: LG has said an over-the-air update will add an option called "Home and app drawer" that simply adds the drawer to the standard home layout.

Camera: Two cameras are better than one

The G5 has two cameras in the back: a 16-megapixel camera with a standard 78-degree wide lens and an 8-megapixel camera with a wide-angle, 135-degree lens. The wider lens lets you capture more space within each frame.

At first I wasn't too excited about this. I thought a wide-angle lens made more sense on the front (like how the LG V10 had it) so you can include more people in your group selfies. Turns out that having a wide-angle lens on the back is useful if you're more into sweeping landscapes than selfies (which I am). And because you can seamlessly switch between the lenses by zooming in and out on the camera's interface, it's easy to quickly snap two versions of every scene I wanted to capture.

Every time I took a regular photo using the standard camera, I'd pause, then zoom out even wider for the wide-angle version "just in case" I liked that photo better. It became a little addictive.

lg-g5-1044-002.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-1044-002.jpg

A closeup of the handset's two back cameras.

Josh Miller/CNET

To take advantage of the dual cameras, LG added two software features: "Popout," which superimposes an image from the standard lens on top of the wide-angle lens' view with a few effects, and "multiview." Multiview arranges images taken from all cameras (including the 8-megapixel front-facing camera) into instant collages.

The cameras themselves operate quickly, and they take sharp images. When I was capturing a photo of a lanky flower that was blowing in the breeze, the camera's burst shot feature took several pictures of the flower in succession, all of which were in focus. Lighting was also even and colors were true to life. For more on photo quality, check out the shots below (and be sure to click on them to view them at their full resolution).

lg-g5-outdoors-wide.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-outdoors-wide.jpg

A shady outdoor image using the standard 16-megapixel camera.

Lynn La/CNET
lg-g5-outdoors.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-outdoors.jpg

Capturing the same scene in the same spot using the wide-angle 8-megapixel lens.

Lynn La/CNET
lg-g5-closeup.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-closeup.jpg

Focusing up close on a succulent outside.

Lynn La/CNET
lg-g5-indoors-fruit.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-indoors-fruit.jpg

Some fruit and vegetables in a brightly lit kitchen.

Lynn La/CNET
lg-g5-indoors.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-indoors.jpg

Another indoor shot, this time with moodier lighting, taken at Salt House restaurant in San Francisco.

Lynn La/CNET

Compared to the camera on the Galaxy S7, I felt that the G5 took just a tad longer to focus, but not by much -- though you have to really pay attention to even notice. Photos taken on Samsung's handset also had deeper and richer colors, while pictures on the G5 can look a bit washed out at times. Overall, however, the G5's camera is great and its color accuracy was closer at times than the Galaxy S7's, which had a tendency to render some hues more vibrant than they were in real life. Check back with CNET soon for a deeper camera comparison between these two phones.

Other camera goodies include shooting 4K, slow-mo and timelapse videos. There's a manual shooting mode for photography enthusiasts who want more control over the camera's ISO levels, white balance, shutter speed and more. You can also take images in an uncompressed, raw image format.

lg-g5-and-galaxy-s7-outside.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-and-galaxy-s7-outside.jpg

The LG G5's photo (left) is dimmer, but it didn't blowout the sky like the Galaxy S7 (right).

Lynn La/CNET
lg-g5-and-galaxy-s7-flower-inside.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-and-galaxy-s7-flower-inside.jpg

The flower taken by the LG G5 (left) looks more washed out and not as vibrant as the one taken by the Galaxy S7 (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Performance: Super speedy

The G5 runs on a Snapdragon 820 processor and operates lightning fast and very smoothly. As I mentioned before, the camera shoots swiftly, and I didn't run into any problems playing games, launching and quitting apps or flipping through the home pages.

As for benchmark tests, it performed comparably to its rivals. Though it beat the Nexus 6P on all our tests, it didn't outperform the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Still, it clocked respectable results.

LG G5 preliminary benchmark scores

LG G5 2313 5345 27758Samsung Galaxy S7 2323 5429 29031Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2370 5493 28896Google Nexus 6P 1286 4313 24224
  • Geekbench 3 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 3 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Battery: Impressive, but not the best

The G5's 2,800mAh battery did a great job surviving the work day without a charge. After surfing the Web, running benchmark tests and snapping photos, it was at about 60 percent in the evening.

It also did well in our lab tests. The device clocked in 12 hours 34 minutes of continuous video playback in airplane mode. With its quick charge technology, it took only about an hour and 10 minutes to fully charge. That's a marked improvement from the G4, which had a 3,000mAh battery but only lasted 10 hours 38 minutes. It lasted longer than the Nexus 6P's 3,450mAh battery (11 hours 15 minutes) too.

Compared to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, however, the LG lags behind. Those phones lasted an impressive 16 hours and a whopping 19 hours 48 minutes respectively. They can also charge wirelessly.

The one caveat with the Galaxy devices, though, is that you can't remove their batteries, as you can with the G5. Some users won't care considering they last so long anyway. But having the option to swap is useful when there's no plug close by. It's also handy when you're a year or two into owning your phone and the battery isn't performing as well as it used to. (Plus it helps to have a fresh battery up your sleeve if you plan to resell it later.)

lg-g5-6169.jpg
Enlarge Image
lg-g5-6169.jpg

The phone has a removable 2,800mAh battery that lasted about 12 and a half hours in our lab tests.

James Martin/CNET

Extra nitty-gritty spec details:

LG G5 spec comparison

LG G5Samsung Galaxy S7Samsung Galaxy S7 EdgeGoogle Nexus 6P
Display size; resolution 5.3-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 554ppi576ppi534ppi515ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.88x2.90x0.3 in5.6x2.7x0.3 in5.9x2.9x0.3 in6.3x3.1x0.28 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 149.4x73.9x7.7 mm142.4x69.6x7.9 mm150.9x72.6x7.7 mm159x78x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.61 oz; 159 g5.4 oz; 152 g5.5 oz; 157 g6.3 oz; 178 g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 16-megapixel, 8-megapixel wide12-megapixel12-megapixel12.3-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.15GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processor2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processor2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB, 64GB (varies by region)32GB, 64GB, 128GB
RAM 4GB4GB4GB3GB
Expandable storage 2TB200GB200GBNone
Battery 2,800mAh (removable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,600mAh (nonremovable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Home buttonHome buttonHome buttonBack cover
Connector USB-CMicro-USBMicro-USBUSB-C
Special features Pull-out battery, two rear camerasWater-resistantCurved screens, water-resistant"Pure" Android
Price off-contract (USD) AT&T: $689, Sprint: $576, T-Mobile: $630, Verizon: $624, US Cellular: $636AT&T: $695, Sprint: $650, T-Mobile: $670, Verizon: $672, US Cellular: $672AT&T: $795, Sprint: $750, T-Mobile: $780, Verizon: $792, US Cellular: $780$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £490£569£639£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,099AU$1,149AU$1,249AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)

Should you get it?

If you were looking to buy the LG G5 phone solely for its modularity, don't. Wait until there are more hardware parts and accessories that can be swapped out, or until LG improves on the design so that it's easier to switch components.

If you have the extra cash, spring for the Galaxy S7 instead. Next to its Edge counterpart, it's the best performing handset on the market and you'll get extra peace of mind with its water resistant body. On the other hand, if you want to save money, get the Google Nexus 6P. It's one of the cheapest and best-performing Android devices and it'll receive prompt software updates from Google.

However, if your top priority is having a replaceable battery, go with the G5. With a spare battery, you won't have to worry about finding a nearby plug, and it'll make the handset easier to resell. I know having this option is an absolute must for some people and if it's the same for you, this phone should undoubtedly be your top choice.

lg-g5-6143.jpg
8.4

LG G5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Camera 8Battery 8