LG G5: should you upgrade?
Gone is the slight curve, gone is the leather and plastic, the LG G5 takes on a much more mainstream shape and build materials. Its a soft rectangle with rounded-off edges and a flat back. Well, almost flat, as the camera module bulges out and the power button / fingerprint scanner, which is placed right underneath the snapper, also sticks out a bit. We can definitely see how the G5's behind may put some users off, especially if you are no fan of the camera bulge and consider the G4's flush camera to be one of the phone's better design assets.
In terms of size, the G5 is slighly narrower and noticeably thinner than the G4. The former is mainly thanks to the fact that the new flagship sports a 5.3-inch display, whereas its predecessor had a 5.5-inch one. The G5 has a slightly worse screen-to-body ratio, measuring at around 70.4% – 2% less than the one on the G4. As a result, the 0.2-inch decrease in screen size doesn't result in a very noticeable footprint shrinkage.
Additionally, the G5 offers the choice of interchangeable modules. The phone's bottom bezel can be taken off and replaced with one of two (at least for now) alternate parts. One is the CAM Plus module, which offers mechanical controls for the camera and adds a hefty bulk to the device for the purpose of making one-hand grip easier (sort of like a conventional camera) and housing an extra 1,200 mAh battery. The second one is a Bang & Olufsen DAC for presumably better audio reproduction, which should make audiophiles happy.
To summarize – in terms of design, there's definitely viable reasons for both staying with the G4 or upgrading to the G5. The former flagship has that signature LG curve, doesn't have a camera bump that one may either learn to live with or never get used to, and has the choice of interchanging back covers between plastic and leather and switching colors among these as well. The G5 has a more mainstream choice of build materials and shape, and we mean that in the good way. The modular design has potential (emphasizing on the word potential here) for more cool phone add-ons.
The LG G5 does employ a new technology, first seen on the LG V10, which allows for an always on display. Basically, even when the phone is on standby, its screen glows with a faint light, showing you the clock and any awaiting notifications at a glance. G4 owners still do get notified for pending notifications by a multi-color LED, so there's a subtle difference in both devices here.
Aside from the always-on variation, in the display department, the main difference between the two smartphones is the slightly smaller screen on the G5, but we find a 0.2-inch decrease in diagonal to be negligible. There is also the fact that the LG G5 has a 70.4% screen-to-body ratio, whereas on the LG G4 the metric is around 72.4%. Again, not a huge difference, but those who love the LG signature thin side bezels should take note.
Processor and memory
The LG G5 truly shines in this category with its octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4 GB of RAM. The SD820 is the go-to “flagship SoC” for many manufacturers, at least for the first half of 2016. It was developed and produced with the help of Samsung, who was kind enough to lend its 14 nm FinFET process. In less-geek terms – Samsung's Exynos 7420 processor, which powered the Galaxy S6, was built in a similar way and was a definite winner in 2015, so there's a lot of promise in the Snapdragon 820.
The G4 on the other hand wasn't even equipped with a top-line processor last year. Since the Snapdragon 810 was plagued by overheating and throttling issues early on, LG chose to go with a hexa-core Snapdragon 808 instead, paired with 3 GB of RAM. Not a bad combo per se, but definitely underpowered when compared to this year's flagship.
The LG G5 comes with a thinner profile, but at the cost of a lower battery capacity. The new juicebox packs just 2,800 mAh – that's 200 mAh less than the cell in the LG G4. This may not seem like much, but taking into account the fact that the processor in the G5 is more powerful than the one in the G4, it raises some concerns. Sammy's 14 nm process of building SoCs is said to provide for less energy consumption, but software optimization of the LG UI will also play a huge part in battery life.
Either way, both batteries are user-replaceable, and the G5 does have the benefit of expanding its battery to 4,000 mAh when the CAM Plus module is attached. As long as you don't mind the bulky look, that's a viable option for power users.
LG evolved the concept of the dual camera, which we first saw on the V10, placing the duo of sensors on the back of the smartphone, instead of having them on the selfie side. No, it's not an HTC-like dual camera, where both sensors work together to get better depth-of-field information. LG's concept lets the user choose between two different snappers – one is a standard shooter with a 16 MP resolution; the other one has an extra-wide, 135-degree angle (15 degrees wider than a human eye's FOV, according to LG), but shoots with a resolution of 8 MP. Basically, the latter sensor should be helpful for landscape or building shots, or when you are trying to get a lot of people in a single frame. In all honesty, it sounds like a pretty niche selling point, but if it's right up your alley – the G5 is worth considering upgrading to.
On paper, the 16 MP main camera and the 8 MP selfie snapper look like they are the same ones that were on the LG G4, and since no further details were provided by LG – we will have to assume that they are before we can get to do some elaborate comparisons.
LG first introduced a fingerprint scanner to its top shelf devices with the V10. Technically, it's a phablet-class, more niche device, so it can be said that the LG G5 is the first LG flagship to have a fingerprint scanner. It's integrated with the power button on the back of the device. LG G4 owners will remain stuck in the PIN code / Knock Code/ pattern / password era unless they upgrade.
LG Friends and Modules
We touched upon the modular design of the LG G5 in the design section. The phone's bottom part can be switched out for another, which houses an experience-enhancing device, widening the customizability options in that regard. At the moment, there are two modules available — the CAM Plus and the B&O DAC — but there is some potential here. We are curious what else LG and its partners can come up with.
The company also wants to introduce a fresh, playful feel back into the smartphone scene with its “Friends” devices. Manufactured by LG partners to work exclusively with the LG G5, these currently consist of a light and portable VR headset, the Rolling Bot, complete with a mounted IP camera for both play and home surveillance, and the 360 CAM, for shooting VR-ready pictures and video.
We could definitely see users going both ways on this. On one end, the G4 has a very distinct look, with the signature curve and interchangeable back covers. The camera bulge on the back of the G5 could also make LG fans postpone their upgrade until next year. A slightly larger battery, a slightly larger display, and presumably an identical main camera are also in favor of the LG G4.
The LG G5 will appeal to fans of the metal build, and its modular design holds enough potential to get tech-heads hyped for the future (let's hope more and useful modules do arrive). The Friends devices are also a pretty cool selling point — we are especially eager to play around with the Rolling Bot.
But toys aside, is the LG G5 worth upgrading to? Well, there's a more powerful processor, fingerprint scanner, and metal body to entice you. The device feels like an evolution of LG's flagships, not a simple expansion. So it's definitely worth a consideration, as long as you don't feel like you'd be losing sleep over that bulging camera module.