LG G5 Review by mark2410
Thanks to Clove for the loaner.
First Impressions: The G5, the latest “flagship” from LG. Okay so it’s been out a little while but it’s still their top of the range device. Starting with the box this thing is a little bit different. You see you slide the box out from an outer covering. It’s got a phone printed on it, you see so you must slide out the bottom bit. Then printed on the box is what you’d see if you do the same with the phone itself. Yeah, the G5 is the modular phone that you pull out the inside from the bottom. Is that weird? Well duh, yeah it’s weird. You do get access to the battery which is sorta nice so you could carry a spare. You also can change the “module” for something else like the camera thingy they offer or the B&O audio amp module. Naturally I’m way more interested in the audio one but alas, sadly I didn’t get sent one of those. Sad face. Never mind though, it’s still a top end phone it might sound fine as it is?
Opening up the rest of the box and there is the glass fronted slab, under it there are the usual bits. A USB charging plug, a USB type C charging cable and lastly a pair of earphones. Hmm. Well they might not be terrible but why the F are they all white when I have the darkish grey phone??? I loathe when companies do that, it’s one thing to come from some random Chinese company but this is from a world class company, their flagship phone. From a £500 phone I do not think it’s acceptable in the slightest and it makes me want to start calling LG Lucky Goldstar. If they are going to act like some up and coming, cheap end of the market handset maker then they deserve to be named like one.
Powering the phone on (sim and a micro SD card in the slot) and there is the usual Android set up stuff. The only bit that’s new for me is the fingerprint set up. Normally I wouldn’t bother but as this is a review device I feel I have to. So scanning 3 fingers, two from my left hand and one from the right. Seems to work okay too. Screen, well it’s rather pretty, shame that LG’s pastel melange doesn’t show it off at all. That won’t be lasting long I bet. Still looks nice, feels nice in the hand too mostly but I don’t think I’m loving the fingerprint / power button placement. I know LG have used the back for a while and it makes sense to integrate the two but it’s a bit awkward for turning off the screen. Turning it back on too, my fingers just don’t want to go there naturally when holding in a fashion that means it won’t fall out of my hand. Oh and yeah, it’s a slippery little bugger. I wish review units came with a case or two.
Hardware: The numbers of such things are all top tier stuff. CPU, GPU, Screen resolution, RAM oh yeah baby 4GB!!!! I’m disappointed to see that the on-board storage starts at 32GB rather than 64 but at least you can add in a micro SD card so it’s not a deal breaker. It’s all as good as you will find pretty much anywhere from any company. On paper it’s a cracking beast of a thing. The CPU with its Snapdragon 820 is a powerhouse especially. You can throw anything you can think of at this thing and it will plough through it like a hot knife through butter. Much like if you work that CPU, the phone will be hot and thin enough to go through the butter just as well as that knife.
The main thing for me in terms of hardware, is that it’s got 4GB of RAM. Given Androids proclivity for acting like its windows 95 and loading every app on your phone just in case you may want to use it, just eats RAM like crazy. For flagship money I’d demand 4GB. It’s also nice to see 5GHz WiFi support including AC support. Not to mention its positioning abilities, GPS, GLONASS and BDS. (The Russian and Chinese GPS systems.) Pretty much any hardware talent you can think of, it has it. (Except Qi.)
CPU and GPU wise it’s a beast. Running the Antutu benchmark it gave me a whopping 127763!!! For perspective my Huawei P8 gave 50618 and my aging Nexus 5 got 34879. Now granted the N5 had SU popups happening so it was clearly doing bits in the background but still, the difference is clear. The G5 is a very powerful handset, no ifs no buts it’s a top of the range powerhouse.
It’s got a couple of little additions that while I don’t care about are potentially key if they matter to you. Most of the spec of the “flagships” are all the same but the G5 has both an FM radio and it’s got an IR blaster. Both of which neither the HTC 10 nor the Galaxy S7 have. Not that I think anyone will care about the radio, the IR blaster could be very handy if you’re one for loosing remotes down the back of the sofa. You just use an app on your phone and you can turn your phone into a £500 universal remote control.
The only real curiosity hardware wise is its camera configuration. As I’m sure you know I’m useless with a camera so it’s probably a bit lost on me. Still it has a wide angle camera and a normal one so you can do, errr, stuff. I think it’s meant to be faster for HDR shots. Oh though be warned that the default camera app is rather subtle in telling you which camera is in use. There is a stupid little icon at the top with one tree and one with three threes. That means normal and wide angle apparently. I felt that could have really been doing with being more clear. I’m not a camera buff so all the little icons it has mean pretty much nothing to me. Words would have been far more useful than those cryptic icons.
Screen: The screen, is possibly the most important bit of hardware, it’s what you view and what you interact with. The screen here is lush. Not quite the best screen I’ve ever seen but when I put it beside the screen of my LG made Nexus 5, the difference is stark. The G5 is so much better there is just no comparison. Its resolution too is crazy. 1440 x 2560 is just silly, I mean your 55 inch TV is probably only 1920 x 1080. Having that many pixels on a 5.3 inch screen to me is battery wasting overkill. Nevertheless it’s good, the blacks are genuinely dark and colours look very well rendered too, a little on the natural and realistic side compared with my own preference for a highly saturated OLED type look.
Audio Software: It comes with some LG music app. Of course you can, with it being Android, load up anything you fancy. There are more music apps than I can count. However the inbuilt one isn’t the usual basic non-event app. LG have done stuff, some odd stuff too. You see the included buds have their own custom EQ setting. Having tried it with them, it’s a waste of time. I was thinking maybe something like JAYS DIRAC stuff but no. it’s just a plane old EQ setting that does nothing worth bothering with.
Audio Hardware: Now as I’m sure you all know the G5 has an optional B&O bottom. That supposedly brings new audio goodness and from what I gather a lot move power and increases the audio processing support to 32 bits. Ooooooh because a bigger number is better right? Well I mean yes a 32 bit file must be “better” but best of luck finding any music that uses it. What is really very curious though is that LG says it’s a 32bit DAC and amp but zero mention of the sampling rate. Now I’m just assuming at least 384kHz but I saw no evidence of it anywhere. Frankly though what passes for tech spec on LG’s website is atrociously basic. I urge you to go have a look and marvel at how little info they provide, even about the B&O add on. Frankly if LG think anyone is going to by a £150 B&O add-on based on that level of info, they have been smoking something seriously naughty.
Lows: Fine. I whipped out the RHA MA750i’s as I figured they ought to be a reasonable accompaniment. Something pretty good and with enough mainstream reach that it’s plausible a pairing. Plus I don’t think a £90 earphone is unreasonable for use with a £500 phone. Not to mention the B&O add-on that comes with some B&O earphones so LG clearly thinks people are willing to spend some cash. So, the lows, they are good. The MA750 though is doing all the heavy lifting here. They are cracking IEM’s that can do everything with a fantastic degree of skill, they are gorgeous too and are built like, well, like really well built stuff. So the lows. Yeah they are good. The G5 may not have abundant power but thank full the 750’s can get by with very little. Still they haven’t the vigour and potency that they ought to. They ought to be ready rise up and rip your face off at the slightest provocation…….. No no, they would ask you first. The G5 needs a crank of the volume to start to show signs of life.
Tonally the G5 is actually rather good, quite neutral and uncoloured with a nicely black background. Given that past reasonably recent Snapdragons have been pretty good this isn’t a big surprise. A little more tame perhaps and a little more on the natural than more cold 400’s I’ve played with. It’s really a rather pleasant playback experience. Bach’s coral works were just lovely, smoothly sweeping without any abrasiveness to be found anywhere. (Psalm 51 is a fav of mine.) Trying to find more energetic stuff and it would get more lively but the MA750 wasn’t having its legs stretched. It sounded good, enjoyable, fun even but I know it’s capable of more.
Mids: Good. The very uncoloured output works great for vocals, maybe a smidge natural over neutral but that’s always fine with me. Mr Buble sounded great on them as did Susan Wong. Though sadly neither were singing their hearts out. The G5 needs pairing up to something like you get from Shure, something very easy to drive, perhaps the little PL-50 if I can find them. Raking in the big tub I stumble across some real old school, Shure E3c’s. Slapping them in and they sound pretty good. They are sensitive, easy to drive little buggers and given they roll of so much at the bottom and the top anyway you’d barely notice that the G5 hasn’t the oomph to spit them out anyway. Actually I’m really quite enjoying the G5 now.
So tonally it’s great I can’t deny it’s ever so faintly over natural but for a phone it’s great. Dynamics are a little undramatic but hey you can’t have everything.
Highs: The refinement level for a phone is really nice, the quality I can’t fault. Energy wise though, hmm, they have only the most brief of edgy attacks and thus are rather shimmery, easy on the ear stuff. It’s really nice and easy on the ear which I love, I also love that with its polite reticence and subdued dynamics it’s never abrasive or ear stabby. It’s really nice. However when it comes to the rip roaring extravaganza of some wild musical explosion? It just, well, it’s all too polite you see. It’s very nice, personally I very much like its presentation but if you’re someone using a phone for your music listening you’re more likely listening to Kesha than you are Bach. Not that there anything wrong in that per say but it means your more likely looking for a more assertive sound. Something with some liveliness to it and despite the MA750’s best efforts…… na not really.
Soundstage/Instrument Separation: With its fairly deadpan presentation and tone its largely a function of the earphone in use. They are a little more subdued of course and thus perhaps a little more enclosed. They have just a little bit of air sucked out of the room too. Instrument separation is rather nice and defined though.
Format Support: Wooo, its android so you name it, it’ll play it. The stock LG app coped fine with FLAC files including 24 bit 192kHz stuff. Yey I guess, I mean such files are totally wasted on a phone never mind while using stock buds but hey better to have than not right?
Volume: The volume out was unusually quiet as has been noted by others too. I wonder if this was intentional to make people think that the B&O add on is therefore better. Human hearing perceives two identical tracks with the louder one as being “better” as I see no reason for it to be so quiet. Not that it’s so quiet it’s a problem it went loud enough for me but it was markedly a lower maximum than I’ve seen elsewhere. The power output wasn’t terrible. It drove most things okay but the big HD600’s lol err no. Id steer away from all big cans in fact or anything hard to drive.
Battery Life: So I was really worried about the permanent on screen function. Now it being very dim, yeah but you see it’s an LCD screen not an OLED like the Samsung’s so it has to power a back light. Now I’ve no idea if its powering up the whole back light or maybe just a little bit, one or two little bitty LED’s just behind the bit that lights up. So I was afraid it would be battery destroying but it didn’t seem to make all that much difference. The battery life seemed to be fairly reasonable. It got through a day pretty much every day with ease. Mind you I’d have been happier with bigger but you can always carry a spare if you need to, which I probably would just for the peace of mind having a charged spare gives. I love that you can hammer the phone all day and when it’s hitting 10% you can keep hammering and not care because you know in 30 seconds you can slap in a new battery if you need to.
So yeah, as it stands the battery life is fine. Nothing particularly noteworthy other than that you can swap the battery.
Build Quality: Well the thing is metal, but the back, well it’s coated in paint or a thin layer of plastic or something. If it’s metal its sure doesn’t feel like it. Frankly LG my ancient Nexus 5 feels nicer, you know, why the hell do companies think that plastic = crap? Plastic no more equals crap than “metal” equals good as shown here. It okay feeling, well, kinda meh. I look at this next to my Elephone P8000 and you know what, the P8000 feels more solid. The G5 is just too damn thin, too damn light and too damn slippery. Now the join between the modular bottom and the rest of the phone, that does have a little bit of a gap and it does have a slight, detectable to the touch, join. Other reviews I’ve seen this was a bother but it never bothered me at all and I never noticed nor thought check until I saw others moaning about it. The bit that got me was its unimpressive to the touch feeling and whatever the hell that coating on the back is.
UI: Oh my, the Far East just doesn’t get UI’s do they? Sigh. LG you see at some point decided they would move to the popular in China (Ios clone) not having any app drawer. Just slapping all your apps in the home screen. On turning on the phone it was fine then it wanted updates. You see LG decided that they would have this no app drawer thing but people got upset so they offered a version with an app drawer. Then they also decided to offer “EasyHome” which is a cut down basic version. So on running updates the phone as Android does when a new launcher is installed, presents you with the choice of launcher to use. It also asks you to set one as default. Now I know what that looks like and I know how to deal with it. I however do not feel that a typical user would have a clue what the hell has happened and don’t know what it is they are being asked. I rang my sister to enquire what she would make of it and she clearly had no idea what the difference between “Home Screen” and “Home and app drawer” would be.
So to get this straight LG who thinks an app drawer is sooooo complicated and confusing for its customers thinks that presenting them with a choice of 3 launchers with no description of what they are or the difference, is a good idea? LG I do not follow your line of reasoning on this matter.
The one nice aspect of the launcher is that there are loads and loads of themes available. Seriously there are hundreds, I get fed up scrolling before they ran out. Now I’ll grant that half of them look like they were put together by a bunch of Japanese school girls, some of them are not bad. However I suspect that most people won’t notice them as you find them not by accessing something called themes but by using the pithily named “LG SmartWorld.” Sadly its painfully slow and the one theme I thought I’d give a go, it took ages to get started and was very slow to download, then it would fail. I tried a few times then I gave up.
In the Hand: Meh. The physical feel of the hardware though, hmm I don’t know what exactly the outer coating they have on it is but I don’t like it. It’s slippery, seriously LG why not just Teflon coat the thing? This is why I so wanted a case, the phone with that slippery outer and its being so stupidly, stupidly thin there was so little to grip. What’s more is that because the screen is so dominant on the front it leaves almost nowhere you can grip the thing. This isn’t an LG issue it’s everyone but with the back being so slippery it emphasised the problem for me. Yes a couple of times I lost my grip and off it went, thankfully it only happened indoors so no harm was done.
Honestly it’s not that it’s a bad launcher, certainly its better than Touchwiz but LG’s flip flopping about app drawer or no app drawer to me says they need to just scrap their own launcher and use Googles stock android one or just go buy a popular 3rd party launcher. The launcher though isn’t the problem as that can be changed easily. The in the hand issue is that this phone needs a case on it. It’s just so slippery in the hand, light and with that massive screen together with a lack of bezels there is nowhere to grip the thing. While the lack of somewhere to grab is hardly exclusive to the G5 that coating on the back is. If it were mine I’d slap a case on so problem solved but still I just never held the G5 and felt the love for it.
Speaker: LG have a done a pretty reasonable job here. They have rolled off the inclination for a tiny little speaker to be tinny and treble centric. Thus the mids sound relatively full tonally. They are still from a tiny little speaker but they are warmly rounded and I can’t help feeling that if they had two of these, front facing LG would be on to something. These are one of the least bad phone speakers I’ve ever heard. It’s rather loud too for being a little, side firing, single speaker that ought to be easily sufficient to slap a video on for a child in the car. Pretty good clarity too and no distortion.
Camera: Hands up, I am no camera expert. Personally I rather hate taking photos and I tend to suck at it. The G5 has tried to use its camera setup to differentiate it a little form its competition. Its doing so by having two cameras on the back, one is a normal 16 mega pixel one and an 8 mega pixel wide angle one. This lets you take wide angle shorts, errr cause who doesn’t want to do that all the time? Others seem to think the main camera is great and to my eyes it looked fine. They looked pretty good to me.
Reception: Side by side with my old Nexus 5, my staple benchmark device, the G5 gets a respectable -79dBm verses the Nexus 5’s -83dBm so it clings onto the signal a little better. From the same mast too and at the exact same time so pretty good I’d say.
Accessories: The typical set up, USB socketed charging plug, a USB type C cable and a pair of earphones. Now aside from the fact they are all white with a god damn black phone (are you serious LG?!?!?!? A black phone should come with black accessories!!!!) With that unpleasantness out of the way…… the earbuds. Normally I say I’d rather companies not bother including some bits of junk as they are usually fit for nothing but the bin and thus are a waste of money. However the buds here, well, they are actually pretty good. They won’t be worrying top end stuff out there but for stock buds, the included free things, wow, they are good. Looking into them a little, I note that the “Quadbeats” name I saw as a custom EQ setting has cropped up on Head-Fi. That LG has been making things in collaboration with AKG these don’t seem to have any AKG branding on them nor can I find anything where they are named. I do wonder if AKG have had some input into these, though that just raises more questions. Like if AKG has been involved why aren’t they branded so, also if LG is working with AKG why the hell is the amp module from B&O and with B&O earphones. I get the amp as B&O are well known for their “ICE” amp’s but in head/earphones AKG is the much better and more respected name.
In any case, I do not believe I’ll ever have the questions I have answered but the takeaway is that the included buds are cracking little things for freebee bundled buds. I would be included to review them separately but as it seems LG won’t sell you pair without a phone it seems a bit pointless.
The Good: Lots, well in fact pretty much everything is good about the G5. Sadly for the G5 not much is amazing and for £500 there should be something that sets it apart from the rest and says I am the very best at xyz. Now if my phone needs were based on having an FM radio, an IR blaster and a removable battery then boom, winning!!! Actually the battery thing could well be a deal maker for some, I know it’s something I very much want in a phone. The screen is pretty nice too, one of the better screens out there but again while very good its £500 I’d be furious if it wasn’t very good. Actually the biggest and most appealing aspect of the G5 for me (replaceable battery aside) is the modularity of it. While it’s only got two modules right now and while I suspect I wouldn’t buy the B&O amp module but what if HiFiMAN or FiiO made one???? I can bet if either company did the audiophile world would suddenly wake up and take a VERY serious look at the G5. Not to bash B&O but they are a company that makes exquisitely beautiful looking sound equipment, their sound quality tends to take a back seat to looking good. They also tend to be wildly expensive for their given audio quality level. While I cannot comment on the module that I’ve not used and thus not heard, as a crazy audiophile person I and others view it as a marketing exercise more than anything. LG if you want to get taken seriously throw some money at FiiO or HiFiMAN or iBasso. I promise if they come out with an amp module the audio world will stand up and take notice.
Personally for me the biggest “good” for the G5 is something that I can’t answer right now. Its when the G6 and the G7 best take the same modules and there begins to be a whole assortment of modules you can use. The G5 has a potential for creativity and growth that simply put, no other phone has.
The Bad: Nothing really. While the G5 may not shine like a brilliant star there isn’t anything bad about it. There is some bits that aren’t perfect but nothing that comes close to being bad. Well other than including while accessories with a black phone, which is frankly ridiculous LG. The only thing that is really missing is the lack of Qi charging but that’s the whole all metal thing at play there. A sad omission but I’d wager not deal breaker for most.
Value: At £480 the G5 isn’t a cheap thing but neither is its competitors. They all cost practically the same and while the G5 is a smidge cheaper than the HTC 10 and the Galaxy S7 (the Sony Z5 being the same price) the difference between them all is so slight as to not matter. The G5 is a good, very good phone. It’s top of the range spec’ed, good screen, fairly good sounding etc etc etc. As for value though well, is any top end phone good value?
Conclusion: Oh my, the G5 has been a curious ride. I want to heap praise on it for its acoustic neutrality and pleasantly natural sound. Even if I suspect it’s been deliberately tamed to make the B&O module pop more when first tried. Then to the bundled earbuds, usually I hate that as they are usually utter crap. It’s traditional for all bundled earphones to absolutely suck no matter how cheap or expensive a device they came with, right? These though are actually pretty good. I couldn’t find out much about them but for stock buds, wow there are really nice little buggers. However LG hates you and won’t sell you a pair without buying a G5. Seriously LG just what kind of deal did you sign with B&O?
The audio like the rest of the phone it’s all on paper good stuff. The implementation though lacks a little fun, a little personality. The G5 is a highly competent device that can do any task you ask of it and it will do it to a high standard. Still it’s a little soulless, not just acoustically, it’s just not got anything that captures your attention. No quirky endearing feature, the closest its get to that is the mildly annoying power / fingerprint all in one button. It neither sat where my fingers wanted to nor did I love that it was at times easier to turn the thing over to turn it off. I missed the side power button I’m so used to from other devices. However that placement isn’t a negative, it’s just difference and I’m sure given enough time I’d just get used to it like you do anything.
So should you/ would I buy one? Would I, well no. Not that is anything wrong with it but it doesn’t offer me anything special (neither do the other flagships that I am aware of.) If the G5 came with the B&O amp module by default, that could be another matter it would certainly interest me enough to seek out a play and listen to one. Should you? Well I’d say if you have a G4 or one of last year’s flagships then nope. The RAM bump is nice but unless you’re coming from something with only 1, then wow you’ll notice an improvement. From 2GB, well yeah it’s a lot better especially if you use that RAM monster, Facebook. Then moving to 4GB is a worthy jump. Why the G5 though over something else, that I’m less sure about. LG’s stand out feature has been the removable battery but the implementation here is so awkward and has arguably produced an inferior solution to the plain old removable plastic back. Never the less it’s the last remaining top end device with a swappable battery so if you are a hard-core user that eats battery for breakfast and you don’t have access to emergency plug points for quick top ups then this is your phone, no question.