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Review: The LG G5 Is Unique but Underwhelming

April 22, 2016, 5:42 PM UTC
Courtesy LG

For Android enthusiasts, the first part of each year is full of smartphone manufacturers announcing and releasing their respective flagship devices. Typically, the specification sheets for the slew of devices announced read the same. This year, each listing seems to start with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, four gigabytes of memory, and microSD support.

Beyond customizing various facets of the Android operating system with skins and added apps, manufacturers are left to differentiate and set their phones apart from the rest of the pack through overall design and unique features. Samsung has a curved display and waterproof housing on the S7 Edge. The speakers in the HTC 10 (HTC) pump out quality audio and works with Apple’s AirPlay standard (a first for Android devices).

Then there’s the LG G5, the company’s flagship smartphone for 2016. It’s an unassuming device, wrapping a 5.3-inch display in an aluminum housing. Using an aluminum housing breaks away from LG’s traditional plastic housing. One would expect the move aluminum would mean forfeiting a removable battery, another staple of LG’s previous smartphones.

Your car could soon replace your smartphone. Watch:

However, LG (LGCEY) has developed a system that makes the standard 2,800 milliamp-hour battery removable by sliding out from the bottom of the device. By pressing a button on the side of the phone, you pull the bottom metal housing of the phone down. Attached to it is the battery, and with little effort, you can then swap the battery out and slide it back into the phone.

LG’s modularity is a unique, multi-purpose approach. Not only can users swap batteries, but the modular design enables other types of hardware to interface with the phone in the same manner. The $69 LG Cam Plus slides into the bottom of the phone, adding a camera grip, physical camera controls, and extends battery life. Another accessory originally announced alongside the G5 adds a Hi-Fi speaker to the phone, but it’s since been pulled from the U.S. market.

Along with the device itself, LG sent an extra battery and an external battery cradle. Meaning, once I removed the battery, I could place it in the cradle and go on about my day. In practice, having an extra charged battery on hand has meant I’ve rarely had to leave the G5 plugged into a charger over the past few weeks.

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Battery life on the G5 overall was a mixed bag. One day I would get an entire day’s worth of use out of a single charge, while the next day I would have to swap batteries by mid-afternoon. For those who opt to not purchase an extra battery, the G5 is equipped with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology. Translation: Using the included charger, you can charge the G5’s battery to 50% in just 30 minutes.

On the back of the G5 you’ll find two camera lenses. One lens serves as the default camera, capturing 16 megapixel photos. The second lens adds an 8-megapixel, 135-degree wide-angle camera. Switching between the different lenses is done by tapping an on-screen button or zooming out on a photo. Despite offering a lower megapixel count, I found myself capturing most photos on the G5 using the wide-angle lens. Be it a photo of my kids, or a picture of a small stream running through the forest, I appreciated the ability to capture the entire scene instead of the narrow field of view we’ve grown accustomed to smartphones capturing.

The G5’s main camera comes close to matching Samsung’s and Apple’s (AAPL) latest smartphones in both speed and quality. Or more simply put, you won’t be disappointed with photos and video captured with the G5.

In addition to the Snapdragon 820 processor powering the G5, the internals include four gigabytes of memory and 32 gigabytes of storage. Support for expandable storage up to two terabytes is made possible through a microSD card slot.

Performance was never an issue with the G5, with the phone keeping up with every task I threw at it. From gaming, to changing between apps, or streaming YouTube videos, I saw no issues with app load times or overall speed. A circular fingerprint sensor that doubles as a lock button is found on the back of the phone, just below the camera. You can pick up the phone, place your finger on the scanner and a split second later the device unlocks. But as I found with Google’s Nexus lineup, having a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone means anytime I want to interact with it I have to pick it up. With an iPhone or Samsung’s S7, both of which feature a fingerprint sensor in the home button, I can use the phone while it sits on my desk or table.

Read More: First Impressions of LG’s Upcoming G5 Smartphone

LG also added an always-on display to the G5. It’s a feature we should start seeing a lot more of throughout the year, and one we’ve already seen on the Galaxy S7 line. LG’s implementation is subtle, yet valuable. When the device is sitting idle on your desk, a small clock is present on the screen. Just below it is the date, along with app icons for any pending notifications. LG’s approach is one I would love to see Samsung adopt.

Running Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, LG decided to forgo the standard app drawer used on Android devices since its inception. Instead, out of the box the G5 features an app layout similar to iOS in which app icons are placed on various home screens instead of allowing the user to select which apps are allowed to live outside of the app drawer. After a few days of use, I felt the home screens of the G5 were cluttered and messy.

Eventually, I switched to another launcher LG released that brought back the traditional app drawer, but it’s a hassle to find and install for those who don’t specifically hunt it down.

The G5 is available in silver, titan (black), gold, and pink. Pricing is carrier-dependent with most outlets pricing it around $650.

Having the ability to quickly replace a battery is nothing new, but LG’s approach to making it possible while still using a premium material is. I’m just not sure how useful it’s going to be to have other components, such as the Cam Plus, to plug into the phone. Part of what makes a smartphone—especially the camera—so appealing is that it’s small, portable, and always available. Having to carry around a bag full of accessories to add features to a smartphone is not convenient.

Outside of the new camera and modular design, I felt as if the G5 was just another Android device.

Don’t get me wrong, the G5 is a solid device. The camera takes quality photos. It doesn’t suffer from any notable performance issues or quirks. Any issues with battery life are overridden by a removable battery and quick charging capabilities.

But even after an extended amount of time with the phone, I didn’t find it all that compelling.

If having a removable battery is important to you, the G5 is where you should begin the search for your next phone. Otherwise, the Galaxy S7 is a better place to start.