BARCELONA — The Galaxy S7 may have been big enough news to attract Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to its launch, but that doesn't mean Samsung's latest phone was the only smartphone in town at Mobile World Congress. A few hours before the Galaxy S7's debut, LG took the wraps off its own latest flagship, the G5. And while the S7 can boast a number of improvements, the G5 is more innovative.
We don't have a price or release date for the G5 just yet. But we do have a better sense of what LG's latest phone will look like and what it can do when it does arrive. From a modular design to dual rear-cameras, the G5 offers plenty of attractive features that put it alongside phones from Apple and Samsung as a leading-edge product.
MORE: Hands on with the LG G5
Here are the top features in the LG G5 that merit a closer look.
LG wanted to give the G5 a sleek look like the unibody designs you see from Apple and Samsung. At the same time, it didn't want to abandon a replaceable battery, especially as other smartphone makers have dropped that feature. So LG came up with a compromise for the G5 that actually opens up new possibilities for smartphones — a modular design that lets you pop out the battery while also expanding what the smartphone can do.
Press a button on the side of the G5, and you can make the bottom of the phone detach, giving you access to the battery. It takes some doing to press that button, but I think that's a wise decision: You wouldn't want to reach for your phone and inadvertently press the button, jettisoning the phone's bottom like a used-up rocket booster.
"Until now, consumers have been forced to choose between an elegant design and the convenience of a removable battery," LG Electronics president and CEO Juno Cho said as he took the wraps of the G5. The modular design negates that choice — and a good thing, too, since that's a relatively small 2,800 mAh battery you'll be able to remove from the G5. To put that spec into perspective, the G4 had a 3,000 mAh battery, and it only lasted 7 hours and 38 minutes on our smartphone battery test. The average smartphone can run more than eight hours on a full charge.
The G5's modular design isn't just about getting a fresh battery into your smartphone. LG also made sure that the you'll be able to swap new accessories onto the G5. The phone maker is coming out with two modules — the LG Cam Plus and the LG Hi-Fi Plus — which add photo and audio features to the G5, respectively. As with the G5 itself, LG hasn't announced pricing and availability for either module.
Of the two, the LG Cam Plus struck me as the more impressive when I played with both modules in a demo area following the G5's unveiling. The camera module adds another 1,200 mAh battery to augment the one you already insert into the G5. The 2.9 x 2.4 x 0.6-inch Cam Plus features a scroll wheel for zooming in and out, plus dedicated shutter and video buttons. I'm a little dubious about LG's claim that you can operate the camera with just one hand — my jittery hands and the photos they tend to take say otherwise — but it's certainly convenient to have physical controls for your phone's camera close at hand.
The LG Hi-Fi Plus features a Bang and Olufsen digital-to-analog converter that boosts audio processing to 24-bit quality. Throw in some wireless Tone headphones from LG, and you can enjoy 24-bit audio over Bluetooth. I'm not the best judge of audio, but listening to a Wi-Fi Plus-powered version of A-Ha's "Take on Me" over a pair of headphones (not the Tone model, alas) sounded rich and bright.
Dual Rear Cameras
Look at the back of the LG G5, and you'll spot two camera lenses. You are not seeing double: LG put two cameras on the back of its phone to capture a wider field of view. Besides a 16-megapixel camera with a fairly standard 75-degree lens, the G5 includes an 8-MP camera with a 135-degree lens. That gives you the option of shooting images at a wider angle to capture more of the surrounding landscape. You toggle between the two cameras by pressing the appropriate icon on the G5's screen or by pinching out across the screen for a wider angle.
The dual-lens approach also lets the G5 pull off a pretty cool pop-out effect that incorporates both cameras. The 16-MP lens takes a shot that seems to leap out of the wider background image shot by the 8-MP camera. It's not a shot you're going to want to take all the time, but it will inject some life into group photos with compelling backgrounds.
Like the G4, the G5 has an 8-MP front camera, so your selfies should continue to look fairly sharp.
LG let the cat out the bag on this one two weeks ago, when it announced a Quick Cover case for its next flagship phone that left a space in the casing where the time, date and incoming calls would appear. Sure enough, the G5 will feature an always-on display that stays awake for 24 hours. It will show you notifications as well as the time, saving you from having to constantly having to wake your phone just to know what time it is.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge add a similar feature, and it's as ho-hum here as it is with those phones, especially in light of the other changes LG has introduced. Still, if your smartphone doubles as a watch, this is a welcome change that should save battery life.
The aforementioned modules aren't the only ways LG wants to expand the G5's capabilities. The company is coming out with a series of accessories for the phone that it has dubbed LG Friends. The selling point here is that the accessories are easy to configure without having to mess with a lot of settings. Indeed, without much instruction in the demo area, I was able to shoot a 360-degree photo with LG's 360 Cam and look at some immersive photos and videos with the LG 360 VR headset.
Two other promised friends — a camera-equipped rolling ball that doubles as a home-monitoring device and a mortal enemy to your pets and a drone controller that promises to simplify piloting an aircraft — weren't available for hands-on demos.
LG's Friends feel a little hit and miss. I liked the simplicity of the 360 Cam, and photos looked good even in a less-than-photogenic demo hall. The LG 360 VR was less impressive. While it's lightweight (a little less than 4.2 ounces) and foldable for easy transport, it tethers you to the G5, and the VR imagery it shows is pretty pedestrian in a world of Oculus Rifts and HTC Vives.
Still, the larger point here is that LG is looking at ways to expand the capability of its phone, and it's getting plenty of help. Parrot is collaborating with LG on the G5-based drone controller and the 360 Cam has the seal of approval from Google Street View. More importantly, LG is opening up its development platform to everyone, so that if there's a demand for an accessory to join this group of LG Friends, it's likely to get made.
Specs aren't the story with the LG G5 — not when there are batteries to swap out and modules to try on — but LG still made a few improvements that should deliver better performance with this phone. The G5 runs on a Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, a step up from the Snapdragon 808 and 3GB of RAM that powered the G4. Resolution remains at 2560 x 1440 on the Quad HD display, but LG says the G5 will be brighter than its somewhat dim predecessor with a peak brightness of 900 nits.
The good news is that LG is including a fingerprint sensor with the G5. The bad news — from my perspective anyway — is that it's on the back of the phone just below the camera. I find that an awkward place for such a sensor, though fans of phones like the Huawei Mate 8 may disagree. The rounder edges on the G5 are an improvement over last year's model, and the assortment of colors — silver, gold, pink and gunmetal — should appeal to a variety of users.