LG G5 hands-on - forget Project Ara, the customisable modular smartphone is already here
A smartphone with its own add-on VR headset, robot, batteries and more
LG has just unveiled the LG G5, its next flagship smartphone for 2016 that's fully modular and highly customisable. Billed as an 'adventurous theme park in your pocket', it represents a whole new kind of smartphone, as its new expansion slot at the bottom of the phone can be popped out to transform it into all sorts of different devices to suit different occasions.
LG says that, with the right modules, the G5 can turn into a "digital camera, hi-fi player, and more". Of course, having to carry around extra attachments all the time might rather defeat the point of having a 'mobile' phone, but each module is pretty tiny. The Cam Plus, for instance, is no bigger than a post-it note in overall size, and the LG Hi-Fi Plus, a portable Hi-Fi Player, is no bigger than the phone's existing removable module.
The Cam Plus module will be of particular interest to camera fans, as this wedge-like add on provides a bit of extra grip when holding the phone in landscape, and its physical shutter, video record and zoom buttons make it feel more akin to a traditional camera. Admittedly, it doesn't quite offer the same DSLR-level' of comfort and control that LG claimed in its press conference, but the extra 1,200mAh battery it provides will no doubt be a great help when you're out on long photo shoots.
The LG Hi-Fi Plus, meanwhile, is a portable Hi-Fi player module that's been developed in collaboration with Bang & Olufsen. This will let you listen to 32-bit, 384KHz high-definition audio, and it also supports B&O Play. These were the only two modules revealed today at MWC, but there will no doubt be more to come later in the year.
Needless to say, this is a massive departure from the G4, not least since LG's also ditched its rear-facing navigation buttons and iconic leather back for a rear fingerprint sensor (which also doubles as the power button) and, finally, a full metal unibody design. However, a metal unibody doesn't necessarily mean the end of the G5's removable batteries, as the modular slot can still be used to slot in additional batteries when you run out of juice. The G5 comes with a 2,800mAh capacity battery as standard.
The magnesium chassis has a smooth, matt finish, and it feels incredibly comfortable in the hand. It's nowhere near as slippery as glass-backed smartphones and its smooth, rounded corners and edges feel great against your fingers.
Of course, its modular design isn't the only thing that makes the G5 special, as it also has an always-on display. Unlike LG's V10 device, though, the G5's always-on display isn't relegated to a separate strip at the top of the screen. Instead, it's incorporated into the main display, and it will show you everything from notifications, the date, time and weather when the screen is turned off.
LG's opted for a slightly smaller display this time round, measuring 5.3in with a 2,560x1,440 resolution, but it says that the always-on backlight will only consume around 0.8% of the phone's battery every hour, so it shouldn't make too great a dent on the phone's longevity.
The Quantum IPS screen itself looks superb, even if its pixel density of 554ppi can't quite match those of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. We'll have to wait and see how it fares in our calibration tests, but it looks as though LG's delivered another outstanding display that should be one of the best in its class for 2016.
One of the other things LG's keen to rectify with the G5 is performance. Last year's G4 was a bit of a slouch compared to the S6 and HTC One M9, as its hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chip just couldn't compete with the Snapdragon 810 or Samsung's own Exynos 7420. This year, however, the G5 comes equipped with one of Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 820 chips and 4GB of RAM, which delivers a significant boost in speed over the Snapdragon 810, and even more so for the Snapdragon 808. There's also 32GB of internal storage which can be expanded via microSD card up to 2TB. The phone charges via its USB Type-C port.
Then there's the camera. Instead of one sensor, it has two - a 16-megapixel sensor and an 8-megapixel sensor, and one of them has a wide-angle 135 degree lens for capturing large crowds and sweeping landscapes. Activated with a simple touch in LG's camera app, it's surprising just how much more you can fit in the frame when using this mode, but I'll have to wait and see how its quality fares once I get one in for testing.
That's not all, either, as LG also announced several 'companion' devices for the G5 as well. The first of these include the LG 360 Cam, which connects to the G5 for shooting 360 degree video. It looks rather like the Ricoh Theta, and its two 13-megapixel lenses can shoot up to 2K video and record in 5.1 surround sound. Even better, you can upload your footage to Google StreetView, which will be stored at its original resolution absolutely free. Google has said that this would also apply to all 360 degree photos uploaded to StreetView going forward.
There's also the 360 VR headset, which works exclusively with the G5. Made possible by its Snapdragon 820 processor, the headset attaches to the G5 via its USB Type-C cable, which you can then slip into your pocket, and the goggles simply slide over your eyes like an oversized pair of sunglasses. There's no all-encompassing chassis and LG's hoping it will be light and portable enough to watch VR content on the move. However, we're not quite convinced it's going to make anyone whip them out on the train and we were surprised just how blurry and soft the 360 degree footage was. It's still early days yet, of course.
Other companion devices include a pair of LG's Tone Platinum Bluetooth headphones, a smart controller accessory for controlling drones straight from your G5, and a set of B&O H3 headphones for more high-res listening. However, the one that really caught my eye was the LG Rolling Bot. This BB-8 style ball camera can roll across the floor, capturing images and videos with its built-in IP camera. It connects to the G5 via Wi-Fi, and LG says it can even be used as a home security system, a pet care companion (it even has a laser to help entertain your pets from afar) or remote control for compatible smart home appliances.
All of the companion devices can be controlled via the LG Friends Manager app, which will only work on the G5 and will automatically link with these 'Friend' devices when they're nearby. They can all be set up in 'three simple taps', according to LG, and it's hoping that none of them will be too complicated to use. There will be 'no settings' either.
The G5 is an ambitious device from LG, and it's by far one of the most interesting smartphones we've seen in quite some time. We'll have to wait and see how it stacks up against the Galaxy S7, but its modular design and swathe of additional features and devices certainly make it stand out from the crowd, making it a really fun and unique kind of smartphone that's really quite different from your average flagship.
The G5 will be available in silver, gold, pink and a dark grey colour LG's calling 'titan' when it launches later this year, but the key thing missing from LG's press conference was the G5's price. Provided it's not too expensive, the G5 might finally be the device that really puts LG on the map, but the cost of those extra modules may well be its downfall if the price ends up too high.
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