I thought it might be a fun idea to take another look at this year’s top shelf smartphones, and see how they’ve gone with a few months since their launch, when the hype has worn off, that ‘new phone feeling’ is all gone, and we get to the point where they’ve possibly been in daily use for a few months. To kick off the retrospective series, I’m going to start with LG’s G5 which was — at the time of its launch — my most anticipated phone this year.
When I reviewed LG’s G5 back in April, I gave it a mostly positive review, and it was deserving; the G5 camera was one of the most fun cameras we’ve seen, and the idea of a replaceable battery in 2016 was admirable. In short, I recommended the G5, and (bar a few interruptions) it has been the phone I’ve used daily since I reviewed it in April.
How is it now?
What is the LG G5 still good at?
G5’s camera remains one of its best features; the wide angle lens really does capture some amazing photos, and the simplicity of switching between the wide-angle and standard lens is appealing. In fact, I found that I took quite a number more photos with the G5 once the review period was finished than I have on other phones, and that’s probably a function of the camera being so easy and fun to use. Hell, I dabble as an amateur photographer and I’ve done photo shoots using the G5 as my primary camera, it is that good (and that wide angle lens takes amazingly dramatic shots of landscapes and people).
Battery life really settled down after the initial honeymoon period wore off; instead of just using every new feature on the phone and trying to get a feel for how it all worked, I settled back into my typical usage pattern, and so my battery expectations tapered off a little, and the G5 picked up. During the review period, I commented that the G5 mostly needed a charger come mid afternoon, around 3-4pm, otherwise it would be properly dead by the time the working day was done. There were exceptions to this, but more often, 4pm was about it’s limit after coming off charge around 6am.
Since then, I’ve found that the battery life might have improved, perhaps if only slightly, lasting until about 5pm or 6pm most days, but then again, my usage changed too. Equally, instead of going for broke and seeing how long the phone could last, I just used it as a phone, and charged it when opportunities arose. Let’s face it, that’s what we all do. With that in mind, the LG G5’s battery almost never left me wanting, except when I was having a busy day and away from power; on those days, G5 was dead by about 2pm in the afternoon, and that wasn’t good enough.
I said it back then in April, and I’ll say it now: removable or not, 2800mAh just isn’t enough for a power hungry phone.
What hasn’t been so good?
Software updates for the LG G5 have been few and far between. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one in a couple of months, and while Samsung is releasing Google’s monthly security updates somewhat regularly, the same cannot be said for LG. If you live on the bleeding edge, or want to, or if security vulnerabilities keep you up at night, G5 has not fared well.
I’ve started to notice other issues too, not so much related to software, but hardware. These aren’t things that have onset suddenly (indicating some kind of failure), but I’ve started to notice them more as I stopped focusing on the G5 as a new phone, and using it just as “a phone”.
First is WiFi performance. I don’t know why, but the LG G5 is the only phone I’ve used in recent times that can’t get a reliable WiFi connection in our bathroom (one of the furthermost points in our house away from the WiFi access point). In fact, if I’m in the toilet for a while, G5 needs to have the WiFi turned off so it can use a mobile network for data, or not a great deal happens.
Bluetooth performance, too, has been a little shaky. In my work vehicle (an Isuzu D-MAX Ute), when playing back music, the G5 drops out frequently, allowing 60-120 seconds of music to play before a momentary pause. It’s not enough to make you throw the phone out the window, but it was enough to start making me a bit upset. This could be entirely the fault of the not-so-great head-unit in the vehicle, but equally, most other phones stream music in the car just fine.
Cellular reception deserves a mention, too. In metropolitan areas where signal is strong, G5 never really had an issue, and I used it on both Vodafone and Telstra’s networks respectively. Once you start to venture out of those areas, though, you start to find some real stressors for G5’s mobile radio and antenna. There are a good many places where 4G signal reception simply isn’t as good as it could be, and G5 drops back to 3G/HSPA … and it doesn’t seem to like those much. I can understand, to a point, because 3G really is slow compared to 4G, and HSPA really doesn’t help much, but the reluctance in some instances for G5 to flick back over to 4G left me scratching my head sometimes.
Let’s talk about G5’s Friends
One of the biggest selling points of the G5 (if not the biggest) was its modular nature, and much was made of the accessories which would make the G5 experience more fun, including the LG 360 CAM, LG Cam Plus module, and more. These were fun to use during the review period, and we’ve since looked at some of the other parts too (including the B&O HiFi Plus module).
I have to say, as much as I like the concept of a modular phone / accessory system, in execution, the LG G5 and its friends have been a fizzer. LG’s CAM Plus module is, for the most part, useless. In fact, it’s often easier to use the G5 as a camera without it. Sure, the CAM Plus module makes the G5 easier to grip, somewhat, but the confusing button/wheel layout just never really made much sense. A scroll-wheel to adjust zoom, instead of shutter speed or aperture? It just doesn’t work. A much better option would’ve been a function key that, when held, allowed the scroll-wheel to perform multiple functions, instead of just zooming. The extra battery capacity in the CAM Plus really didn’t do much for me … and if I’m honest, I probably only used it once or twice after the review was published.
I used LG’s 360 Cam even less frequently. In fact, post review, I’m not sure I’ve really used it more than once or twice … 360 photography / videography is fun, but it really is of niche appeal. Most of my photos I take and then promptly forget about, and those that I share are either happy snaps on Facebook or Google Photos, and family and friends don’t really care about 360º photos or videos; they just want to see nice photos of us, the family and the kids. That’s not to say LG’s 360 Cam isn’t good; it actually is rather good, and it works with other phones too (iOS and Android). It’s just that, for me, it’s not a selling point for the G5.
LG and B&O’s HiFi Plus module is cool, if you’re using wired headphones to enjoy your music, but as I usually just use a wireless pair, this module really is of little use to me. Audiophiles will probably enjoy this module, but I suspect very few people ever bought one, and of those who did, I suspect most probably don’t really use it. It’s a nice idea, but it just wasn’t something people need, or dare I say it, want. The fact that it isn’t colour matched with the phone, either, makes it rather … inelegant … to leave attached to the phone. Just the same as white cars look a bit funny when they’ve got a solitary maroon door, so does the LG G5 look a bit silly in grey with a black chin.
And that’s true of just about all of LG G5’s friends. They’re a fun ecosystem, and in some cases, they do some quite cool things, but no one needs them, and I’d wager that not many people went out and bought them, either.
When people within LG were saying themselves that they thought some of the Friends were a bit silly (the LG 360 VR was, sadly, just awful), and when others haven’t ever actually materialised on shelves (Rolling Bot, anyone?) it just didn’t feel like LG were really invested in making the modular idea work … it honestly feels like the concept was put together too quickly, too little was invested in it, and the inexorable result was that it flopped.
There was one great accessory for the LG G5, though, which was not only great, but extremely useful too. The spare battery (which came with its own charging case) for about $70. I used (and still use) that one quite frequently, especially when away from power. It’s great to have stashed in your bag just in case you find yourself out and about for a bit longer than planned.
So how has it gone over all?
Unfortunately, LG G5 was hyped in no small part based on an ecosystem that people didn’t really want, and when you took that away, there was a capable (if not very capable) phone left without much of the flair that it needed to capture people’s attention. Against the 800lb gorilla in the room (Samsung’s Galaxy S7 range), LG G5 faced a huge challenge, and looking back from September 2016, you’d have to say that LG and G5 weren’t up to it.
A technically brilliant, capable phone just doesn’t equate to much if it can’t capture the hearts and minds of the consumer, and as awesome as the LG G5 event was, back in February (even my partner Rachel enjoyed it, and she doesn’t like Android much), that just didn’t translate into momentum on the shelves. LG expected to sell something in the order of 12 million G5s, and by reports out a month or two ago, that estimate was revised down to less than half, at just 5.5 million. You can’t call that a runaway success. By the same time, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 line had sold in excess of 25 million units.
Even LG has come to the conclusion that the G5 just didn’t resonate, with significant changes made to their mobile division in July, in timing that can only point to major issues with their mobile strategy around the G5. Technical superiority (in G5’s case, with its camera) isn’t enough to make a phone successful, especially when the same innards can be found in phones that cost significantly less than LG’s $1,099 asking price for the G5. I commented at the time that it felt overpriced, and I stand by that now.
In most other respects, LG G5 performs as well now as it did back in February (when I first saw it) and in April (when I reviewed it), but it shows the signs of use. The mostly plastic case has a number of scratches, marks and dings which the mainly glass/metal constructed competitors seem to shrug off a little more easily.
The camera remains incredibly capable, and one of the most enjoyable cameras on a mobile phone to use that I’ve ever come across, and I’ve reviewed more than a couple. The replaceable battery has saved me in a number of tight spots, where other phones would’ve left me wanting. USB-C is great (and I wish Samsung had adopted it for the S7 range), and the fingerprint sensor on the rear is lightning quick for powering up the phone.
Would I recommend you by the G5? Back in April, I did. Now, I’d be a bit slower to recommend it. The camera still edges it ahead of the competition, in my mind, but the letdowns in other areas leave me thinking there might be better places to spend your money. Also, at this time of year, if you are one who upgrades phones somewhat frequently, you might be better advised to either keep what you’re using, or buy something at a cheaper price to tide you over until 2017’s phones are released in about six months.