Living with an LG G5

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Over the past few weeks, I've been trying out a number of flagship Android phones, including the LG G5. While some vendors have taken a fairly conventional path with phones, such as the excellent Samsung Galaxy S7, LG chose to emphasize some more unusual features, such as flexibility and modularity, and dual cameras. A lot of this worked quite well, though I had an issue with Exchange mail that was concerning.

The basic design of the G5 is quite strong, and a bit of a departure for the company, with more of a metallic look than last year's G4. Like many of the other flagship phones, it too has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, a microSD card slot, and a 5.3-inch QuadHD 2,560 by 1,440 pixel display. This is a conventional IPS LCD screen, but it looked quite good. LG uses selective backlighting to turn on just a little bit of the display for its own "always on" feature, which worked well. As with previous LG phones, the fingerprint sensor/power switch is on the back, designed to be operated with one finger from the hand that holds the phone, but the volume buttons have been moved to the side. If you haven't used an LG phone before, it may take a bit of getting used to, but I've found it to be convenient.

At 5.88 by 2.51 by 0.3 inches and 5.6 ounces, it's slightly bigger than the Galaxy S7, which accommodates its larger screen size. In general, it seems to be a really good feeling phone.

What makes the G5 design stand out is its unusual modular design. You can snap the standard base off the bottom of the phone, and replace it with different options. An audio accessory includes a 32-bit DAC (digital-to-audio converter) from Bang & Olufsen with its own headphone jack for better sound. Alternatively, a camera grip makes the phone easier to hold and use as a camera, making the device feel more like a point-and-shoot than a smartphone, and includes a larger battery. These two options are cool, though I wish there were more choices.

The feature most people are likely to use is swapping out the battery. Once this was a relatively common feature among phones, but it's now pretty unusual. Of course, it will help prolong the life of the phone when the battery starts to wear down, as all batteries do. LG sells a separate battery charger and a replaceable battery, and I found it quite useful to be able to have a second battery to carry with me.

Like many of the other vendors, LG puts an emphasis on the camera, seeking to set the phone apart with a unique set of two rear-facing cameras: a conventional 16-megapixel camera as well as a wide-angle 8-megapixel camera designed to give you a 135-degree view of the world. This gives the phone a flexibility that most other phones can't match. For instance, here is a regular and a wide-angle shot of Grand Central Terminal.

(LG G5 normal)

LG G5 Wide Angle Shot(LG G5 wide-angle.)

You can switch between the two cameras within the camera app easily. Having the choice of two cameras can be quite useful in cases where you want to capture a wider view of a subject.

The camera also has manual shooting and a number of filters. More unusual are some interesting modes such as a multi-view recording, which lets you capture multiple photos or videos from all three cameras at the same time; and a pop-out mode that places a photo from the normal lens within one from the wide-angle lens, which creates an interesting effect. I admire the flexibility, but can't say I really needed these modes. The G5 also has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which makes it better for selfies than most cameras in its class.

I was generally quite happy with the photos I took with the G5, which were crisp and bright. All of the current cameras do a great job with a typical landscape or portrait in bright light, but not as well in low light. I rate the photos I took with the Galaxy S7 just a bit higher, but the G5 photos looked better than those from just about any other phone I've tried.

Some other hardware features are worth mentioning. LG has implemented an "always on" feature that can display the time and some notifications on the home screen even when the phone is locked. This is notably dimmer than the similar feature on the Galaxy S7, but it's still useful in most lighting situations. The G5 uses the newer USB-C port for charging, and the separate battery pack that charges an additional battery can also charge other USB-C devices, and comes with an adapter for a mini-USB charger, a nice touch given that so many of us have chargers for other devices.

LG also has a number of interesting special features in its skin for Android. It has removed the app drawer, so all your apps appear on the home screen. I find that's great if you have a few screens of apps, but can get harder to use if you have a lot of them. It also has a feature called "QSlide" for giving you a small version of some of the applications, such as mail and calendar, so you can see multiple apps at the same time. The mail app looks good but felt a little sluggish compared with some of the other options; I preferred LG's calendar app to Samsung's. Of course, you can always download alternative apps from Google Play.

I had only one significant issue with the G5 phone, but it was a pretty big one for me. In normal situations, battery life is quite good. In general, I had no trouble getting through a full day's use on the phone; in fact, it seemed to last slightly longer than the S7. Of course, if you're taking a lot of photos or videos, you can run through the battery, but you have the ability to swap out a second one, which is pretty nice.

However, on an AT&T version of the phone, I set it up to receive my corporate email and very quickly the phone heated up and battery life declined immediately. The Exchange services (listed on the battery usage screen as com.lge.exchange) apparently using an enormous amount of power, leaving me with under 6 hours of use on a charge no matter how little I used it, which was completely unacceptable. I tried another version of the AT&T build of the phone and had the same issue. Notably this did not occur if I wasn't running corporate email; it also did not happen on a Sprint model of the G5. It seems to be some weird interaction of Exchange email, Citrix XenMobile, and the AT&T build of the phone.

Like most modern flagship phones, the LG G5 has a terrific screen, a fast processor, a camera that puts to shame any phone from a couple of years ago, and a current version of Android. But what sets the G5 apart is the wide-angle camera and the ability to carry a second battery. These are appealing options, and make the G5 worth checking out.

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