Phones get playful: hands-on with LG’s G5

For so long, phones have been about being sleek, being elegant, or just so well built that a drop wouldn’t knock any confidence a phone may or may not have. But LG’s latest is more about playing, and that’s good news for consumers keen for something new.

That’s an important thing to remember, because most phones these days are about improving the tried and tested formula of delivering the internet and phone capabilities in the best possible way, with a better camera, sharper screen, and a design that makes people swoon.

LG has done that before, and this year wants to do that and something else at the same time, with a design that lets you be a little more playful with your phone.

What does this mean?

You might want to have a little more control over your phone camera, so you can bring a grip. Or you might want to grab 360 degree images for that whole VR side of life. Or control a drone in the shape of a ball.

For LG, smartphones in 2016 are about pushing the limit of what a smartphone is known for, with accessories that connect and talk to the smartphone natively.

“We wanted to try and bring back fun into mobile phones,” said Gino Casha, General Manager of Mobile Communications for LG in Australia and New Zealand.

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Outside of the fun stuff — and we’ll get to that in a moment — the G5 is still an eye-catching modern phone. It has to be to compete in today’s market, especially when you have such flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 6S.

To that end, the LG G5 delivers a 5.3 inch IPS screen with a Quad HD resolution, sticking a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor underneath just like the HTC 10 has, pairing this with 4GB RAM and 32GB storage. If 32GB isn’t enough, a microSD slot will let you expand it with as much as 2TB provided you can find the microSD card in that size.

Connections for the phone are pretty standard for a flagship, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, Near-Field Communication, and USB Type C at the bottom, with Category 6 4G LTE on offer delivering speeds as high as 300Mbps down and 50Mbps up.

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The camera is very interesting here, though, bringing two cameras for the price of one to the back of the LG G5, consisting of a 16 megapixel standard camera with a 78 degree lens and optical image stabilisation sitting next to a second 8 megapixel camera with a wide 135 degree lens.

You can shift between the two cameras depending on what you need, allowing you to get the whole scene when the standard camera just won’t do it.

On the front, there’s also an 8 megapixel camera for those selfies, because more megapixels is always going to be more useful for capturing you and the rest of your friends.

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The body on the phone is metal, too, and it comes with a neat trick: when a button is pushed on the left edge, the bottom of the phone can be removed, allowing you to change batteries or add functionality, and that harks back to that whole “playing” side of things we mentioned earlier.

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Known as “Friends of LG”, these accessories bring a little extra pizazz, such as a better headphone amp to the phone from Bang & Olufsen or more camera control, or even a 360 degree virtual reality camera.

Essentially, these are extra special accessories made for the phone with apps that will come from the Google Play Store and bring out a little more “wow” factor in the phone, because being different — being fun, actually — is something that can be lost in translation when making a new phone.

“We are delighted to bring the LG G5 to Australia,” said Casha, adding that “this is a standout device in the smartphone world with a unique design, removable battery, innovative camera set up and collection of compatible companion devices.”

“Everything about the LG G5 has been designed to enable users to have more fun with their phone and give them a new experience,” he said.  “We think Australian consumers will love the G5.”

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Giving the phone a brief test, we found the G5 had a nice feel to it that was sturdy, but much slimmer than the company’s previous efforts. It’s an evolution LG has long needed, even if the edge of the phone — a slim accented line of metal — takes some getting used to.

There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back and this doubles as the power button, which also takes some getting used to. In some ways, you can see how this was inspired by the Nexus 5X from Google — which LG made — but there was a power button on the side of that phone.

In the G5, the fingerprint sensor and the power button are one in the same, almost like it harks back to the G2, G3, and G4 phones where the buttons were on the back.

Even from a quick glance, the screen is very nice, though not offering the same sense of dynamics as the AMOLED screens we see from Samsung. Despite this, it’s easy to look at and comfortable on the eyes.

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Mostly, though, we’re intrigued by the concept of removable accessories, though LG is going to have to keep with it for longer than a year for us to fully believe it is committed to this path.

Bang & Olufsen, however, suggests that there are possibly other things in the pipeline, which is great news for customers.

“The B&O team are really excited about this partnership with LG,” said Julian Kipping, General Manager of Bang & Olufsen in Australia and New Zealand.

“Not only have we worked together on the G5, we’re also working to combine our sensory design, acoustics and smart home integration on further technology partnerships with LG in the future,” he said.

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Pricing for the LG G5 is set to $1099 outright at Harvey Norman on May 2, with Optus and Telstra also picking up the phone from May 2 and May 3 respectively. As for pricing on those other “friends” accessories, you’ll find they range from $129 to $399 with availability between May and June.

LG's G5 will have a 360 degree camera and a VR headset made for it.

LG’s G5 will have a 360 degree camera and a VR headset made for it.