LG G5 Review: Ambitious But Unrefined
LG G5: Camera & Modules
As a phone, the LG G5 offers a reasonably good experience, if not particularly ambitious. It is snappy and responsive. LG’s Android skin is lightweight enough to not bother me as a stock Android purist. It even has a good looking, bright display. However, LG was ambitious in other ways, which brings us to the dual-camera system and G5 mods, dubbed “LG Friends”.
The LG G5 packs a dual lens system, as previously mentioned. The primary lens here is capable of 16 MP captures. Colors pick up well and should be good for most purposes, even in low-light. The devil is in the details, however. Specifically, details get lost in the G5’s picture due to an almost brushed effect from what appears to be over-sharpening. Check out the camera samples below and be sure to click each to view at higher resolution:
On the other hand, the 8 MP wide-angle camera offers a wider field of view and a bit of a fish-eye perspective, if that’s your thing, but the image quality is noticeably degraded. Colors are punchier but sharpness is out the window which largely defeats the purpose of using this lens for landscape shots. Worse is the second-long delay when transitioning between lenses. This delay is easy to overlook using the phone on its own, but it compounds frustrations when using the CAM Plus mod. Finally, due to the positioning of the camera, it is very easy for your finger to sneak into the shot. I've left the following images untouched as a cautionary tale:
Before we dive into the CAM Plus mod, which was provided with our G5, we should explain the component swapping process. First, you need to power off the phone which can take a full 30 seconds to fully shut down. While you can skip this if you don’t mind running the risk of corrupting software by yanking the battery from a powered on phone, we don’t advise it. Once off, the chin of the phone is released with a press of a side button and then slides out, battery in tow. The battery is snapped sideways to release it from the chin and then snapped back into whichever module is desired. The new module and battery are slid back into the phone until latched and then the phone needs to be powered back on. All told, the module swapping process takes at least a minute - at best - and requires an unavoidable power-cycle.
Bang and Olufsen DAC plus amplifier and the LG CAM Plus. We don’t have a B&O DAC to play with, but we do have some thoughts on the LG CAM Plus.
There are many ways to improve the photography experience on smartphones; the LG CAM Plus did not succeed in most of those areas. The module itself provides a shutter button, video recording button, zoom dial, 1,200 mAh of extra battery, a power switch, and a small amount of grip.
Let’s begin with the grip portion, which theoretically should improve control with its textured back. Unfortunately, the only way to comfortably hold it is with fingertips on the (slippery) side of the grip, thus pressing the phone into your palm. It could benefit from being significantly more pronounced on the Z-axis. No part of your hand comes into contact with the textured portion and, unlike holding a normal phone, almost necessitates a two handed grip to prevent it from slipping.
The zoom wheel dial is also a miss. First and foremost, understand that digital zoom - which most smartphones employ - is not a replacement for true optical zoom and should be avoided wherever possible. A “digital zoom” is nothing more than a crop with maybe some software interpolation mixed in to artificially improve resolution after the fact. In virtually every case, you are better off taking a fully “zoomed out” photograph and then performing the crop in post production where you can at least have better control of the framing. We understand, though, that sometimes you just want to take a quick shot then share it without a second thought, and thus why digital zoom even exists.
Bringing us back to the dial. In practice, it is at best imprecise, thanks to a slight delay which makes it less accurate and less responsive than zooming via the touchscreen gesture. At its worst, it just gets in the way as it is easily adjusted by mistake - there are no stops - which becomes doubly aggravating when it “zooms” between lenses and suddenly locks up the camera for a second, and then another second as you adjust it back. I have missed multiple shots because my hand brushed the scroll wheel while trying to depress the shutter button.
So then we have the shutter button, comfortable and familiar. It does feel good to depress a physical button to know with certainty your picture has been snapped. However, the button on the LG CAM Plus has a fair amount of play, which makes it the press feel mushier than it needs to be. This in turn introduces camera shake as you try to “feel” the bottom of the press. Thankfully, optical image stabilization saves most pictures from blurring, but does nothing to compensate for the camera tilting. All of this can be avoided by simply tapping on the touchscreen - no mod required.
Finally, we have the extra battery capacity it offers. When any button on the LG CAM Plus module is pressed, the module begins charging the phone’s battery for a short period of time. In practice, this is enough to offset the battery used by taking pictures with it, but will not noticeably extend the lifespan of the phone otherwise. That’s probably fine seeing as the module makes the G5 awkward to use as a phone so you won’t want it on any longer than is necessary.
On the software front, our LG G5 appears to have a few connectivity issues with the LG CAM Plus. Every so often, we would receive a prompt to allow the LG CAM Plus Manager App to access the USB device. Despite checking to use this by default, the prompt continues to appear almost every time the manager app is opened and even while using other aspects of the phone, such as navigating the home screen and browsing the Play Store.
Other times, we tried to take a picture using the mod only to find it unresponsive until the phone was rebooted. To be clear, touchscreen controls would still function, but the CAM Plus Mod would not be operational. There is some flex where the modules interface with the phone which could induce the lockup, but we are not entirely sure of the cause.
Another missed opportunity here is not including a ¼” screw hole for use with tripods. We could overlook some of the module’s other failings if it just enabled this one feature. Instead we have a $79 module that's designed to improve the smartphone photography experience, but ultimately introduces a new set of problems.