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The LG G5 is among the most capable Android devices available.

LG answers its rivals

The new G5 is one of the best smartphones launched so far this year, but can it stand up to Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy?

When it comes to Korean smartphone manufacturers, LG Electronics Inc. has watched rival Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. carve out a profitable chunk of the market – a trend the company is hoping to begin reversing with its latest flagship device, the G5.

Trailing far behind Samsung and Apple in sales to date, LG undercuts both with the less expensive, yet premium, G5, a smartphone that is among the most capable Android devices available.

The G5 represents the first real attempt to make a smartphone's hardware modular beyond a simple battery replacement. The vision is to enhance or alter certain usability features through accessories that can be attached to the phone's body.

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To do this, LG dramatically altered its design philosophy. Gone is the plastic and leather from years past, and instead, a full metal body was used to build the G5. The bottom detaches to remove the battery, acting as the expansion slot in this modular approach because the accessories clip onto it directly.

The G5 also marks the first time that a unibody metal phone has a removable battery. The metal underwent a treatment that allows the signal to pass through to and from the internal antennas – an achievement even Apple Inc. has never managed – and it worked perfectly fine during calls and data transmission. The trade-off in going with a modular all-metal body is that there is no water resistance or wireless charging – two features that figure prominently with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, which hit stores last month.

The LG G5 is the first unibody metal phone with a removable battery.

The LG G5 is the first unibody metal phone with a removable battery.

TED KRITSONIS/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

LG also appears to have been forced to flatten the design in the back, reducing the effective curve from past devices that made them so natural to hold. The power button placed under the camera doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It's very good, though not quite as fast or convenient as others, like the HTC One A9 and Samsung Galaxy S7.

The 5.3-inch IPS Quad HD 2,560 x 1,440 display benefits from higher brightness and better contrast for an excellent viewing experience. The charging and data transfer port has shifted to USB-C, the next industry standard that has already been adopted by other manufacturers. A microSD memory card slot expands the 32GB internal storage up to a further 2TB.

The inner workings of the camera aren't vastly different in that the same image sensor and f/1.8 aperture is used from last year's G4. Only this time, there are two lenses in the rear, one a standard 75-degree angle, and the other an ultra-wide 135-degree angle.

These are interchangeable to shoot with via a simple tap, and all features and modes are essentially available to use with either of them. One caveat, however, is that the wider-angle lens shoots at 8 megapixels, half the 16 megapixels of the regular lens. There's no adverse effect on quality, except the resulting image doesn't leave much room for cropping and can only be printed in smaller sizes.

LG added nine filters to the interface based on old film types that can lend some artistic licence to each image or video. These aren't made for everyday snapshots, but can be quite useful for settings with more time and thought. The unheralded star of the G5's camera, however, is the superb manual mode that provides DSLR-style controls on the fly for better composition than what is possible on auto. All told, this is one of the best cameras on any smartphone to date.

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The LG G5 features two camera angles – a standard 75-degree angle and an ultra-wide 135-degree angle.

The LG G5 features two camera angles – a standard 75-degree angle and an ultra-wide 135-degree angle.

TED KRITSONIS/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The G5 runs on the Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system, so it is up to date (for now), and continues the company's recent attempts to scale back its software excesses and make the interface look and feel nicer. LG took an iPhone-esque approach to this by eliminating the specific drawer that housed all apps and placed them onto the main home screen instead. It has since backpedalled and issued its 5.0 UX update to bring the drawer back, though users could already download third-party app drawers from the Google Play app store.

An always-on display was added to the G5 that shows the time, date and basic notifications. It consumes an average of one-to-two per cent of battery per hour, and the phone itself lasted a full day with no real problems.

LG dramatically altered its design philosophy. The plastic and leather from years past has been replaced by a full metal body.

LG dramatically altered its design philosophy. The plastic and leather from years past has been replaced by a full metal body.

TED KRITSONIS/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

On its own merits, the G5 is one of the best smartphones launched so far this year, but its modularity casts a shadow over its longevity. At launch, there are two accessories: the Cam Plus, a camera grip that adds analog controls and easier one-handed shooting, and the Hi-Fi Plus, an audio booster made by Bang & Olufsen that enhances fidelity to high resolution.

While effective, they are both niche items that won't appeal to most consumers, and at $100 each, they would need to justify the purchase. LG will naturally continue to support this fledgling accessory aftermarket, ostensibly with new pieces that have broader appeal, but third-party support from other vendors is going to be critical for this aspect of the G5 to truly take off.

Then there are "Friends," the company's other appropriately coined group of accessories that includes a 360-degree camera and virtual-reality headset. These work in tandem with the G5, which is powerful enough to run content to or from them in real time. They make things more interesting for LG's flagship, putting the device in line with what rivals like Samsung are already doing.

The G5 is available in Canada on Friday and comes in silver, titan and pink for $299.99 on a two-year contract or $799.99 outright.

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