Hands-on: LG G5 - a modular flagship marvel?

It sometimes feels - especially to those of us who spend our days covering the minutiae of mobile devices - that smartphones are all becoming a bit... 'samey'. It doesn't seem to matter who's launching the device; for many potential buyers, each new handset that's announced seems like only a slight variation on an existing theme - mildly upgraded specs, a few more megapixels in the camera, a bigger or higher-resolution display.

Perhaps the just-announced LG G5 will also be met with a similarly resounding 'meh', but from what we've seen of it so far, it at least looks like the company is trying to do something a bit different to what we've come to expect of most modern smartphones.

The G5 looks and feels like a true premium handset. It has an understated but unquestionably elegant design, and its metal bodywork ensures that it feels genuinely high-end. Indeed, it feels expensive to the touch, but it's also quite comfortable to hold - no slippery, glossy plastic here.

LG hasn't burdened the device with dense layers of its own software either; you might spot a few tweaks here and there, but it seems pretty close to the standard Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow release on which it's based. Its performance seemed speedy enough on the demo units available, but that's hardly surprising - after all, the G5 is packed with high-end hardware like Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 820 SoC.

But remember too that brand new demo units with very little software installed will always perform more quickly than a device crammed full of your own apps, data and media. We'll have to wait and see how this thing handles in the real world before we can even begin to offer a verdict on its true performance.

The display is every bit as sharp as you'd expect on a 5.3-inch Quad HD (2560x1440px) panel; even with your eyeball practically rubbing against the glass, you'll struggle to make out individual pixels. As a result, text is easy to read, and photos and videos look great. This is an IPS LCD though, so don't expect those rich, inky blacks and striking, retina-popping contrasts that you'll find on an AMOLED screen - but the G5's display still looks pretty good at first glance. Again, though, this is something that we'll need to consider more carefully in real world usage before delivering a final assessment.

LG has also borrowed an idea from some other manufacturers, which it refers to as an 'always-on display' (a phrase that Samsung may have not like LG using...). The feature allows the display to show key information - like the time, battery status and basic notifications - even when the screen is 'off'.

LG says that this feature uses just 0.8% of battery life per hour, but in my brief hands-on time with the G5, I wasn't entirely impressed with how visible that content was on the handset's display. The information shown was a little 'washed out' and a bit hard to see; this is something that I look forward to testing in various lighting conditions.

As with previous G-series handsets, you'll find the power button on the back, within reach of your index finger as you hold it. It's an odd positioning, although as an LG G3 owner, I can at least tell you that it's not quite as strange as it might seem, and once you get used to tapping the rear button to turn on the device, it soon becomes second nature.

The button on the G5 also doubles as a fingerprint sensor, so its positioning makes some sense ergonomically speaking, as you'll usually have your two forefingers within easy reach of it. You'll find it a bit less convenient if you ever need to authenticate while your phone is lying flat on your desk though.

So far, then, the G5 is pretty familiar in terms of its comparison with other handsets - but where LG has made a great effort to try to distinguish the device from its rivals is in a feature it calls the 'Magic Slot'. Push the button on the lower left edge, and the bottom of the device can be pulled away...

...which also removes the handset's battery. This lower module can be swapped out for others that expand the capabilities of the device in different directions.

This chunky camera module, for example, turns the device into a more capable point-and-shoot camera, complete with a shutter button and zoom slider. In recognition of the strain that taking lots of photos puts on a smartphone, LG has also included an extra 1200mAh battery in there (similar to the extra battery in Nokia's 'Camera Grip' accessory for its 41-megapixel Lumia 1020).

I only had the opportunity to take a couple of quick snaps with the G5's camera, but the images looked sharp and rather vibrant. But again, real world testing is the only way to judge just how good it really is.

Other modules include this Bang & Olufsen 'Hi-Fi Plus' example, which includes B&O headphones, which the company's claim will improve audio playback.

As is becoming increasingly common on modern flagships, LG is pushing virtual reality support as a useful feature of the device, offering this VR headset as a companion to the G5. I tried out a couple of brief demos using the headset, but despite being able to adjust the focus for each eye on the headset, I couldn't quite get it to focus properly to my vision (I use contact lenses with a -3.25 prescription in each eye). The demos were decent enough, but nothing to get too thrilled about.

Navigating through the menus on the headset was pretty easy though - simply move your head left and right to point the cursor at an item; then click using the OK button on the top of the headset.

And if you do get the headset, you'll look as cool as this guy while wearing them.

LG also showed off this Rolling Bot companion for the G5, which can be controlled with the device. I didn't get the chance to play with it directly, but from watching others, it looked like a lot of fun (and yes, I want one).

The G5 looks like a very interesting device in a sea of me-too handsets that have become commonplace in recent years. Will it be the modular marvel that LG hopes it will be? Only time - and yes, lots of testing outside of the demo conditions of its launch - will tell.

For now though, consider my interest piqued.

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