How would you like to yank the battery out of your smartphone and replace it with another module with some extra functionality, like a high-end audio chip or camera controls?
Well, you’ll be able to do that with LG’s new flagship smartphone, the LG G5.
Showing off the new phone days before the start of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, LG reps made it quite clear that the regular rules don’t apply with this device. The standard specs list — 5.3-inch display, an octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of memory — was just an afterthought. One exception is the dual camera on the back, which lets you take wide-angle, 135-degree shots — pretty nifty when space is constrained.
The big news, however, was that the phone is partly modular: Press a button on the side of the phone, and you’ll pull out the phone’s bottom module together with the battery. You can then exchange it with a different module; we saw two of them.
One is a camera module, which adds physical shutter and zoom control buttons, as well as a better grip on the back (it also increases the phone’s footprint by quite a lot). The other is a hi-fi module with a dedicated digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and a pre-amp, ideally improving the sound quality.
In practice, removing the battery from the phone worked well, but attaching the modules to the battery did not work very smoothly (I gave mine to an LG rep to try, and it was not a smooth process for him, either). But LG told us all the devices are essentially prototypes at this stage.
The phone did work, and it was your regular Android Marshmallow experience, with the notable exception of LG’s Friends software, which lets you control all the various modules and gizmos that are attached to the phone.
We say “all” because there’s more. Besides the Rolling Bot, a ball-shaped robot companion (see details here), LG also showed a VR headset and a 360-degree camera.
The VR headset, which connects to the phone via USB type-C connector, weighs only 117 grams (LG says it’s by far the lightest when compared to other similar devices on the market). It has a 1.88-inch IPS display with a 960×720 pixel, 639ppi resolution. It’s compatible with Google Cardboard and YouTube 360-degree videos.
I couldn’t get mine to work, and it felt really flimsy, but again, these are just prototypes at this stage.
Finally, the LG 360 cam is a tiny 360-degree camera that grabs both photos and videos. It has no screen — you connect it to the phone via Bluetooth (didn’t work for me) to see what the camera sees. It’s got two 200-degree, 13-megapixel cameras, and allows for easy uploading to Google Street View and YouTube 360.
LG truly tried something new with the G5 and its “friends,” and it’s going to take some time and testing before we can assess whether it’s a hit or miss. We hope to spend some time with finalized products and give you a verdict soon.
Dates and prices have not been announced, though the G5 and some of its friends will arrive in early April.