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BW Businessworld

A Phone With Friends

Unique because of its modules, the LG G5 is powerful and sports a great camera. But add-ons are elusive and will add to a hefty price tag

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It is with the G5 that LG jumped the gun on the concept of modular phones that Google and Motorola had been working on as part of their Project Ara. Before one knew it, LG pulled this rabbit out of its hat — a phone with a lower segment that could be pulled out to allow a "Friend" to slide into place with new functions or enhancements. The G5 was launched earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Now that we have the G5 in our hands and have been getting a close look at it, here's the disappointment. The "Friends" or modules are nowhere to be found. I hesitate to review the G5 at all as just another flagship because the promised uniqueness is the one thing one can't see.

And this, I think, is going to be one of the biggest problems of modular phones like the G5. It isn't just reviewers who will have a tough time getting to see these add-ons but customers. Even with non-modular expensive phones, getting the most exciting accessories is not easy.

If we had them, there are modules or "Friends" for the G5 that include things like a camera grip and controls, a 360-degree camera, Hi-Fi DAC, extra battery, etc. Not only would one have to wonder where to get these but for how much — adding to the Rs 52,990 price tag of this device.

If we consider that each module is going to cost extra — and I'm sure it won't be cheap — we're looking at a big spend. For that hefty price, the build of the LG G5 is a big disappointment. It isn't that it's not made of metal — I'm told it is — but they have some sort of coating on top which doesn't make it look or feel like metal. In fact, it has a lot of rough edges that come out seeming like poor finish. So, when you're holding this expensive phone in your hands, no one will know it isn't one of the budget phones going around.

For all that though, the performance of the device is super fast and smooth. It uses the Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM so it isn't about to be slow. But LG's interface is anything but exciting or even pleasing and for some reason lacks the split screen type functions it had in earlier versions. It also does away with the app drawer and uses onscreen navigation buttons that are most difficult to get used to

I quickly gave up on its fingerprint sensor, placed on the back of the phone, an inconvenient place for when the phone is flat on a surface. It refused to register several of my digits and those it did register, it refused to then recognise.

The 16MP camera on the G5 however is one of the few around that competes seriously with the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 6s in quality. Although the S7 does a little better in very low light, the G5 holds its own with more realistic colours, definite details, and a very cool wide angle mode that results in pretty funky images which are slightly barrelled but fit in so much more. I can just see photo enthusiasts having hours of fun with that lens.

If LG wants the G5 to be more than just a concept phone and actually sell, they'll need to make sure everything relevant is available and priced right. If a whole ecosystem of "Friends" is on the anvil, customers will need to meet them soon.

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