We like the LG G4. It’s a great phone with a fantastic display and quite possibly the best camera on the market. But it’s hardly revolutionary. For a phone that launched after the Galaxy S6, the feature list just doesn’t look as quite as cutting-edge. There’s no fingerprint sensor, no wireless charging, and we just aren't wowed by an ever-so-slightly curved display anymore.
This year, LG is bumping up the release of the G5, going head-to-head with Samsung by revealing its new flagship phone on the same day—February 21, just at the start of Mobile World Congress. We’ll be there to cover the reveal, but the rumor mill is already buzzing with details about LG’s upcoming premium phone.
While the fastest phones of last year came equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 (and perhaps suffered for it), and Samsung used its own Exynos processor, the G4 relied on the Snapdragon 808. This probably makes no tangible difference in real-world performance, it made it hard to appear at the top of those benchmark charts everyone loves.
Supposedly, the G5 will use the Snapdragon 820. Built on a 14nm process and using four custom Kryo CPU cores, together with a new GPU and new image processor, this should make for a big bump in performance over last year’s model.
An always-on display
LG’s V10 phone added a secondary “ticker” display to show phone status and notification info. That’s nice, but it’s a costly bit of extra hardware that isn’t likely to get much software support due to its proprietary nature.
Recently, LG posted the following GIF about the G5 to its Facebook page:
What does it mean? If I had to guess, I would say the “ticker display” is gone and LG will instead use a portion of the main display, leaving it lit up with the time and notification icons.
This could signal a change in the display technology LG is using. While the G4 used an IPS LCD, such a display would drain a lot of battery by leaving the backlight on for an always-on display. An OLED, on the other hand, only uses power for the pixels that are lit. And LG has been pushing OLED hard in its TV business. Is this going to be LG’s first premium phone with one of its own OLED displays? I bet it will be.
The rumor mill also says the display size will shrink a little, from 5.5 inches to 5.3 inches, but the resolution will remain 2560 x 1440 (quad HD).
Removable battery and SD card
While the G4 featured a slightly curved display and removable back similar to the G3 before it (with an additional leather option), the G5 will supposedly opt for a flat metal unibody design.
Still, LG’s fans demand a removable battery, so the company wants to give it to them. If an eyewitness report given to CNET Korea is any indication, LG will have its cake and eat it too: a metal unibody design, with a removable bottom “chin” that lets you slide out the battery.
Frankly, a removable battery isn’t nearly as important as the ability to add more storage (using a USB battery pack to charge up is just as easy, and more flexible, than lugging around a device-specific spare battery). Fortunately, word is that LG plans to keep the microSD expansion card slot, just as it has on the LG G4.
On the back: Fingerprint sensor and dual cameras
A Reddit user, on an account that has since been deleted, posted a bunch of supposedly leaked details about the LG G5, including this image of the back of the phone (likely a test unit in a case to conceal the design):
Okay, sketchy Reddit posts are one thing, but since that post was made, dozens of third-party cases for the LG G5 have sprung up on Amazon, such as this one from Spigen.
While these are almost certainly renders and not photos, the case makers need to know what size and shape cutouts are necessary on the back of the device.
So what exactly are we seeing here? The big circle is a fingerprint sensor just as you see on the Nexus 6P and 5X. So that's one defect of the LG G4 taken care of. Also note that the volume buttons have moved to the side, instead of above and below the fingerprint sensor on the back. I could never get used to the volume buttons on the back.
But what about that crazy camera?
The G4 nailed it with its fantastic camera, and LG could be taking it a step further by employing two cameras on the back of the phone. In the center of the camera module is the dual-LED flash, laser autofocus, and heart rate sensor. To the left and right are 8MP and 16MP camera modules.
We don't know yet the details of these two cameras or how LG will employ them. Maybe one is an infrared depth sensor? Maybe the 8MP sensor has no color filter and is only meant to capture light intensity information, to be combined with the 16MP camera's color info? Maybe they have different apertures and focal lengths, and LG will blend the data from the two of them together to produce images with a lot of bokeh? Is one of them a wide-angle lens and the other isn't?
This is an exciting area of computer image processing research: Combining the information from two different image sensors into a single image that is far greater than the sum of its parts. I'll be very disappointed if LG merely lets you choose between using one camera or the other.
LG's seems so excited about its new phone that it just can't help but announce its official case ahead of time.
The semi-transparent mesh cover sort of reminds me of the Dot View covers for the HTC One M9, only with smaller dots and a window cut out for the always-on display. It is said to work similarly, allowing users to swipe and tap to silence alarms or answer calls without opening the front flap of the case.
Perhaps the most interesting rumor, and the one with the least concrete evidence, is that the G5 will feature a hardware expansion slot that LG will brand "Magic Slot." The idea is to provide a custom interface for hardware accessories. Think: A VR headset like Gear VR, a headphone amplifier, a high-quality microphone for podcasting, or a special camera attachment.
I have no idea where this slot is supposed to be located, what sort of interface it uses, or whether it's going to be a proprietary LG thing or open to third party hardware. If LG wants to assure that it's worth buying "Magic Slot" accessories, they'll have to promise that they'll be supported on future smartphones for years to come. It seems like most of this could be accomplished with a USB port, frankly. For these reasons, I'm not really sure this is a real thing, rather than just some confusion among rumor spreaders about the removable battery compartment.
If it's true, it certainly would be the sort of unique, differentiating feature that could help the phone stand out. We'll find out more on February 21 when LG announces the phone in Barcelona.