The G5’s Build Quality Issues and Misleading Marketing Take Away From the Merit of its Virtues
The G5 has finally arrived to the hands of reviewers and consumers after much anticipation. LG’s odyssey into the world of modularity took us all by surprise, and the original reaction towards the approach was as loud and divisive as you might expect.
While many justifiably sang praise to LG for trying something so radically different in a time of ageing, seemingly drained-flagships, others like myself remained skeptical and looked at the product with a more critical gaze. So it was that I found myself writing an analysis of the various sacrifices, visible and invisible, LG had likely opted for in order to bring forth this modular design, and while the article could be interpreted as negative, I only expected my thoughts to change for the better once the G5 arrived. But they didn’t; several hands-on after, including our own review process at XDA (and several units within our team), confirmed that LG has compromised to make modularity work — from widespread build quality inconsistencies to a controversy regarding one of the most advertised aspects of the device.
In our previous piece, we detailed the sacrifices LG had to make in order to achieve such a design, and how many of those decisions could backfire onto the user experience. We’ll touch on those again near the end, but first let’s go over what we found out about the G5 that illuminates the issues with the device.
The conversation about the G5’s body was (unsurprisingly) sparked by a video where JerryRigEverything, of Nexus 6P bending fame, scratched the back of the phone and revealed metal covered in paint. Up until hands-on began arriving, the blogosphere at large believed that the G5 was indeed a full-metal phone, because that’s precisely what LG advertised it as (and our phone differs quite a bit from the promo pics in the more minute details, too). But it begs the question, how can it be a full metal phone if there is a coat of what we now know is primer, and then paint, on top of the metal? Full metal would imply that there is nothing but metal on the body, at least what’s immediately perceptible. However, LG begs to differ, as in a statement Ken Hong from LG claimed that “[he] thinks it’s incorrect to say a product isn’t all metal if paint is involved”. Barring the contradiction one inevitably finds when taking such statement literally, he then goes on to say that “[it’s] like saying cars and airplanes aren’t metal because they are also painted”.
Now it’s important to note that the G5 doesn’t feel like metal, whereas other dyed or painted metals actually do. Ken Hong laments the fact that “some people have a tendency to assume … metal having to make contact with skin [is necessary] for a product to be considered made of metal”, but the distinction is different on smartphones than on airplanes because arguably the biggest reason OEMs make metal phones is for the “premium feel” that reviewers and consumers are dazzled by. Notice how the commonly-used phrase is “premium feel”, which the G5 wanted us to believe it had by passing off as device with a metal exterior. In reality, it has a metal structure, which does come with benefits, as it makes the body sturdy and better-suited for the hollow interior that allows the modular aspect to exist.
Traditional colored metals we’ve seen use anodized aluminum, which can double as a dyeing process that does allow for innovative color variants (like Rose Gold!) while still retaining the metal build at the forefront (…of the back). The G5, on the other hand, could be said to have a metal skeleton covered in non-metal skin. As an analogy, I can’t say that I have an all-skeleton body just because I have a skeleton underneath, nor can I allude to my skin having the same feel as my bones. Both cases are isomorphic, and claiming such a thing would be misleading. The G5’s marketing is misleading if it is aimed at people that want phones with a metal exterior.
When this surfaced, a discussion arose where many chalked it off as a “non-issue”, either by arguing that it was not a big deal, or that they personally believed this was a better solution than an all-metal back (either due to aesthetics or build integrity). Indeed, the “microdizing” process allows for the antenna bands to be hidden, making for the only metal phone with a “seamless” look. But it’s still worth noting that this was achieved through completely covering the phone, and the antennae seams (somewhat, as we’ll see below). Most importantly, I don’t think most critics took issue with the fact that this was a non-metal phone – we are used to that from LG anyway – but rather that we were left to believe we’d hold the cold, “premium feeling” metal. It was disingenuous marketing further defended by sophistry, an all-too-common tactic when companies are under fire.
As we saw in Erica’s original video, though, the process didn’t come without sacrifices to the build of the phone. The back of her first G5 was far from smooth, with uneven bumps on the back and top seams showing through. This is, however, an issue that not everyone will get, but other issues she noted are widespread, and we have noted them on our various consumer units too. The removable chin, for example, doesn’t fully blend into the body, as it has a very uneven opening between the two pieces with one side usually being tighter, while other shows more of a gap. Some curve out (as in the image in our feature image) and some go in (picture of the unit below).
If that wasn’t enough, the frame of the chin and the body don’t connect properly either, making for a not-so-seamless transition that is clearly not present in renders. Then there is the fact that the paint body can scratch off and look worse than a scratch would look on a metal phone. I take personal issue with paint on metal after having owned a Galaxy Note 4, which had painted metal around the edges; one fall scuffed the paint on the metal, completely ruining the pristine look of the device. It seems that at Pocketnow, they had a similar issue (image below), as did Android Central EDIT: and one of ours too. Now, metal phones can scratch too — my Honor 5X already bears such kind of battle scar. But some metal phones are stronger than others, and the scratch does not provide for an uneven surface in the same way; the scratches on all my metal phones were mostly unnoticeable, and the aluminum 7000 frame of my Note 5 and the magnesium frame of my OnePlus 2 held up beautifully despite a myriad of accidental drops.
Finally, the screen of the G5 has notable lightbleed, with botches spread all over the frame, but particularly on the bottom. This undermines the excellence of LG’s displays, which have consistently improved with each generation.
Overall, the G5’s modularity brought, on top of the UX and design sacrifices I pointed out in my previous piece, build quality shortcomings either due to manufacturing defects or unavoidable execution. To recapitulate, this includes the lightbleed in the screen, the jarring transition in the frame, the gap between the body and chin, and the uneven line that separates the two at the back. The primer and paint also means that falls can chip off the body of the phone. (I won’t count the bumps seen in Erica’s video, but as shown in the table below, these aren’t exclusive to her unit).
These build quality issues come on top of the sacrifices LG must have made in order to create the G5’s modularity. To name a few, the LG G5 has a worse screen-to-body ratio than any other Optimus G flagships since the excellent G2, including the V10 (which was often criticized for being too clumsy!). Despite having relatively bigger bezels (compared to its predecessors) with a smaller screen, the device is also thinner (which isn’t bad) and packs a smaller battery (2,800mAh). The really good DAC is sold separately (and not in the United States, apparently!), while it could arguably be built into the phone — it’s certainly possible, given it can be implemented within the chin, but probably also by replacing the G5’s built-in DAC. The LG G5’s modular DAC pack also brings in another 3mm jack, which likely takes up internal volume anyway; I find it hard to believe that the DAC couldn’t have been accommodated inside the G5, even with the modularity.
Then we have the invisible costs, as many resources must have been diverted towards the G5’s modular design, and the modules themselves. It’s not that the G5’s modularity hurts the phone, but much of what it adds could have been achieved within the base device, making for one superphone.
Perhaps was built with diecast aluminum not to sell it off as a premium device, but to make the modular phone sturdier? Either way, covering the phone in non-metal resulted in disingenuous marketing which we see no reason not to call out. The conclusion of my previous article still stands — the modularity does have the potential to add much to the phone and make all of these sacrifices in design (and now build as well) worth it… but that depends on whether LG releases more, better modules.
What I presented above is not a condemnation — indeed, we have many positive things to say about the G5, and you’ll hear them soon in XDA’s video review (which won’t focus on these issues, hence why we wrote this separate article). But all of this must be pointed out, we think, so that consumers know what they are really buying into, and so that in the future, companies don’t make these mistakes again. I don’t think anyone asked for a modular LG G flagship, and while I commend LG for taking the plunge and doing something new, the G5 doesn’t feel like the useful innovation we wished it was. Innovation can come without such costs, my favorite example being the Note Edge which brought the same flagship experience as the Note 4, but with its curved screen that Samsung then built upon for successive successes. Most importantly (to me, at least), consumers have a right to know that what they are buying is far from advertised — our units simply don’t look seamless, unlike the renders, and have defects that might have deterred us from buying in the first place . If better modules come out, the LG G5 could be an exceptional, timeless experience. But not one without serious sacrifices.