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LG G5 review: An alternative view of the modular phone

May 18, 2016

LG G5 review: an alternative view of the modular phone

This LG G5 review is a slightly different take on LG’s latest flagship. We are massive fans of the LG G5. The modular phone from LG that has just launched has generated a huge amount of buzz. The interest it has created is not because it is the best flagship smartphone out there. But because of its modular promise and its innovation. It has demonstrated there is real interest in a mobile modular solution.  The ability for people to customize their smartphones.

Despite the innovation, the LG G5 was not designed as a modular phone. It was designed as a smartphone first. The modularity is a marketable feature that has proven success in generating buzz and will surely drive up sales. But sadly it fails to deliver as a modular phone solution. It demonstrates there is real interest but also it highlights the challenge traditional smartphone manufacturers have in delivering this.  The design challenges show that smart accessories, like for example, the i-BLADES Smartcase, are currently the only viable approach to meeting the demand and interest smartphone buyers are showing in customization and modular solutions.


The LG G5 smartphone – modular phone capabilities are what makes it cool

For those of you who have not heard of it. The LG G5 is the latest smartphone from LG. It promises users the ability to customize their phones. Changing certain hardware parts using attachments called “Friends”.

According to industry reports the LG has sold at 3 times the rate of its predecessor based on launch day stats in Korea. Analysts are predicting that LG will sell 10m units globally. So it appears set to be a successful new innovation.

But from a spec point of view when you look at every Lg G5 review it does not punch above the Samsung S7, S7 Edge, the HTC 10 or the Huwaei P9. Here is an LG G5 review from CNET that reflects the view of many reviewers

According to many including the Verge it is the modular phone element that makes it LG’s best ever phone.


The LG G5 modular offering

To use the modular features of the Lg G5 you need to push a button on lower part of the G5 and the bottom will pop out (see image below). This will allow you to pull out the removable battery. Then you clip the battery into a new module or "Friend" (for example camera or music improvements) and push it all back together.

The two launch modules/"Friends" are:

A camera module that clips on the bottom and around the back. It has a shutter button to record and capture video, and a zooming wheel. It also has a built-in extra battery.

A music module for music lovers that allows you to clip on at the base a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that improves audio playback for high-definition sound files.

LG talks about more to come.


LG G5 was not designed as a modular smarpthone

It may be a surprise to many, with such a focus on the modular features, but the LG G5 was not to designed as a modular smartphone. It was designed as a smartphone first.  Then according to their lead designer it was adjusted to accommodate the need for a removable battery.  You can find his comments in an article from the Verge looking at LG G5 design story.  In it Lee Jung-Hoon the G5 senior designer says:

We were trying to make it more fun, so we thought about how we could make the experience of changing the battery interesting, not just pulling out the cover and the batteries”.

So it was the pain point of having enough battery life that led to the design direction rather than designing the phone as a modular phone.  Then based on this approach these modular “Friends” were designed to be attached to the bottom of the phone via the battery.


Why LG G5 does not work as a modular phone solution

As a result the LG G5 modular component is not very user friendly.

1)  You have to restart the phone every time you want to use its modular function, because the battery has to come out.

2) LG has focused its solution on one of the biggest pain points for consumers - battery life.  The battery life that the LG has means you will need more power. Check out the link for Android Authority's LG G5 review on power performance: LG G5 battery review.  However, you will need to either take apart your phone to swap out a battery, or add the bulky camera module to increase battery life. Neither solution is intuitive or desirable.

3) The biggest flaw in the design is arguably the biggest issue consumers have with smartphones beyond battery life -  phone protection and durability. The LG G5 is no exception. See a home made LG G5 drop test. Like all other smartphones the LG G5 needs protection.  But if you add a phone case…. You cannot use the modular attachments.  Seeing as most people are buying phone cases this is a major usability problem.

4) The last issue in LG's modular approach is not anything that LG can do anything about.  But the only way a modular ecosystem can work is to have an industry standard allowing one module to work on any smartphone so modules can have scale to build on.

Solving all these issues is not easy.  Even battery cases that are built to protect and add one extra function (battery life) are not solving that singular problem see our blog. Let alone addressing modular requirements.  But there are technologies that are overcoming these issues.


The ideal modular solution must be smart accessories

The LG G5 has shown there is huge interest and demand in a modular mobile phone solution.  The demand from the Millennial generation for customized and personalized solutions is becoming more obvious for smartphones - see this review of Millennial buying habits.

However, the LG G5 is not the answer and it cannot live up to the modular phone hype. The requirements of a realistic modular phone solution are:

  1. Easy to use and intuitive
  2. Adds functionality instantly
  3. Not bulky and easily portable
  4. Allows you to protect your phone
  5. Has a universal standard
Because of how smartphones are currently designed these five requirements cannot be met.  That is why a modular phone case is the solution to meet consumer needs for customization, usability and protection today. The i-BLADES Smartcase is a smart accessory that achieves this and allows you to add all the functionality you need at the same time protecting your phone

In this LG G5 review we applaud LG for their courage and showing the world there is a demand and interest in a modular mobile solution.  But in terms of review of its modular design it was always going to be a compromise.  So in summary as a modular phone solution we give the LG G5 A for effort but C- for results.

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