LG's G5 was only introduced yesterday, but I'm already convinced it is the most polished and complete smartphone that the Korean company has yet built. Unlike its forebears, the G5 grew smaller rather than larger, and LG added features judiciously rather than gratuitously. This could only be possible with the introduction of the plug-in G5 modules that LG calls its Friends. Those extras have freed the Korean company from its perpetual obsession with cramming everything into a single device and, simultaneously, given it the halo of being perceived as a true innovator.
What everyone wants, or claims to want, from a smartphone is essentially the LG G5 plus its external modules built into the same handset. So that's an 8mm-thick phone with a huge 4,000mAh battery, a Hi-Fi DAC and amp for superior audio quality, and physical camera controls. Thin as paper, but strong as a bull. Preferably at an amazingly low price too! Unafraid of a quixotic challenge, LG has taken that as its overriding goal with every new flagship smartphone it produces. The latest Qualcomm chipset, always, the latest connectivity technology like advanced LTE and NFC, always, and an enduring commitment to throwing in more and more features and capabilities.
But the truth is that good phones arise from deliberate compromises and choices about what to include and what to leave out. LG's biggest failure to date hasn't been in its research labs but in the offices making the decisions on how to best harness the company's considerable engineering talent. In trying to avoid making the tough choices, LG has dodged greatness, or at least the opportunity to achieve it.
Jamming every last bit of innovation in doesn't make a great phone
LG's approach has not changed with the G5, however the company has been able to outsource much of its excess ambition to the Cam Plus and Hi-Fi Plus plug-in Friends for the G5. That leaves the phone itself looking remarkably unlike an LG flagship: it's lean, splendidly efficient, and for the first time, encased in an aluminum unibody shell. Almost by accident, LG has bypassed its greatest weakness when designing smartphones, and the result looks like an absolute triumph.
For LG, the Friends accessories have already paid off, whether they turn out to be any good or not. Their augmentations have allowed the company to produce a brilliantly focused device, and they've also propelled LG's name into the Mobile World Congress limelight in a very positive way. The public reaction to the modularity and flexibility of the G5 has been overwhelmingly positive, with technology fans celebrating LG's endeavor to innovate in a unique and daring fashion. Just like Microsoft with the Surface Book, LG is basking in the warm glow of widespread approval from a jaded audience in search of fewer gimmicks and more functional innovation. The line between the two categories is fine, but LG is clearly on the right side of it with the G5.
The innovator hype may not translate into immediate sales, but it's not illusory either. It builds brand goodwill, and should LG (and Microsoft, for that matter) continue down the path it's started with the G5, technology shoppers are likely to reward it in the long run.
LG has always been an innovative company, but it took a set of quirky accessories to help it focus that innovation into a single, outstanding smartphone. Samsung's eternal nemesis now has a device that can proudly stand up against the bestselling Galaxy devices that have dominated the Android world for so long.
Check out more from Mobile World Congress, including the debut of Samsung's S7 and S7 Edge: