Hands-on with the LG G5, the first modular flagship smartphone

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The LG G5 features an innovative Modular Type slot for replacing the battery and adding extra features(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

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Gizmag is in Barcelona at this year's Mobile World Congress, where we're off to a flying start: LG's brand new LG G5 flagship for 2016 brings with it some eye-catching specs, a new modular design and a host of accessories including a 360-degree camera, a rolling robot camera ball and a virtual reality headset.

First the specs: the phone boasts a cutting-edge Snapdragon 820 processor (expected in many a phone this year) and 4 GB of RAM, as well as a 5.3-inch screen running at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels (554 PPI) – incidentally that's slightly smaller but the same resolution as the display on both the LG G3 and the LG G4.

The G5 feels smooth and light to hold, with a sharp and premium-looking screen. Design-wise it appears LG is joining HTC in following the iPhone's lead: the LG G5 features a rounded, flat, all-metal unibody. It looks smart and stylish, unoriginal though it might be (it also bears a striking resemblance to the Nexus 6P). Such an approach usually means no removable battery, but the LG G5's new "Modular Type" design enables you to slide out the battery like an oversized SIM card tray.

Not only does that mean you can swap batteries, it also lets you change the functions of the phone. LG showed off a camera module that slots in extra camera features, like one-handed zoom control and physical buttons for power, shutter, record, zoom and an LED indicator. The camera module also adds an extra 1,200mAh battery.

Another module, LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play, adds audio Hi-Fi audio capabilities to the G5 – and can also stand on its own as a portable Hi-Fi player. Engineered in partnership with Bang & Olufsen, it adds 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC upsampling technology as well as 32-bit 384KHz high-definition playback.

The modular capabilities could end up being the most innovative new feature on a smartphone this year. Manufacturers are struggling to differentiate their phones from the crowd – particularly when it comes to Android vs. Android – and if people buy into LG's idea then it could give the firm a leg up in the fight against Samsung, HTC, Huawei, Sony et al during 2016.

Then there was the launch of LG Friends, officially approved accessories for the phone designed to plug in and work with the minimum of fuss. We saw a lightweight pair of VR goggles called LG 360 VR (similar to the Gear VR but using a USB-C connection to the phone rather than having the handset in the device itself), a 360-degree stills and video camera, a drone controller and a rolling bot that doubles up as a home security camera.

The phone comes with a 16-megapixel rear-facing dual-lens camera with the option of a 135 mm wide-angle lens (there's an 8 MP version around the front), a fingerprint sensor on the back cover, a microSD slot, a USB Type-C port and an always-on display that shows the time, date and key notifications while the phone is sleeping. LG says this persistent display uses up just 0.8 percent of the device's battery per hour and adjusts to the brightness of the room.

The camera response time was fast both with and without the extra camera pack, and swapping batteries is very straightforward. Less impressive was the VR goggles demo, which failed on the first attempt, but we're circling back for another demo (stay tuned for a separate hands-on post).

LG's certainly come out with all guns blazing and that's a lot to take in: we suspect some of these innovations may prove more successful than others once the phone goes on sale.

What we don't have yet is a price or release date – and we're a little concerned about how much it will cost to buy a fully pimped-out G5. As much fun as it is to geek out on modular battery packs and camera accessories, it won't likely matter much if phone with extra battery and camera module add up to hundreds of dollars more than rival flagships. Cool as LG's announcement is, too-high pricing would be a recipe for a niche product – pricing will be key.

Stay tuned to Gizmag, as we continue to bring you the latest news from MWC as it happens.

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