Along with the new metal body, LG moved its volume rocker off the back panel, and onto the side of the phone like a proper piece of consumer electronics. The power button remains in back, but that’s perfectly fine, as it now integrates a fingerprint sensor. You can still unlock your phone with LG’s fun-to-use Knock Code feature, but I’ve been finding myself using the fingerprint reader instead. It’s at least as fast and accurate as the sensor on the Nexus 6P, though the sensor itself is notably smaller than Huawei’s.
The upshot? Both the new volume rocker and fingerprint sensor bring LG’s flagship line firmly into 2016.
Unfortunately, I can’t sing the same high praise for LG’s Always-On display. This feature shows you the current time and (ostensibly) notifications, even when your phone is sleeping. LG says the hit on battery life is minimal, using just 0.8 percent of battery capacity per hour.
All that sounds great on paper, but the Always-On Display is so dim, I found it to be almost useless. The idea is that the G5 will show you easily grokked, glanceable information when the phone is sitting on your office desk. But the screen is almost illegible, and instead of seeing full notifications, all you get are icons of the apps that need your attention.
The bottom line is that Samsung’s always-on feature is much brighter, and the Ambient Display feature built into pure Marshmallow phones (like the Nexus 6P) reveals much more detailed notification information. Hopefully LG will address these issues in the final shipping version of the G5. If nothing else, it would be nice to have a brightness control for the Always-On Display—assuming LG thinks the average smartphone user can be trusted with such fearsome power.
Bye-bye app drawer, hello wide-angle photos
Another disappointing change is LG’s decision to ditch Android’s app drawer, which I’ve always found essential for accessing recently used apps and running searches for apps. LG explains its decision: “Managing apps has become more and more complicated. The LG G5 integrates the previous home screen and app drawer to enable users to keep their apps intuitively organized, easy to find, and use. The integration is expected to provide a more straightforward approach to app management.”
Except that it doesn’t. Or, at least it hasn’t over the last 24 hours of testing.
For what it’s worth, you can now organize your LG home screen apps by alphabetical name or download date. I haven’t found these sorting controls to be a fair replacement for the app drawer, but, hey, LG makes them available. And on the plus side, you can ditch LG’s home screen entirely, and pick the Google Now Launcher, which keeps the app drawer intact. LG exposes this launcher directly in a Select Home setting.
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