Some of the world’s largest names in mobile took to Barcelona in late February to announce their largest wares. With Samsung and LG unveiling their respective Galaxy S7 and G5 series handsets, the stage has been set for what we can expect from 2016’s best flagships.
Both devices feature powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processors, copious amounts of RAM for fluid multitasking, crisp screens that always stay on and some of the best cameras on a mobile handset. These are arguably Android’s best smartphones, though we still haven’t seen this year’s flagships from BlackBerry, HTC, Sony, or Google, and they’re primed to give the iPhone plenty of competition.
If you’re due for an upgrade this year, how do you decide between LG’s and Samsung’s latest efforts? Let’s break it down.
While Samsung is taking a more muted design approach this year, sticking mostly to last year’s glass and aluminum aesthetics, LG is making a bolder change. LG has effectively replaced the plastic and leather-clad G4’s case for an all-aluminum unibody shell on the G5, making the sleek phone feel similar to Apple’s iPhone 6s and HTC’s One A9.
Unlike its metal-adorned rivals, however, LG has a few tricks in its design. With a special treatment, the G5’s body reveals no visible antenna lines that interrupt the smooth metal finish, giving it a more seamless appearance. Additionally, unlike the iPhone 6s, LG also managed to include prosumer features, like a removable battery, expandable storage and accessory modules, but we’ll get into that more later on.
And like the recent LG V10 and LG-made Nexus 5X, the fingerprint reader is on the back of the phone. It’s placement is convenient when you’re holding the phone with one hand, but the downside is that you won’t be able to access the reader when the phone is placed on a table.
Like last year’s Galaxy S6 series, Samsung is staying true to its glass sandwich design, but doing the unthinkable. Unlike most smartphone manufacturers, Samsung made the Galaxy S7 thicker this year to accommodate a larger battery. Hopefully, this will be a welcomed change for Galaxy fans as, unlike the G5, you won’t be able to replace a dead battery on the S7.
Unlike Google and it’s latest line of Nexus devices and the Pixel C tablet, the futurist USB Type-C connector is still in a Galaxy far, far away. Samsung claims that the port, and the cables, still aren’t mainstream enough for the GalaxyS7, and I’d agree. Finding a charging cable when I’m out with Microsoft’s latest Lumia 950XL is next to impossible, especially how easy it is to find a friend or neighbor in a coffee shop with a micro USB and Apple’s Lightning cables.
The Galaxy S7’s curved back makes it look sleeker—and probably more slippery to grip—than the aluminum-clad G5, but both phones give a nod to premium materials in the design, eschewing their cheap plastic constructions of yore.
Haters of pixels will be relieved to know that LG and Samsung continue their use of high resolution QHD screens, which means that the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge and LG G5 all offer resolutions of 1440 × 2560 pixels.
On the 5.3-inch of the LG G5, this means that you’ll have a pixel density of 554ppi. The 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 comes with a higher 577ppi, while the 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 Edge comes in at 534ppi.
Between Samsung’s two new Galaxy phones, the LG G5, and the Galaxy Note 5 released late 2016, we have a nice spread of screen sizes from 5.1-inch to 5.7-inch. Your choice will largely depend on the features you seek and the size of your pocket. Like last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge, the Edge variant of the Galaxy S7 offers curved side edges, giving it more of a futuristic look. Even though Samsung added software functionality for the edges, I am not entirely convinced that the curved screens deliver that much value, but they sure are pretty.
The nice thing about this year’s flagships is that they come with always-on displays. This allows you to quickly see the time, date, notifications and alerts without having to turn on your phone. It’s similar to Nokia’s Glance display on Lumia smartphones, now made and branded by Microsoft, and unlike the similar Moto Active Display on the Moto X Pure Edition, you don’t have to wave your hand over the screen to activate this ultra low-power screen mode.
Because the Galaxy S7 and its Edge variant utilize AMOLED screen technology, the entire screen doesn’t need to be lit up, which further conserves battery life when used with the always-on display. Samsung executives claim that having this feature on will consume just half a percent of battery power every hour.
The G5 utilizes an IPS-based LCD screen for its display. Both LCD and AMOLED offer excellent viewing angles, though I personally prefer AMOLED screens for its deeper, dark blacks and high contrast display. A complaint with early AMOLED screens is that the tech can lead to oversaturated colors, but more recent panels render colors more accurately, and you can even adjust the saturation level to your eyes’ desire.
LG thinks its smartphones are better with friends. In this case, friends come in the form of removable hardware accessories that plug into the G5’s bottom port. Once you remove the G5’s bottom cover, you’ll not ony be able to swap out the battery and add more storage, but you’ll also be able to add more features.
While this modular idea doesn’t go as far as Google’s Project Aria concept, it shows a lot of potential. Mobile photographers, for example, can add a camera sled, which gives you a physical shutter button, an enhanced grip and a bigger battery.
A limited number of friends accessories will be coming from LG, and LG is encouraging hardware manufacturers to create more accessories to plug into the G5. I am not sure that the modules and accessories will sell in large quantities—research still shows that not many consumers carry replaceable batteries for their phones to start with, a reason that both Apple and Samsung cite for not making this feature a part of their designs—but it’s nice that LG is experimenting with different concepts to expand the appeal of its consumer flagships to different markets.
On the other hand, Samsung opted to go with mainstream features on its Galaxy S7, re-adding many of the features it removed from the Galaxy S5 when it switched to the premium Galaxy S6 design to the chagrin of many customers.
This means waterproofing is back in an big way. With a special nano-coating layer to seal the electronics, the S7 no longer needs flappy covers to seal the ports. This makes it far more convenient to use, and the risk for water damage has been greatly diminished, as you no longer need to ensure that the ports are properly covered.
Even so, the micro USB port on the Galaxy S7 will seem superfluous. Unlike the G5, the Galaxy S7 features wireless charging, meaning you won’t need to plug any cables in to juice up. Both handsets will support the Quick Charging standard, but LG used the newer Quick Charge 3.0 protocol, which can charge the G5 up to four times as fast as a regular charger. The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge only supports Quick Charge 2.0, which can charge your Samsung phones 75% faster than a regular cable.
Even though the Galaxy S6 and the LG G4 offer some of the best camera experiences of 2015, 2016 will be even better. Samsung’s mobile photography mantra this year is less is better, and we see the camera resolution decrease from 16-megapixel last year to just 12-megapixel this year.
The reason? Fewer megapixels on the same sensor size means that each individual pixels are larger, and this results in better low light images. Combined with optical image stabilization, an even wider f/1.7 aperture—the Galaxy S6 had a slightly narrower f/1.9 aperture—the Galaxy S7’s camera will be able to see clearer at night.
Kim Kardashian fans will likely be disappointed by the front-facing camera, which maintains the same 5-megapixel resolution. Like the rear shooter, the selfie camera also gets a boost to an f/1.7 aperture, but you won’t get the aid of a front-facing flash like on the Moto X Pure Edition, Droid Turbo 2 or HTC Desire Eye. We’ll have to see if the front-facing camera offers a better experience than the Galaxy S6. On last year’s model in darker environments, the front-facing camera produced heavily sharpened pictures that look artifical, but did fine under situations with ample light.
LG is upping its already excellent camera game from the LG G4. On paper, the LG G5 features largely the same rear camera as last year with its 16-megapixel resolution, f/1.8 aperture and 3-axis optical image stabilization (OIS). The biggest change with the LG G5 is that you have two cameras on the back, instead of one.
The second camera is an eight-megapixel f/2.4 camera. Combined, this means you can capture both wide-angled and stunning portraits on the LG G5 with ease. Why two cameras? Many phones come with a wide angle lens, which is great for landscapes but produce distortions the further away you are from the center of your photo. This means that if your face isn’t centered, it would look distorted. The second lens helps to rectify this, with less distortion for portraitures.
And if you want your selfie game to be on fleek, the improved 8-megapixel front shooter should produce a more detailed mug shot. Thankfully, if you don’t need that level of clairty, LG’s beauty mode can soften out your skin tone for selfies that are crisp without requiring any post-processing effort.
The LG G5 and both of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 variants are powered by Google’s latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system, which gives it some nice features, like Google Now on Tap, a battery conserving standby mode, new emoji and performance optimizations. As Samsung and LG each add their own custom flair on top of Android, you likely won’t notice any of the graphical changes Google made to Marshmallow. On the Galaxy S7, Samsung overlays its TouchWiz UI, and LG has its own UI on the G5.
Given that this year’s flagships both come with Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of memory—an amount that rivals most Windows laptops—performance, even with Samsung’s or LG’s bloatware, is expected to be buttery smooth.
If you’re buying your phone through a carrier, like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon in the US, be expected to see some carrier apps pre-installed. The G5 comes with 32GB of storage and Samsung is offering the Galaxy S7 in either 32GB or 64GB variants (unless you’re in the US, in which case only the 32GB model is available). The good news is you can add up to 200GB of additional space with a microSD card.
If you’re like me and tend to forget to carry your wallet with you, one of the biggest differences between LG and Samsung in mobile payments is Samsung Pay. While LG uses Google’s Android Pay, which relies on NFC like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay on the Galaxy S7 offers more versatility.
Samsung Pay uses both NFC and magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology. In short, MST emits a series of buzzes that simulate the magnetic swipe of a credit card, and all you need to do is place your Galaxy phone on top of the area where you’d typically swipe a credit card, and the machine thinks a physical credit card is being used. The only time when MST won’t work is with readers that require you to physically insert your credit card, like at ATMs and gas stations, and I found it to work in over 90% of swipable credit card terminals that I’ve used.
This means that Samsung Pay works in far more places than Android Pay and Apple Pay, and it’s curious why Samsung isn’t doing a better job of promoting this technology.
As a phone and a data device, I actually prefer Samsung’s TouchWiz implementation better than LG’s UX. Samsung offers the ability to show more icons on the screen, whereas LG just shows larger icon sizes to fill its high resolution screen. With decent eyesight, I prefer to see more content on my phone’s screen, and Samsung does a better job at fulfilling this requirement. I haven’t seen the G5 yet, but the V10 didn’t offer the ability to configure the home screen to display more icons on its grid.
Again, your preference, in terms of software, will largely be personal. Both companies offer good interfaces, but neither will show you anything that look like native Android.