What's old is new again, it would seem. It's been since 2001 since we've seen a major handheld with an expansion slot — the Palm OS-powered Handspring Visor Pro. And now the expansion slot is back in a big way with the LG G5 and its add-on modules. In addition to the advanced audio module, there's an optional attachment for adding physical camera controls and a chunk of extra battery.
Replacing the standard module is straightforward: unlatch the bottom bezel, pull it out with the battery, yank that battery off and attach it to the camera module, and slide the whole shebang into the bottom of the G5. The camera module adds four physical controls, a grip for you to grab onto, and an extra 1100mAh of battery.
Those four buttons include a two-stage shutter button, a dedicated video record button, a zoom dial, and a switch to jump into and out of the camera. The two-stage shutter button works as you would expect — half press to focus and push all the way to fire the camera — and holding it down will snap photos in rapid procession. The video record button does exactly what you would expect, which is it starts recording video when you click it and stops when you click it again.
The activate button is an interesting choice, though. It's a spring-loaded switch that when pulled launches the camera app from no matter where you are in the phone (as will holding down on the camera button), and you can also pull down on it again to exit camera mode back to wherever you were before. We're not certain it's really a neccssary switch, though we can see some use cases for it. That said, its positioning on the bottom edge of the phone (the right side when you turn to landscape) was kind of awkward.
As for the zoom dial, it sits right on the corner of the module. Spinning it will perform a hybrid digital zoom between the two sensors, switching from the standard-angle 16MP sensor to the wider 8MP sensor as you go (there's a tick mark on the on-screen zoom scale to indicate where the switch happens).
In addition to the switches, buttons, dials, and extra battery (which brings the total battery capacity to 3900mAh), the LG CAM Plus also includes the USB-C port and loud speaker that are part of the standard base for the LG G5.
This module does add a considerable bit of bulk to the base of the phone's backside, which LG touts as being a traditional camera grip, but in our brief time with the LG G5 and the LG CAM Plus it came across as quite awkward. The blockiness of the grip and positioning of the buttons aren't what we're used to from either high-end DSLRs or point-and-shoot cameras, nor did we find them comfortable to control without weirdly adjusting our grip. Maybe it's something we could get used to, but it's a large hunk to add to the phone with an awkward control scheme too boot.
We're withholding final judgement until we get to spend more time with the LG CAM Plus and the LG G5, and get more details about it (importantly, the price is still unknown). But for for now you can color us intrigued, if not necessarily by this specific module, then at least by the overall potential of the LG G5's expansion module concept.
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm (the old one), and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.