How 5 rival smartphones compare

The competition for smartphone superiority seems especially fierce.

Hearing the call, Gizmo Guy has been walking around with four strong pocket pal contenders: an LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 6S, and HTC 10. I’ve also been toting an oddball from an upstart called Siam that dares challenge the status quo.

If shopping, you ought to study the pack, too. The once-omni-potent iPhone no longer holds all the “best innovator” cards. Could be that’s why its sales and stock are down now for the first time in ages.

Outside the box. Take the fresh and growing concept of smartphone as a modular “building block.” We love how a Galaxy S7 transforms itself when stuffed into Samsung’s Gear VR goggles, the phone becoming the engine and display, driving the wonderful world of virtual reality.

Now the just-sprung LG G5 takes the modular mission further. Pop off the phone’s bottom edge and you can plug in one of several components (LG calls them “friends”) that upgrade or transform this trim multitasker. These include:

An accessory camera component (LG Cam Plus) brings a better grip, extended battery run time, and easier control functionality.

Bang & Olufsen is pairing with LG on Hi-Fi Plus, a G5 module packing an upgraded digital-to-analog audio converter and better headphone amp.

LG’s 360 VR is a plug-in that harnesses the G5’s brain power to VR goggles equipped with its own (not shared) display screen. Slim, light, and boasting a high ppi (pixels per inch) image resolution, these VR glasses should prove more comfortable than others for long-use applications, say, watching (or jumping into) movies on a cross-country plane ride.

Better pictures. LG has also won my heart with a novel dual-lens camera rig implanted on the “shooter side” (back) of the G5. The array lets you grab two views of the same scene without moving an inch.

The standard lens, taking in a viewing angle of 78 degrees, captures close-up pictures with a 16 MP sensor. This fast whippersnapper took the sharpest, most detailed images of all surveyed in our five-smartphone shootout. A touch of a screen icon shifts gears, activating a wide-angle lens with a viewing angle of 135 degrees and 8 MP sensor (not shabby). It’s dandy for capturing expansive views, embracing a bigger crowd or scene.

Not coincidentally, the LG G5 also made the best selfies (8 MP) and sported the strongest flash in our survey. But in color accuracy it came in third, bested by the Samsung and second-place iPhone 6S.

Better sound. The HTC 10 is a music buff’s best option. Besides a standard-issue bottom-edge speaker, HTC repurposes the smartphone’s ear speaker for high-frequency music playback, turning the whole shebang into a “two-way” speaker. Not hi-fi, but less prone to the vocal “fizzies” that run rampant through the species.

And there’s more to the HTC 10’s “BoomSound” package. This phone has the rare talent to record and play back music and video with high res (24 bit, 96kHz) sound tracks.

An HTC 10 also puts out better-grade audio through its multitasking USB-C power/control port. JBL is prepping noise-reduction sport earphones (Reflect Aware C) to flesh out the deal.

Even listening through the old-school headphone jack, the HTC 10 sounded best of the bunch, with the Apple iPhone 6S scoring a close second.

Ear’s to you. Some users relish unlocking a smartphone with the laying on of a fingertip/print. But with my thin-skinned digits, this tech fails often. So I was really hoping the novel user recognition promised in the fledgling Siam 7X phone would rescue me.

Siam uses the unique shape of each user’s ear to recognize its owner, first taking a picture of your ear, then validating it the next time you swing the phone “home.” If only it worked! “Give us a few more weeks,” said the firm’s chief cook, Darius Allen.

Also novel: Siam slaps a second, monochromatic, low- energy-consuming 4.7-inch e-ink screen on the phone’s back side. In theory, you could have an e-book running back there, flip the phone over to take a call or look something up on the main 5-inch color screen, then flip back to keep reading. But with the current state of its operating system, only one screen is active at a time, switching is tedious, and, oops, there’s no support for third-party content suppliers such as Kindle.

Screens and things. While we’re on the topic, let it be said that the Samsung S7’s OLED screen technology offers the best contrast of the bunch. And did we mention it’s waterproof?

Still, there’s a trade-off. The iPhone 6S’s Retina display is a tad brighter in the default setting. And all the LED contenders are easy on the eyes — even the lower-resolution (720p) Siam.

Run time remains the Apple’s Achilles heel. The larger-capacity batteries and faster charging times of the first-tier rivals are significant.

While an iPhone 6S barely makes it through my day on the internal 1715 mAh battery pack, a Samsung S7 and HTC10 boast a 3000 mAh battery, and the LG G5 has 2800 mAh. Since you only get 500 charges for the typical phone battery, those that run longer will likely last longer.

P.S.: All tech aside, you need to consider ease of use. On that front, for the moment, the iPhone 6S is still the Apple of my eye.