Every year LG seems to gain more and more ground on its old rival Samsung in the Android market, but there is still a lot of work for the former to do before it can really capture a comparable share of the market. With two companies’ flagship announcements Sunday, the 2016 Samsung vs LG battle began.

Both companies played out the traditional roles between market leader and upstart challenger. LG came out with guns blazing, acting like it had nothing to lose with its G5 unveiling, while Samsung calmly trotted out the Galaxy S7, coolly checking all the boxes left empty by last year’s S6. You see, that’s what the market leader does: it never openly acknowledges the upstart challenger, but it competes primarily with itself. Meanwhile, the challenger pulls out all the stops and takes many more risks in an attempt to poach customers from the leader, and that’s exactly what the LG G5 represents.

Declaring a winner by sales

So who will win this year’s ‘clash of the titans’? It’s actually a rather complicated judgement. Limiting the scope strictly to 2016, for Samsung to be declared the winner the Galaxy S7 has to outperform its predecessor by a statistically-meaningful margin (for example, selling 500 or even 50,000 more units year-over-year is actually negligible from a statistical standpoint since Galaxy S flagships sell in the millions). As long as Samsung’s latest and greatest beats its predecessor it doesn’t matter how much ground LG’s flagship gains unless the G5 actually outsells the S7, which is extremely unlikely (more on that later).

LG, for its part, can declare victory if the G5 helps it close the market share gap with Samsung by any significant percentage. If you’ve followed my market leader/market challenger reasoning so far you should be placed in a padded cell can see why I said it’s a complicated judgement, since both companies could theoretically have a valid reason to declare themselves the victor for 2016. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 could outsell its predecessor while the LG G5 could, at the same time, gain a bigger piece of the Android pie (for example, both companies could conceivably make their gains at the expense of other competitors or at the expense of lower-tier Android phones). Conversely, both companies could come out losers for the year if LG gains no significant market share compared to Samsung while the latter also fails to improve on its 2015 flagship sales.



Winner: too early to tell

Declaring a winner by merit

I have to definitely agree with Android Central’s Jerry Hildebrand – there’s no huge winner in my opinion based on the merits of the devices themselves, but I would probably consider the Galaxy S7 the winner by a nose. I’d say the Galaxy S7 edges out (pardon the pun) the G5 simply because Samsung completed a 5-yard pass for a crucial first down so now it can take a knee and run out the clock. On the previous drive, LG overthrew a wide-open receiver 50 yards downfield on a brilliant pass play and turned the ball over on downs.

LG had the perfect play called – give the people an all-metal phone with the replaceable battery! Also, since we made it possible by means of a removable module, why not make a couple other modules to sweeten the deal even further? Here’s the problem (and another area in which I agree with Jerry Hildebrand’s assessment): we shouldn’t need add-on modules to get decent onboard audio or instant-access camera control. Even the 1200mAh battery boost added to the camera module shouldn’t have been necessary to begin with. It’s not only that the G5’s battery takes a 200mAh drop from that of the G4, but even the G4’s took a 200mAh drop from that the G3.

That said, LG did good by its fans with the full metal chassis. As for Samsung, the Galaxy S7 is what the S6 should have been, so give Samsung credit for being responsive to its customers. Nevertheless, both Korean companies should pay more attention to onboard speaker quality and placement, especially Samsung. I’ve had Samsung phones from the Galaxy Note 4 going back to the featurephone days of yesterdecade and they’ve always had inferior speakers as far as I can recall. The same is true for the Galaxy S6 I had a brief hands-on time with last year, and I’ve read that the S7 speaker still doesn’t stack up well against the competition.

One more thing: quit trying too hard to copy the iPhone! LG ditched Android’s iconic app drawer (though there have been rumblings that even Google might do the same – shudder the thought). Samsung has been copying the iPhone’s chassis design and the icon design for years. Even HTC appears to be going the single-hardware-button route among other blatant iPhone chassis imitations.

Kudos to LG for thinking outside the box with the G5’s modularity, but an “F” to the company for its failed execution. Perhaps LG can come up with more compelling modules as the year goes on. As for Samsung, since they’re leading the score, all they had to do is not fumble the game away and I believe the Galaxy S7 succeeded on that count. Personally, if I upgrade at all this year, I’ll probably be waiting for the next Nexus or the next Galaxy Note (as usual).

Winner: Samsung by a nose