The LG G Flex was announced to a public that was already quite sceptic of curved smartphones, thanks to the bemusing design of the Samsung Galaxy Round, which is curved along the portrait orientation. Luckily, the G Flex is curved along the landscape viewing axis, which makes a lot more sense (for reasons we will get to later).
As the name suggests, it is also flexible. Not like rubber – you have to put some muscle into doing it. Bendable, foldable, flexible screens have long hovered on the horizon and LG wants to start making them a reality. Could this be the beginning of a new revolution in the smartphone industry or just another whim which will fade away soon?
Before we find out, check out some of the key features of this device:
- Quad-band 3G with HSPA; Penta-band LTE
- 6″ 16M-color 720p curved POLED capacitive touchscreen; Gorilla Glass 2
- Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean; LG Optimus UI
- Quad-core 2.26 GHz Krait 400 CPU, 2 GB RAM, Adreno 330 GPU, Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset
- 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash. 2.1 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
- 32GB of built-in storage
- Bluetooth v4.0
- Non-replaceable 3,500mAh Li-Po battery
Other than the unique curved design, we are basically looking at a phablet version of the LG G2 – or so they would want you to believe. There are several critical reasons that is isn’t.
Design and Curved Build
What you see in advertisements and what is actually true can sometimes have chasms of hype and frenzy between them, and here is exactly such a case. If you ever see an ad for the G Flex, you’ll be looking at a wildly curved phone that looks really strange. In actuality, the phone is very mildly curved. So mildly, in fact, that it can fit the contours of your face.
Herein lies the first reason the device is curved. We very much thought that LG were clutching at straws in the media briefing when they said that the curve makes it easier and more comfortable to make phone calls. We have to admit, they were actually right. Because this is such a large phone, with a 6-inch display, the curve does make it easier to handle and make phone calls with.
There’s no metal on show with the G Flex, although that’s no surprise as it requires its frame to be able to flex – so plastic it is. Other than the curve, we have a glossy plastic smartphone (which is a fingerprint magnet) where the only other interesting design feature is the buttons on the back. The rear plastic of the phone has, according to LG, a self-healing coat meant to automatically repair small scratches and dents. We were sceptical at best when we tried out this ‘feature’ – and the result? Well take a look at the pictures and you be the judge.
Those rear buttons are also nothing of note. In fact, they are far worse that on the LG G2 where it felt tactile and easy to use. Here, they have a small protrusion which feels cheap and inglorious to press.
The SIM tray is also extremely difficult to open and we heard reports that it actually broke and the users were unable to get their SIM card out without taking the device in for repairs.
The G Flex tries to be exceptionally unique in its design, and in case of the curve, it is. LG just forgot to use any R&D resources to look after the rest of the design. The device feels cheap – the amount of creaks make you want to cringe. If premium design is what you are looking for you best look elsewhere. If you are intrigued by that curved display, though, you should read on…
The G Flex exists almost entirely to show off LG’s curved OLED display. The 6-inch screen has a 720p resolution, which is quite unremarkable at this size, but I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it.
One of the other main reasons for a curved display is the fact that it makes the viewing experience more immersive. We see this lately with all the curved UHD screens hitting the market from Samsung and LG. Having sat in front of an 80-inch curved UHD screen I can confirm that it makes a massive difference in how you perceive the screen. Your eyes are the same distance from any point on the screen – given you are sitting in the right spot – and you ‘feel’ the experience is different. That is what LG tried to achieve with this phone’s display.
The LG G Flex has a new brand of OLED screen – Plastic OLED – manufactured by LG. Traditional OLEDS have their light diodes on a sheet of glass, but by using a plastic substrate LG managed to make the display flexible. The display itself can flex much more than the angle at which this phone is built, but LG decided that this magnitude of curvature is the most conformable to view on a display this size.
In terms of immersion, there is definitely something satisfying about the experience of watching an HD movie on a curved display. In the case of a phone, it even easier to fine tune your experience – I mean, you can’t shuffle a massive TV around as easily as simply moving your arm, now is it?
Unfortunately, there’s a problem inherent in the design of this screen. We first thought it was image noise in the wallpaper and upon digging further throughout the UI we thought it might be design methodology of the entire experience. But then we looked closer – the display seems to have issues lighting its pixels evenly, which causes the noisy look. There are also individual pixel errors which are impossible to hide at this resolution. The end result is fairly disappointing for a device in such a high price bracket, because once you see the problem, you start noticing it everywhere.
User Interface and Performance
When you take the G Flex out of the box and switch it on, you will be looking at Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Unfortunately there has been no software push to get Android 4.4 KitKat out to G Flex users.
It is the same version of Android that we saw on the LG G2, but as you compare these screenshots with the ones from the G2 review, you’ll notice it looks completely different. LG tried to make this experience different from any other LG experience from the past, and it has. Unfortunately, different doesn’t mean the experience is good.
LG has slapped its own user interface, or skin, on this version of Android and while for the most part it gives you a relatively standard experience, there are noticeable additions and changes. One of the changes is the notification bar, which is extremely reminiscent of the one on the G2. And, just like on the G2, it leaves much to be desired. That is very much what we find throughout the UI experience.
We won’t go into all the intricacies here, as the software features are in fact identical to that of the G2 (read the UI review here). What we will say, however, is that LG’s ability to make good, capable hardware has never been in question. The software has never been inspiring on their devices, however. That being said, LG have divulged that they are spending an exorbitant amount of money on changing that. It doesn’t tell on the G Flex, but – SPOILER ALERT – we will be bringing you the review of the beautiful LG G3 in a week or so, and its software is completely different.
While the software certainly isn’t bad here, it is really disappointing. We actually liked the look of the software on the G2, but here it looks bland and uninspiring. Perhaps its just us, but this certainly is a step backward in the software department when compared to the G2. Not only that, but the software tweaks worked a lot better on the G2.
There is a lot going on with the LG G Flex UI, and the 2.26GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM handles it all pretty well. There were a couple of stutters when unlocking the phone, but nothing to worry about. It does come with 32GB of internal storage, but there’s no microSD slot and the Android OS accounts for 8GB of that storage.
The massive battery inside this large phone was always meant to push endurance of the G Flex to the maximum. Because of the lower resolution screen, it has even more staying power.
Despite the device being only 8.7mm thick it has a 3,500mAh battery. We’ve seen their impressive battery life with the LG G2, and here it is no different. Battery life on the LG G Flex is seriously impressive. It gave me the best performance out of the all the smartphones I’ve recently had the pleasure of using and reviewing.
With moderate use I easily got more than two days from a single charge, and even with very heavy use I couldn’t drain the battery in a single day. It means you can sit down to watch a movie, or engage yourself in a gaming session in the knowledge you’re not going to absolutely kill the battery.
The main camera on the LG G Flex is a 13MP shooter. The user interface of the camera app has been taken from the LG G2 and features virtually the same layout. You get a bar on the right with the still/video toggle, a virtual shutter key and gallery shortcut on the right and a column with four shortcuts on the left.
For day to day snaps the LG G Flex won’t let you down, providing shots with excellent detail and decent colour reproduction – plus the range of features on offer means you can tweak your pictures to no end. Detail is okay, but strangely not as high as it was in the LG G2′s photos.
Low-light performance is often hit or miss. Some shots come out relatively well whereas others look horrible. This is down to there being no image stabilization in the G Flex, which is a space saving move, apparently.
The G Flex’s camera doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it’s still one of the better Android shooters you can buy and could have been as good as on the G2 had it included OIS.
This was an engineering showcase, nothing more. LG wanted to impress with its curved display and it certainly does, but nothing else in the experience is something to rave about.
We wanted to love the G Flex, we really did. It is something new and different in a very monotone industry. When it was first announced we were excited – a flexible smartphone! This biggest issue I have with the LG G Flex is the fact that it’s impossible to recommend.
The high price is not justified by what you get. If you want a top of the line LG, buy the LG G3 that will be available in SA from 1 August.