Review: LG G Flex, The First Curved Smartphone to Leave Korea

Symbol of the future, or pointless distraction?

Our score: 3/5
Reviewed: February 27, 2014 11:06 AM
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Published: February 27, 2014 11:06 AM
Updated: March 3, 2014 1:43 PM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
With Morgane Alzieu
Axel Mendy
Pierre Stemmelin
LG and Samsung are waging a long-distance war on the curved OLED market. After several bouts in the TV arena, the battle has spilled over to the smartphone ring. But whereas Samsung kept the October 2013 release of its first curved smartphone, the Galaxy Round, on its home turf in Korea, LG decided to break loose of its borders and take the G2 international, where it saw a Euro release earlier this month.
 
LG G Flex

What allows the G Flex to be curved is its Plastic OLED (POLED) screen. However, LG took the opposite route as Samsung by making the handset horizontally curved, whereas the Galaxy Round is curved vertically. LG gave the 6-inch display HD resolution at a time when most of the competition (including its own G2 smartphone, which has some of the same hardware as the G Flex) is using Full HD. That's a shame for a high-end handset like this. We chalk it up to excessive production costs.

Nearly everything aside from the screen is identical to the G2: a 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of non-expandable storage, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, 4G LTE compatibility, and Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean along with an in-house user interface. The only change other than the lack of a microSD card slot is the battery, which is also curved: this one is 3,500 mAh, bigger than the G2's 3,000 mAh.

The LG G Flex is currently available from a number of UK retailers for around £700. That's a whopping price tag that implies high-end performance that, we hope, does more than simply justify the curved screen.
 
LG G Flex

Design & Handling4/5



The insides aren't all the G Flex shares in common with the G2; there's also the outside, which, arched posterior aside, isn't all that different from the G2. The façade is devoid of buttons either physical or touch-sensitive, the physical volume and power buttons having been deported to the back where your index finger falls. It's an impressive sight seeing a relatively thin, concave handset, and most people should have a little "wow, cool" moment when they first pick it up.
 
LG G Flex

It's a very well assembled phone that appears solid and reliable, surprisingly so, despite the fact that the screen is flexible—laying it face-down on a table, you can press down on the centre and the phone flattens out on the surface without breaking or feeling fragile.
 
LG G Flex

Plus, it would be reasonable to assume that it's better protected against falls than other smartphones, since the screen itself would never actually come in contact with the ground.
 
LG G Flex

The G Flex is a big phone, a very big phone, and therefore is easiest to handle with two hands: one to hold it, the other to tap and swipe. LG kept the screen's vertical bezel to a minimum, just like on the G2, which keeps the overall size as small as possible to make up for the large display. As for the claims that the curved shape makes it fit in perfect ergonomic harmony with the shape of your face, we don't think makes much difference in terms of comfort or convenience compared to an ordinary smartphone. Let's just say it makes you look (a bit) less ridiculous holding a 6-inch monolith up to your ear to make calls.

On the plus side, our model hardly ever got hot, even when we ran typically overheating-inducing apps on it.
 
LG G Flex

The back is lined with what LG calls "self-healing" coating that reduces the effect of scratching over time. First of all, let us crush your dreams right away: if you were hoping you could drop it while rock climbing or mountain biking and still find the phone intact thanks to this Wolverine-like surface, then you're dead wrong. All the technology does is smooth over minor dings and nicks, the type of everyday scratches that come about from keeping the phone in the same pocket as your keys, for example.

Display3/5



The G Flex's big selling point—the curved screen, in case you hadn't gathered yet—has one major flaw: 720p resolution. On a 6-inch screen. In 2014. You can clearly see the difference with the Galaxy Note 3's 5.7-inch Full HD display, where icons and text look much more detailed.

As for the "immersive experience" LG talks about—you know, supposedly the whole reason behind having a curved screen—we're still waiting to experience it. Maybe there's some pill you're supposed to take to make that kick in. And I'm not sure if "panoramic" is the word to use for something that's six inches big. The curvature does reduce reflections caused by the glossy surface, but that's about it. It isn't like you're at the IMAX.

That said, like any good OLED derivative, the picture quality is amazing. It has preposterously deep contrast of over 17,000:1, good brightness of 325 cd/m², relatively faithful colours with an average Delta E of 4.2 and colour temperature a tad high at 7,981 K.
 
LG G Flex

Now for all the reasons why we only gave the screen three stars. And yes, we say "all the reasons" because there are three major issues with it, and unfortunately they aren't restricted to our unit. The first is that when you tilt the screen, the whole thing veers blue; this is a common flaw among AMOLED screens that Samsung has been able to remedy, but LG apparently not.

The second issue is that the image is constantly posterised, meaning that instead of having a clean, detailed image there's a sort of static effect that brings out little coloured dots over what are supposed to be solid colours. As you can see in the picture below, this affects everything onscreen, from the background and icons and web pages and videos.
 
LG G Flex

The third is simply astonishing: fingers leave traces on the screen. Not smudges—we mean your finger leaves traces on the actual image. Every time you touch the display a "ghost" image appears for a couple seconds trailing behind where you touched the screen, like on an old plasma TV. We find this objectionable, improper, downright offensive!

Interface & Navigation5/5



The G Flex came out earlier this month, but for some reason it didn't come with the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, or even the version before that, 4.3 Jelly Bean. It comes with 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. LG adds its own user interface, LG UI, which takes all the standard Google services (Gmail, Hangout, Chrome...) and dresses them in LG attire with specialised icons and a swarm of extra features. The G Flex has several of the great features from the G2, such as the double-tap to power on and wake up the phone and dedicated the tab system for storing apps.

But the G Flex has several new tricks of its own. One purely visual addition is that the default lock screen is animated and the picture changes depending on how you have the phone sitting.

But the best new feature is undoubtedly that it does "true" multitasking the way Samsung's smartphones and tablets now do (as opposed to Apple's mobile devices, on which you can't have two apps open simultaneously onscreen). While you have one of the compatible apps open, you just do a long-hold on the touch-sensitive Back button and a menu appears with some ten apps to choose from. Then you place both apps on either half of the display (horizontally or vertically, depending whether you're in portrait or landscape mode). You can even make the apps interact with each other by, for example, sliding the video you're watching on the left half of the screen into the memo you're writing on the right half of the screen, or simply sliding the photo you're looking at into an e-mail. This doesn't work with all apps, but with those it does work with, the system is fluid, intuitive and visually simple.

The OS is nice and responsive. After all, with a Snapdragon 800 and a good dose of RAM, how can you go wrong? The fact that the G Flex has the same processor as the G2 but lower screen resolution to deal with makes things even easier on the processor.

Multimedia5/5



Big screens are great for watching videos and surfing the Internet, and in these arenas the G Flex excels with fast, fluid, precise browsing and an effective zoom function. But it's still 720p on a 6-inch screen. Content necessarily isn't as legible, detailed and cool-looking as on a 5- or 6-inch Full HD display. When it comes to all things video, LG has inched closer and closer to what Samsung offers in terms of file format compatibility and options. The G Flex will read just about any video file and even has options for subtitles (size, colour, etc.).

The Snapdragon 800 and its Adreno 330 GPU have been proving their stuff for several months now on practically every recent high-end Android phone on the market, making the G Flex arguably one of the best mobile gaming platforms out there. Even the most difficult-to-run games from Play Store execute fluidly with top-rate graphics that few devices can beat.
 
LG G Flex

The built-in speaker gives loud, well-toned, intelligible sound and since the body is curved, the sound never gets blocked when you set the phone down on a surface. It makes no attempt to produce bass, and that's a good thing because it avoids the unwanted distortion and vibrations that would necessarily plague the sound if it did. Our measurements confirmed these impressions with a straight, linear frequency response curve with just a quarter-decibel drop at 20 Hz in the low end. The left/right stereo separation and dynamics are excellent and the volume is high enough to feed even the most power-demanding headphones.
 
LG G Flex

We picked up abnormally high distortion of 0.65% on the left channel of the headphone output, but that's probably specific to the unit we tested. We highly doubt it would be common to all units, but even if it were it wouldn't be that noticeable, as it's still well below 1%.

Camera3/5



The 13-Megapixel rear camera was off to a good start: it's the same one the G2 has, which takes more than acceptable pictures in every mode it has. But the fact that the phone is curved appears to have forced LG to make some compromises, such as getting rid of the optical image stabiliser that had made such a difference on the G2.
 
LG G Flex

When the conditions are good, the camera takes very similar pictures to the G2 that are detailed in the centre, a tad less around the edges, just a bit noisy (only enough to sacrifice the smallest details) and with very little contour enhancement. But when the conditions aren't right, that's when you wish it had an image stabiliser. Snapshots are basically unusable and the flash blows out any subject less than two or three metres away. On the other hand, there are plenty of modes and settings to choose from. Videos shot in Full HD 1080p look good, although we wouldn't call them the best on the market.

See photos we took using the G Flex in the DigitalVersus Face-Off

Battery Life5/5



Along with the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, the G2 is our new reference for battery life. With a larger battery, pretty much the same software and a lower-resolution display to feed, the G Flex lasts longer than the G2, whose battery we had already given five stars! It lasted nearly 20 hours in our standard battery testing app, which basically means more than two full days of ordinary use. Bravo!
3/5 LG G Flex DigitalVersus 2014-02-27 12:06:00

Pros

  • Ginormous battery life for a phone this size
  • High performance and responsiveness
  • Nice design, well-finished body
  • Sound quality

Cons

  • Screen resolution
  • Display: posterisation and finger trails are just inconceivable in 2014
  • Mediocre camera with no optical image stabiliser
  • Non-expandable memory

Conclusion

The G Flex is supposed to be a sort of crowning jewel for LG, a product symbolic of the future of mobile devices. But its greatest asset is also its greatest enemy: the curved screen, whose utility is still open for debate, that has lower resolution than competing smartphones and that is plagued by inexcusable technical flaws for a phone of its intended stature. In its favour, its G2-inspired hardware gives it fast and versatile performance and outstanding battery life, and it has a great-looking design. But to buy a G Flex today is to invest in a promising niche, rather than enjoy a perfected new technology.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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