LG G Flex review: beyond the curved screen

December 23, 2013
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Smartphones don’t have to be flat. They don’t have to be rigid either. At least that’s what LG wants us to believe, and the G Flex is supposed to be the living proof of this radical concept.

Along with Samsung’s Galaxy Round, the LG G Flex is one of the first phones to feature a plastic-based display, the precursor to the much hyped truly flexible display. However, the G Flex’s design is arguably more radical than the Round’s and therefore probably a better embodiment of the technology. And LG’s curved phone packs a few more tricks that set it apart from any other device out there.

The G Flex may be futuristic, and it will definitely turn some heads when you whip it out in public. But, hopefully, you don’t buy phones just to stand out in the crowd. So, is the LG G Flex a great phone? When the novelty factor wears off, will you be pleased with its build quality, performance, and user experience? We try to answer these and more questions in our LG G Flex review.

LG G Flex Hands on AA (16 of 19)

Design and build quality

Leaving the curved shape aside for a minute, the G Flex is a large smartphone with a design and button layout that will definitely require some adjustment time. The 6-inch device may be too big for some users, and there’s no way around it, but if that doesn’t bother you, the good news is that G Flex is surprisingly easy to hold, thanks to its thin sides and unique form.

LG G Flex Hands on AA (1 of 19)

Like the LG G2, the G Flex features no physical buttons on the front or on the sides, which gives it a blade-like appearance. The volume rocker and power button are situated on the back of the device, near the camera and flash, in a spot that should be easy to reach with your index finger. It takes a little time to adjust, but once you get the hang of it, using the back buttons to power on the screen, change the volume, or snap a picture becomes second nature.

The fact that the G Flex is curved from top to bottom doesn’t fundamentally change the way the device handles. The curve is not radical enough to hinder handling – on the contrary, the concavity of the screen somehow makes it easier to reach all the corners of the phone with the thumb. It’s not something life changing, but with a 6-inch display, this little positive side effect matters.

LG G Flex Hands on AA (12 of 19)

LG G Flex Hands on AA (3 of 19)

The esthetic merits of the G Flex are subjective, but the arc shape of the phone and its plastic-based display matter when it comes to durability. Simply put, the phone deserves its name – apply enough pressure on its back and the G Flex will flatten; remove the pressure, and it will bounce back like nothing happened. It’s a little unnerving to see an expensive smartphone flex like that, but rest assured that the G Flex can take it. If you ever sat on a smartphone and broke its display, you know why this is a good thing.

lg g flex flat

The other party trick that the G Flex can do is recover from light scratches. This “self-healing” process is pretty much unique in the market; it has its limits, but it does help with the kind of light scratches resulting from day to day use. Don’t expect deeper scratches and scuffs to magically disappear though, as the indelible scars of our drop test attest. Generally, we still recommend a good case, but in the absence of proper protection, the self-healing back of the G Flex does give you a little extra peace of mind.

LG G Flex Drop Test Outdoors AA  (8 of 25)

Display

The G Flex features a 6-inch P-OLED display of 720 x 1280 pixels (HD) resolution, translating to about 245ppi. We can only wonder why LG went with 720p for the G Flex, instead of the now common Full HD, though it was probably an issue related to the plastic substrate of the display.

The lack of Full HD in this day and age may be disappointing for some, but the truth is we didn’t find the lower resolution that jarring. Sure, the difference is visible, but, perhaps because the 6-inch device can be held farther from the eyes than a smaller phone, the display is quite enjoyable.

LG G Flex Hands on AA (5 of 19)

Viewing angles are superb and the curvature makes them even nicer, although it does distort the image by a tiny factor. Overall, LG really showed its display making prowess here, and if you’re looking for a large display, you could do worse than the G Flex.

Performance and hardware

LG did not cut any corners when it comes to the internal hardware of the G Flex. You get the best processing package currently on the market – a Snapdragon 800 bringing together four Krait 400 cores clocked at 2.26 GHz and an Adreno 330 GPU, along with 2GB of RAM. The hardware is more than able to handle everything you throw at it, and the general functioning of the operating system is as snappy as you would expect from a modern flagship.

lg g flex specs

Aside from the curved screen and the self-healing material, there’s nothing really out of the ordinary with the G Flex’ hardware. The device features all the standard connectivity options, including LTE support – so far, the G Flex is pegged for release on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. There’s no microSD card slot and only one storage option, but luckily, it’s a decent 32GB.

lg g flex storage

The speakers on the G Flex are a pleasant surprise, giving out loud and relatively rich sound. Call quality is good; the earpiece is nice and loud, and the noise-cancelling microphone should help with call quality, especially in environments with steady background noise, such as in a moving car or train.

The G Flex shines when it comes to battery life, thanks to the massive built-in 3,500 mAh battery, which, in another industry first, is curved just like the display. In our testing, we find that the phone can go through a full day of moderately heavy usage without problems, and still have enough juice to power through another half a day. In stand-by, the phone drained just five percent of its battery in about eight hours, so you won’t have to worry about missing your alarm due to the phone shutting down overnight.

lg g flex battery life

Camera

The rear camera on the LG G Flex is pretty similar to that on the LG G2, with the biggest difference being the lack of optical image stabilization. Just like on the G2, you can use the volume down button on the back as a shutter.

LG G Flex Drop Test Outdoors AA  (22 of 25)

The snappy camera app offers several special modes for you to exercise your creativity, such as HDR, panorama, dual shot, and burst shot.

lg g flex camera app

In terms of quality, the absence of OIS does affect low light photography, though the sensor is good enough to give you some decent shots, as long as the environment isn’t too dark. The camera tends to overexpose scenes, which can result in unbalanced images, especially in bright environments. That’s especially visible when you use HDR mode.

lg g flex camera sample

One nice touch is that the notification LED incorporated in the power button lights up when your face is in focus when taking self-portraits with the rear camera. No more guesswork – just turn the phone around, wait for the light to turn on, and press the volume down button to take the picture.

lg g flex selfie

Overall, the 13MP shooter on the G Flex takes decent images, though we would’ve liked to see optical image stabilization make the jump from the G2.

Software

The G Flex runs LG’s well-known Android overlay Optimus UI, which comes with several special features, but disappointingly none that really makes use of the curved screen. The closest Optimus UI gets to this is the scrolling of the lock screen when you tilt the phone, which is little more than eye candy.

All of LG’s specific software features make a comeback on the G Flex, including the small QSlide apps that you can float on the screen for some basic multiwindow multitasking and SlideAside, which lets you slide up to three apps to the left of the screen and then easily recall them with a swipe to the right. One other feature worth mentioning is Q Theater, a portal giving you quick access to several media options. And, we have to say it, watching video on the big curved screen of the G Flex is a pleasure.

lg g flex slideaside

But the most useful tool in the G Flex’ feature set is probably DualWindow, which lets you split the screen in half and open up two apps of your choice. With so much screen real estate, it’s a welcome and useful addition, one that should not miss from any large screen device, in our opinion.

lg g flex dual window

All in all, Optimus UI does tend to be a little cluttered and “in your face” and we understand why some people are put off by it. On the other hands, it’s a utilitarian, no-nonsense approach to Android that we personally liked.

lg g flex notification

Pricing and final thoughts

The LG G Flex is a road opener, the first device in a new line of smartphones that might someday lead us to wonderful new designs and form factors. It’s a step towards a future filled with flexible devices, but a very small and hesitant one at that. So, is it worth it?

LG has not revealed the G Flex’s pricing  and availability details in the Western markets, but we expect the device to hover somewhere at the upper end of the market. When it becomes available, in the first part of next year, we will probably see it for around $700 unlocked and for $199 to $299 on contract.

For that money, you get a large, powerful device, with a unique form factor that is guaranteed to turn heads. Battery life is excellent and the self-healing coating will help keep wear marks at bay. On the downside, the screen is just 720p, the camera lacks OIS, and LG’s Optimus UI could be a turn off.

Besides the style factor – and, arguably, the improved endurance – the curved screen does not change user experience in a substantial way. The G Flex is not worth buying for its curved screen alone, but it’s definitely an interesting device that you should at least consider if you’re shopping for a cutting edge Android phone.

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