When I first started off with the G Flex, I really wanted to like it. I wanted to enjoy it, to immerse myself in its pleasures and take it as one of my own. I was looking for love, for the true connection between man and phone that I experience only with my Nexus 5. In the end, I bid it farewell, some fun yet disappointing parties later. LG experimented with the world’s first truly curved smartphone screen, attempting an aesthetic that was a make or break for a flagship in a new sector. How did they fare? Head down past the break to find out.
I want to preface the main review by saying that there’s not a lot to cover on the G Flex. Other than some skinning differences and some updated features, it’s not a lot different from the G2, so if you want a juicy look head on over to the LG G2 review for that. The screen is the main highlight, which I’ll primarily focus on, though performance is a factor we’ll look at. LG’s G Flex is the latest experimental “flagship,” the big brother for the soon to come G3. With the world’s first “truly curved” smartphone, LG’s playing with a design strategy that aims to give customers a more natural feeling device, complete with features meant to enhance that appeal. Using a Polymer-OLED screen, the G Flex proclaims a quality display with physical resistance and viewing angles to sate viewer hunger. Here in Canada, it’s available exclusively on Rogers for a price of $650 off contract or starting at $199.99 on select two year plans.
Hardware, Connectivity & Performance
Externally, the G Flex could be an unassuming yet pretty package if it weren’t for the unique body type. There’s the six inch Gorilla Glass screen surrounded by a neutral silver-grey bezel, a standard front camera and sensors along with the headpiece grille on the front. To the sides we’ve only got a microSIM slot, and on the back of the phone we have the specially placed volume rocker, power button, camera, LED flash and IR blaster, along with the singly stereo speaker. It’s all surrounded by the similarly grey back cover, which is made of a durable plastic material, made to help with the bendable nature of the phone. The interesting thing about the back of the G Flex is the self healing coating that it’s been treated with; essentially, any scrapes or scratches should disappear and rub off after a small amount of time. We tested both the back and front of the phone with keys and coins, and even after all our abuse, the Flex came out looking like new.
Still in hardware, we’ve got a gripe with the display, the same one we had with the G2. It might be the panelling that LG uses or the contrast and brightness settings, but there’s a washout issue the occurs when looking in any direction other than direct. There’s also an inherent issue of burn in; we found that if leaving a static screen open for about ten seconds and then changing it, there was an obvious amount of burn in on screen that took longer than we’d have liked to disappear. It doesn’t bode well for the life of the Flex’s screen down the line, when it might possibly lead to permanent issues. Going back to the washout issue however, it starts to become more apparent during video watching. We got a bit annoyed that we couldn’t angle the screen without noticing the slight blue tint to some colours, residual of the white balance. Hopefully LG will correct the issue or adjust the colour balance in an update, but buyers beware.
LG disappointed us with the resolution of the display on the Flex, which falls into subpar category. One would expect a 1080p quality screen, but unfortunately we were presented with a mere 720 x 1280 display. This is somewhat understandable considering the P-OLED screen and its experimental quality, as well as the screen’s limitations on density. It’s reflective of the experience though; in games and videos we weren’t too pleased with how the 6 inch display parsed things out. After using a 1080p display, it’s hard to downgrade to 720, even if it is on a larger screen size.
Elsewise, LG’s done a smack up job on the rear camera, a feature that they haven’t highlighted as much as they should have. Colours are reproduced incredibly in HDR and normal settings through the 13megapixel lens, which provides a maximum image resolution of 4160 x 3120 pixels. As with most phones, however, colours do go a little out of whack when the LED flash comes into play, just a notch, but enough to effect the end result. With regards to video quality, we were impressed at how the G Flex performed. Video shoots in 1080p quality, and captures both motion and colours better than expected. Rendering is both sharp and smooth, and we didn’t notice any lag or focus delays. App wise, there’s virtually nothing different than on the G2. It’s the same app with all the same features, and works fine for the phone. The only difference is in the viewable area on screen for photos, which is larger due only to the screen size.
Internally, there’s a lot going on. Speed wise, there’s a Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 series processor with a quad core Krait 400 CPU, clocking at 2.26GHz. It’s not the latest 801 series, which would have been preferable for speed performance, but when backed by the Adreno 330 GPU everything holds up. Other than that, the Flex boasts 32GBs of internal storage with 2GBs of RAM, giving more than enough space and memory support. It may seem like gibberish to some, but when put into action things start to shine. We ran the G Flex ragged from day one, and it never failed to keep up. There wasn’t a single time it failed to handle all the apps we installed and ran simultaneously, such as YouTube, Netflix, and high graphic games like FIFA 14.
Battery life is also one feature that LG never fails to deliver on, and the Flex has taken it a step up. The curved 3500mAh Lithium Polymer battery presented with the G Flex surprised us in how well it worked. Even with heavy video and LTE usage throughout the day, we managed to get a solid day of about 10-12 hours of life, before depleting to zero. It charges relatively quick as well, taking an average of three and a half to four hours to get from nill to full. On regular days, with brightness up to full and standard data and phone usage, we managed to squeeze two days from the phone, and even got in a couple Community episodes before it shut down on the second day.
The G Flex doesn’t fail to deliver on the slew of connectivity features it presents, and does an exceptional job of using them. There’s the standard LTE, 4G, 3G and 2G capabilities, in addition to Bluetooth 4.0 and a dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac adapter. Looking at these first, everything works as it should, and with Rogers now extended coverage, LTE did better than we’ve experienced before. Video streaming was instantaneous and consistent, with quality never dropping even when coverage was slightly spotty. Rogers boasts potential speeds of 150mbps, and with our tests averaging about 50-70mbps, we’re sure that one day speeds will reach that level, dependant on coverage zones. WiFi seems fairly stronger antenna wise, picking up signals better than a Nexus 5 would in some cases. NFC and Personal Hotspot are not excluded of course, and both do their respective jobs as well as they should, giving quick connections for NFC and decent range + speeds for Hotspot.
Going With The Curve
Perhaps the one thing that I can think of that LG has really done for themselves other than the Nexus 4 and 5 line is toying with the curved phone idea. If I take a look at their current device portfolio, there’s nothing that stands out at me any more than a Samsung or an HTC, and that’s the problem. LG focuses on Samsung’s strategy way too much when they work on their own products, and it’s noticeable. Even with the G Flex, the only thing setting it apart from being a Galaxy Note is the lack of stylus, curved screen and no physical buttons (which they still do use on some phones). What you’re looking at is an externally redesigned G2; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that most of what you’re getting has already been done.
But I digress. The horizontally curved body of the G Flex is the highlight, a work of art meant to say “Here’s what we can do.” Even more than the body is the screen, an experience that we have to say is truly unique, though it does its best to remain unnoticed. Having a curved screen gives a cinematic experience; there’s something natural and comfortable about watching a video on the G Flex, or using it to play a game. It might be the bit of thumb leeway that it provides, or more likely the easy on the eyes cinema feel that the flexed glass gives, but to be honest, we loved it.
“What you’re looking at is an externally redesigned G2″
The beauty of the curved phone carries on into daily life. After a while, it felt normal and more comfortable to use the screen and play with the G Flex. It fits nicely into the pocket as well, considering the size. We carried it in our back pockets for comfort, and the curved body fits nicely with our, shall we say, curve. LG’s worked with making the material partially bendable as well; if you press down on the Flex while it’s face down, it can flatten out without any damage. It helps to have that safety net there in case of careless hands or experiments, which of course we did our fair share of.
Android: It Works
When it comes to software, there’s not a lot happening on the G Flex that isn’t on the G2. It runs the same Android 4.2.2 (Although there is Rogers bloatware this time, as opposed to Bell), has the same LG software, and performs the same functions. When it comes to Android now, there’s no large difference between phones other than underlying features; case in point, TouchWiz vs. HTC’s Sense. The basic system and apps function the same, but it’s what the manufacturer does with it that’s different.
In this instance, there are some discrepancies in LG’s usage of Android’s basic features, and some very welcome additions. Unfortunately LG preloaded a second browser, gallery and music player to go with Google’s Chrome, Photos and Play Music app, which make the system just a little bit more cluttered. To balance these out though, there’s a lovely file manager that’s installed on the phone, something we’d like to see more of on phones with stock software. Especially handy are the subdivisions in the file manager, making it easy to use and navigate. We’re also fans of the Menu button that LG keeps standard; it just makes sense to have it available for certain apps and access from the home screen.
LG’s Crap Suite Revisited
The talking point for the G Flex’s software is LG’s nameless UI and preloaded specials, all reminiscent of previous devices. What’s changed in the Flex’s iteration is a simply facelift; the colour scheme and some widgets have been modified to become unique to the device. There is the option to revert to the G2’s theme, which makes the two phone identical in operation, so we decided to stick with the Flex version. LG’s bundled UI and theme suite work nicely enough, it’s not too obtrusive and does have a fair share of colours. What we like is the trippy lock screen that’s currently on the Flex, an interactive ocean scene that moves to the sky depending on how you hold the phone, as well as changing backgrounds based on the time of day. The option to have drag to open app icons is still there, too, which adds some brownie points for usability.
New to the phone are Dual Window and QuickTheater, two options tailored to the Flex, as well as minor updates to LG’s already introduced Quick Remote and QSlide. Dual window is similar to what Samsung has done already: By holding down on the home button, an option appears to slide select apps up and down into a half of the screen space, after which you can resize each window. LG’s also thrown in the function to default some apps to this mode, such as when opening a link in an email. You can launch a YouTube video at the bottom, or run the associated webpage without losing your spot. Going on to QuickTheater, it’s a small but sometimes handy feature, activated and almost exclusively used through the lock screen. When turning on the phone and holding it in landscape, a quick swipe from the centre of the display with two thumbs (or fingers!) launched a widget screen for selecting YouTube, Videos or Photos. While it tries to make life easier by lessening the steps needed to open any one of these apps on their own, it’s just a little bit unnecessary.
In the end, software bundles boil down to the end user and the availability of certain functions. For us, many of the features are unneeded and bloated, though it’s possible others may just find them handy.
At the end of the day, I expected more from the Flex. The advertising does too much justice to a phone lacking in further substance. Don’t get me wrong, it performs so well and the hardware is excellent, but it’s just redundant. If I want the hardware of the G Flex with a larger screen, I’ll go for a Galaxy Note 3. There’s no real pull factor that would entice me to drop ~$650 off contract (or$150 with a plan) on a phone like this, and the 720p display doesn’t do any favours. Sure, the curved display gives a cinematic and natural experience, but it doesn’t make up for the lacking pixel density and strange burn in.
Software wise, LG needs to learn to tone down the bloated renditions of Android that they leave behind, because I can’t think of anyone I know that took interest in either the duplicate or some of the experimental features that have been stuck on. LG’s G Flex is a lovely phone, but the availability of better devices, albeit with straight screens, already throw it into obsolescence.
– Solid hardware
– Curved design adds an interesting and natural aesthetic
– Good size
– Performs admirably
– Self healing back
– Wonderful battery life
– Better viewing angles with the curved screen
– Plastic back
– Button placement is a bit annoying
– Gimmicky crapware
– Screen res just doesn’t cut it for the price
– Bad white contrast and screen burn in