LG G Flex is just like a lot of modern, high-end smartphones. It has a fast processor, lots of RAM, a big battery, and a large display. Using it isn't particularly different from any other Android smartphone. And yet, hand the G Flex to almost anyone, and they will immediately notice there is something very different about it, and I'm not talking about the buttons on the back.
The G Flex is one of two phones currently on the market to use a flexible OLED panel, the other being Samsung's Galaxy Round. Both phones are quite expensive, and apart from their curved displays, neither particularly stands out from the crowd. So why on earth would you pay up to 50% more for a G Flex than something like a G2 or Galaxy Note 3? Isn't this all just a gimmick?
In a way, yes, it is. The G Flex's arced screen isn't going to change your life. Does it have some practical benefits? Yes, I suppose. Are they reason enough on their own to go out and buy one? No way. The G Flex really is LG saying "look at what we can do." It almost feels like a concept device - something sketched out by a few engineers late one evening, until the conversation around the idea became serious enough that there was a realization: building this is doable.
A flexible 6" OLED panel. A curved 3500mAh battery pack. Self-healing rear coating. LTE Advanced connectivity. It all sounds very ambitious. And ambitious the G Flex is - the technology it serves as test bed to is doubtless impressive. Curved batteries could have big implications, and a rear cover that un-scratches itself? Almost sci-fi.
Unfortunately, like a concept car taken out for a test drive, living with the G Flex exposes some of its less obvious flaws - the sort of things you might not notice when it's up on a little glass-enclosed pedestal.
LG G Flex: Specifications
- Price: Varies by region (~$930 converted to USD for this Korean variant)
- Processor: 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
- GPU: Adreno 330
- Network compatibility: Varies (SK Telekom version supports LTE-A)
- Operating system: Android 4.2.2 with LG UI overlay
- Display: 6.0" P-OLED 1280x720 (245 DPI)
- Memory: 2GB RAM / 32GB storage
- Cameras: 13MP rear, 2.1MP front
- Battery: 3500mAh, non-removable
- Wireless: Wi-Fi A/B/G/N/AC (dual band support), NFC, infrared, Bluetooth 4.0
- Ports / expandable storage: microUSB / none
- Thickness: 8.7mm
- Weight: 177g
- The G Flex is a genuinely interesting phone. The curved shape, the rear buttons -the power button looks opaque and metallic, but the whole thing actually lights up rather awesomely - and the "go ahead, scratch my phone / squish it flat " party trick make you feel like you're in the future.
- The G Flex is quick and snappy, as it to be expected of a phone using a Snapdragon 800 processor.
- The camera's pretty great.
- Battery life is as good as you'd expect, I've had no problems making it through well over a day with the G Flex throughout my testing.
- The big 6" OLED display looks very nice at full brightness, with deep blacks and vivid colors - just don't look too closely.
The Not So Good
- The display goes from likeable to downright awful once you lower the brightness below, say, 50%. Really noticeable graininess / discoloration / striping and even image retention get worse the darker you go. This new Plastic OLED process apparently has some serious drawbacks. It also just doesn't get bright enough outdoors.
- Continuing on, that 6" display is a 720p panel. Yep.
- LG's UI layer is still pretty ugly, in my opinion, and just kind of cluttered. Also, a virtual menu button in the navigation bar? Please, LG - stop.
- The self-healing rear cover is a crazy-bad dust magnet. I couldn't keep it clean to save my life.
- I still don't like the rear buttons.
Design and build quality
It is readily apparent that the G Flex is not your average phone when it's lying flat on a surface. The curve isn't extreme, but it's definitely visible, especially when the display is illuminated. I think it looks really cool, personally. It's just so different. The downside, of course, is that you get serious rocking motion on flat, hard surfaces if you lay your phone down to use it, and with the G Flex being quite the handful (177 grams, over 6" tall), that might be a nuisance for some. On the upside, laying it face down is pretty unlikely to scratch your display, since little or none of it will actually be in contact with the surface it's sitting on.
Thankfully, the curve of the G Flex does make it easier to hold with one hand. One thing that has always bugged me about the Note line of phones is that when I try to palm them, they kind of dig into my hand if I hold them for an extended period. The G Flex's shape lets you use your fingers for leverage just ever-so-slightly differently than you would on a standard flat phone. It's hard to describe the effect, but the G Flex is surprisingly comfortable to hold for such a large device.
Some people claim the shape also makes typing on the on-screen keyboard easier, but I haven't noticed any such effect.
As you've no doubt seen by now, the G Flex does indeed live up to its name in a limited sense - place it face down on a flat surface and press down on the center of the phone, and it'll bend flat. It works. It doesn't take a ton of pressure, though it's not super flexible, either. You will hear cracks and snaps as the plastic casing creaks in pain from the abuse. Considering how many times I've done this since receiving my review unit, though, I think it's safe to say the chance of actually damaging anything this way (apart from scratching the display) is pretty much zero.
Because of the curve, the G Flex does feel perhaps a little less premium than I'd like. The plastic makes Samsung-esque noises, and the glossy self-healing rear cover doesn't exactly feel high-end, either. I'd describe it as a slightly more rubbery version of the plastic you'll find on the Galaxy S4 - it's more tacky in texture. As a result of said texture, the G Flex collects an insane amount of airborne particulate matter. Dust, hair, dirt, lint - this thing is a chore to keep clean. This may be a non-issue for some people, though it kind of irked me.
So, about that "self-healing" back. LG's been careful not to go promising miracles with its polymer coating (and that's it is - a coating, it doesn't go all the way through), but they say scratches from things like keys or coins in your pocket will probably heal up enough that you won't notice them after a day or two, depending on the ambient temperature (warmer temperature = faster healing) and the depth of the scratch. I took things a step further and busted out my pocket knife and very gently (eg, very little pressure) cut some lines into the back of the phone. A week later, they look less apparent than they did right after the fact, but they're definitely still there, and I can still feel the cuts if I run a fingernail along the back of the phone. Oh well. It's still a cool idea, regardless. Maybe later versions will be a little thicker-skinned.
The G Flex has basically identical power / volume button as the G2 mounted on the back of the phone. Love 'em or hate 'em (I personally find myself in the latter camp), LG seems to be running with this idea. Even as someone who doesn't like them, I readily admit it's totally possible to live with them, they just aren't my first, second, or third choice. I'm not sure what my second and third choice would be, but yeah, I really don't enjoy these buttons.
One cool thing LG's done with them on the G Flex, though, is increased the visibility of the notification glow on the power button. On the G2, the button glows around the edges - the rest of the button is opaque. On the G Flex, the whole power button looks opaque and metallic, but it's actually not - the entire button lights up when you receive a notification! It looks really cool. Kudos to LG on that little trick.
Unfortunately, for all the "cool factor" the flexible OLED provides in the design department, the display itself is something of a letdown. First, it's a 720p panel. A 6" 720p panel. No, that's not horrible - it's perfectly usable, much in the way the Galaxy Mega 6.3's 720p panel is. It's just not optimal, and it doesn't feel like it's as sharp as it could be. So that's kind of a bummer.
At full brightness, the screen looks pretty decent. Blacks are deep and dark, and LG's screen mode options can make the colors super vivid if that's your sort of thing. The colors are definitely a little more reminiscent of Samsung's older panels, though, in that even on the most conservative color setting they're still awfully saturated.
Note the graininess - that's not all the camera's fault
The problems really start to arise when you turn down the brightness of the G Flex's display, particularly below 50%. At this point, very visible graininess, discoloration, and striping begin to appear. the striping is difficult to capture with a camera (they are horizontal stripes), but it's definitely present on both of the units I was sent. I confirmed with another person reviewing the phone, as well, so it's unlikely this is a defect. It's just how the Plastic OLED panel looks.
Worse yet, image retention can be pretty bad when the display isn't full warmed up, and is especially noticeable on certain colors like grays or whites.
For a phone so focused on the advanced technology behind its screen, the screen itself feels like a very real step backwards in some ways.
More graininess - particularly, look at the Hangouts and Gallery icons
The G Flex's battery life has been admirable throughout my testing - I never was below 25% at the end of the day, and regularly found the phone with more than 50% if I'd been using Wi-Fi regularly. A 3500mAh will certainly do that, I've found, and I've got to hand it to LG for not skimping on the lithium ions in their more recent phones. The smaller G2 even has a 3000mAh battery, dwarfing those of its biggest competitors, aside from the DROID MAXX, by a fair margin.
I generally believe that when it comes to big-screen phones, a big battery isn't just necessary to ensure that display keeps on going all day long, it's about the whole value proposition of a large phone in the first place. If I'm going to carry around something as large as the G Flex, I want to know all that extra space inside of it isn't going to waste.
Storage, wireless, and call quality
The G Flex comes with 32GB of internal storage, roughly 24GB of which are available to the user out of the box. There is no microSD slot.
Your standard host of wireless features abound in the G Flex - Wi-Fi A/B/G/N/AC, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and even an IR blaster (which somewhat annoyingly is on the back of the phone, not the top). Mobile network support varies by market, but the Korean variant I have here supports LTE Advanced networks in its home markets, though the LTE does not function stateside on AT&T's network. Presumably if and when the G Flex arrives in the US, it will have LTE.
Call quality on the G Flex has been acceptable, though unremarkably - I definitely prefer how my Nexus 5 sounds when making a call, and it seems like people have an easier time hearing me on the Nexus, too.
Audio and speaker
Headphone audio on the G Flex has been excellent, courtesy of Qualcomm's audio hub and headphone amplifier which are part of the Snapdragon chipset. The external speaker, though, appears to be the same unit on the LG G2 and Nexus 5 - and it's still not very good. I think big phones should have big, powerful speakers. The G Flex does not have such a speaker. It's relatively quiet, the quality leaves a lot to be desired, and while it's adequate for notifications, like the Nexus 5's I simply don't enjoy watching videos with it. It just doesn't sound very good.
Apart from the lack of optical image stabilization, the G Flex is using the same camera found in the G2, and that's to say a very good one. The absent OIS will mean poorer performance in low light or with shaky hands, but the imaging unit itself is still capable of some very respectable results. Check out the samples below (hill scene is no HDR vs with HDR).
Performance and stability
This Korean version of the G Flex I've been using is set up for SK Telekom, but I've not had any problems other than a lack of LTE support here in the US. The Snapdragon 800 chipset runs fast, smooth, and handles most tasks with ease. It's basically just like using a G2, and potentially even quicker, as the G Flex is pushing a lower resolution display.
There haven't been any odd crashes or other strangeness that I've experienced.
UI and features
If you've read my review of the G2, you know what to expect when it comes to the G Flex. There are some minor changes to LG's UI layer, though, and I'll go through the ones I've noticed in this section. Otherwise, just head to the G2 review and read that - not much has changed, at least not enough to warrant a brand-new write-up. Here are the new features worth glancing at, though.
Swipeable navigation buttons: This is an interesting one, and I've not seen it on any other phone. The G Flex has an option to allow you to push the virtual navigation buttons to the left or right extremity of the navigation bar. Just swipe left or right from the edge of the screen in the nav bar, and the the buttons will squish up against the opposite side. Nice idea, LG. I'm not exactly certain I'd use it, but it's novel.
Swing lockscreen: This is LG's rather lame attempt at mimicking Apple's equally-useless parallax effect, but its intrusiveness is limited to the lockscreen wallpaper. When on the lockscreen, tilt the phone up or down (vertically), and the wallpaper will slide up and down in an attempt to correspond with your motion. The problem is that it works really, really badly. I didn't even notice it at first, because the lag between your motion and the wallpaper actually moving can be anywhere from 1-3 seconds. It's pretty dumb.
Dual screen mode: LG's decided to copy Samsung's Multi Window feature, and they're calling it Dual Screen. Just hold the back button and drag two apps onto the top and bottom of the screen, and voila - multitasking! If you exit a dual screen instance, just hold down back again and the phone will remember it as a "recent" item, which is certainly nice.
Oh, and settings UI is now themed black instead of gray, if you're excited about that sort of thing.
The G Flex is an interesting smartphone science experiment, but it's also little more than that. It's mostly identical to the G2 in terms of software, which rather quickly made it less than easy to love for me.
But it's the oddly underperforming display that really makes the G Flex stand out. For a phone so focused on demonstrating new display technology, the G Flex can be a real eyesore in certain conditions. It's certainly not up to par with the IPS panels the company is producing, I'll say that much.
But the G Flex really is just a technological test bed - I can't say this is a phone anyone should seriously consider buying, unless they're absolutely set on having the first phone with a display curved along the Y-axis. Like I said in the introduction of this review, this is LG showing us what they can do, not necessarily what they think consumers will buy.
That all considered, I think the G Flex does make apparent the advantages of a curved screen. You're less likely to scratch it, it's probably a little more durable, and it does seem to make a large phone easier and more comfortable to hold. Once the cost and quality issues are ironed out - and I'm confident they will be - I really do believe curved displays are something that will catch on. And that's not even considering the very real "cool" factor a curved screen brings. I can already see the overly dramatic commercials being thought up by marketing executives.
Is the G Flex a phone you should buy? Probably not. Is it a concept worth pursuing? I firmly believe so.