Late 2013 was certainly interesting as handset manufacturers started to utilize the inherent flexibility of OLED display technology. By nature, OLED is made of a plastic, so it much more prone to be flexible than LCD technology which requires a flat glass surface to work. In reality, it’s more complicated than that, but the fact is: curved or flexible phones have arrived, thanks to that display technology.
Now, it is important to set your expectations right: the LG G Flex is a little flexible, which is different from its arch-rival the Galaxy Round which is completely rigid, but curved. The G Flex is curved from top to bottom, while the Round is curved from left to right. In the end, both are completely different designs, goals and more importantly, they “feel” very different. If you are shopping for a phone, they are not even comparable. Note that LG presents the G Flex as being “curved” and not as being “bendable”.
Talking of which, this review will try to provide you with a realistic overview of what it means to use the LG G Flex in the real world. We leave the rhetoric behind and focus on the user experience, and the actual quality and pitfalls of such a new design. Let’s start.
Key G Flex Specifications
6” OLED Display, 720p
Snapdragon 800, 2.26GHz, 2GB of RAM
32GB of internal storage (no microSD)
13 Megapixel camera, 2.1MP front camera
BT 4.0, WiFi A/B/G/N/AC, Miracast
160.5mm x 81.6 x 7.9/8.7mm
Official G Flex website
Before diving deep into review territory, I want to tell you how I use my phone, since knowing that may help you get a better sense of how it would work for yourself.
I use my phone for two main reasons: text communications and social networks, with occasional voice calls, but frankly very little. Some days, I don’t even get/emit calls. I do type a lot of short emails, and I really appreciate anything that makes me type faster. The same thing is true for Social networks, the updates are short, but their frequency is high enough that any little bit of comfort helps. I also upload a lot of photos, so the camera performance is important to me. I don’t always need the “absolute” photo performance, but I want a point & shoot that takes good photos for web usage.
Finally, I carry my phones in a purse (iPhone 5S and Galaxy Note 3/LG G Glex) so the relative size of different phones is never a real problem. As far as battery life goes: I sometime carry an 11,000mAh battery pack, but I would rather have an all-day phone that I can count on.
According to LG, the G Flex was designed to follow the contour of your face, while still being comfortable in your hand. It is also supposed to get the microphone closer to your mouth, implying that the sound would be better. It probably does both, but to me, the general design of the phone was more important than its intended practicality. I’m sure that the microphone is closer to my mouth, but no-one really noticed, but I really like the curve as a design feature. To LG, the G Flex is one of four steps towards truly “foldable” phones (see LG’s presentation below).
Since it is a 6” phone, when I use it, I think of the Galaxy Mega 6.3, the HTC One Max or the Sony XPERIA Z1 Ultra. Those are very big phones, and some are downright small tablets. The Galaxy Mega 6.3 would be the closest comparison, but is just a bit too big for me to hold since I have relatively small hands (I wear U.S size S gloves). Being a little smaller, the LG G Flex does fit in my hand and I can use it like I would use a Galaxy Note 3. The Galaxy Round (picture below) is a little easier to hold since it width is narrower.
How flexible is the G Flex will you ask? Enough that I can put it on a table and push it down to (mostly) flatten it. That’s not bad, and in practice, it does mean that you could sit on it, if it was in your pants pocket. I typically store the phone in my purse, so I asked a friend of mine to test this for me.
New to all this, he comes with a fresh mind: he is a nuclear scientist who usually carries an iPhone 4S. He’s too worried of cracking his phone by sitting on it, but has his wallet in the back pocket. After trying the G Flex and sitting in it copiously, he pointed out that the G Flex was much more comfortable in his back pocket than his wallet. Obviously, he also marveled at the 6” display – coming from a 4” one, it’s understandable.
I also asked Hubert to try the phone to see how that would fit in men’s Jean’s front pockets (Levis 501, W33L32): here’s the verdict: while he was initially worried about how the curved shape, things turned out to be pretty good and it’s a “go” for the front pocket (that said, he was also fine with the Galaxy Mega 6.3, so he likes big phones). The only exception is when in a sitting (like in a car…) it’s difficult to get the phone out of the pocket because there’s not so much room to maneuver. Additionally, the curvature (screen oriented towards the leg) makes it hard to take it out of the pocket in that particular situation. Drivers, beware.
The rear of the phone is where you will find the Power and Volume controls which are right below the camera and LED flash modules. Note that the Power control can also be used as a shutter button for “selfies”. There’s also a little infra-red (IR) emitter in the back that is used for remote-control apps. The G Flex comes with a big white sticker in the back which shows the IMEI number of the phone. It’s a bit of an eye-sore, but you can remove it easily if you want to. It’s not clear to me if that one was meant to stay ON or not.
Because all the controls are in the back, the sides are devoid of any controls. There is no “accidental action” from handling the phone, which is very convenient. Some people either love or hate the rear controls. I don’t mind it, but I very much like the KnockOn feature that lets me turn the phone ON/OFF by double-tapping on the screen.
The relative flexibility of the LG G Flex makes it naturally more resistant to shocks than other phones. It doesn’t mean that the glass won’t crack if it land at the wrong spot, but the odds of having a cracked glass are much lower than with my iPhone. The G Flex can easily absorb shocks when landing on its back, and its “flex” will help dissipate some of the impact force.
LG has also used a self-healing plastic in the back which will recovers from normal scratches and small damage in a matter of days. The rear plastic is already tough out of the box (I couldn’t scratch it with my nails for instance), but keys, sand, and other metallic items could create small scratches. This is what this feature is really for and it’s a nice touch. It works with small scratches: I have used some small screws to create scratches and after a couple of days, the scratches were gone, T1000 terminator style. I’m not sure how it would react to a deep cut, but I don’t expect to use it as a shield either.
Overall, the G Flex is a high-quality, well-built phone. It does however have a certain “plastic” feel to it, and it’s normal since the back represents a huge plastic surface. Yesterday, a friend of mine was surprised at how lighteight the G Flex felt in his hand, but this is an illusion because the weight is spread over a large surface area: the phone actually weighs 177g, which is heavy if you compare that with a 130g iPhone 5s. Yet, you can only imagine how heavier it would be if LG had used aluminum or glass… In the big phone market, those materials don’t always work and while the Sony XPERIA Z1 is beautiful, it weighs 212g.
The LG G Flex design is looks great and feels good in the hand. It is by no means a one-handed device, but no 5.5+ inch phone really is, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. I like the size of the display and the comfort of typing on huge keyboard keys – it’s a big booster for anyone who writes a lot of emails/texts on their phones.
Display (very good+)
The LG Flex is equipped with a huge 6” 1280×720 (245 dpi) curved OLED display. It looks beautiful and the colors are surprisingly natural-looking for an OLED screen. I’m used to seeing the very saturated AMOLED displays from the competition and this is a good change. It feels almost like an IPS display. The obvious questions is “is 720p enough?” and “Why not 1080p?”.
The 1080p answer is simple: LG didn’t have a 1080p curved OLED display that was ready for mass-production. I suspect that the next Generation of Flex smartphones will feature one, but today, 720p it is. Now, what’s the impact on the perceived image quality? Fortunately, not much.
Although it is undeniable that a 1080p screen would increase the pixel density, I can’t say that this is the first thing, or the second thing that I would want to improve on this phone. The 720p resolution works well enough that I’ve never actually thought of it while using it daily. The only very obvious improvement that 1080p brings to the table would be when you are looking at detailed hi-resolution photos (like nature photos). Even text-reading is pretty good as is.
In terms of color rendering, this is an excellent display and it’s clear that LG Display has been doing a great job with this. I prefer this display to my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (which has a 1080p display btw) in terms of color rendering and overall image quality. I rate it at “Very Good+” instead of “Excellent” because of the 720p resolution, but otherwise, it is top-notch. The note 3 remains more pocketable overall, but since I use a purse, this is not a concern for me.
Some people have reported some ghosting issues, but we haven’t seen any of that. We have played with the Korean G Flex back in November, and that one didn’t exhibit those issues as well. It’s hard to vouch for the general display quality based on two samples, but given LG’s track of record on the matter, I tend to think that some bad units slipped through QA and that this is not a generalized problem. If you have a G Flex, drop a comment.
Camera (good+, needs OIS)
In term of photography, the LG G Flex provides good results, but it feels like it can’t quite touch the LG G2 in low-light and that’s mainly due to the lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) in this particular camera module. OIS allows the camera to utilize a lower shutter speed, which in turns allows more light to come in contact with the image sensor. Of course, more light means better image quality. The only downside of OIS is that moving objects will tend to be blurry, but the static ones will look fine and well lit.
Still, the camera shot some nice pictures – at least for web use – and it still fares better than an iPhone 4/4S but the 5S will beat it, along LG’s own G2 of course. If you upload that dark diner scene or foodie picture into your Facebook timeline, it will tend to look great. I have uploaded a number of photo samples, in full-resolution, so feel free to look for yourself. Check the full-size images on the Ubergizmo Flickr account
As you can see in the video above, the lack of OIS is more problematic for videos, and I have uploaded a good example below. it video was shot by someone else with the G Flex, and it shows the motorcade of French president Francois Hollande zipping by in San Francisco, near the Ubergizmo office. As you can see when the user walks around, the lack of stabilization makes things jerky and not very nice to use. If you can keep the camera steady, the quality is pretty decent.
Software (Android 4.2.2)
The G Flex launched in the U.S with Android 4.2.2 and at this point there’s no way to tell when 4.4 will eventually make its way to this model. The good news for me is that I don’t particularly need any 4.4 feature, but maybe you do. As always, LG has added a number of proprietary features and here are the remarkable ones:
Dual-window: since the phone is so big, it’s possible to use two windows in landscape mode and still have very readable text. I personally don’t use that feature, maybe except with email since a preview can be nice. Alternatively, I can also “swipe” from left to right to browse emails sequentially.
Slide Aside is for the multi-taskers. It basically let you switch between three apps faster than with the native Android multi-task manager. It’s not going to change your life, but if you always go from one app to the next, it adds a little bit of comfort and reduces the wait time in-between apps.
KnockOn simply replaces the use of the Physical Power control with a double-tap on the screen. To turn the phone on and off. I really like this and use it quite a bit since I don’t need to search for a Power button on the side or in the back, so it’s actually faster. I’ll take any little productivity gain that I can, and since I must turn my phone on and off 100 times a day, this one is worth it.
Entertainment (very good+)
Movies (beautiful): we all know that large display phones have an inherent advantage when it comes to multimedia/entertainment. It is particularly true when the display is as nice as the G Flex’s one and the net result is a superb video/movie experience, a grand photo slideshow experience. There is no question about these two.
Video games (fast!): not much of a surprise here: the combination of a fast Snapdragon 800 chip and a 720p HD pretty much guarantees high frame rates. Since 720p means that “only” 1 million pixels have to be rendered instead of 2M, it can make a huge impact on performance. Now, keep in mind that developers could also render in 720p and upscale the image on a 1080p screen to improve framerates, so higher resolution does not always mean slower rendering in games. Obviously, playing on a bigger screen is much more “immersive”, if that term applies to a pocketable device at all. But in any case, it’s much (much!) better than on a 4” device.
Loudspeaker (OK, no particular praise): the sound coming from the LG Flex is pretty good, but one would expect it to be “bigger”, given how the phone looks. Since the loudspeaker is located in the bottom-back, the sound tends to come from one side when the phone is in landscape mode. In terms of volume, the sound could be louder, but the quality is fine, and not saturated. The sound will cost the Flex a potential “Excellent” rating, but given that most people enjoy multimedia activities with headphones, I will rate this category to “very good+”.
System performance (very good)
With a fast hardware platform, I was expecting the benchmark results to be on-par with other Snapdragon 800 phones, like the Note 3, XPERIA Z1 or the Galaxy Round just to cite a few. That’s pretty much true for Antutu 4, where the G Flex scores like those phones. However, the scores are lagging in other benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark IceStorm Unlimited.
Since there is virtually no real-world games/apps with built-in benchmark that stresses the hardware like these synthetic benchmarks, it’s hard to put my finger on a plausible explanation. Most likely, LG didn’t spend as much time as Samsung and others to optimize for these benchmarks (or maybe Samsung “optimized” for them too much…). Although I could see how a G2 may be thermally restraint, the size of the G Flex would suggest that it is not. Without cracking it open to look at the components layout, I can’t have a definitive answer to that.
These results are surprising because the perceived performance of the G Flex makes it feels like other Snapdragon 800 smartphone, so unless you truly want to have a “benchmark winning” phone, I don’t think that you should care that much. Again, benchmarks are an interesting indicator, but we wouldn’t recommend purchasing a device based on those scores.
Battery Life (excellent)
With a battery capacity of 3500 mAh, the LG flex has one of the most impressive battery on the market. The obvious challenger in that space is the Huawei Mate 2 which has a monstrous capacity of 4000 mAh. Some of the extra battery capacity is actually needed to power the large OLED screen, since LG’s IPS LCD displays tend to be more power-efficient than OLED counterparts.
In a real-world use, I found the battery life to be excellent, check this out: streaming 60mn video from Google Play (WiFi) did cost about 10% of the battery, so that’s an extrapolated 10 hours of video streaming. Watching videos saved in the local memory is comparable at 9%, so this is 11.1 hours of HD video.
A high-quality 3D video games (Riptide GP demo loop) took out 15% of the battery, which would translate to a great 6.6hrs of racing at 60 frames per second. Impressive. Finally, the overnight depletion with LTE, WIFI and notifications ON is about 4%, which is very good as well. All in all, the G Flex offers an excellent battery life.
Conclusion (very good+)
The G Flex has not been designed to please the majority. As such, it can be a very polarizing phone, but it is a big phone that also happens to be a fairly tough cookie. I wouldn’t say that it is rugged, but it can much more punishment than an iPhone or a Sony XPERIA just to cite two designs that are more sensitive to drops on hard surfaces.
The main reason for wanting the G Flex is that it is a very comfortable phone to use, especially if you type a lot of emails, or if you enjoy using a huge, high-quality display. It’s true that the 6” display is not full-HD, but I was very happy with the 720p resolution, and just about no-one realized that it was not full-HD. It’s funny how these things work.
Finally, while I find the curved design to be very aesthetic and pleasing in general, I wouldn’t say that it makes a big difference in ergonomic terms, unless you have the G Flex in your back pocket, in which case it does matter. While it’s a great phone, and I’m happy to give it an 8/10 score for those who like big phones, I think that LG can improve the “plastic” feel a little by using a slightly different plastic. I would like to see a better camera as well, something like the LG G2 or better. Then it would get that much closer to perfection.
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