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IT & Systems Management

LG G Flex review: a curved smartphone that doesn't have its act straight

Companies like LG and Samsung have touted what they can do with flexible displays for years now. At trade shows, we'd see totally bendable displays and devices with screens that curved around your wrist or rolled up like wrapping paper. All those exhibits felt like a tease for technology that would never make it to market, so it was a welcome surprise when LG announced its G Flex curved phone.

But it doesn't feel like this is the right time for a curved smartphone like the G Flex. It's display is bent every-so-sightly to help you see better, make the phone more comfortable to hold, and make it easier for the person on the other end of the line to hear you, but the device has some kinks to work out before it can convince consumers it's worth the cash. 

Nothin' but curves

The G Flex is the biggest Android handset from LG that we've reviewed thus far. At 160.5 x 81.6 x 8.7mm, it lords over its predecessor, the LG G2, and it's almost as big as Nokia's gigantic Lumia 1520.

The bend in its body actually makes it easier to hold, at least for my small hands, and it's relatively thin compared to other phablet-sized phones on the market. The curve in its chassis also helps distract from the fact that its plastic casing is a bit flimsy.

Regardless, I like the curve in the G Flex. It makes the phone feel more "premium" than it actually is. The bend helps the phone rest comfortably in the palms of your hands for two-handed typing. I'd wager that curved smartphones will even help offset how awkward it actually is to hold a giant phone.

LG continues the trend of installing a volume rocker and power buttons on the backside. It was awkward on the G2 and it's even more awkward on the G Flex because of its larger size. There is also a "self-healing" backing which LG says is designed to be more scratch resistant to daily wear and tear or minors scuffs and scratches. Warmer temperatures and time are supposed to help with the healing process, but we didn't have a chance to really put it to the test.

Bigger display, fewer pixels

LG is known for its stellar looking displays. The Optimus G and Optimus G Pro were both impressive for their time, and the G2's display carried on that legacy. But the G-Flex's 6-inch P-OLED display is a far departure from its predecessors.

The "P" in P-OLED stands for "polymer," which refers to the display's plastic construction--that's how LG managed to curve it. That nascent plastic display compromises pixel density, however, and at 245 pixels-per-inch (ppi), the G Flex's 720p display has one of the lowest pixel counts for a large-screen phone.

There display does have a redeeming virtue, however: the curve in the display helps reduce the reflectance of ambient and overhead lighting. It's easier to see the phone outside in broad daylight and in theory, because you're not always cranking up the brightness, you'll save a few percent on battery life over time. But because the display is curved inward, you might have a hard time watching a video with a friend. 

A speedy device that'll last you a whole day

The G Flex is essentially a blown-up version of its sibling, the G2. It features a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. It's just as speedy as the last few devices we reviewed with the same processor, including the Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3. You'll need that boost in power when you're dealing with LG's bloated Optimus UI, the overlay that resides on top of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

The G Flex's battery life is particularly impressive. The phone's 3,500mAh battery pack lasted a whopping 10 hours and 20 minutes in our battery benchmark tests, wherein we loop a video repeatedly until the handset peters out. It also lasted three days on one charge on standby. The G Flex beat out its predecessor, the G2, but not the Galaxy Note 3. 

Despite the gargantuan size, you won't want to use the G Flex as a boom box. I cranked up the volume when listening to some music, and it sounded strained--perhaps because there is only one speaker hole for music to go through. It'll be sufficient for speaker phone and video calls, but I suggest hooking up an amplifying external speaker if you want to rock out.

Don't forget your point-and-shoot

There were times when the device took a photo worthy of quick sharing with my friends, and others when I'd have to retake it because it was so blurry. It was especially unpredictable in low-light situations, though it fared well in outdoor shots.

Interface in need of an overhaul

Just like the G2, the LG G Flex features a heavily skinned version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. It's currently two software versions behind the current iteration of Android and it's jam-packed with icons and things everywhere. Though Optimus UI isn't as gaudy as Samsung's TouchWiz, elements like the Notifications and Settings panels are so unintuitive.

The interface is also inconsistent across the Optimus UI's core applications. Though there are a few perks, like the ability to double tap on the screen to wake it up and the "pop up" Q Slide apps, I'd trade those features in for a much simpler, flatter interface.

It's too early to tell

The G Flex has something completely new to offer consumers, but with its low pixel density and extremely large size, it might have a problem reaching the mainstream. LG also doesn't have the marketing push in the US that Samsung does, which is why so many will see the Galaxy Note 3 before they notice the bigger curved phone across the way.

The G Flex's performance and comfortable form factor makes up for the fact that it's merely an experimental device from LG, but you'll have to get over its low pixel density and mediocre camera. Curved smartphones themselves aren't a gimmick--there are valuable reasons to consider one. Since this is just the beginning of the trend, we'll likely sit through several iterations until we find something worthwhile. 

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