LG G Flex review: the birth of a new era

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The flexible and bendable display era is finally here. Last year, both LG and Samsung introduced smartphones with flexible displays. Neither of which are getting all that much excitement since the displays aren’t as flexible as people were hoping for. However, I like to look at these phones as concepts if you will. They represent the birth of something that will be truly incredible years down the road. Eventually you will be able to bend and fold up your phone, but for now we get curvy, with a little bit of give. LG opted to curve their phone from top to bottom (in portrait mode), while Samsung chose to curve theirs from left to right (again in portrait mode). LG seemed to make the better choice as it just feels and looks more natural. But is it worth the extra money? Head on past the break to find out.

Design

The G Flex sports a very glossy plasticy brushed metal look, which means very shiny and slippery. If you have read any of my past reviews, you know I don’t care for slippery devices. Also, for some reason, the phone attracts dust like bees to honey. You could bring this phone into a dust-free production facility and trust me, this thing will find dust. Now this might not be all that noticeable to most people. but it was a royal pain for me when trying to take pictures of the device.

As I mentioned earlier, the curve of the phone is from top to bottom when holding the phone in portrait mode. The curve itself offers features that you wouldn’t know such as the fact that the microphone is closer to your mouth when you talk on the phone. The rear hands free speaker is also louder since the sound can bounce off your desk. Probably the best feature is that it’s very comfortable for calls. It’s almost like going back to the old days when home phones actually were designed to fit the contour of your face.

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Now the G Flex has a 6-inch display so it’s pretty big, but it’s fairly thin, 160.5 x 81.6 x 8.7mm. So you have two things going on. It has a curved display. but it also fits into the phablet category. You are going to have to like large phones to dig the G Flex. The fact that it’s curved doesn’t make the phone feel much smaller.

Just like the G2, the power and volume controls are on the back of the device. I’m still not a fan of this design, but it’s more palatable on something like the smaller G2. LG’s reasoning for placing the controls on the back is to allow users to operate the phone with one hand, but that is impossible with this phone unless your hands are huge. Sure you can pick it up with one hand and press the power button, but you will need your other hand to unlock it. That is if you haven’t managed to drop it from the slipperiness.

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I should also mention that, although I am not in love with the G Flex body, it is self healing. Scratches magically disappear after applying warmth to it. I didn’t test it out since both of my units are for review, but we did do a demo at CES, so take a look here. Just understand that deep scratches will likely never get “healed.” The other interesting thing is the phone does indeed flex. If you lay it down on a table face down, you can push on it, thus straightening it. Upon releasing it, the phone will go back to its natural curved shape.

You won’t find all that much in terms of buttons and ports on the top, bottom and sides of the phone since it sports on-screen buttons as well as the rear controls I already mentioned. The left side has the micro SIM port and the bottom has the microUSB port and microphone jack. The notification light is within the power button, but you will also find a small light at the top left of the front of the device as well. The rear camera lens sits right on top of the up volume control, just like on the G2.

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As to carrier branding, I have both the Sprint and AT&T versions. The Sprint version has no carrier branding and has the LG logo on the back, while the AT&T version sports the logo on the back as well as “G Flex.”

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I like the curved aspect of the G Flex, but I would have loved to seen it implemented in something more like the G2’s size, and in a less slippery body.

Hardware

The G Flex has a 6-inch 720p (1280 x 720) OLED display (245 ppi), a 2.26 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, NO microSD slot for expansion, 13MP rear camera with  f/2.4 aperture and LED flash (no OIS), 2.1MP front-facing camera, Bluetooth v4.0+LE, Wi-Fi dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and 3.500mAH battery.

Radios

AT&T (Model D950) – GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; UMTS: 850/1900/2100MHz; LTE Bands 2, 4, 5, 17

Sprint (Model LS995) – GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, UMTS 850/1900/2100, LTE Bands 25/26/41

Performance 

There isn’t much to say about the performance of the G Flex other than it flies, thanks to the Snapdragon 800. I would have preferred to see 3GB of RAM, but they opted for 2GB instead. However, you won’t notice a difference. Throw any app or game at this phone and will handle it without hesitation. I did run the obligatory AnTuTu benchmark, which came in at 36,164, right up there with the best of them.

With a 6-inch display, you are probably figuring this phone has 1080p resolution , but surprisingly they opted for 720p. We suspect the reason is more of a hardware limitation from LG’s flexible panel. So yes, all the display connoisseurs will tell you that it doesn’t look all that pleasing, but coming from a person who isn’t a display snob, it doesn’t look all that bad. The colors are vibrant and the viewing angles are spectacular (boosted by the curve as well). Plus there is one other very big benefit from 720p and that is battery life. A perfect segway for our next section…

Battery

The G Flex has a whopping 3.500mAh battery, which is right up there with the DROID MAXX. How can LG fit such a big battery in a curved device such as this? Well the answer is quite simple, the battery is curved. Throw in the fact that the display is only 720p, and you have the makings of some pretty good battery life. In fact, it was so good, that even I was shocked. In my usual battery rundown test, I was able to get 18 hours and 48 minutes, which is absolutely amazing. There are few phones that can even achieve that with just regular useage, let alone constant video. My rundown test consists of looping video while the device is connected to LTE, and Wi-Fi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected), and GPS are turned on. Now I know most normal days won’t consist of running video all the time, so how long can you go with this bad boy? You should have no problem making it through 2 days with normal to heavy useage. In terms of battery life, you won’t find a better phone.

Software

The G Flex has Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which is a huge disappointment. LG doesn’t have the best track record with updating existing phones, and the fact that they can’t release a new phone with the current version of Android (now 4.4.2 KitKat) doesn’t bode well for timely updates in the future. As far as LG’s skinned user experience and proprietary add ons, you are pretty much getting what the G2 has, which includes QSlide, Slide Aside, Knock On, Text Link, Quick Remote, and Guest Mode. I won’t get into much detail about them here since we already posted guides on each, so hit the appropriate link for more information. You can also learn more about the interface and camera functions here.

Now LG did add a new feature found only in the G Flex (likely to come to the G2). The first is a new multi-screen mode that allows you to display two apps at the same time. This is different from QSlide in that you don’t resize the apps, each one takes up half the display. To get to it, you press and hold the back button. You will then see all the apps that are compatible: Videos, Browser, Messaging, Email, Gallery, Chrome, Memo, YouTube, Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, Dictionary, and the File Manager. Just tap on any of the icons (or drag) to open the app. Then tap on another app (or drag) to open above or below the app you opened previously (left or right in landscape mode). It is very similar to Samsung’s Multi Window option. One cool thing LG added is that when you long press the back key again, the last set of apps you used will be displayed as a choice so you can quickly open up the same two apps again. Another nice touch is that if you click on a link from within an email, the browser will open in this multi-screen mode rather than opening the link separately.

I should also note that you will find some differences with the software based on the carrier version. We saw this with the Optimus G. For example, the AT&T version has a tabbed layout for the Settings menu, while the Sprint version is more like stock Android (constant vertical scroll).

As I said in my G2 review, the interface reminds me of TouchWiz in that it is full of a bunch of stuff that in the end is not all that useful.

Camera

I have been impressed with what LG has been doing in terms of the camera, but the G Flex suffers a little with the lack of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). OIS not only helps keep things steady, but it’s also very important for low light situations. In outdoor shots, the G Flex was excellent, including action shots, but once you get indoors, things weren’t as good. It’s still a darn good camera and comparable to the Galaxy S 4 and Note 3, but I would have preferred to see OIS added. My understanding is they couldn’t get the sensor to fit, which is understandable. Here are some example shots….

Outdoors

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Outdoors – Action

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Outdoors – Gloomy

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Indoors – Low Light

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Indoors – Extreme Low Light

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Closing

The G Flex is a cool phone, but not something I can recommend. It costs $100 more (on contract) than other phones with the same or better specs, but even though the curve is kind of sexy and feels natural, it doesn’t seem enough to justify the extra money ($299 on contract). Give me this same curve with a 5-inch to 5.25-inch display, an OIS camera, and a price of $199, and I might be all over it. For now, unless you’re someone who wants to grab some attention when you whip out your phone, you are better off waiting for the next generation, and most likely the next generation after that.

 

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.