LG deserve credit the LG G Flex is truly the start of a new generation of smartphones and with the first curved and flexible display and a self-healing back this is the first new phone since the iPhone that really pushes out the boundaries of what we believe is possible.
It seems that 2014 is the year of curved OLED displays be they on televisions or smartphones and LG have made a concerted effort to ship this phone outside of its native South Korea. Sprint today announced US availability starting from the end of January and UK networks EE, O2 and Vodafone are promising the G Flex in February.
So does the G Flex have the masses curious or is this a first generation flop? Lets find out.
Something very interesting happened today. We always have new unreleased phones with us when out and normally we are not approached and asked about the phones that we are testing. Even the incredibly unique Motorola Moto X with a bamboo back didn’t get a glance of curiosity. The G Flex was a different story, the moment that the curve was seen by anyone brought question after question about if it was the “bendable one” – It seemed that this phone already had the recognition that is reserved for a new iPhone or a new Galaxy S and that is before the marketing blitz even starts here in the UK.
The hardware is clearly eye-catching and imagination grabbing and is unmistakable. It all starts with the 6-inch plastic OLED bendable, curved display. This 720p display may lack the resolution of current full HD flagships but the viewing angles and colours are fantastic. The massive 6-inch display doesn’t feel as large as it should. It melts away in your hand thanks to the minimal bezel and the gentle curve. There are no buttons on the side of this phone as the back loaded G2 controls are integral to that feeling as there is no need to grab the sides of the phone and manipulate your hand to adjust volume or turn the phone on and off. It is as if those back buttons were made for the G Flex.
The rear of the G-Flex gives us a 13-Megapixel camera and the self-healing back. The rear of the device will repair light scratches and dings created by objects such as your keys or change in your pocket. This means that the G Flex can withstand most causes of phone damage due to physical trauma as long as you don’t drop it in water. Or shoot it. I can say with certainty that the video on YouTube of the G Flex against a rifle was always going to have one winner. But in your pocket this phone is extremely durable and it is a welcome benefit of the new curved form factor.
The first question posed by a device with no front or side mounted sleep/wake button is of course how to turn it on, and thankfully the G Flex keeps the intuitive knock-on functionality where a quick double-tap with your finger will either wake the phone or put it to sleep.
We’re big fans of LG’s tap-to-wake gesture, which brings up the lock screen with a sharp tap on the display, and the split-screen Dual Window mode makes more sense on a bigger panel. It’s straightforward to bring up, say, the email app and the gallery, and drag photos from one to the other.
The tweaks don’t end there, either. There’s Guest Mode, which allows a second lock screen PIN or pattern to be set up, accessing a limited account which can be only permitted to open certain approved apps. Slide Aside uses a three-finger swipe to multitask, while Plug & Pop triggers certain apps when accessories are plugged in, like Spotify when you jack in your headphones. Quick Remote, meanwhile, turns the G Flex into a universal remote control; somewhat unusually, the IR blaster is on the rear of the phone, to the left of the camera, rather than on the top edge, so you have to hold it out flat toward whatever you’re controlling rather than point as you might a regular remote.
Some of LG’s new features are intended to highlight the curved display, however. The Swing Lock screen uses the accelerometer to pan through a 180-degree vertical panorama ranging from sky to sea, as well as changing according to the time of day. It’s visual gloss, certainly, but it’s more interesting than the standard lock screen you’d find on most phones.
Smartphone benchmarks are a contentious topic these days, though if you’re of a mind to judge a device by how it ranks, the G Flex shouldn’t disappoint. In Quadrant, the phone scored a hefty 18,621, the Snapdragon 800 quad-core again demonstrating its mettle, while in AnTuTu it came in at 35,848. Still, the 895.7ms SunSpider result (where faster is better) is an outlier in the grand scheme of things, the LG taking roughly twice as long to finish as Apple’s iPhone 5s. Nonetheless, in day-to-day use, the G Flex simply flies, giving us no issues with jumping between apps, HD playback, and even split-screen multitasking.
LG is of the “more megapixels” school of smart phone photography, and so the G Flex gets a 13-megapixel main camera with autofocus and an LED flash, while a 2.1-megapixel secondary camera lives on the front above the display. Unfortunately, unlike on the G2, there’s no optical image stabilisation.
What the G Flex does borrow from the G2 is its camera app, which supports various shooting scenes, panoramic shots, an HDR mode, and more gimmicky options like a dual-camera mode which can combine images from the front and rear cameras simultaneously, and a “time machine” mode which introduces motion blur.
New to the G Flex is a special “selfies” mode, which takes advantage of the colour-changing rear button. While the front-facing camera can be used for vanity shots, the rear camera is higher resolution, and so when the camera app is set to “Face Tracking” focus it blinks the LED yellow during focusing and then lights it green when you’re properly framed. A similar system is used for timer shots, the LED blinking ever second of the countdown, and then flashing repeatedly when it’s just about to take the photo.
The end result is much akin to the G2, as long as the ambient lighting is decent. Outdoor shots are well balanced, with accurate colours and brightness. Macros do well, too. Unfortunately, the absence of optical image stabilisation makes itself known when the lighting dims, with more grain appearing and a greater chance of blur than we saw on the G2. It’s good, but we miss the OIS nevertheless it still is a camera worthy of the flagship status of the G Flex.
LG has managed to create innovative hardware and match it with good software with useful features. This is a smart phone that is easy to fall in love with as no one is going to be upset at a phone with a large display that isn’t awkward to hold and with plenty of horsepower to have both fun and work running smoothly and without hesitation – something the more powerful Galaxy Note 3 can’t manage at all times.
There are negatives though, the display resolution is one and the graininess of the OLED display on lower brightnesses isn’t ideal either but ultimately neither of these issues take away from the huge amount of enjoyment and reassurance that you get when using it. We also really hope that LG swiftly brings an Android 4.4 update to the G Flex as it isn’t really acceptable for a new phone to be launching with a version of Android that is 2 generations old (Jellybean 4.2.2).
Is this phone worth buying? Yes. Should you buy it? That depends on your budget but we would warn you that once you spend some time with this smartphone you won’t want a straight and flat phone again.