Revolutionary or dud? That was the first thought to cross our minds as we took possession of our LG G Flex.
Along with the Samsung Galaxy Round, the LG G Flex is the first shot at more unusually shaped phones. But is it the shape of things to come, or just another blip of eccentricity in smartphone history, following the steps of other “unique” phones that have come before (remember the Nokia 7280 and Nokia 7710?)
As is so often the case, it’s a bit of both.
Curved in all the right places
The weird shape will grab the headlines, but let’s not forget that the 6in screen also essentially makes this LG’s very first phablet.
That doesn’t mean you’re getting a huge slab of phone on your face, though. Measuring in at 160.5 x 81.6 x 8.7 mm, this is smaller in every direction than the HTC One Max, despite having an extra 0.1in of screen real estate. At 177g it’s lighter, too, so if you’re hankering for phablet fun but have so far been dissuaded by the digit-stretching dimensions, the G Flex is already looking like the phone for you.
Then there’s the shrinking effect of the curved design, which makes the Flex seem far smaller than it really is. Depending on how you angle it, it can look like a pretty normal-sized smartphone. As you might expect, the curvature also improves ergonomics. An added benefit that we weren’t expecting is how nicely the curve cups the buttocks when the phone is in your jeans back pocket. Don’t judge us.
Worried that the curved design could result in a snapped smartphone? LG claims the G Flex can withstand 80kg of weight on top of it, and although our pre-Christmas extra pounds prevented us from all-out standing on it, pushing down on the top and bottom edges resulted in no creaks or cracks. This wasn’t an accident-free test (more on that later) but we’ve been given no reason to doubt the structural integrity of the device.
Flex, heal thyself
If there was one other thing that really caught our attention, it was LG’s claim of a back cover that would heal itself from scratches and scuffs - sounds a lot like sheer science fiction.
It goes against all of our gadget-loving instincts, but we ran some keys over the rear of the Flex to test it out, and sure enough the back seemed to heal itself. It took a little while, but the scratches receded, and we were left with what appeared to be an unblemished backside. Alright, so some careful angling of the phone still shows some traces of the scratches, but in everyday use they’re imperceptible, and that’s some mighty impressive hocus pocus.
And then we took it too far. We won’t go into details, but suffice to say the G Flex can’t heal scissor wounds.
Just like the G2, with some new tricks
Take the curve out of the equation and there are a lot of similarities between the G Flex and G2, from the physical design to the processing grunt and the Optimus UI skin that sits on top of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.
Features such as the “tap of life” (double-tap the screen to awaken it from sleep), IR Blaster, Slide Aside, Quick Remote and the rest make their appearance and work just as well as they do on the G2. Of course you also get a fair amount of useless clutter in there, as you did with the G2, but it’s relatively easy to ignore.
The G Flex also has some additions. One of them is the Quick Theatre feature. It makes full use of the curved screen and lets you access your pictures, videos and YouTube directly from the lock screen. All you have to do is drag outwards with two fingers and voila – it’s like opening up the curtains to a world of fun.
The other addition is the Dual Window feature that allows you to run two apps side by side. It’s a great way to make use of the G Flex’s screen estate, and only held back by the fact that it’s limited to just a handful of (largely pre-installed) apps.
We’re also happy to admit that we’re rather smitten with the live, motion-sensing wallpaper on the lock screen. It’s got a day and night cycle and when you tilt the phone forward and back the background slides with the curve. Pointless but pretty, and sometimes that’s ok.
Even more power than the mighty G2
The Flex runs on the same 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 as its G2 sibling but here it performs almost identically. If figures are your thing, our AnTuTu benchmark of the Flex produced a score of 35,028, just a smidge over the G2’s 34,191.
Unsurprisingly the real-world performance is similarly, well, similar. We experienced practically no stutter or lag in our Flex test, even when throwing a whole bunch of 3D games, HD videos and web pages at it simultaneously.
Web browsing is especially smooth, loading up sites quickly and without any perceptible lag, while page scrolling is beautifully fluid and smooth. You’ll obviously want to hook up to an LTE network if you want to take advantage of that rendering power.
No full HD? That can’t be
In all of its hurry to make the screen bend, LG appears to have forgotten to make the Flex Full HD, and on a 6in screen the 1280 x 720 resolution equates to a pixel density of just 245ppi. Sure enough, next to the 423ppi G2 it looks decidedly less detailed and sharp.
But that’s not to say the screen is bad in its own right. It’s bright enough to be clearly visible even in direct sunlight, and colours are natural and vibrant. As is becoming the norm for LG phones, skin tones are cooler than you’ll find on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but to our mind that makes them more realistic. The curvature of the screen does somehow make it more comfortable for extended movie sessions, and 6-inches is a great size for videos on the move.
And yet, in a way all of those great qualities only make us more disappointed at the lack of Full HD. This could have been a truly spectacular screen, but the last-gen resolution leaves you wanting more.
G Flex's camera trades OIS for selfies
The LG G Flex shares the same 13-megapixel camera as the LG G2, although there are some disappointing differences, chief among them are that it doesn’t come with optical image stabilization (OIS) and there’s only one flash, instead of the two on the G2.
The lack of OIS is pretty noticeable, from the higher chance of blurring to more graininess in low-light shots. It’s a better performer in good light, though, and outdoor shots benefit from accurate colours and good contrast.
The camera interface is exactly the same as that of the G2, albeit with a few additional goodies. You still get your HDR mode, VR panorama and dual camera functions built-in, but what’s new in the G Flex is the inclusion of a “selfie” mode, or Face Tracking, as LG calls it. This takes advantage of the colour-changing back button to help you take a more accurate selfie. Just set it to Face Tracking mode and try to take a selfie. The camera will then blink the back button to Yellow and once your face is sufficiently lined it’ll turn the button green, signalling the best time to snap your mug. Rumour has it taking pictures of your own face is pretty popular these days, so one or two people will probably find this pretty useful.
It just goes on and on and on…
If there was one thing that really impressed us when it came to the G2, it was the monstrous battery life. It averaged out to about 18 hours of usage in our review and that was on a 3000 mAH battery. The G Flex, with its 3500 mAH battery and fewer pixels to push, should perform even better, right?
Right. This is another Duracell Bunny-like device, pretty much negating the fairly minor disappointment of the battery being non-removable. We tried absolutely thrashing it with an endless mix of 3D games, heavy data and looping video and it lasted an impressive 10 hours, and with normal daily use that went right up to eighteen-and-a-half hours.
And “normal” for us still includes email checks, social media, lots of surfing and YouTubing, a bit of gaming and a few calls, not to mention both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on throughout. We reckon that with a bit of frugal use you could make the Flex last two full days.
And just like the G2, the charging time for the G Flex is pretty quick, charging up to about 20 percent in a mere 15 minutes.
There’s a lot about the G Flex that’s brilliant, from the searing performance to the massive battery life and unusual, bottom-hugging styling. But that only makes the disappointments even more frustrating.
This is a phone intended to make waves and grab attention, but the spec missteps prevent it from being the instant classic it could have been. Dropping the Full HD resolution and optical image stabilization of the G2 seems like madness.
Clearly it’s no dud, but neither is it revolutionary, particularly as there’s little genuine benefit to the curved design. It proves it can be done, though, and that opens the door to hopefully far more interesting and useful designs in the future. Give us back our Full HD, OIS and make it genuinely flexible, and we’ll be right at the front of the queue for the next Flex.
LG G Flex
An interesting experiment, but a couple of spec disappointments mean G Flex isn’t the absolute classic it could have been