Tuesday, March 18, 2014

LG G Flex: To Curve or Not to Curve


In December 2013, LG released a new type of phone that was sure to turn heads and challenge the status quo. A phone that is not only radical and innovative, but is also large and curved. That’s right, LG introduced the LG G Flex smartphone which has a 6 inch concave curved display. Admittedly, when I first heard about this phone I thought two things: a 6 inch screen is too big, and curved is completely unnecessary.

Curved displays are sure to be ahead their time. No one is going to want one of those. Why would you need your phone to “flex”? I couldn't get over the idea. Not of just a phone so large, but also one that literally curved from head to toe. What is the practicality behind all this curvature thinking? 

I am so glad to say that I was sadly mistaken. All the misnomers in my head disappeared almost instantly when I held the G Flex in my hands. The hardware was quite beautiful, sleek, dare I say it, sexy! Stick around after the break to learn everything there is to know about the LG G Flex and what its curve has in store for you.


Let me begin this review by advising you that my personal phone’s screen size has been between 4.5 or 4.7 inches. Droid X was 4.5. Galaxy Nexus was 4.65. Moto X is 4.7. I’m a short guy. My hands aren't that big. Therefore, I don’t feel as though I can stick myself with a large 5.5 to 6 inch screen for the length of a full 2 year contract. And we have to admit that the 2 year contract weighs heavily on our decisions, because most of us have to live with that choice for the whole 2 years before we can buy a new one at the discounted upgrade prices.


While I was testing this phone, the comments I heard were “Whoa! That’s a phone?”, “Holy crap that’s a big screen," and "It’s curved? Cool!”, I even heard “Is that really just a phone in your pocket?”

The attention this phone gets shows that LG is making waves in the public's eye. Right now, the Samsung Note series is the largest phone most people have seen or heard about. And the LG G Flex is half an inch larger than the Note 2 and 3/10 of an inch larger than the Note 3, which was released only 2 months prior. Samsung attempted a curved display of their own with the Samsung Galaxy Round, but many will argue they curved it in the wrong direction which is from side to side, while the LG G Flex’s curve is from top to bottom. But what does the curve of the G Flex bring to the smartphone culture that nothing else has? That’s a very good question, so let’s begin dishing it out.

The Hardware

The display of the LG G Flex is 6 inches wide and has a 720p HD resolution. It’s not made of glass like most other smartphones, but instead it’s made of a curved plastic. The design decision literally puts the Flex in its name. While I personally would cringe if someone placed such an expensive piece of hardware in their back pocket of their jeans and then sat on it, LG welcomes this scenario and allows the phone to physically flex and take the pressure without damaging the display or the internals. While I didn't capture it on video, I was able to place the phone flat on the desk, put my hand on its back, press down, and get it to lay flat. There was no cracking or any sounds whatsoever that made me think I was damaging the device.


The 720p HD portion of the display specifications sounded nice at first, but wasn't quite up to snuff. While smaller phones are packing a 1080p resolution and looking brilliant, the 720p resolution on the G Flex was too low in my opinion. Also, the fact that the screen was so large, made it a bit more obvious that there is room for improvement. Background colors such as menus are distorted. The good news is that if you turn the brightness all the way up it gets better, and you probably won’t have to worry about this effecting your battery life.

To pay a little bit more attention to the curved display of the G Flex, I’m going to point out a few quick advantages. You can reach the top of the large 6 inch display easier because the brow is a bit closer than if it were flat. The speaker on the back rests above the flat surface it is set on so the sound is not muffled. However, it’s still not loud enough to clearly hear all game sounds or people talking in a video without cupping it with your hand to try to project the sound to the front. They put the speaker on the bottom of the LG G2. I personally would like to see that placement more often. The curvature goes around your cheek as you are talking on the phone. Lastly, the glare is reduced since the screen is not in a single flat angle to the light.

As well as the display being curved, the LG G Flex was able to also provide the first ever curved battery. Measured at 3,500 mAh, this battery is sure to give you plenty of juice to make it through a heavy day and then some. During my tests, I was able to get an average of 15 and half hours per day with 20-25% battery life remaining. The battery gauge estimated I had about 3 hours left before it was totally drained. The fact that the battery is non-removable should not be a problem as this one keeps going and going.


An average of 15.5 hours on a single charge over 4 days of testing
The two cameras on this phone are 13 MP on the back and 2.1 MP on the front. The 13 MP camera snapped some decent pics,  ones you can be proud to share on social media. Although, I did expect a bit more clarity from a 13MP. Also, LG has software for OIS which is Optical Image Stabilization. Why they left it out of this phone, I don’t know. It could have really made a difference. The front camera was not as bad as I thought it would be. Pretty good for the occasional selfie. 
Rear Camera
Front Camera
LG introduced a brand new feature with the LG G2 last year, and they repeated it here in the G Flex: Buttons on the back of the phone. Up until now, all the buttons have been on the side or even on the front of the phones. LG has removed all physical buttons from the front and sides of the devices, and placed the power and volume buttons on the back. They fall pretty much exactly where your index finger should be when you are holding the phone with only one hand, just below the camera.

Although this is the first phone I've held with buttons laid out in this fashion, there was something oddly familiar in this feature. It felt more natural than buttons on the side which you press with your thumb. I didn't find myself having to re-grip the phone or slide it up or down in my hand to press them, my index finger was already there, and I was never accidentally pushing them like I do sometimes with the palm of my hand on side buttons. But not only is the placement nice, but the size of the buttons are nice as well. They are larger than usual, about the size of your finger tip. It was easy to tell which button you were pressing without having to turn the device around to look.

Before I move on, let me remind you of the dangers of putting your phone in the same pocket or purse right next to your keys or loose change. The majority of us senior smartphone users have learned not to do this. Why? Because of inevitable scratches on the front or the back of the phone. Now enter the next coolest feature of the LG G Flex, a self-healing back plate. With the self-healing back, these type of scratches on the back of the phone are now a thing of the past. This technology will actually remove minor scratches from the surface of the back plate over time to where they actually completely disappear. I didn't try this one out myself on a demo device. But here is a demo video made by LG.


There are a few additional hardware specifications about the LG G Flex that I want to touch on quickly. The processor is a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800. One of the newest on the market as of now. Standard storage option is 32 GB which is actually larger than their tablet the G Pad 8.3 and will leave you plenty of room for music, movies and lots of applications. It has 2GB of RAM which helps make interactions lightning fast. There is no stutter in this phone when navigating between apps or jumping from screen to screen. It comes loaded with Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 which is 3 iterations behind as of right now. And in the states, the G Flex is available on Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Sorry Verizon customers, no Flex for you. I’m sure that was LG’s call though.


The Software

On the software side of the house, LG takes the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. Utilizing the open source approach that Android is built on, LG graces the screen with custom icons, colors, and other custom options for the user. Build as many (or as few) home screens as you like. Sort the apps in the drawer in a custom fashion. So many customizable options, I’m only scratching the surface. But that is what is beautiful about the Android operating system, choice.

LG has chosen to build a few proprietary applications that it puts on all its new hardware, whether they are tablets or phones. I've reviewed a few of them already in the LG G Pad 8.3 review, but let me scan over a few of them again, because they really are just too good not to mention.

This large screen has on-screen navigation. The back, home, recent apps, and settings buttons are all on the screen as opposed to being stuck in the same place on the physical hardware. The advantage to on-screen is that the buttons rotate with the screen or even disappear when they are not needed, giving the full screen to the movie you are watching. LG went further and added some additional options that the user can choose to place in the row of navigation buttons. Along with those 4 built in buttons I mentioned before, the user could choose to put a button that opens the LG Quick Memo app. Since this is a 6 inch screen and it's hard to reach the top of it, how about another button that pulls down the notification tray for you.


To top it all off, you can sort them differently or even change the colors from black with white buttons or white with black buttons. Oh, and I almost forgot one feature. Since the screen is so large and not all hands are, you can swipe left or right on the row of navigation buttons and then they will gather close to that side, so you don’t have to worry about dropping the phone just to hit whichever button is way over there on the opposite side of the screen.

One of my other favorites is LG's Knock On feature. While the phone screen is off, double tap the blank screen and it will wake the phone up. Double tap an empty place from any home screen, to turn the screen back off. Also, if you are in any app, you can double tap across the top on the notification tray to turn the screen off as well.

The LG G Flex does come along with LG’s interesting Quick Remote app. There is a built-in infrared blaster on the back of the phone next to the camera, opposite from the flash. Since the phone curves up, when you point the phone at the TV like a remote control, that part of the phone is actually pointing in the right direction. The Quick Remote allows you to use the phone as a universal remote for your TV, satellite box, cable box, DVD or Blu-Ray player. It even works with some of the newer air conditioning units that come with remote controls. My friend has a new LG air conditioner that is mounted pretty high in the room and I've seen him use the remote that comes with it. I've also had to help him find that tiny remote. First, I never would have thought of a remote control air conditioner. Second, with LG’s Quick Remote, he would never worry about losing that little tiny 3 button remote control, because we keep better tabs on our phones, am I right?

I’d like to also mention Qslide apps and the Slide Aside feature. This is another LG feature prevalent on all the new LG mobile products. This feature allows you to open up to 3 proprietary apps and tuck them away into the left side of the home screen. The gesture is a bit awkward. You have to swipe with three fingers on the screen at once. It doesn't feel very natural and I found myself hitting and opening apps from the home screen without meaning too because not all 3 fingers hit the screen at the same time.




Now for some nitty gritty G Flex special software, are you ready for this? This screen is large and can support a Dual Window application which will allow you to open two apps at one time. Search the web and respond to a text. Write an email as you view a YouTube video. Dual window functionality is very easy on this device. Being able to continue watching the YouTube video while responding to a text message makes for a very useful tool.

Because of the shape and curve of the G Flex, you are going to enjoy talking on this phone, and to make things a little bit easier, LG provided Answer Me. With this function enabled, all you have to do is put the phone to your ear in order to answer a call. No swiping a button or unlocking it first. Just “ring, ring” then “hello”. If you think about it, that makes it just like a regular landline telephone. The curve of this phone against your face when using it to actually talk to someone on the other end makes it fit so well to your cheek. The microphone is right next to your lips, while the earpiece is right by your ear. I've seen some people actually move the phone back and forth from ear to lips as they listen and then respond. This phone removes the need for that type of usage all together.

The G Flex Swing Screen is a very cool feature. The Swing Screen does a few different things. The background image is a scene of a lake and the sky above it. It changes with the time of day. It turns dark in the evening and the moon comes out. It gets lighter in the morning and the sun comes up. It also shows the weather patterns. I woke up one morning and it was raining on my phone. The swing part of this feature comes into play as you tilt your phone up or down. As if panning up to look at the sky, then back down to look at the water in the lake. An additional cool factor is the reaction of the screen when you unlock it. If you touch the water to unlock the phone, there is a ripple effect. If you touch the sky to unlock the phone, it shows a different effect which LG calls “eclipse”. Very neat unlock technique.


LG put an LED behind the power button which means it now doubles as a notification light. It will blink when you have unread email, texts, or missed calls. Additionally, it will help you take selfies with the 13MP rear camera. Since you wouldn't be able to see yourself centered or focused on the screen, the light will blink to let you know both of those things and that it’s ready to snap the pic. When the screen is off and you hold down the volume up button, it unlocks and jumps right into the LG Quick Memo app. Hold down the volume down button and it unlocks and quickly jumps into the camera app. Combine a few of those extra LG tweaks and you can unlock the phone, open the camera, snuggle close to your friend then snap a focused pic and you haven’t even turned it around to look at the screen yet.

Final Thoughts

The LG G Flex definitely has the cool factor going for it. The hardware turns heads: massive screen, curved display, rear buttons. All that adds up to a few extra cool points with your friends. As you can see they packed a lot of “cool” and “neat” into this phone. I assume they are really testing the waters with this first curved option though. I say this because the screen is a bit of a let down for clarity and resolution. I didn't think that you can visually tell a difference between 720p and 1080p. Side by side you definitely can, otherwise usually not. But in the G Flex’s display, it’s large. I expected a resolution that would have an impact. But to face the truth, there are smaller phones with better clarity. Maybe if this G Flex hits big, the second iteration will bring the 1080p.

The back is a plastic polymer; it is a finger print magnet for sure. However, it’s scratch resistant. I' m pretty sure you can't get that feature from a metal phone. The button placement is almost perfect. A little lower would be nice. I felt I was holding the phone just a little too high in order to rest my index finger on the buttons. Overall call quality was good. Voices from both ends were clear, no problems there. The LG software can be a bit much if you are used to something like Google’s pure Android experience or Motorola’s minimal skin. But if you are used to Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, it should be no problem. Compared to Samsung, LG is a little lighter.

LG G Flex compared in size to an iPhone 5S
Is the size right for you? I’m 5 foot 7 inches and my hands fit my stature. Despite all the one handed features and slick tricks LG built into this phone, the phone is still too big for me. I like to use my phone one handed as much as possible. I could not do that with the G Flex. It is for sure a two handed device. I have to assume though that if you are a 6 foot 5 inch or taller type person, your hands would fit your stature and therefore they would fit this phone much better. The average height of a male in the US is 5’ 9” and the average height of a female in the US is 5’ 4” so I don’t know that one handed will go very far for the average person is all I’m trying to say. If naturally you use two hands for your phone, you will have no problem.

There are a lot of “ifs” that would make this phone useful, which makes me think it’s not for everybody. If you watch a lot of video, its large screen is great for that, but the resolution needs to be clearer. If you have big hands, you can reach the different parts of the screen better. If you are ok with the massive phone in your pocket, then the G Flex may be the phone for you.

Optical Image Stabilization would have made the camera better, BUT it is pretty decent as it is. Most people really check out the camera quality first these days. Personally I feel it’s on par with the Moto X, but not up to par compared to the LG G2, the Samsung Galaxy S4, or the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

I do have 2 friends who love large screen phones. I let both of them look at this device and play with it for a good hour or so. Both had similar responses. The screen could be clearer, the LG keyboard is not intuitive enough, but the size, the curve, and the button placement are great.

What do you think? Have you had an opportunity to use the LG G Flex? Are you impressed by the size and curve? Let us know what you think or ask any questions I missed in the review in the comments below.

Gallery

 


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