Curved displays are, without a doubt, this year’s big trend in consumer electronics—at least, if you ask Samsung or LG. Despite all the cynicism around it, there’s no denying that there is something inherently exciting and futuristic about the prospect of flexible displays. This time, LG was the first to the market to release a smartphone with this hot, new feature and it’s called the LG G Flex.
For many, the LG G2 was the surprise late hit of 2013 for LG. It was lightning fast, the display was big and bright, and even the camera was decent. And while I found its slimy plastic body, awkward cheap buttons, and ugly Android skin to really damper the experience, there were still plenty of reasons to like the G2. With the G Flex, LG seems to have taken every one of the features of the G2—both the good and the bad—and attached a different display on it.
But the big question still lingers: Is the LG G Flex a gimmick or LG’s next big thing?
HARDWARE: A massive, curved display attached to the LG G2
Since the display is really what the G Flex is all about, let’s get right to it. The G Flex has a massive 6” 720p display—and yes, it’s curved. The curve is certainly less subtle than I thought it was going to be, bending pretty substantially like the true banana phone it is. The curve itself seems more rational than the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Round, but it is still doesn’t quite justify itself. LG would rather call it an exciting new form factor and move on before trying to explain to consumers why they might want a smartphone with a curved display.
I suppose something like whether or not you want a curved phone is a matter of personal taste, but the display on the G Flex just did not do anything special for me. Don’t get me wrong—it’s incredibly eye-catching device and you’ll more than likely get a few stares if you walk around in public with this thing. But in all honesty, it feels more like I am using a phone that someone accidentally sat on than some exciting piece of new technology. Watching videos in portrait mode feels particularly odd, as does doing pretty much anything else in landscape mode.
Let’s not forget that the display’s 720p resolution is a step down from the 1080p display on last year’s G2. Because the display on the G Flex is not only lower-res, but also larger, it suffers from a pretty substantial drop in pixel density as well. Along with the lower resolution, LG also chose to move the G Flex over to an PMOLED display, rather than the ISP LCD screen on the G2. Overall, the display looks fine enough on its own, but it’s far from the leader of the pack of even last year’s flagship devices such as the Nexus 5, the LG G2, or the the iPhone 5s.
The camera on the G Flex finds itself in a similar spot. Although it has the same 13 MP back-facing camera that the G2 has, the lack of image stabilization makes low-light shots pretty rough. Other than that, we got pretty similar, better than average results as from the G2.
That might sound like a lot of complaints, but it’s not at all to say that the G Flex is a bad phone. It’d be easy to overlook the positives that have been carried over from the G2—most notably, the impressive battery and durable built quality. Despite the silliness of the gimmicky “self-healing” back, the G Flex really is a robust phone. It can be bent, tossed, and shoved into pockets without worry of damaging the shell.
On top of that, you’ll have no problem lasting throughout an entire day of heavy usage, which is a rarity with a smartphone this large. In fact, we found that we’d often get through up to two full days of usage without a charge. In the same way, the performance on the G Flex is impressively snappy, much like the blazing speed of the G2. Even next to something like the Galaxy S4, both the G2 and G Flex feel incredibly fast.
Yet despite those good core features that have been carried on from the G2, I can’t help but get the feeling that LG had to make a lot of compromises to make up for the fact that the G Flex has a curved display. All of that would have been fine if the curve provided an experience that was made the sacrifices in display and camera, but unfortunately, it doesn’t fare much better on the software front.
SOFTWARE: The same old LG Android skin
By now, it is fairly clear that the G Flex is not LG’s flagship device of 2014. Instead, it feels like a niche device to hold over the market until the successors to the Optimus G Pro and G2 are announced. It’s no different on the software front. I didn’t expect a big change from the features on the G2 here, but the lack of Android 4.4 KitKat is a little annoying. The good news is that LG has already announced that the G2, the G Flex, and an assortment of their other products will be skipping 4.3 and upgrading right up to 4.4 in Q1 of 2014. But for now, the G Flex ships with 4.2.2 and LG’s infamous Android skin.
The UI is still ugly, outdated, and cluttered—but that should come as no surprise to those familiar with the brand. LG’s Optimus UI has always been heavy on unnecessary features, but it’s also always been heavy on customization. As with many non-stock Android devices, I could wrangle in the G Flex’s uninhibited design to a more suitable state after an hour or so of downloading, removing, and customizing. I was hoping that LG would at least attempt to make use of their curved screen here in terms of software, but instead, the experience of using the G Flex is nearly identical to the G2 once you unlock the screen.
LG has predicted that by 2015, 12 percent of all smartphones will have flexible displays, which will then just to more than 40 percent by 2018. That very well may be true. You could even make the argument that LG should be applauded for its ability to take what was seen as a fringe product and bring it to the masses (and available on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint). But as it stands at a very hefty $650 off contract it’s safe to say that waiting a few years before committing to a curved phone might be a good idea.