LG G Flex full review
The LG is the first smartphone maker to give us a properly curved screen smartphone so here's our in-depth LG G Flex review.
The G Flex is LG's first curved screen smartphone and goes up against local rival, the Samsung Galaxy Round. It's got a bendy or flexible screen which is fixed in a set curve. The device is now available and although at most retailers you'll have to pay close to £650 for the luxury, Expansys has it, at the time of writing, for a more reasonable £499.
LG G Flex review: Design and build
The main selling point of the G Flex is its curved screen so we're going to be looking at this a lot.
While Samsung has gone for a side to side curve on the Galaxy round, the G Flex does things in the opposite direction. It is curved from top to bottom in a banana like shape. LG says, from a design point of view, this is all about ergonomics.
It's supposed to fit your face better when making a call and sit more comfortably in your hand. In all honesty it doesn't feel much different than a regular flat smartphone in either of these scenarios. What we can say, is that it fits much better in a back pocket.
Underachieving ergonomics aside, a bigger problem is the sheer size of the G Flex. Yes, it matches the contour of my face better than a 'normal' smartphone but it knocks my glasses out of the way in order to have a conversation. I could use it as a shade from the midday sun it's so big. I have very few items of clothing with pockets big enough for the G Flex so I suspect female users will have to keep this device in a bag.
LG has opted for a 6in screen for the putting it in that still new and odd phablet category with devices like the HTC One Max, Nokia Lumia 1520 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It makes the fairly large LG G2 look quite small!
See also: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review.
A big screen is great if you want to watch a lot of video content and similar but in everyday use the G Flex is cumbersome and unwieldy. I, with my relatively large hands, can reach a third of the display holding it one-handed. In other words, be prepared for a tablet style two-handed approach.
The back of the G Flex looks at lot like the G2 with LG's Rear Key – power and volume keys below the camera lens rather than on the side or top of the device. I like this feature but it's not for everyone. As with the G2, you can switch the screen on and off with a double tap which is the kind of feature which, once you've got used to, is shocking to find doesn't work on other devices.
On the rear of the G Flex is a self-healing cover which is supposed to remove light scratches from things like coins in your pocket, not the aggressive kind of scrapes from dropping the phone on hard ground or similar escapades. It's difficult to test this over a relatively short period of time – we'd like to take a photo of the back after months of usage – but after a few days there are a few hairline scratches on the plastic surface. In the G Flex's defence, these are only really noticeable if you go actively looking for them.
LG G Flex review: Hardware and performance
We normally kick off the hardware section with the processor and some performance but we're going to go straight for the main event which is, of course, that curved screen. We've talked about the size of the screen a lot already so let's look at what the panel is like itself.
Our first sample of the G Flex had some serious issues including a horrible blue tint on about half of the screen and some distracting image retention, or 'ghosting'. So much so that we swapped it for another handset and fortunately, things got a lot better. There's no blue tint and although there is some image retention, it only lasts a split second rather than about five – phew.
Something which didn't go away is a grainy quality to the image which doesn't look particularly great. In some respects, it gives a softness which some users might like but compared to other smartphones, it simply looks inferior.
It's strange that LG has opted for a 720p resolution instead of Full HD 1080p. On a screen this big, 6in, that makes for a not very attractive pixel density – just 245ppi to be precise. That's not something we want to see from a premium priced smartphone, no matter how curved the screen is.
The curved nature of the G Flex is undoubtedly cool. I've shown off the phone to various people with pride so it's a great one for getting out at the pub. However, this quickly wears off and over time we've realised the benefits to the curved screen are minimal.
It's supposed to be more immersive when watching a film or playing a game in landscape mode - just like the curved TVs which are around now – but we haven't noticed a difference to a regular flat screen.
What it does do, is give a more dimensional feel when scrolling lists or pages with the G Flex in portrait mode. While I personally quite like this, I feel like it could make some users feel nauseous, similar to but probably not as bad as the Nintendo 3DS with its glasses-free 3D.
Overall, with almost no real benefit to the curve, it seems that Samsung and LG are fighting over the innovations because they can, not because consumers need or want a smartphone with a curved screen.
Like the G2, the G Flex has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and a 2GB of RAM. After a 720p screen, it's back to what we expect from a top-end smartphone. Unsurprisingly, benchmark results are almost identical to its smaller counterpart.
Geekbench 3 yielded a score of 2273, GFXBench 2.7 came in at 28fps and we got a time of 1103ms in SunSpider. That's almost up there with the impressive HTC One M8 but not quite.
With almost every smartphone manufacturer boosting performance for benchmark apps (admittedly or not), we're much less bothered about numbers. From a real-world user perspective, the G Flex offers decent performance. That Snapdragon 800 has proven to be a formidable force and is very capable of dealing with most requests.
There's only one model of the G Flex and it has 32GB of internal storage. That's a decent amount considering most phones in this price range have half that. However, the device does not have a microSD card slot which is a shame. It's not like there isn't room for one with a device this large.
Infrared and wireless
As with the G2, the G Flex has an infrared transmitter for taking control of devices like your TV. There's a Quick Remote section of the notification bar which you can toggle on and off so you don't even need to launch the app to change channels or adjust volume. You'll need to hold the phone upright for it to work properly though since the sensor is located on the back, next to the camera rather than on top like a traditional remote.
As for other wireless, you get pretty much what you'd want from a top-end device. There's Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, dual-band Wi-Fi up to 11ac, NFC, GPS and support for 4G LTE networks.
What we're still not seeing is wireless charging. It seems that only top-range Nokia and Google Nexus devices have this feature as standard.
LG G Flex: Cameras
It's good news that the G Flex wields the same camera technology as the G2. That means it's got a 13Mp rear camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS). There's no dedicated camera button but like most smartphones, you can use the volume buttons to snap away. The RearKey location makes this pretty tricky though.
Our main complaint is that the auto focus takes a little while, certainly compared to the latest flagships like the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8. However, if you can be patient, the G Flex can take decent photos. You'll typically get the best result if you use the HDR mode and we also found the phone coped well in low light – if you have a steady hand.
Test photo with default settings.
Test photo with HDR mode.
There are a range of different shooting modes including burst shot, sports and night. We're not so bothered about beauty shot and dual camera (a selfie slapped over a regular photo).
Optical image stabilisation helps keeps photos and videos blur and shake-free and speaking of video, the G Flex can shoot Full HD in 30- and 60fps (see test footage below). Even though it has the same camera as the G2, it can shoot video in 4k (UHD) quality. A front facing 2.1Mp camera offers decent quality for selfies and can shoot video in Full HD.
LG G Flex review: Software
The G Flex runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean but an update to 4.4 KitKat is rolling out in Korea so should make its way overseas soon. We've upgrade our LG G2 to the latest version and there are minimal changes.
LG has put a lot of work into its Android user interface, adding lots of additional features which will come in handy. The interface is stylish and comes with some decent wallpapers and useful widgets such as the task manager. We're not so keen on the cartoon style app icons though.
The notification bar has plenty going on and can get pretty messy with a few things toggled on. With Quick Remote and QSlide switched on, any notifications are off the bottom of the screen. That's the price for features though but it's easy enough to only have them there when you're using them. We love the useful sliders for screen brightness and volume.
There are plenty of customisation options which you'll find in the display tab of the settings menu. These include screen-off effect (retro TV is the best), screen swipe effect, font type, font size, smart screen (keeps the screen on as long as you're looking at it) and more. There's even different screen modes and the ability to adjust the screen capture area for screenshots. Good work LG.
As with the G2, the G Flex has a Guest mode so others can't access your personal content and apps which you might not want children to access. This is accessed by an alternative lock pattern. You can also switch the screen on and off with a double tap, called KnockON which doesn't work everytime but is nevertheless brilliant.
Since the screen is so big, an advantage is the ability to use Dual Window to view two apps simultaneously. If this doesn't tickle your fancy perhaps Slide Aside will which lets you save up to three favourite apps with a three finger gesture making it an alternative to the regular Android multi-tasking. The list goes on with QSlide which allows you to run certain apps in a pop-out window and adjust the transparency so you see what's behind.
LG seems to have realised that no one will be able to reach the top of the G Flex's screen which out packing supplies for a three day trek. So, it's added an optional button to the navigation bar which will pull the bar down and fling it back up for you. You can also bunch the navigations to one side for easier one-handed operation.
Furthermore, you can adjust the position of the dial keypad, lockscreen PIN and keyboard. The slight problem is that you wouldn't necessarily know these features were there unless you explorer the settings menu.
We love the amount of extra features which LG offers with its Android overlay and although they can be a little hard to find the tutorial would be far too long if the firm highlighted them all.
LG G Flex review: Battery life
A physically large smartphone like the G Flex gives the manufacturer the opportunity to install a large battery and that's exactly what LG has done. The smartphone has a 3500mAh capacity which is a fair amount larger than most handsets.
The G Flex just has a regular battery saving mode – no extreme mode which we're now seeing – but it doesn't seem to need anything more. After 24 hours of regular usage, the G Flex has a little over 50 percent battery remaining.
There is at least one advantage to having a lower resolution screen which is no doubt having an impact here. The G Flex will see you through a couple of days with no problems. We can only see it lasting one day if you watch an awful lot of video content and playing games.
LG G Flex: Specs
- Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS
- 6in curved OLED display (720x1280), 245 ppi
- 2.26GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- 13Mp rear camera AF with LED Flash
- 2.1Mp front camera
- Video recording at Full HD @60fps, 4k (UHD)
- Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- HSDPA, 42 Mbps
- HSUPA, 21 Mbps
- 4G LTE (Cat 4)
- 11.1Wh (3500mAh) battery