Introduction and design
Real phones have curves. Or something like that. And with the LG G Flex, there is certainly no shortage of curves: around the edges, its packaging and especially the entire phone itself. If you’re looking for something different, something that stands out against the rest, look no further.
Thanks to flexible display technology, we’ll soon be seeing more curved devices and wearable gadgets and gizmos. In some cases, it makes perfect sense – like wristwatches or any other wearable that wraps around you or parts of your body.
On the other hand, we have to start questioning its use in devices that have always been flat, like smartphones and TVs. What benefit, if any, does a curved display have in these cases?
Our instincts tell us there really isn’t much of an upside. We’ve become so used to living in a flat-screen world that introducing curved displays would garner Christopher Columbus-like reactions. Curved?! Nonsense! Except that was a myth.
First, let’s make one thing clear about the LG G Flex: It is a phablet more than just a smartphone, with a display six inches on the diagonal. It’s huge, like the Nokia Lumia 1520, but its gentle curve makes it somewhat easier to hold.
However, with its size come some benefits, like better viewing for videos and photos. A bigger phone also means, presumably, a bigger battery, so you’ll get through your day with a more peace of mind.
In fact, LG claims that the G Flex will get two to three days of mixed use, but more on that later.
So, is there a reason for you to buy a large, curved smartphone? Let’s find out.
(Note: We are using a Korean version of this smartphone loaned to us by LG because the device is not yet available worldwide, and LG was unable to disclose whether it will hit U.S. or European markets.)
The LG G Flex is large, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a six-inch display with a 700mm radius of curvature from top to bottom, which LG says is just the right amount of curvature for viewing, holding, manufacture and so forth.
The display is 720p, which isn’t the sharpest on the market by any means, but LG says it’s because it was the only way to get the RGB stripe on the curved display without resorting to PenTile for higher resolution.
At any rate, the display looks nice enough, but for a device this large, you can definitely tell that it isn’t as sharp as the Nexus 5 or HTC One. It also has a strange, matte quality to it: it looks like it has some kind of grain or noise like you’d find on a photo shot with film or high ISO digital. Except it looks a lot more like color noise than luminance noise. In some cases, it’s quite pleasing and somewhat cinematic, but other times you wish the images and video were cleaner and sharper.
It seems like that noise may also be a quality of the coating of the display, just underneath the glass. Either way, it’s very noticeable.
Above the display is the earpiece and front-facing camera along with ambient light sensors, and at the bottom edge of the phone is the microphone, charging port and 3.5mm headset jack. The top edge has another small microphone, presumably for helping in noise reduction.
On the back is a 13MP camera with flash, and the volume rocker and power button, placed just like it is on the LG G2. We’re not too fond of this particular design, but we’ve learned to live with it.
At the bottom of the backside is the speaker, which works nicely with this phone’s design. When the phone is resting on its back, the speaker is slightly elevated thanks to the device’s curvature. This makes speakerphone calls and music much louder when the phone is on its back.
At the very base of the phone, there is also an antenna that you can pull out for watching TV, though we were unable to test this feature in the U.S.
Inside, there is a 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800, like the Nexus 5, with 2GB RAM and 32GB on-board storage. There is no memory card slot on the device.
LG added a 3,500 mAh battery for the G Flex, which is higher in capacity than the LG G2’s stellar 3,200 mAh unit. We’ve had limited testing with the G Flex’s battery life so far, but we expect it to outperform the LG G2 by a good margin.
The backside itself has what LG calls a self-healing coating. When you feel it, it feels like the thick, transparent plastic you’d find in some packaging materials. LG tells us that its molecular structure allows it to recover from scratches from springing back. But common sense makes it feel like it’s just springing back from a dent, rather than a true scratch.
We scratched the back lightly with the corner of a USB jack, and in 24 hours it has yet to recover. The scratches are superficial and light, rather than the deep scratches you’d expect to be permanent.
The most noticeable feature of the LG G2 is its curved design, and that’s really the whole schtick for this smartphone, too.
Without that soft curve, this would likely be just another phablet on the market from LG. The curve happens from top to bottom, unlike the Samsung Galaxy Round prototype, which curves from left to right.
As far as we know, the phone only comes in a dark gray or silver color, but that could change in the future.
Otherwise, you can picture the G Flex as an oversized G2 with a curve and you wouldn’t be far off.
The back buttons are also going to be a trend from LG moving forward, as we were told during our meeting that it has to stick with something to distinguish it from the rest of the smartphone makers out there.
Long pressing the volume down button activates the camera, just like it does on the G2. The power button glows as a notification light if your phone is facing downward on a table so you know when you have missed messages or notifications.
Beside the camera, opposite the flash, is an IR blaster, though we find very limited use for those when we do review new smartphones. However, if you like controlling your TV or music player from afar and it supports it, having the IR blaster is convenient.
One last word on the not-so-self-healing coating: it tends to attract dust and dirt, and it sticks to it as if it’s statically charged. You can wipe all you like, but it seems difficult to get the stuff off, especially if it’s been in your pocket or bag for a while. It’ll eventually all come off if you wipe it well enough, but will attract dust and dirt once again as soon as you put it away.
The LG G Flex, as expected, features LG’s custom UI over Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. If you’ve had any time with an LG phone in the past year, its UI will look very familiar to you, too.
You can wake the device by either pressing the power button on the back of the G Flex, or by double tapping the screen – LG’s Knock On feature. Sometimes it takes a few knocks to wake it up, like the room of a lazy child avoiding school.
One new trick on the G Flex is what you can do from the lock screen: in landscape mode, if you use two fingers, ideally your thumbs, to swipe outward from the middle of the screen, you’ll open up a media center of sorts.
In it, you’ll find quick access to photos, videos, YouTube and a TV app – the latter was in Korean and we couldn’t test it, unfortunately. It’s just another trick LG uses to distinguish itself from its competitors, and it gets harder and harder each year. However, since you’re buying this device for its massive, curved screen, it makes sense to have quick access to apps and services that take advantage of that key feature.
The G Flex also has a series of LG’s Q apps, like Q Slide, which allows multi-window use for better multitasking. You can watch videos or look at photos on one section of the display, for example, and take notes or browse the web on the other partition of the display.
By default, the home screen has a widget that shows the time, date, your location and current temperature, which is great info to have at a glance. I do wish the iPhone and Windows Phone were better at doing this.
You have five home screens by default, too, and it wraps, so you can continuously scroll in one direction and it will just keep going and going.
The apps section is separated by apps and widgets, and there is also a search option and settings feature for arranging your apps or deleting them.
When you pull down on the notification panel, you’ll get easy access to toggle buttons for NFC, GPS, screen rotation, Bluetooth and more. There is also quick access to QSlide apps.
Brightness and quick settings are also available via the notification panel, along with all your notifications and Google Now information. Many users seem to dislike the cluttered mess of items in the notification panel, along with the overall design of it, but you get used to it after a while and I really don’t mind it anymore.
In short, if you have any familiarity with Android at all, you’ll feel right at home on the G Flex – especially if you’ve owned an LG device within the last year or two.
If you’re new to Android, and this goes for any smartphone, there will be a bit of a learning curve. For the most part, most of the basic gestures and actions you’ll ever want to make on this phone are intuitive. For the other, not-so-obvious ones like the lock screen features, there are tips and tricks available online.
There is more we’d like to dive into here, but being an international version with many Korean apps, the G Flex unit we have may be quite different from what you’ll be getting in your region. For now, we’ve covered a chunk of the basics and feel that the info in this section should give you a good idea of what it’s like to interact with the interface of this phone.
Browser, contacts and calling
We had both the default Internet browser and Chrome installed on the LG G Flex. Between the two, I strongly recommend using Chrome. It’s faster than the Internet browser, and it links up with your Google account so you can sync your browser history, bookmarks and more. It’s also cleaner looking than the pre-installed Internet app.
One benefit of the Internet app, however, is that it quickly works with the QSlide apps on the phone, so you can use the browser while doing other things, like watching videos or sending messages.
It has its back, forward, home and bookmark buttons down below, while you can put in a URL, search term or do tabbed browsing.
The default browser is fast and reliable, but we still prefer Chrome for its overall design, UI and sync capabilities. If you’re already a Chrome user, it makes syncing your bookmarks and everything else easy so that your browsing transition from desktop to mobile is smooth.
There are also other third-party browsers that you can download from the Google Play Store, but we’d recommend sticking with either the default browser or Chrome since they’re reliable and perform well.
Your contacts are handled by Google contacts. Since this is an Android device, and you need a Google account to access nearly every worthwhile feature on the phone, that’s where your contacts will come from, too.
When you add or delete contacts to and from your Google account, it syncs across any and all devices that are synced with your Google account. So, for example, if you add a new contact on your Gmail tab in your desktop browser, it will get synced with your phone.
The nice thing about having Google Contacts, as it is with all Android phones, is that you never have to rely on your single device to store all of your contacts. That keeps you from having to write Facebook posts that say, "Hey, lost my phone last night at a bar. Need everyone’s phone number. Thx."
On the LG G Flex, your contacts page has a few categorized tabs to help you get organized. They are your dialer, call logs, contacts, favorites and groups. If you have ever owned any Android devices in the past, you’ll find that some of these items, such as favorites and groups, will be synced.
Unlike the latest versions of Android, you won’t have business search or voice search integrated in with your contacts. It’s not the worst thing in the world since you can access most of those things via Google Now, but they were nice to have in Android 4.4 KitKat.
The phone app takes you to the same app as the contacts, except the dialer is opened by default instead of the contacts tab.
Obviously, phone call quality will depend on your carrier and location more than the phone itself. Using AT&T in the San Francisco Bay Area, we found that phone calls were just as good as any modern smartphone. Calls were loud and clear, and our friends reported the same.
Speakerphone calls on the LG G Flex are excellent thanks to its curved design, which allows the speaker to be raised from the table just enough to bounce the noise off of it.
When you receive calls, you have the option to answer, decline or send a message, just like most other smartphones.
In short, there isn’t much to know about calling since it’s quite intuitive and so very similar to what you’d find on any other Android device.
And again, if call quality is of any concern to you, the blame hardly falls on the device. Instead, try a different carrier or location if it’s at all feasible.
There are a number of media options on the LG G Flex, whether you want to watch videos or listen to music.
Being a Google device, and we’ve said this so many times before about Android, Google Play Music would be your best bet if you want to download and stream music. You can upload your own songs to the service, too. It will cost you $9.99 a month to get all the features that Play Music has to offer, but it’s worth it.
Otherwise, you can load up your own songs to the G Flex via Android File Transfer. The default music player on the phone is simply called "Music" and your songs are sorted by song, artist, genre, folders, nearby devices or via cloud services like Dropbox or Box.
Music quality through the speakers were OK, as expected from a smartphone, but it sounds much better through a set of quality headphones or earbuds.
One quick way to get to all your photo and video content is via the Q Theater app. It’s the same app or feature that opens up when you open the phone by swiping with two fingers outward from the center in landscape mode from the lock screen.
You’ll see, as we mentioned before, that you’ll have access to Photos, Videos, YouTube and TV. Your video files are ones that you’ve either loaded on the phone or shot yourself via the camera app.
YouTube will take you straight to the YouTube app, and if you’re logged into your Google account, your subscriptions, favorites and other personalized info will show up immediately on the home page of the app.
The mobile TV app is a little of a mystery to us since we were unable to test it out, and much of the menu was written in Korean. However, if implemented in the U.S. we suspect that it will offer a handful of popular shows you’re used to seeing on TV at home.
There is a small antenna that pulls out from one corner of the device, where it might look like a stylus, so be careful with it because it’s thin and fragile. We’d assume that it will allow you to watch decent quality TV even when you don’t have a Wi-Fi or strong cellular network signal. We’ll update this when we find out.
The camera on the LG G Flex is excellent. It’s a 13MP shooter, just like the LG G2, and it produces admirable results.
The camera software is still a little confusing at first, but once you fiddle with all the buttons and features for a while, you’ll get the hang of it.
Each shooting mode on the camera comes with a brief description from LG, and you have the option to turn those tips off if you’d like (e.g. Dynamic Tone will tell you that it’s an HDR feature and give you info on what HDR is).
Image quality is pretty good. Colors look natural, and edges and lines are sharp. Dynamic range is decent, but even better when you shoot in the aforementioned Dynamic Tone mode, or HDR.
Actually, HDR is very impressive on the LG G Flex. In the most extreme light/dark scenes, it manages to get a good amount of detail in shadow and highlight regions. I rarely see this kind of performance without terrible color reproduction or halos around edges, but the G Flex manages it quite well.
The software is also fast, so it’s rare that you’ll ever miss any shots. The time it takes to load up the camera is usually fast, and going from shot to shot is quick, too. There is even a burst mode if you’re taking fast action shots.
You’ll also have the ability to shoot still photos while you’re recording video, which is nice if you want to keep a picture of the action while you’re recording.
Here are some photo samples.
Video quality is OK, but it could be a lot better. The LG G Flex records 1080p HD video at 30fps or 60fps, but you also have the option to record in 720p.
We’re curious to know what, if any, image stabilization is at work when recording videos. They seem to be a little jerky, but they hold up quite when you’re panning around.
Sound quality is decent, and LG gives you the option to really zone in on your sound source by zooming in that area. It’s not the best combination of sound and video when it comes to creativity, but if sound is more important than video in those cases, it works decently.
Battery life and performance
What can you expect from a smartphone that has a 3,500 mAh battery and an incredibly powerful processor? Near bliss. That is, if you can live with the gigantic, curved 720p display.
First, let’s get battery performance out of the way. We loved the LG G2’s battery life, and it had only a 3,200 mAh unit powering a much higher resolution display.
The LG G Flex easily went two to three days on a single charge, just as LG promised. I spent a lot of that time with push notifications enabled for nearly every app that would support it, watching videos, listening to music and playing graphically intensive games for longer than we’d like to admit. But for the sake of this review, I will admit that I spent about an hour and a half one night playing Asphalt 8.
I also ran our HD test video at full brightness and sound for 90 minutes. Starting at 100%, the G Flex went down to just 87% after 90 straight minutes of our Gareth Nyan Cat HD video, which is impressive.
However, I’ll always recommend charging opportunistically, or charging whenever you can, simply because it’s a good habit to have and it won’t damage your battery.
But if you don’t care for plugging in at every opportunity you get, you’ll have few worries when it comes to the G Flex. Unplug it in the morning and you’ll still have juice until about late afternoon or so the next day, unless you’re really pushing it.
Raw performance on the G Flex is great. We’re cautious about running benchmark tests these days because manufacturers are now gaming and cheating these benchmark tests so that they produce inflated results.
What matters is how your phone performs in day to day use, and after battering the phone with tasks and games and videos for over a week, we can confidently say that you won’t be disappointed with its performance.
There was never a glitch, lag or blip anywhere in the phone’s apps or services, and yet given its power, the battery held up like a champ.
We can all thank the 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 and its 2GB RAM, which is more than plenty for most of the things you’ll need to do on this phone.
LG is venturing into new territory with the G Flex, and we’d say it pulled it off only because its key features are subtle.
The curvature of the phone is soft enough that it doesn’t become cumbersome to hold or use, but the curve is so gentle that we wonder whether it has any added benefits or whether it’s just another trick to distinguish itself from competitors.
Either way, we don’t mind it at all. We just wished the display were sharper and didn’t have that weird granular pattern on it. If forcing a curved display has any negative impact at all, it’s that the display couldn’t be better.
The one killer feature on any smartphone for me is battery life, with all else being relatively equal. The LG G Flex kills it, and of course I mean that in the best way possible. It just crushes everything you give it and spews out more, more, more.
It almost seems like you’ll never run out of juice, and I did occasionally wonder when the thing would just die already.
Another thing is the performance, of which there is plenty to be had here on the G Flex. I always play a number of games and watch dozens of videos – all for the sake of testing, of course – to see just how it will hold up.
I even used the Q Slide apps and multitasking to see where the phone would fail, but it never did. It just kept on going.
I can’t say I completely disliked the curved display, but I also didn’t see much of a point. Maybe it helps ever so slightly when you’re making phone calls, having the microphone curve into your face. But how much of a difference does it make, really?
I also didn’t like the self-healing back. It feels slippery and weird and is a magnetic for dust and other things. It also didn’t quite heal from the few, light surface scratches we gave it.
One other thing I’ve never been a fan of is the rear placement of the volume and power buttons, but LG seems to be making this a thing to help distinguish itself from its competitors – at least that’s what we were told during our briefing with the device.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the world’s biggest phones, I don’t mind the LG G Flex at all. Perhaps the curve makes it interesting, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to bigger phones.
Whether the curve is just a gimmick or not doesn’t matter because it’s quite subtle. What does matter is that it performs well and has the battery life to make the performance last.
Although I don’t think LG knocked it out of the ballpark with this one, it could have easily screwed up something like a curved smartphone – which is a first. Instead, it pulled it off and managed to turn out a decent smartphone.
If you want an ultra large smartphone, you may want to consider giving the LG G Flex a look. I was most impressed with the performance and battery life, which I’ve mentioned countless times now, but that’s really what sets smartphones apart now. You can have a brilliant display, great design and all, but if either performance or battery life are lacking, it’s just not as appealing. At least the G Flex nails those last two.