LG G Flex review: Interesting design, shame about the price

LG G Flex review: Interesting design, shame about the price

Summary: There's more to this phablet than its curved chassis, although the moderate screen resolution and lack of storage expansion are disappointing. On the plus side, battery life is good and LG's Android tweaks are largely successful. Overall though, the G Flex is simply way too expensive.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.0
  • User rating:
    5.8
  • RRP:
    £535.00

Pros

  • Innovative curved design
  • Good battery life
  • USB OTG support
  • Some useful software tweaks

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Moderate screen resolution
  • No MicroSD slot for storage expansion
  • Curved shape could hinder portability

LG breaks new ground with the G Flex, a handset with a curved form factor and a backplate that can magically mend itself if it gets scratched. This 6-inch 'phablet' certainly stands out thanks to its innovative design, but it's not without its disappointments: at almost the same price as Samsung's Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 tablet and more expensive than almost every other smartphone, the G Flex should be closer to perfection than it is.

lg-g-flex-thumb
The G Flex is a 6-inch phablet with a difference — it has a curved form factor. Image: LG

Design

Most of the pre-launch talk about the LG G Flex concerned its design, and although there's more on offer here (there are some interesting aspects to how LG handles Android, for example), design certainly takes centre stage.

lg-g-flex-side
The LG Flex will bend flat, but it snaps back into its default curved shape. Image: LG

That's because the LG G Flex is curved. You won't be dropping this handset into your back pocket, even if the pocket is large enough to accommodate the phablet's 81.6 by 160.5 by 79.9mm dimensions. It simply feels oddly awkward in a way that flat handsets don't.

You can, in fact, bend the G Flex away from its curved shape to a more conventional flat design. But this isn't something you'll be doing in order to pocket it: we found that it required two hands and a fair bit of pressure to get the handset flat — and as soon as we relieved the pressure, it popped back into its preferred curved form.

Why build a curved handset? LG says a phone that follows the curve of your face inevitably leads to improved voice quality by placing the microphone close to your mouth. However, people we called on the G Flex did not gush with positive comments about how good we sounded.

Another reason LG gives for the curvature of the G Flex is that it makes movie watching and games playing more enjoyable. The viewing advantage of curved screens may hold for larger devices like TVs, but we're not sure it translates to a 6-inch phablet. We didn't notice any great improvement in the enjoyment of either movies or games.

Nor does the LG G Flex's shape make it more or less comfortable to hold than other similarly sized phones. LG has copied the design convention it adopted in its excellent LG G2 of putting the power button and volume rockers on the back. They sit in a vertical configuration beneath the 13-megapixel camera's lens and flash. There's an infrared zapper here too, incidentally.

With the 5.2-inch LG G2, we found this system awkward initially, but did get used to it. On the much larger frame of the 6-inch LG G Flex it works very well. Once we purged the idea of side-mounted buttons from our muscle memory, prodding the rear buttons with a forefinger became second nature. The location works equally well for right-and left handed people.

The volume rockers have small silver nubbins that make them easy to find when the handset is in a bag or pocket — something you'll appreciate if you use your phone for listening to music a lot. If the LG G Flex is sitting on a desk, you reactivate its screen with a double tap rather than picking it up and reaching for the back button. We found this an efficient and responsive system with the G2, but less so here as taps had to be fairly firm to register.

With the buttons located on the back, the only role for the edges of this handset in terms of connectivity is to house the MicroUSB and headphone slots. Both are on the bottom edge.

lg-g-flex-back
The back of the G Flex uses a special scratch-resistant material. Image: LG

The back of the LG G Flex is made from a shiny, not particularly grippy, material featuring a membrane layer that slowly bounces back if depressed. LG calls this a 'self-healing back cover', which, up to a point, seems to be true: we lightly scratched the surface with keys and the scratch did indeed disappear within a couple of hours — although look hard with the phone side-on and you can still see traces.

We tested further by being a bit rougher with the key-scratching, and must have permeated the membrane layer: this second scratch looks distinctly permanent.

Returning to the screen for a moment, it's noticeable that the resolution is somewhat lacking. For a handset that costs £642 (inc. VAT; £535 ex. VAT) we expect better than 720 by 1,280 pixels (245 pixels per inch, or ppi). This is the resolution LG used in the much less expensive G2, and is much lower than other flagship handsets such as the 4.7-inch HTC One, which is now almost a year old (1,080 by 1,920 pixels, 468ppi).

The screen technology here is a new one: P-OLED. The P stands for 'Plastic substrate' and its use is a key factor in it the screen's flexibility. Although the use of a new technology is laudable, there is definite fuzziness to text; not only that, but whites, such as the background on web pages, can take a blueish tinge if you're viewing at an angle. We expect crisper, sharper images from a top-end handset.

Features

The LG G Flex is an LTE handset that accommodates a MicroSIM. You can't get the back off, so the SIM lives in a slot on the left edge.

The SoC is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 MSM8974, which includes a quad-core CPU running at 2.26GHz. This is complemented by a healthy 2GB of RAM. Wi-fi is bang up to date, supporting dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA and the ability to act as a hotspot. Bluetooth 4.0 is present, along with NFC and the aforementioned infrared zapper. The 13-megapixel rear camera is accompanied by a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera.

The MicroUSB port supports USB On the Go (OTG) and USB Host, so you could add external data devices such as the Kingston DataTraveller MicroDuo. We attached ours and it was instantly recognised.

LG does not offer MicroSD card support, so unless you use a USB OTG device, you're stuck with the 23.7GB of free internal storage from the 32GB that's installed. This is always irritating on a handset that purports to be top of the range.

The Android version is 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), which will disappoint those who like their high-end handsets to have the very latest OS version (4.4 KitKat in Android's case). LG's Android skinning is far from light touch but on the whole it meets with our approval. We won't discuss everything LG has done, but a few favourites deserve a mention.

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Pop-up QSlide apps are available in the Notifications area. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The notifications bar offers a feature called QSlide, which allows you to pop apps up on top of whatever you're doing. You can make these items more or less transparent using a slider. Dual Windows lets you run two apps at once. Not all apps are compatible with these features, but they are good attempts to maximise the screen area.

There's a clever popup that appears when you attach devices. Attaching our Kingston DataTraveller MicroDuo, for example, called up relevant apps, including a file explorer, video and music players, and the gallery. When we attached headphones we were offered music and video players, the YouTube app and the phone dialler.

lg-g-flex-buttons
The front touch buttons are customisable. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

We like the fact that you can left- or right-align the dial pad and keyboard to assist with one-handed operation, and simply swipe the front touch buttons to get them to all rush to one or other side of the screen for much easier access. You can also reconfigure the front touch buttons into your preferred order and add a fourth to launch LG's Quick Memo app or pull down the notification panel. You can even hide the buttons in selected apps to give them access to the entire screen.

Smart On settings use the front camera to pause video when you look away and keep the screen on when you're looking at it, overriding any display timeout you may have configured.

The final tweak we will mention is Slide Aside, which lets you swipe leftwards on the screen to park up to three running apps off-screen, and then pull them in as needed. Although a neat idea, it's our least favourite Android tweak in terms of execution. LG could rethink this into a system that's more ergonomic to use on a device of this size.

In addition to the interface tweaks LG adds a number of apps to Android. Quick Memo and Notebook are our favourites. Both are obviously note-takers, the former including the ability to grab a screenshot and scrawl on it before sending it off to an email recipient, the latter offering more sophisticated note-making features.

The G Flex has a 3,500mAh battery — a curved lithium-polymer unit. In our anecdotal experience the battery lasts longer than average, and you may even be able to go two days between charges with a light usage pattern. We found it to be an extremely fast charger too, so it should be feasible to top up the battery quickly during the day should the charge level become a concern.

Conclusion

LG may have hit the headlines with the G Flex's curved shape, but there's more to this phablet than a curved chassis. The moderate screen resolution and lack of storage expansion are disappointing, but the way LG is working on enhancing Android shows great potential.

Having said that, LG's UI tweaks are in many cases already found in its G2 handset and will no doubt be found in future products. Overall the G Flex, although interesting, is simply way too expensive.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 81.6x8.7x160.5 mm
Weight 177 g
OS & software
Software included Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
Processor & memory
Clock speed 2.26 GHz
Processor model Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
RAM 2048 MB
Storage
Internal 32000 MB
Display
Display technology OLED
Display size 6 in
Native resolution 720x1280 pixels
Connections
Ports Micro-USB 3.0 (with USB OTG and USB Host support)
Networks
2.xG GPRS, EDGE
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG HSDPA, HSUPA
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac
GPS receiver Yes
Short range Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
GPS technology
Antenna built in
GPS receiver yes
Input devices
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 2.1 megapixels
Main camera resolution 13 megapixels
Power
Battery type Li-polymer
Removable battery No
Battery capacity 3500 mAh
Number of batteries 1
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 535

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobility, Reviews

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Talkback

7 comments
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  • lg flex love it

    9.0

    I have had this phone about 30 days..and being on the road alot as a lead net admin and sql developer. .i spend lots of time on the phone..txt..web..pics.. etc.. ive had many smart phones.. I kove this phone.. the only down side is lack of upgradeable storage on the device. I paid 550 usd for phone.. it was less cost than comparable size phones in my local market. .i off set the flash mem with cloud and Bluetooth storage....overall im thrilled with quality and 4g speeds..now if the case market will catch up id be ecstatic
    northrivergeek
  • Interesting but not overly interesting

    8.0

    A full review.. But the resolution of the G2's screen is wrong. its a 1080p screen. The other thing is that its running a SD800... which has already been orphaned off for the 801 and the upcomming 805... So with such a high price... its going to push away many buyers. Especially with the 720p screen.
    Jimster480
  • Good phone but fail

    6.0

    Great screen but i was hoping it wont break the glass after one or two drops Since it is a flexible. After looking at you tube videos showing right after dropping once it cracked completely.

    With curve i can not put it in my pocket comfortably as well. So i think a big fail.
    Mac_Win
  • Well, I love mine!

    8.0

    I've had my G-Flex (T-Mobile version) for almost a month now and I love it. It's fast and totally lag free, where my supposedly fast Samsung still halts and falters from time to time. The curved shape actually makes it easier to back-pocket, though mine lives in my shirt pocket with the top just peaking out. The shiny backplate can be slippery to hold, but mine lives in a silicone protector which give it fantastic grip for a mere $3 investment.

    What most people miss on this phone is the display. The actual display pixels are sharp as a tack and the 720 (vs 1080) resolution is not discernible on a 6" screen by normal humans. (Hell, most can't tell 720 from 1080 on a 40" TV!) What people ARE seeing, and misinterpreting as lower resolution, is a faint texture in the plastic background material used in the P-OLED display. In darkened rooms with the display brightness down low this vague texture shows through the background colors. It's noticable, but it does not affect the resolution or readability of the screen and it's invisible when watching movies. In normal room lighting the displays brightness completely covers up this effect. I've gotten used to it, but I can see where some might mistake it as slightly fuzzy. I much prefer this display to most of the LCD displays out there, and it looks great even when on the dash of the car navigating which would wash out most other displays.

    The G-Flex get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me, and I suspect most actual owners and users.
    junk@...
  • so...

    ...the screen is fuzzy, the curve rocks on flat surfaces which would be really ordinary for hands free and desktop finger pressing, form fitting flap wallets would be an issue, no storage expansion, jellybean... won't be swapping out my Galaxy Note 3 for this gimmick.
    btone-c5d11
  • Do not buy this phone. Bad quality.

    2.0

    LG G Flex, very bad quality. DO NOT BUY. Dust collects under the cover and into the camera area and you will not be able to take clear pictures. Contacted LG about the issue, and we sent the phone for repair. We paid for sending it. they cleaned the dust and sent it back. After a few days of use, the dust started to collect again. Contacted them again and they said to sent it again. Asked them to replace it, and they refused. Do not buy this phone.
    mgmackoul
  • Bad service

    2.0

    My lg flex screen got broke, No spare parts available with service center, i am thinking if they dont have their own product spare parts, why the fuck lg manufacturing and kicking customers ASS..,
    Poor respond frm custmrcre, not reliable, Im thinking to handover the LG flex back to LG
    Pls pls pls dont buy and get in trouble yourself....
    khanmd