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

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  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good
  • Average user rating

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Application Software AT&T DriveMode, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, City ID, Google Chrome, Kindle for Android, KnockON, Life Square, Lookout Mobile Security, Microsoft Direct Push, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Notebook, Polaris Office, SmartShare, Voice Mate, Webkit
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
Input Device Multi-touch
General
SAR Value 1.19 W/kg (body) / 0.52 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Titan silver
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Additional Features TTY compatible, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), multitasking, Android Beam, QuickMemo function, QSlide function, Wi-Fi Miracast, Live Zooming function, QTranslator function, Dual Camera function, VuTalk function, Dual Recording, QuickRemote function, Guest Mode function, Slide Aside function, Self-healing back cover, Curved display, Dual Window mode, QuickTheater function, fluid lock screen, Audio zoom function
Miscellaneous
Color titan silver
Color Category silver
Included Phone Accessories USB cable, power adapter
SAR Category (Belgium) B
SAR Value 1.19 W/kg (body) / 0.52 W/kg (head)
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features Microsoft Excel support, Microsoft PowerPoint support, Microsoft Word support
Mobile Services AT&T Address Book, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T DriveMode, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Hot Spots, AT&T Locker, AT&T Mobile TV, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, City ID, Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Play, Google Play Music, Kindle for Android, KnockON, Life Square, Lookout Mobile Security, MSN Hotmail, Microsoft Direct Push, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Notebook, Polaris Office, SmartShare, Video Call, Voice Mate, Webkit, YPmobile, Yahoo! Mail, myAT&T
Messaging Services Google+ Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3, SMTP
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Facebook, Twitter
Display
Technology P-OLED
Display Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 245
Diagonal Size 6 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 15.2 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 6 in
Color Support color
Processor
Clock Speed 2.26 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
Data Transmission Operating Band LTE Band 1, LTE Band 17, LTE Band 2, LTE Band 3, LTE Band 4, LTE Band 5, LTE Band 7
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/ac/b/g/n, NFC
LTE Band LTE Band 4, LTE Band 17, LTE Band 1, LTE Band 3, LTE Band 5, LTE Band 7, LTE Band 2
Organizer
Personal Information Management alarm clock, calculator, calendar, reminder, synchronization with PC
Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Still Image Resolutions 4160 x 2340, 4160 x 3120
Features Beauty Shot, BurstShot, Cheese Shutter function, Live Shot, Shot & Clear, Time Catch Shot, VR Panorama, tap to focus, video recording
Media Player
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, AMR, MP3, AAC +, eAAC+, MIDI
Location
Navigation Software & Services AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator
Memory
User Memory 24 GB
Battery
Run Time Details Talk - up to 1164 min
Standby - up to 696 hrs
Capacity 3500 mAh
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Special Effects HDR
Still Image Resolutions 4160 x 2340, 4160 x 3120
Video Recorder Resolutions 1920 x 1080 (1080p)
Features Beauty Shot, BurstShot, Cheese Shutter function, Live Shot, Shot & Clear, Time Catch Shot, VR Panorama, tap to focus, video recording
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator
Header
Brand LG
Product Line LG
Model G Flex D950
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Additional Features Android Beam, Audio zoom function, Curved display, Dual Camera function, Dual Recording, Dual Window mode, Guest Mode function, Live Zooming function, QSlide function, QTranslator function, QuickMemo function, QuickRemote function, QuickTheater function, Self-healing back cover, Slide Aside function, TTY compatible, VuTalk function, Wi-Fi Miracast, fluid lock screen, multitasking, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air)
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AMR, MIDI, MP3, WAV, WMA, eAAC+
RAM
Installed Size 2 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
User Memory 24 GB
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.21 in
Depth 0.3 in
Height 6.32 in
Weight 6.24 oz
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 13 pixels
Phone Connections
Type USB, headset jack
Qty 1
Connector Type mini-phone 3.5 mm
Run Time Details
Usage Mode standby, talk
Run Time (Up To) 1164 min, 696

Topics: Smartphones, Mobility, Reviews

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Where To Buy

LG G Flex

Part Number: GFLEX

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