LG first released the G Flex in Asia and then at CES they announced US availability. I’ve been testing out the AT&T model for over a week and am personally not convinced its a device that should be launching so broadly.
Many tech reviewers hate US carrier exclusives and want flagship devices released on all major carriers. In this case, LG satisfied that desire by releasing the LG G Flex on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Unfortunately, it is really a tech demonstration smartphone and probably should have just launched on one carrier to test the waters.
The primary focus and innovation of the LG G Flex is the curved display and that feature is evident as soon as you pull the device from the retail package. The LG G Flex is a huge phone, similar in size to the HTC One Max and Nokia Lumia 1520. I found both of those phones too large and find the same thing with the G Flex. If you are reading this review, then you might be looking at these monster smartphones so the size may not be a problem for you.
The six inch display is curved in a concave manner along its length. LG states it is designed this way to better fit your hand and face, while also fitting better into your rear pants pocket. A phone this size looks rather ridiculous held up to your face so whether it fits the curve or not is really kind of silly. Also, while the phone may fit into my back pocket and match the curvature of my butt, it also sticks out of the top of my pocket an inch or so.
The colors on the display are vibrant and look great, but you can definitely see the lower resolution on a display this size and in 2014 there is no way I could go back to such a display when there are existing better alternatives with likely even better displays coming soon. Movies and photos do look good on the curved display, but I couldn’t see any real advantage for most applications.
When I heard about the G Flex, I expected to be able to pick it up and actually flex the device a bit in my hand. It’s not designed like that, you have to place it down on a table and press firmly to get it to bend at all. It is really just a novelty that you shouldn’t do too often and I think the real benefit is that it is made from a special plastic and should be more durable if you happen to drop your phone a lot.
A front facing camera is located above the display on the left side. There are no hardware buttons, just three (or four) software buttons on the bottom of the display.
There are no buttons on the top or sides of the LG F Flex with just the SIM card slot along the upper left side. There is a microUSB port centered on the bottom with the headphone jack on the right side.
Unfortunately, LG decided to continue using the funky back button design with the power button and two volume buttons centered under the camera. I never warmed up to this on the LG G2 and found them even more difficult to use with the larger G Flex. The center power button does light up as an indicator light, but most of the time I had the back facing down so it didn’t seem that useful to me.
Capturing screenshots for this image gallery, I know most users don’t care about screenshots, was an exercise in frustration as I had to try to press the power button and down volume with precise timing. The volume was changed 80 percent of the time and I almost decided to test out the display durability with a heavy wall impact.
There is a 13 megapixel camera on the back, but there is no optical image stabilization. I think that is important on these larger devices and was disappointed that it wasn’t included on such a large and expensive device. Photos turned out OK, but the G Flex is not going to replace a point and shoot.
The HTC One made me a huge fan of the IR remote on these devices and the G Flex includes one as well. It was moved from the top to the back though, on the opposite side of the camera from the flash. I think this is still an acceptable location and the Quick Remote software works well.
There is a speaker on the lower right side of the back and the sound is quite good. The back has some kind of ‘self-healing’ covering on it that you can see when you look around the ports and openings. It is designed to ‘heal’ when you scratch it lightly, but it is also a heck of a fingerprint magnet.
I was disappointed to see that KitKat (Android 4.4) was not included on the device. All 2014 flagship phones should be launching with this version of the software rather than stating that it will come in a future update. We all know how long it takes US wireless carriers to review and approve these updates so it should have came preloaded on the G Flex.
Like the G2, LG includes their Samsung-like heavy customization user interface. There are loaded status bars, four extensive (and levels deep) settings pages, and novelty functions throughout the device. Since this is an AT&T model you will also find it loaded with several bloatware apps and services.
I like the Nokia copied Knock feature that lets you double tap to wake the device and the lock screen that changes with the time of day is pretty slick. Dual Window can also be useful on a large display, but I don’t like QSlide or Slide Aside. If you are a person who likes to customize their device, then the LG G2 and G Flex are definitely devices to consider as you can setup the device nearly to your heart’s desire.
When I test out devices I try to use them for at least a week as my primary device. I really could not do that with the G Flex since it is just too large to serve that role for me so I carried it as a secondary device and used it as much as I could.
I never found the need to flex the G Flex, except for testing and to show it off. I watched a short movie on it and enjoyed the experience with the vibrant colors. Large displays are definitely enjoyable when you are browsing the internet or using social networks where you can view a lot of content at one time.
The battery seemed to last forever and easily went a day and a half, even with fairly heavy usage. Calls sounded great, audio playback was good, the camera was just OK, and the device responded quickly. The display resolution disappointed me and I have been spoiled by ‘lighter’ Android devices like the Nexus 5 and Moto X. I even find the HTC Sense UI less overwhelming and more enjoyable.
To summarize my experiences with the LG G Flex, here are my pros and cons.
You can pick up the LG G Flex on AT&T for $299.99 with a contract or $694.99 with no annual contract. Sprint prices the LG G Flex at the same $299.99 with a contract and a $649.99 regular price. T-Mobile doesn’t have subsidized pricing so the full price of the LG G Flex with them is $672. Like all T-Mobile phones you can pay this full price via interest-free installments.
I have seen unlocked versions of the G Flex priced in the $730 to $990 price range as well.
Samsung kicked off the modern phablet revolution with the Galaxy Note line and the Note 3 is a fantastic device that I would recommend over the LG G Flex. The Note 3 has a smaller form factor, higher resolution display, removable battery and microSD card slot, and the S Pen (which justifies the large size).
Sony has their large Xperia Z line and the waterproof function is cool. HTC has the lame HTC One Max that I do not recommend. Nokia has the large screen Lumia 1520, but here in the US AT&T removed a few good parts and I would not pick that one up either.
LG has greatly improved their smartphone devices and I look forward to what else they launch in 2014. The G Flex seems to be a technology test device with the unique display design and back material, but there are outdated specs (low resolution display, older camera technology, and an older OS on a device that is priced higher than most others on the market.
I could understand if the G Flex was launched as an unlocked device, similar to what Sony has been doing for most of their Xperia line, or on a single carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile to show off their curved display. However, it is definitely not worth launching on three major carriers and I doubt it will sell to many consumers as we get into the new devices of 2014 launching in the next few months.
If I was looking for a large screen smartphone, the Note 3 is the only device I would consider at this time. I would like to see LG bring their display technology to the next smaller device, the G3, and also move back to having side-mounted power and volume buttons.