To say that the LG G Flex carried the weight of expectation when it arrived in our hands for testing would be putting things mildly. The last model we reviewed from LG was its flagship G2, a smartphone which we fell in love with almost immediately.
The G Flex is packed full of technological innovation. From a curved display to its ability to flex and snap back into shape, it’s obvious from the start that the G Flex is unlike any other smartphone we’ve ever had to test.
However, even with all of its innovation, the G Flex manages to be both as fundamentally similar to its predecessor, the G2, as it is drastically different. The question before us, is whether the G Flex has managed to build on its predecessor’s reputation or break it?
The first thing you notice when you lay eyes on the G Flex is, of course, the curve. It’s a subtle concave bend that runs the full length of the phone lifting its top and bottom off of any flat surface and letting a small amount of light bleed through the sides when lying face down.
Undulations aside, the G Flex is a daunting smartphone to hold. Finding its way comfortably into the phablet category, the 6-inch display is flanked by relatively small bezels to either side, with more substantial ones top and bottom. It renders the G Flex near impossible to operate with one hand, let alone comfortably. It’s admittedly not as unwieldy as Sony’s gargantuan 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra fitting into all tested pockets without peeking out over the top, a feat the Sony struggled with.
The rear of the phone is sealed in a glossy grey plastic clad in a ‘self-healing’ polymer coating. LG promises that the coating will heal small scratches and nicks that form over time. Small scuffs, like those garnered from sliding the phone onto a table or from loose change in a pocket, do in fact disappear… just don’t expect deep dents or scratches to follow the same rules.
The edges of the G Flex are as barren as the G2’s are. Only a microUSB charging port and a headphone jack grace the bottom edge while a Micro SIM tray is off to the side. Further following the G2’s cues, the power and volume buttons are once again located in a vertical line beneath the camera module.
Once mastered, the rear buttons of the G2 seemed a stroke of genius, falling to hand quickly and easily every time. Sadly for the G Flex it just doesn’t quite emulate the experience. We suspect that there are two possible causes for the change:
Firstly, the drastic increase in size and weight over the G2 prompts you to hold the device further up in one hand to keep it balanced and further down in two hands to reach the keyboard, keeping the button awkwardly out of reach. Secondly the camera module, which was completely flat on the G2, is raised on the G Flex which seems to coax your fingers into finding it before the power button almost every time. To be fair to the G Flex, our gaming editor Deon felt completely comfortable finding the buttons, but he’s 2.02m tall and has hands like frying pans.
The LG G Flex sports all of the top end internal components you would expect from a premium Android smartphone. The, seemingly standard, 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor is joined by 2GB of RAM and 32GB of non-expandable storage.
Wireless communications are all up to the latest standards with LTE, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 all finding their way on board. It’s a spec sheet that matches the G2 almost to the letter.
The 6-inch flexible display runs at a 720X1280 resolution and is kept alive with a rather monstrous, and equally flexible, 3500mAh battery.
Imaging is taken care of by a 13MP sensor which forsakes the optical image stabilisation (OIS) of the G2 but increases the individual pixel size to compensate in low light photography.
When it comes to the software of the G Flex we wish LG had followed an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy. While the G Flex continues to mirror the G2 with its choice in software, running the company’s customised version of Android 4.2.2, it adds a few features that are more miss than hit.
There’s the ‘Fluid Lock Screen’ which shows a 180° vertical panorama that changes as the user tilts the phone up and down. While the feature does work, there’s a very noticeable lag between your movements and the picture changing to match them which is unacceptable for software running on hardware this powerful.
The QuickTheater app, which is allows you to hold the G Flex horizontally and use two thumbs to “open” the screen to quickly access photos and videos, only works from the lock screen and only when you have no password rendering it essentially useless.
However if you ignore the additional bloatware the G Flex is phenomenally responsive no matter what activity is thrown at it.
The biggest talking point when anyone sees the LG G Flex is of course the curved display. The 6-inch Polymer Organic LED (P-OLED) display comes directly from a collaboration with LG’s display division which is also responsible for the company’s curved OLED TVs.
The curved panel performs as advertised outdoors helping to reduce glare by limiting the amount of sunlight reflected into your eyes. LG’s website also claims that the “G Flex’s curved screen fills your field of vision for a more immersive, panoramic viewing experience”. While we’re not so sure about filling our vision, the claim has some measure of truth to it. The curved display was great for both for gaming and when watching video. While the viewing experience on the curved display felt better than on a regular display that could just be personal preference.
The innovation behind the display is not limited to the curvature, it’s also the first flexible display we’ve ever seen in a commercially available smartphone. Putting the G Flex face down on a table and pushing down in the middle flattens the crescent-shaped smartphone out completely, springing immediately back once you let go.
The major disappointment with the display is its 720X1280 resolution which puts it behind almost every flagship Android smartphone released in 2013, including LG’s own G2, which unanimously opted for a full HD 1080X1920 resolution.
It’s the combination of the lower resolution and the large 6-inch display size that gives the G Flex a pixel density of only 245 pixels-per-inch (ppi). The result is text and video that can, at times, look grainy especially when compared to the likes of the 326ppi iPhone 5s display and the 424ppi display in the G2.
At the G Flex launch event we asked the MD of LG Electronics South Africa, Mr Hwang-Lee, why the decision was made to use a 720p display in the G Flex. According to him, LG wanted to use a full HD flexible display in the G Flex but because of the difficulty in mass producing them only a few panels in each batch were usable. If a full HD display had been used the resulting retail price would have been drastically higher.
While it may just be the personal preference of our office, on the whole we would pick the colours produced by the IPS LCD panel in the G2 to the over saturated colours of the OLED panel in the G Flex.
The LG G Flex’s 13MP camera is good, in fact it’s better than just good. However it falls short of the incredibly high standards set by the competition, especially those of the G2.
In direct lighting the G Flex is as accomplished a shooter as its stable mate which, while short of the incredible pictures that the Sony Xperia Z1 and Nokia Lumia 1020 produce, still make for great images.
It is, however, in low light conditions where the loss of the OIS becomes more apparent. Pictures tend towards being either too bright, washing out some of the lighter colours, or too dark making images appear slightly grainy.
If the G Flex is your first taste of a premium smartphone camera, then you’ll be delighted with the results, but if you’re comparing it to the likes of the G2, Xperia Z1, iPhone 5s or Lumia 1020, then it falls short of greatness.
It’s also a pity that you have to view your 13MP photos on the Flex’s low pixel density which we found reduced the perceived quality of a picture.
The battery performance of the G Flex is phenomenal. The combination of the 3500mAh battery and a lower resolution, energy efficient OLED display means that, even though the G Flex is outfitted with a larger than average 6-inch display, it just keeps going and going.
Regular usage should see even the most aggressive power user getting at least a full working day out of the G Flex while the average smartphone user could easily see more than a full day between charges.
The G Flex uses the same Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 technology found in the G2 which dramatically reduces charging times by optimising the flow of electricity to the battery. The drawback is that Quick Charge can only be used with the official LG power supply, and not any old microUSB charger.
LG bills its new G Flex as ‘The shape of innovation’ and it’s that statement that sets the tone for a smartphone that is crammed full of technology that will more than likely make its way into future smartphones.
While the curved display is fascinating and a technical achievement in and of itself, it adds no meaningful functionality to the G Flex. The flexible display and battery technology, on the other hand, could be the first steps towards an era of hardy smartphones that resist the urge to shatter at the slightest drop. Add to that the ‘self-healing’ exterior and the G Flex becomes the showcase of resilient smartphones of tomorrow.
If you’re an early tech adopter, willing to take a few knocks in order to be the first to experience what could be the future of smartphone design, or you just want to have something that no one else does, then the G Flex presents a compelling case for you.
If you’re looking for a truly brilliant, flagship Android smartphone that has a great camera, a fantastic display, great battery life and blazing performance then LG has that for you too. It’s called the G2. And with both Vodacom and Cell C offering extra data with the G2 on a new contract, now is probably the time to get one.
Battery life: 5/5
Value for Money: 3/5
Price: R9 999
Display: 6-inch curved P-OLED display, 720×1280 resolution at 245 ppi
Processor: 2.26 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 32GB non-expandable
Camera: 13 megapixel rear, 2.1 megapixel full HD, front facing
Networking: LTE, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, dual-band 802.11ac wireless
Other: Flexible display and body, ‘self-healing’ rear cover