At a time when nearly everyone has a smartphone, we’re now seeing companies try to make devices with wild features to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
And now LG’s newest Android phone, the G Flex, has a giant 6-inch curved screen and a rear cover that can heal itself from scratches. It costs $US300 on-contract through AT&T and Sprint or $US0 down plus $US28 per month for two years on T-Mobile. You can buy it in early February, but availability might vary by carrier.
The G Flex is an interesting device, and I really, really wanted to like it. But that curved screen ended up being more of a burden than a blessing.
Let’s start with the screen…
The curved screen is the most important part of the phone, after all. At six inches, the G Flex’s screen is a full two inches larger than the iPhone’s and slightly larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 screen. LG says it curved the screen so it fits the natural contours of your face better, but I didn’t notice much of a difference from using a normal flat phone.
The curve does make it easier to hold though. Most phablets I’ve used have been barely manageable, even with two hands. The G Flex feels much more comfortable in the hand, and strangely doesn’t feel as gigantic as it actually is. You also don’t really notice the screen is curved when looking directly at it, but it did take some getting used to swiping around on the curvy surface. Even with the curved screen, the backing is flat enough so the device doesn’t rock around when its sitting on a table.
But that’s where the benefits end.
In order to make that curved display, LG had to make some compromises with resolution. The G Flex’s screen is nowhere near as sharp as the screens on Samsung and Apple’s phones. Images, video, and text all look pixelated and blurry, as if they were drawn on the screen with a crayon. That alone is enough to ruin the experience. (LG does make another phone called the G2 that has one of the most gorgeous screens I’ve ever used though.)
In short, the curved screen doesn’t do much but add an interesting aesthetic value to the phone. It’s up to you to decide if that’s worth $US300.
The G Flex is pretty tough. The back has a special “self-healing” coating that can repair minor scratches over time. I didn’t really test that feature because I was afraid to damage the review unit LG loaned me, but there are plenty of people out there saying it works. I imagine it’s good for protecting against drops on concrete or rubbing against keys or coins in a purse.
What really impressed me was how durable the phone is. If you place it face down and press on it, it flexes under pressure without cracking. And I put a lot of pressure on this thing. That's pretty neat, and it hints at a future where our smartphones will be less likely to crack or scratch if we drop them.
Other featuresThe G Flex is an Android phone, but like most manufacturers, LG modified the software with its own user interface and special apps. However, LG's changes make Android worse, not better. Overall, it's just unattractive. App icons don't look good. Menus are clunky and tough to navigate. And there's an annoying swoopy animation when you swipe between home screens. There are a bunch of other gimmicky features like double tapping the screen to switch the device on, something LG calls "Knock On." I don't really see the point though. It's much easier and faster to just press the power button. Speaking of buttons, LG puts its power and volume controls on the back of the device, just under the camera lens. It's very awkward to use, and I still found myself accidentally pressing the wrong button even after several days of training. LG's theory is that it's more natural to control your phone with your index finger from the back of the device rather than fumbling around the sides. I disagree. [image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/52ecfc486bb3f701214ad89b/image.jpg" alt="Lg g flex buttons on back" link="lightbox" size="primary" align="center" clear="true" source="Business Insider" caption="The LG G Flex has buttons on the back."] I also experienced some bugs with the software. A few apps like Google Calendar crashed every time I tried to open them. This could be because the G Flex is running an older version of Android with so many modifications from LG and its carrier partners, so hopefully a future software update will iron out all those kinks. Battery life is really good. Besides giant screens, another benefit of phablets is that they have much larger batteries. I easily made it through a day of normal use on one charge with plenty of power to spare. The camera took decent photos, but it's still not as good as the camera on the iPhone 5S or Nokia Lumia 1020.
ConclusionThe G Flex is full of interesting ideas, but none of them are executed very well. I'd love a phone with a scratch-proof backing and durable screen, but not if it means using a device with unattractive software and a pixelated resolution. The G Flex is just a first attempt at making curved screen phones popular, so if the idea intrigues you, it's best to wait for something better.
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