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Thursday
Mar202014

Review: LG G Flex on Rogers

By Simon Cohen

The first smartphone on the planet to offer a curved and flexible screen is a powerhouse device no matter which angle to view it from.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or simply not reading Canadian Reviewer) you’re probably aware that curved screens are all the rage. First it was TVs, with both LG and Samsung debuting curved OLED and LCD HDTVs and UHDTVs.

The rationale being that a curved screen offers viewers better picture quality because it eliminates edge-distortion caused by the increased distance of the sides of the screen to your eye. Yeah, I’m not necessarily buying that reason either, but one thing’s for sure: Curved screens are here and starting with the LG G Flex, they’re going to be in your hand, not just your living room. So the question is, why do we need a curved smartphone?

Form Factor


Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: The LG G Flex is an enormous phone. I’m not even sure it should be called a smartphone. With a screen size that comes in at 6” (diagonal), the LG G Flex even beats out the giant Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (5.7”) which, when it debuted in 2012, not only gave us a new word (phablet) but also had reviewers mocking its laughably large size as “designed for wild elephants.”

So despite its lack of stylus, we should acknowledge what the LG G Flex is: it’s a phablet, not a phone. A phablet that you can still cram in your pocket, but a phablet nonetheless.

But before you take that as a negative, consider that the Galaxy Note devices have proven wildly successful. Precious few reviewers are still laughing. Large-form-factor devices have clearly found their audience.

The curved body--and you really do notice the curve when holding it or setting it down on a flat surface—does nothing to make the LG G Flex feel any smaller than it is. This is truly huge device. If you’ve been used to working your smartphone one-handed, you’re going to need massive digits if you want to continue that behaviour with the LG G Flex.

Using my admittedly small hands, I couldn’t sweep my thumb from one edge to the other without my fingers losing their grip on the edge of the case. In fact, I couldn’t get further than about 80% of the distance.

LG claims the G Flex is not only curved, it’s also flexible. Yes, flexible.

Practically speaking, what they mean is you can (in another striking similarity to their TV technology) force the phone flat, and keep it that way for short periods of time. My advice? Don’t.

It takes an almost unnerving amount of downward force to flatten out the LG G Flex and to be perfectly honest, my courage gave out before I was able to get it completely flat. But more to the point, why would you ever want to? I suppose it’s comforting to know that if your phone ever became trapped under an extremely heavy laptop or an atlas or your best friend said, “ooh does it go FLAT???” you wouldn’t have to buy a new phone. But really, just don’t.

Despite its monolithically large size, the LG G Flex doesn’t feel heavy. It’s actually surprisingly light, tipping the scales at less than 10 grams more than the Galaxy Note 3 (176.3 vs 168).

Both the screen and the plastic back panel are fingerprint magnets of the highest order. I don’t consider myself an especially oily-fingered guy, but you’d never know it to look at my loaner unit – in a few short minutes of use it had become messier than pre-schooler’s piece of art. LG might want to look at improving the oleophobic coating on its next model.

Fit and finish is about what we’ve come to expect from LG recently but the overall impression of quality is less than what I’ve found on other products such as the LG Optimus G. It’s a very plastic-y feeling phone.

External buttons follow the same design as LG introduced us to with the LG G2 – specifically, a combination volume rocker/power button on the back panel, immediately below the rear camera. It’s not a bad design, once you get used to it (it even makes a lot of sense give the LG G Flex’s massive width) but my preference remains with side-mounted controls. The power button itself glows when pressed and presumably can act as a subtle visual indicator of notifications such an new email or voice messages, but I did not try to get these working.

Sight And Sound


The LG G Flex has a gorgeous 1280 x 720 OLED screen, which exhibits some of the deepest blacks I’ve ever seen (there’s the comparison to TVs again) while not suffering from the garishness of earlier OLED efforts. In short, this is as good a screen as you will find on a mobile phone today. Videos look incredible.  Graphics and colours are glorious.

But because the screen is spreading its 720p resolution over a 6” space, it loses ground in the ppi (pixels per inch) measurement, which, at 244 ppi is a good bit less dense than the iPhone 5/s/c’s 326 ppi. Effectively, this means that text and graphics like icons will appear less sharp. And while this is a fact, it isn’t a deal-breaker at all. Because of its sheer size, text is very easy to read; in fact the LG G Flex might be the ideal device for older users whose eyesight is beginning to give them trouble at reading distances.

Perhaps that’s why LG made the somewhat bizarre decision to introduce the option of a secondary home screen on the LG G Flex – one that mimics an old feature phone. Maybe they figured that would appeal to those who want the handset simply because it’s big, and not because it’s smart.

As much as the curved screen does make watching movies and videos a bit better, it makes reading books a bit worse. That’s because when you’re using an app like Kindle or Kobo, your eyes travel from the top of the screen (page) to the bottom as you read. Unlike on a web page where you can scroll to keep what you’re reading in the middle (roughly), reading apps are static. Because of that, you become acutely aware that you are reading on a curved surface, and because that’s just not a very common thing to do, it’s a weird feeling. Not awful mind you, but weird, and it might just put people off the idea of using this otherwise wonderfully large screen for doing any serious amount of reading.

Call quality on the LG G Flex is good, but let’s face it – even though LG claims the curved design of this phone is perfect for making calls, seeing as it positions the mic ever so slightly closer to your mouth – this is not a phone for those who like long, “So, what’s been going on with you over the last year” phone calls. The awkwardness of the dimensions of the phone far outweigh any benefits that the curved design brings. Instead, the LG G Flex should be used for video calls – the screen is so big, you can comfortably run a video window and another app at the same time, with room to spare.

Sound quality from the LG G Flex’s built-in speaker however, is disappointing. If it’s true that sound is every bit as important as visuals when you watch a movie, then it’s true that while this phone over-delivers on the visuals, it under-delivers on sound. Tinny, and lacking any kind of depth, you simply won’t want to use the external speaker for anything other than the occasional YouTube clip.

Performance

I don’t know much about how to tell one processor from another in terms of specs other than reading what manufacturers publish e.g. “2.26 GHz Quad-Core Processor, Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 800 MSM8974 Chipset” but I can tell you this: The LG G Flex is incredibly fast. By that I mean, things happen very, very quickly. Launching apps, flicking from screen to screen, responsiveness when you tap and swipe – it all happens so quickly it makes older phones feel downright sluggish.

It also had more than enough horsepower to run HD video in the background while I simultaneously surfed the web and read my email. Why would I want to do all that? I wouldn’t. I’m a terrible multi-tasker. But the point is you could. That is the point, right?

The LG G Flex comes with 32GB of non-expandable storage. Is it enough? Well since there’s no such thing as enough when it comes to storage, let’s just say it’s probably enough for most of the tasks that most users will ask of it. Undoubtedly there will still be some who aren’t happy.

Battery Life


While LG hasn’t made any claims about battery life for the LG G Flex so far, they are touting the fact that they’ve made the world’s first curved smartphone battery to go with the world’s first curved smartphone. To this I say “good,” otherwise the G Flex would have had a nasty protuberance making it look more like a humpback whale than a smooth dolphin. But all that really matters is that you can get a full day of use out of the thing. Not much longer than that. But definitely a full day.

Conclusion


Whether you call the LG G Flex is a smartphone or a phablet, it is a superb device. A terrific display paired with a fast processor and an over-sized 6” screen that will either make you swoon or scoff, depending on how much you like the idea of a big device. What we don’t know yet, is the price. And that’s a problem.

Because what it really comes down to is that curved shape. If LG and their launch partner Rogers, decide to charge a premium for this feature, it simply won’t be worth it.

The curved display makes for interesting viewing of movies, but when it comes down to it, it’s not the curve that makes the display so impressive – it’s the size. And there are plenty of reasons not to like the curve: It doesn’t fit in your pocket as easily, it doesn’t make any difference to calling comfort or quality and it actually makes reading static pages like those found in e-reading apps a bit less comfortable.

Before buying the LG G Flex, you need to ask yourself: Do I like it because of the curved display and am I willing to pay more for that, or do I like it despite the curved display and am willing to ignore it (and any price premium that goes with it) in order to enjoy its other very good features?

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Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer technology bloggers. He has regularly appeared on national TV and radio as a tech expert. You can find more of his work at Excitable.ca.

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Reader Comments (1)

Very nice review...

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenteriMedia designs

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