Smartphone design hasn’t changed much over the past couple of years. Sure, they come in a variety of colors and sizes now. But their overall look has stayed the same — rectangular and flat. Yawn.
Now, LG is looking to shake things up.
The Korean electronics company recently released the LG G Flex, one of the first smartphones to offer a curved display. (Samsung also has one called the Galaxy Round). Its six-inch touchscreen has a subtle concave shape that curves from top to bottom, and can flex under pressure.
At this point, you might be asking, “What’s the advantage of a curved display?” And that’s a very good question. According to LG, the benefits include a more comfortable feel when holding the phone to your face, an improved audio experience, and less screen glare, particularly in bright sunlight.
The Android-based G Flex also features a “self-healing” back that can automatically fix any scratches or dings that the phone might incur with everyday use.
But in my week of testing the phone, I found that several of these claims fell flat (no pun intended). It’s true that the curved display cuts down on screen glare, but I didn’t notice any significant improvement in sound quality. And yes, the phone bends under pressure, so you can sit on it without fear of it breaking. But the self-healing skin didn’t save the phone from all scratches. In short, these technologies need more work before they become must-haves.
As such, I wouldn’t recommend rushing to get the G Flex, especially since it’s not available through a U.S. carrier (yet), and costs between $900 and $1,000 for an unlocked version. Even if it does come to the U.S., I have reservations about the phone, since its screen has a lower resolution than most premium phones, and its large size won’t be for everybody.
That said, I think the G Flex is a promising sign of things to come. The flexible display and self-fixing skin are technologies that have the potential of making smartphones better in the future.
I was actually surprised when I first saw the G Flex. Though I wasn’t expecting a phone that curled up at the ends like a bowl, the curvature of the phone was a lot more subtle than I had imagined it to be. LG said it tested hundreds of different designs before settling on what it deemed as the ideal curve, and I noticed some advantages right away.
I used the phone indoors and outdoors, and the contoured display did help minimize glare. When talking on the phone, I found that the G Flex felt more comfortable against my face compared to other flat-faced phones like my iPhone 5 and Nexus 5. The curved back also made the phone more enjoyable to hold when watching movies.
But some of these ergonomic benefits are overshadowed by the phone’s larger size, which comes in at 6.32 inches tall by 3.21 inches wide by 0.34-inch thick. At that size, the phone wasn’t easy to operate one-handed. It also made it hard to carry the G Flex in a pants pocket. I would really love to see the LG’s flexible display on a smaller device.
If you do have back pockets that are large enough to accommodate the phone, the G Flex can handle the pressure of being sat upon. According to LG, the G Flex can withstand up to 88 pounds of pressure. I pushed, sat and stepped on the device a number of times, and the phone would bend and then return to its original shape each time. To date, I haven’t noticed any adverse effects to the phone itself.
As I mentioned earlier, LG claims that the G Flex’s curved design also lends itself to improved voice and sound quality. But I didn’t really find that to be the case. Voice calls certainly sounded fine, and so did audio from video. But I wouldn’t say that it was any better than other smartphones I’ve tested.
The multimedia experience was somewhat mediocre compared to other premium smartphones. This is largely due to the fact that the G Flex’s screen only has a 720p resolution. Most high-end smartphones today feature full HD 1080p displays, so images just didn’t look as sharp on the G Flex.
The other distinguishing feature of the G Flex is its self-healing finish, which borrows technology from the automotive paint industry. All week, I carried the phone without a case into my purse, which is filled with all sorts of some sharp-edged things, including keys, pens and sunglasses, and the phone remained scratch-free. However, I did manage to leave a couple of permanent marks on the G Flex.
In both instances, I took a key to the back of the phone to test the limits of the self-healing finish. Admittedly, the first time, I really dug the key into the surface, which left a lasting scar. To be fair, LG said that the finish isn’t designed to repair all damages, and doesn’t recommend taking a sharp object to the phone. But the second time, I was just running the key over the back, and while I didn’t feel like I was applying too much pressure, the phone ended up with another permanent scratch.
The rest of the G Flex is pretty much similar to the LG G2 I reviewed a couple of months ago. Performance is snappy, thanks to Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon processor. The phone’s 13-megapixel camera also took decent photos.
It should also be noted that in order to create a curved phone, LG had to develop a curved battery. Not only was the company successful in doing so, but it was able to make one that offered solid battery life. I didn’t run a formal battery test, but with normal use (checking email and social networks, reading Web articles and watching a couple of video clips), I was able to go almost two full days before needing to recharge.
LG definitely deserves credit for bringing new and exciting technologies to smartphones, and I look forward to seeing what comes next. But for right now, the G Flex feels very much like a first-generation product whose technologies need to mature a bit before they’re ready for the masses.