The endless line of slabs stepping up to the frontlines of the smartphone spec wars has settled like a malaise across the land. The “bigger, faster” mantra of the OEM often brushes aside true innovation in favor of muscle. So when a phone like the LG G Flex came along with its attractive curve and “self-healing” finish, heads really turned.
But once the afterglow subsided, what were we really left with? As it turns out, a huge smartphone with a so-so display and questionable camera.
Design, Hardware, and Specs
Like the LG G2, the G Flex features the rear key, a volume rocker/power button combo center-mounted on the back of the device. It’s still awkward at first but it really does make for a natural fit and it operates the 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera for easier selfies. From a design standpoint, the rear-mounted buttons make for nice, clean edges.
The pleasing aesthetics don’t stop there either. For a phone this huge, the G Flex looks svelte and doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand—despite weighing 6.24 ounces. Keeping up the phone’s image is the magical, regenerative coating on the back of the phone. Its promise to heal up any superficial marks makes it easier to forego a bulky case and go au naturale.
The G Flex effectively stole much of the curved display spotlight away from its bendy competitor, the Samsung Round—even though Samsung’s phone featured some nifty UI tricks that actually took advantage of the phone’s unusual shape. The G Flex, on the other hand, touted its curviness as providing an ergonomic shape and cinematic experience. Both of those claims are dubious at best.
It’s true that the design puts the microphone closer to the user’s mouth while making a phone call which especially comes in handy with such a long phone—the G Flex is 6.32 inches long, pushing well past even Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 at 5.95 inches. But LG also says the G Flex fits comfortably in a user’s back pocket, indicating the company thinks there is demand for a phone that hugs your butt. There is not, plus putting an expensive smartphone in your back pocket is ill-advised. Especially if it’s so well contoured to your body you may forget it’s there.
The G Flex’s other curvy promise of a cinematic experience is slightly more on-target. The flexed P-OLED capacitive touchscreen goes a little way toward reducing some glare. The Quick Theater features a neat UI trick that functions like opening two sliding doors or curtains to reveal the photo gallery, video player and applications like YouTube. But the 720p display resolution, while still looking good on a six-inch screen, seems problematic for users really looking for high-quality playback on a mobile device.
Another achievement for the device is the curved battery. It’s a significant engineering feat and its healthy 3,500 mAh provides plenty of time for messing around with all the software and UI tricks packed into the G Flex.
UI and Software
The most useful of the G Flex’s moves is KnockOn, a double tap on the screen that turns on the display, making it easy to wake up the phone without picking it up. More haphazard is SlideAside that’s supposed to allow for three-finger swipes from side to side for cycling though applications. It’s a bit of an awkward movement and hard to consistently perform. Luckily, the multi-tasking function that holding down the home button activates is fast, reliable and easy to use. The Dual Window mode allows for two applications to run simultaneously—either side by side or top and bottom, depending how the phone is positioned. It’s easy to launch and fairly novel, particularly for adding attachments to messages, allowing you to just drag and drop. Under the hood, a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor makes it all buttery smooth, right down to the superfluous water effect on the lock screen.
Unfortunately, not many fun features made it onto the app for the 13MP, 1080p camera. The dual camera mode is fun and could be useful but features like Shot & Clear—which says it will allow for unwanted objects to be scrubbed from the frame—just didn’t work well or at all. A dearth of fun functions baked in wouldn’t be too big of a problem for a smartphone camera, but unfortunately the G Flex’s camera’s issues extend beyond that. Color reproduction and white balance while shooting in low light were disappointing—the G Flex took a photo of our office’s brown carpet and it came out blue. On the plus side, though, videos are crisp, outdoor shots come out nice and the camera launches fairly quickly, from the native app or a button on the back.
Everyone knows the G Flex was built for looks. That curve is its bread and butter. But by the third or fourth date, when the G Flex’s personality begins to bubble to the top, users who thought they scored a 10 maybe be reviewing the score. The G Flex has plenty of features and tricks to keep things interesting for a while and more than enough muscle and memory to keep pace. But the flaws in smartphone 101 stuff like the display and the camera put the G Flex behind its competition that puts function over flashy form.