There's really only one thing you'll first notice about the LG G Flex: the curved 6-inch screen. Whether you think it's a gimmick or a bold step forward, it gives the handset a striking, even ambitious, profile. Curve aside (for the moment) the G Flex is more than just a one trick pony, with plenty of other design and software features going for it as well.
For one thing, its design is pretty tough. It can withstand a good amount of flattening, and has a scratch-resistant coating that "heals itself". It also has one of the sharpest processors — a Snapdragon 800 — on the market, and a highly impressive battery.
The G Flex does have its share of drawbacks though. Its 720p screen isn't as crisp as those of its competitors, its camera is mediocre, and the device's large size can prove unwieldy. And while it performs respectably, it doesn't quite have what it takes to surpass the current reigning king of phablet productivity, the Galaxy Note 3.
Still, the phone remains unique, and it's a memorable device with plenty of potential. The curved shape is more than a party trick; it greatly improves the media experience and feels more comfortable to hold. Although we wish LG had put more effort into the finer details like the display resolution, the G Flex is the right step in a new direction.
Pricing and availability
In Australia, the G Flex is currently exclusive to Harvey Norman with an RRP of AU$999. Because of the network restrictions, LG is only recommending the phone for people on the Optus network — we'll address this in more detail below.
The Curve: LG reported that it went through hundreds of mock-ups and trials before finally deciding that the 700mm radius curvature was the "ideal curve" for the G Flex. Though the arc is visually noticeable (especially when the device is resting on its back), the actual physical feel of it is much subtler.
Still, its contoured shape does make the 6-inch OLED display a bit more comfortable in the hand and the curve oddly makes the phone more manageable when swiping through it.
Moreover, the bend also helps minimizes glare. When outdoors the display was already easy on the eyes in the sunlight, but the arc also helped cut down the amount of direct light coming at it. In conjunction with the display's massive size, watching videos and playing games also felt more engrossing because of the curved screen.
LG also says the curvature helps amplify audio in and out when making calls. We didn't notice much of a difference here, but when placed on a flat surface, the phone's curve raised the audio speaker above the table, making the volume louder than if placed flat on the surface.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
On the G Flex the curve goes top-to-bottom and actually matches the shape of a wallet held in your back pocket for a while. It's a good thing too, because it's meant to survive being sat on. In that vein, the Flex does indeed flex. It can reportedly withstand up to 40kg of pressure.
Self Healing: The rear finish, which LG says is "self-healing", is derived from paint finishes in the automotive industry. The finish contains hydrogen, which causes the surface to expand over time after being scratched, sealing up any damage. Keep in mind, however, that it's not impenetrable — you can still cut it with a sharp edge.
What the finish does is ensure that light scuffs disappear after a few minutes or so (increasing the surface's temperature with simple rubbing will also help along the healing process).
Body and screen: The handset measures 160.5mm tall, 81.6mm wide, and 8.7mm thick. It weighs a hefty 177g and the size could be cumbersome for users with small hands. Similar to the G2, the G Flex's power and volume buttons are located in the rear. To wake up the handset from sleep mode, simply double-tap its touch screen. To lock it and put it back to sleep, tap the display again.
The OLED display has a 1280 x 720 resolution. Colours are vivid and images are clear, but it's worth noting that the display won't be as crisp compared to 1080p screens. The OLED screen makes for some truly remarkable blacks, however, and we found watching videos on the G Flex to be an enjoyable experience.
Hardware and key components
The handset's 3500mAh curved battery uses patented technology that takes advantage of its unique shape to perform more reliably. Thanks to LG Chem the battery can squeeze out between 9-10 percent more life than a battery of similar size from a different manufacturer.
Powering the device is a 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and a 450MHz Adreno 330 GPU. Other features include 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage (with no microSD card), Bluetooth, and near-field communication.
New software from LG
In addition to a few cosmetic tweaks with the user interface, the smartphone includes three multitasking features that let you simultaneously access several apps quickly. Though we've already seen Slide Aside and QSlide in previous LG devices, one new addition is Dual Window. To launch this, tap and then long-press the "back" hotkey twice. A small menu of apps will appear, wherein you can choose the two apps you want to "splitscreen" by dragging their icons either to the top or bottom of the display.
There's also an urgent call alert, which flashes the LED notification light when you miss several calls in a row from the same number. Other new UI features I've noticed include the ability to auto-crop the status bar when taking a screenshot, and three different screen modes (standard, vivid, and natural) which adjust the vibrancy of the display's colours.
You can also change the orientation of the hotkeys to lean either on the left or right side (useful for one-handed operation), and if you want to adjust the brightness of your screen while watching a video, you can do so directly by sliding your finger across the player.
Lastly, there's QTheater. This lets you access your photos, videos, and YouTube directly from the lock screen. To launch QTheater, hold the phone in landscape mode. Use two fingers and slide outward from the centre, in both directions.
Camera and video
Although the rear-facing camera operates swiftly, photo quality, once again, failed to impress. The Flex's 13-megapixel camera took photos that were easy to make out and looked satisfactory, but they weren't exceptional: pictures contained muted, almost dull, colours. Photos of close-up objects lacked razor-sharp focus, and edges looked blurry and soft.
Both the rear-camera and the 2.1-megapixel front camera have plenty of photo options. These include auto and touch focus; a voice shutter function that lets you operate the shutter by saying certain words including "cheese," "smile," or "whiskey"; a brightness meter; five white-balance settings; three colour effects; a timer; geotagging; and the option to select whether you want the volume key to either zoom or take a photo.
One neat feature about the 13-megapixel camera's "face-tracking" option is that it works in conjunction with the LED light located on the power button. Because you won't be able to see the screen when you take a selfie with the rear-camera, the LED light will light up yellow if it senses a face is in the shot. When it lights up green, it means the camera has now focused on the face, and you can go ahead and take the photo.
The Selfie mode.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
As for video quality, the camera showed varying results. Shooting in 1080p HD video yielded sharp footage, with both moving and still objects remaining in focus. Colours appeared true-to-life, and the camera was able to shift its focus for lighting without having that odd "pulsating" effect seen in the Nexus 5.
However we did experience issues with audio. Nearby audio sounded hollow, almost echoing, and when we shot video both indoors and outdoors, there was a subtle and continuous rustling noise.
The Snapdragon 800 processor, in conjunction with the Adreno 330 GPU, delivers reliable, ultrasmooth gameplay. Animation had a high frame rate, but (understandably) didn't look as crisp as on some 1080p displays. It goes without saying that less complicated tasks, such as returning to the home page, calling up the keyboard, and launching the app drawer, took no time at all. Though the Flex's 20,123 Quadrant score is impressive (the G2, for example, runs the same processor and scored 19,050), it's important to note that the Note 3 scored higher at 23,048.
As previously mentioned, the Flex contains a 3,500mAh proprietary tech battery. With medium use and brightness turned up to max, the device lasted 13 hours with 36 percent leftover. And even at that level, the Flex estimated that we still had about 8 hours of usage time remaining. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, it lasted an impressive 17.82 hours. It's easily one of the better smartphone batteries we've tried.
As we mentioned before, LG is recommending that the G Flex be used on the Optus network. LG is using the D958 model locally, which does not have antenna support for 850Mhz, the frequency used by both Telstra and Vodafone for delivery of 3G services. (Note that Vodafone does operate some 3G services over 2100Mhz, mainly in urban areas.)
However, the D958 model will work across the 4G networks for Vodafone, Telstra and Optus.
We tested across all three networks and when in 4G coverage, Telstra consistently had the best speeds, including our top recorded download speed of 80.44Mbps. Vodafone was (a very close) second in speed averages, with Optus' 4G network the slowest.
Outside of 4G coverage, it was — of course — a different story. Telstra's HSPA+ speeds varied from 11Mpbs to 0.2Mbps, while the Edge '2.5G' network was the worst, at 0.08Mbps. Vodafone's non-LTE speeds fared better, presumably because of the 2100Mhz support.
Because of these variances, we'd have to concur with LG: unless you're very confident you won't be leaving 4G coverage, you're better off sticking with Optus.
In order, the results are Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
When first announced, the LG G Flex seemed like more of a gimmick than a genuine consumer device. We were wrong. The G Flex is one of LG's best smartphones to date, with a combination of intriguing physical design, solid specs and useful features.
Sadly, the spectrum support issues limit the usefulness of the G Flex for anyone not already on, or willing to make the shift to, the Optus network. That's going to be a dealbreaker for many potential owners.
We're very keen to see how the G Flex stacks up against its only current curved rival — the Samsung Round — if Samsung ever chooses to bring it into Australia. Until then, the G Flex' curves reign supreme... assuming you're on the 'right' network.