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LG G Flex Android smartphone review
Australia’s first curved-screen smartphone has arrived and there is more to it than a pretty face.
- Design is comfortable to hold and carry
- Curved screen is amazing for video playback
- Powerful 2.26GHz quad-core CPU (Qualcomm Snapdragon 800)
- 32GB onboard storage
- Low resolution for screen size (1280x720 at 6in, 245ppi)
- No microSD card slot for expansion
- Very ‘plastic’ look and feel
The LG G Flex may end up being somewhat of a gimmick, but does feel comfortable in the hand, and provides a better-than-average video playback experience thanks to its curved display. We hope it makes its way down to Australia and New Zealand.
LG has taken the curved-screen technology it uses in its televisions and popped it into the LG G Flex. The Android smartphone will be known in circles as the phone with a curved display, but with its powerful innards, unique design traits and ultra-capable imaging technologies, it is so much more.
Ahead of the curve
Commanding attention when you first see the G Flex is the ever-so-gradual curve of its body. It is the first smartphone in Australia to feature this design trait, and after using the smartphone for over a week we’re convinced the G Flex is a better phone for it. Its curvature enhances the viewing experience, makes its large body more comfortable to pocket, and allows it to rest more naturally in the hand.
The G Flex adopts an understated and symmetrical design. A 6in screen — bordered by a fine bezel — dominates the reflective smartphone face. Little hardware occupies the top of the phone, while the only marking at the base of the smartphone is an LG badge.
Turn the G Flex around and the design's focus shifts towards function. Next to the 13MP rear camera is a single LED flash and an IR emitter. What lies beneath is far more interesting; a volume rocker and a power button. These controls have been relocated to the rear of the smartphone, partly to keep the screen’s bezel as thin as possible, but mainly because even long fingers struggle to reach opposite sides. Placing the controls in the middle halves the distance and makes the G Flex friendly for both right- and left-handed people.
Resting on a table, the curvature of the G Flex skews its 177g weight onto the centre of its back cover. Early tests revealed that this caused the centre of the cover to suffer from discolouration. LG tended to this flaw by coating the back in a ‘self-healing elastic coating’, which we can confirm does reduce the visibility of small scratches. Company representatives compared the technology to that featured on car bumper bars.
The G Flex’s curve is made possible with the use of a 6in P-OLED (a polymer-based OLED) panel. The curved panel has a resolution of 1280x720 and a pixel density of 247 pixels-per-inch. In theory, the density puts the G Flex behind rivals such as the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S, but the difference in receptiveness is truly negligible.
Curved screen technology is in its infancy and people are still trying to determine whether or not the form factor delivers genuine benefits. Our testing revealed it does prove advantageous in some areas, and our findings were congruent with a report released by DisplayMate, who claimed the form factor reduces interference caused by reflections.
The G Flex delivers the most immersive visual experience on a smartphone to date
We compared how much light is reflected by a LG G Flex, a Samsung Galaxy Note III, and an Apple iPhone 5S. The G Flex reflected significantly less light than the other devices, and in doing so, its readability was superior. This also allowed us to use the smartphone at lower levels of brightness, which is to the benefit of its battery life.
The G Flex has a knack for colour. Bright colours are punchy and possess excellent contrast alongside deep renditions of black. Between the curving display and the colour articulation of the panel, the G Flex delivers the most immersive visual experience on a smartphone to date.
Lots of Android toppings
LG has made significant tweaks to the appearance and functionality of the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean software in an effort to differentiate itself from Android rivals.
The notification pull-down menu is a one-stop shop for connectivity and multitasking. Incoming notifications are still housed there, but you can now view and reply to new text messages without pulling down the notification window or opening the SMS application. Rather, a speech bubble appears with a text entry field and the keyboard. This is a fantastic innovation over the existing actionable notification window.
The many detailed shortcuts featured in the notification ribbon can be easily be configured. Those who appreciate granular control over details of the OS will keep the ribbon populated with NFC and other toggles, while the more simplistic user can remove the options they are unlikely to use often.
LG has endeavoured to make its custom skin as functional as possible. Two additions, Q-Slide and split-screen multitasking, are examples of this. With Q-Slide, you can open two applications in resizable windows so that you can use three applications all at once.
The split-screen multitasking option is less original. Holding down the back button generates a menu that enables two applications to share the same screen. This is eerily similar to the process Samsung uses on its smartphones, but as the old adage goes: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.
The G Flex has the potential to be used as a remote control, not only with the devices that are part of your home entertainment network, but also with your air conditioner. Setting up the smartphone as one of your remotes is quite easy; a step-by-step tutorial walks you through the installation process.
Changing the channel becomes a conscious chore
The novelty of using your smartphone as a remote control can wear off if there’s no easy way to alternate between your phone and the TV application. LG has cleverly gotten around this by adding a remote interface in the notification area. In doing so, you can use your smartphone as usual and still control your TV with a simple swipe of the notification tray. Clearing the television controls from the notification tray can be done easily by pressing the remote toggle.
What lets the LG remote down is the positioning of its infrared receiver. LG boasts that the G Flex features the biggest infrared receiver among its Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One rivals, but it is located alongside the camera at the back. This means to change the channel you have to hold the smartphone upright, as opposed to the tradition of pointing it at the TV. All of a sudden, the unconscious act of changing the channel becomes a conscious chore.
The G Flex’s remote capability are not without its strengths, but the absence of a television guide, along with its unconventional ergonomics, makes it secondary to that featured in the HTC One.
The G Flex is not just a smartphone with an unusual screen. Inside the monolith are powerful computing components which ensure the G Flex is not just another gimmick.
It features a quad-core 2.26GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, storage cannot be expanded with a microSD card, which is quite a noticeable omission considering the G Flex could be the go-to multimedia phone for movie enthusiasts.
Behind the OLED screen, and adhering to its curve, is a 3500mAh battery. It is a big battery, but between the processing innards and ‘phablet’-sized screen, the G Flex needs it.
How long this battery will last depends on what features you make use of. During our testing, we watched feature films, streamed YouTube videos, browsed the Internet, played music, took photos, multitasked, played games and made phone calls. Under these conditions, the G Flex lasted just under a day (23 hours). Using the G Flex for less intensive tasks prolonged the battery life.
The G Flex has solid imaging credentials. On the front it features a 2.1MP camera capable of 1080p video recording. People who make video calls over applications such as Skype will appreciate the combination of a large screen and proficient front-facing imaging.
The back camera also has a high resolution. Photos are captured at 13 megapixels, and overall it performs quite well. Even when blown up, photos maintain detail and noise is kept to a minimum. If we had to nitpick at something, it would be the contrast levels, as detail is often lost in dark areas or flushed out in bright lighting.
Videos are recorded with even more detail than before, as the G Flex is one of a handful of smartphones to support the upcoming Ultra high definition standard (UHD, also known as 4K). UHD videos capture four times as many pixels as the current Full HD standard, but this next-generation clarity consumes a great amount of storage. Using the G Flex, a 10 second video recording consumed 35MB. By default, we suggest recording in the G Flex’s 720p, 1080p @30fps or 1080p @60fps modes.
The G Flex is bathed in a wide range of connectivity technologies. It is an LTE 4G device, features NFC, supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Wi-Fi direct, and the latest Bluetooth 4.0 standard. Despite the large screen, the smartphone welcomes sharing its display with compatible Miracast televisions and monitors.
And yet despite its connectivity repertoire, the G Flex falters by not supporting 850MHz telecommunication networks. This means the G Flex won’t support Telstra’s 3G network and most of Vodafone’s 3G network. Wanting the G Flex, then, is a matter of wanting a big, curved and powerful smartphone, and wanting it on the Optus network.
The G Flex represents a huge, innovative step forward for LG. The company has managed to give curved-screen technology validity in a smartphone form factor, and in Australia it has managed to do it first. But LG didn’t stop there: it included a large battery, a ‘self-healing’ back, and the ability to record videos in UHD resolution. These are all great reasons to go out and buy this smartphone.
But there’s one good reason why some people shouldn’t, and that’s because it doesn’t support 850MHz networks. It’s a real shame because by not supporting this frequency, the G Flex’s many innovations will likely go unnoticed.
The LG G Flex is available now. Optus is the only carrier to stock the smartphone, but if you walk into an Optus store you won’t find it ranged. Retailer Harvey Norman has the handset exclusively and it is offering it upfront for $988. Alternatively if you purchase the G Flex on any one of Optus’ ‘My Plans’ in February, you’ll receive a $200 Harvey Norman gift voucher.
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