Review: LG G Flex
When we spoke with LG’s senior marketing manager for mobile communications, Brad Reed recently, he insisted the manufacturer was dedicated to ergonomics and in bringing together screen and battery technologies to showcase themselves as key innovators in the industry.
The G Flex exemplifies these qualities according to Brad, so I decided to put this piece of kit to the test by trying something different and composing this entire review on the G Flex’s generous display to test overall comfort during sustained usage. Call it mad, call pointless, it’s probably both but in using a handset which so finely crosses that line between phablet and tablet I figured, why not?
The G Flex is priced in such a way to pull the most daring of early adopters of its new technology and gather feedback from them, but is it worth forking out the coin for this developing technology?
- Battery life, easily its best aspect
- Design is unexpectedly comfortable and eye catching
- Viewing multimedia
- Slick performance
- Nifty features
- Display suffers outdoors
- LG’s skin in need of major overhaul
- Software support
- Lack of OIS
THE DESIGN AND BUILD
Right from the get-go just about any one person who comes in contact with you will notice the vertical curvature of the G Flex.
Disclaimer: I should note that I’ll try to keep the innuendos and puns to an absolute minimum, but I can’t make any guarantees for how these words are interpreted. Reader discretion is advised.
If not the curve they notice at first glance – which quite frankly is hard not to – the sheer size of it will surely raise an eyebrow or two. I’m not joking, on more occasions than I expected I managed to catch the gaze of a curious eye, staring, analysing, baffled by the curve and its display.
The G Flex is gargantuan and it by gosh it demands attention.
Its 6-inch curved Plastic OLED display sits squarely — err, roundly — in a plastic casing coated in a self-healing polymer which isn’t overly slippery, if anything adding a degree of grip I wasn’t prepared for, given its glossy appearance. It’s surrounded top and bottom by reasonably sized bezels and barely there side bezels, taking a page out of the G2’s design. The similarities persist with the same rear keys cluster comprising a power button that doubles as a notification LED accompanied by volume rockers on either side situated beneath the 13MP camera with flash and IR blaster on either side — the latter which was moved from the top where it featured on the G2.
The objective — as many of you would know — is to make these controls more accessible to users in hand and to the resounding number of individuals who own a G2, it’s apparent there’s interest in this setup. As a new user to this approach, I’m taken by it. While at first it seemed unusual and foreign, as time progressed I realised how pleasant it was in use. It’s one of those inherently simple ideas which make a world of difference. One I found mainly in the ease of adjusting volumes while listening to music without the need to extend a finger around the side, or awkwardly handling the device when buried in a pocket. The keys also act as shortcuts whereby holding the volume down key can run the camera app from sleep and volume up launches QuickMemo.
The entire setup will sure enough be one of those elements I’ll miss and curse while using my personal handset.
The incorporation of a self-healing polymer coating on the rear is met with mixed opinion. On the one hand it’s able to withstand casual scratches and ordinary wear that comes with rocking a device bare, but don’t expect miracles if it’s dropped or grazes against any surface. In testing I found this magic marker coating worked against the application of light to medium scratches from keys and minimised the appearance of deeper scratches. The limits of the self-healing properties are rather narrow, but I commend LG for introducing it as there’s real potential it could greatly enhance the quality and durability of future handsets.
While we’re no strangers here to the phablet, the blurring of phablet and entry level tablet sizes leaves us doubting their usability in day-to-day operations. LG believes that by curving the display, chassis and set components like battery, the end result is a manageable handset which retains it’s display for comfortably viewing all kinds of multimedia content.
Another argument for the vertically curved display is improved comfort when the handset is pressed against ear and cheek during calls, along with enhanced standard of voice quality picked up by the microphone near your mouth. While I could believe this to be a valid point given the design of landline telephones, I’m not entirely convinced this aspect has had anything more than a negligible effect on the standard of calls, but I’ll concede there is comfort offered from the curve when held to the face, in a way that isn’t as obvious or embarrassing ‒ to some ‒ as holding a flat slab of any similarly sized device.
What I can remark from personal use is that the G Flex wasn’t as difficult to operate in the same one-handed manner I can manage on a smaller Note 3, but it certainly required shifting of the device up and down and in all edges of the hand more often.
Overall I was pleased with how its curved body bonded with my hand. They’ve won over a skeptic in that regard.
Everyone’s hand is different as you know, so if you’re interested, head on down to Harvey Norman to see if the handset is your match.
As far as flexing goes, the G Flex holds true to its name when pushed against a flat surface, but it doesn’t come without grunts in the form of unsettling creaks. While I had no concerns the handset would damage in any way, the emanating sounds didn’t inspire confidence and it raises concerns about the longevity of the build, as our unit was found to easily creak on one side when even slight pressure was applied to a perceived weak spot.
Diving into that 6-inch OLED display for the first time it was apparent the stretched 720p resolution had an impact on clarity. There’s a persistent graininess which gives off a paper-like quality — if you see things half full — and while the pixels are there and you no doubt will notice them, it doesn’t bother me all that much when you consider the bump in battery life to be discussed later.
Yes, the G Flex’s curved display was designed with media consumption in mind and having a low-res display detracts from that experience to an extent, but I’d rather the trade-off if it means I spend less time tied to a power outlet while viewing content. That’s just my opinion and you’re completely justified in arguing for the opposite.
Nevertheless, the curved display itself makes for an engaging experience in landscape. I hazard to call it “immersive” due to flaws in its resolution and clarity.
What is a major concern is outdoor visibility, a factor which has made the experience rather disappointing when out and about.
Indoors the G Flex is everything it needs to be — given its obvious limitations. Its “Real RGB” technology delivers vibrant colours, deep blacks and there’s a couple of display presets to choose from if it’s not to your liking.
Take the handset out into unforgiving sunlight and these qualities are all but lost. There’s something about the way light falls onto the display from an angle I happen to regularly hold the phone in which renders poor visibility. It’s not helped by highly reflective bezels which in conjunction with the display, give off levels of glare unparalleled to anything I’ve used. This is in part rectifiable if you tilt the device to combat the sun and it’s likely your best option — the display isn’t all that bright even when set at its brightest, providing a good reason as to why there’s a brightness slider is wedged in the notifications tray. Content on the whole is still viewable, but it shouldn’t be a challenge for a more premium device in 2014.
As far as UI, this is normally where LG falls flat on its face and while their skin still does little to embody the essence of their sleek handsets, the G Flex at least gets something of a makeover by way of its own “Flex” theme. It’s nothing fabulous but it takes a step in a good direction from the clunky, cartoonish guise offered in the alternative that’s standard on the G2.
On the whole LG’s skin remains torn between two worlds. It’s unsure whether it wants to commit to the stylistic flow of watery and twinkly animations which complement the handset’s svelte body, or if it wants to remain in the safe zone of Gingerbread times a past. It’s by far the most incohesive skins from one of the leading manufacturers out there, but something has to be working for it for LG to be doing as well as they are globally, or perhaps consumers simply don’t care as much as we do.
LG are also no strangers when it comes to stuffing their handsets full of any which feature they consider to be one. The result is a hodge podge of features that actually are useful and others which’ll probably collect dust.
Thankfully there’s a slew of features which work to the benefit of the G Flex’s tremendous screen real estate.
There’s Dual Window which lets you run two apps side by side and adjust the side of each pane if desired . It can be tweaked to automatically run when a link is accessed in an app and it makes multitasking a cinch. The only complaint here is in how limited support for third party apps are and while there’s apps like Chrome, Hangouts, YouTube, Maps and Gmail, these are your only Google app options outside of a small number of standard apps I brushed past.
Taken from the G2 there’s also QSlide which offer scalable pop-up apps which also aid in multitasking but it’s limited even more so at the moment. To address concerns, LG has released an SDK for developers to make their apps compatible, should they choose that is.
Provided you don’t have a password of any kind in place — something I can’t do without — you’ll be able to make use of “Quick Theatre” which can hurl you into your pictures, videos or YouTube directly from the lockscreen via a two-finger gesture. It saves time accessing these apps through normal steps and I can see the YouTube component being useful in those moments where boredom strikes, or in showing your mates a video while conversation is still centred on it.
Slide Aside is a fancier application switcher which pulls in an application to the left with a three finger slide and retrieves them with the same gesture to the right to open saved apps.
With enough room to let your thumbs run amok on LG’s included keyboard, I’ve managed for the first time to touch type fluidly on a smartphone. It isn’t without it’s kinks — during the process of writing this review I’ve noticed the keyboard occasionally fails to keep up with rapid pace and lags intermittently — but I’ve enjoyed a dedicated numbers row, options for gesture typing and rather surprisingly the handwriting component, capable of discerning my messy cursive 90 percent of the time.
Knock On will make you almost completely forget about that rear power button. Seriously, even in those moments where double tapping to wake wasn’t registering I found myself continuing to tap until some life came into it. I tried breaking the habit and on occasion I managed, but put simply I love it.
LG has also included an Update Centre app which does just that, install updates for its proprietary apps and notify of any system updates, though when that’ll ever happen is anyone’s guess.
Arguably the worst part about the software to comment — regardless of LG’s skin — is that the G Flex ships with Android 4.2.2 and is still running it at time of writing. That’s plainly unacceptable. It’s well over a year old and a complete cop out quite frankly.
The G Flex features the same 13MP snapper that was lauded by the tech world in the G2, but it lacks optical image stabilisation.
Because of this, low-light shots aren’t to the standards they could be and a steady hand is required to pull off successful shots.
Aside from woes in low-light conditions I was satisfied with the overall quality of daylight shots and to a lesser extent, indoors. Photos are relatively detailed without OIS and colour accuracy is mostly on point, if tending to wash out colours in scenes with plenty of light.
In light of dated software, the G Flex’s quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip — clocked at 2.2GHz — provides a seamless experience, particularly coupled with 2GB of RAM. It handles all kinds of multitasking like it’s unfazed by anything that’s piled on it.
Aside from the odd stutter while using Google+ and the aforementioned keyboard troubles at times, there’s been no real issues during our testing.
THE SOUND QUALITY
The single rear facing speaker delivers clear sound athigh levels and despite its positioning away from the user while viewing content, the sheer volume output compensates for this.
Call quality was fine throughout and I received no complaints during calls of poor clarity from my end..
THE BATTERY LIFE
This is easily the best aspect about the handset. LG’s chemical division have pulled off some sort of sorcery in crafting a curved 3500mAh battery which flexes all the same as the rest of the device — obviously. It powers the device as if it’s oblivious to the notion of power drain. Having a lower-res display helps with that no doubt and it’s worth the sacrifice.
This thing goes and goes and goes. Power users rejoice! At point of writing the battery sits at 27 percent and the screen on time sits at almost several hours — not continuously — it’s astonishing. I can go two days easily with mixed moderate and heavy periods of use and longer when more conservative.
LG’s primary focus remains on its display and battery innovations. It was a point Brad made sure to get across in our chat.
The G Flex epitomises the manufacturers’ continued efforts to be a market leader.
It’s not without its issues and in no way should these be overlooked. It is largely early technology and while in parts it shows, at the same time it shines. It’s a little ahead of its time and that’s what makes it an exciting alternative. If you’re deep into newfangled tech, the G Flex is likely to tickle your fancy.
While it’s far from perfect, it leaves us eagerly awaiting what LG do with these technologies in a mobile devices going forward.
As for writing this entire review on the phone, well I can say in the time I’ve been testing the G Flex, I’ve not found the need to even so much as touch my 2012 Nexus 7. The handset doesn’t possess the same girth and weight as the tablet and it’s made it easy and comfortable to use for prolonged periods. When crafted to sit in the hand as this device does, I can see the appeal in these outrageously large smartphones.