The world of smartphones is no longer flat. Not only is the LG G Flex the first curved, flexible phone handset in the world, but its rear panel can "heal" itself when scratched or nicked. Available through AT&T for $299 with a two-year contract, the Flex is not just about looks. It also sports a massive 6-inch display and a sharp 13-MP rear camera, not to mention a long-lasting battery. But is the G Flex truly the future of smartphones, or is it a bit ahead of its time?
The G Flex is definitely one of the most curious-looking smartphones. A slight kink along its horizontal axis is responsible for the phablet's distinct bend. True to its name, the G Flex flexes when pressure is applied. LG says the handset can withstand up to 80 pounds of force without any deleterious effects. In fact, we pressed down on the handset until it was completely flat, and it flexed right back into shape. In other words, you can put the G Flex in your back pocket without fear of it snapping -- not that we'd worry we'd break it or anything.
The Flex's design also makes the handset more ergonomically comfortable when you're making calls, as it feels a bit more natural when you hold it next to your face. Despite the curved display, however, stretching your thumb from one side of the screen to the other will be tough for most users.
Like its sibling, the G2, the G Flex's power and volume buttons are situated on its rear panel. LG says this Rear Key makes it easier to use the phablet with one hand. And while that's true when it comes to adjusting the volume, pressing the power button is a chore, as you have to fumble to find the Rear Key. Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the HTC One Max have their power buttons on their right sides, by your thumb, which is far easier to reach.
Just above the Flex's Rear Key is its 13-MP camera, to the right of which is its flash. To the left of the camera is the G Flex's IR blaster, which is used in conjunction with its remote-control app. At the bottom of the rear panel is the Flex's single external speaker. On the phablet's bottom edge is its 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as its microUSB port.
Measuring 6.3 x 3.2 x 0.31-0.34 inches and weighing 6.2 ounces, the G Flex is smaller and lighter than the 5.9-inch all-aluminum HTC One Max (7.7 ounces, 6.5 x 3.2 x 0.41 inches), but heavier and thicker than Samsung's 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 (5.9 ounces, 5.9 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches). Our one major gripe with the Flex's design is that the back is a fingerprint magnet.
One of the Flex's biggest wow factors, beyond its flexible chassis, is its self-healing rear panel. Coated with a special resin that deforms when lightly scratched and returns to its original state over time, LG says the panel can shrug off nicks and cuts from objects like keys and coins that may be in your pocket. The process is temperature dependent, meaning that the panel repairs itself faster when the panel is hotter. When we scratched our handset with a penny, the small scratches disappeared almost instantly. But three deeper cuts didn't heal at all. Fortunately, the G Flex's glossy paint helps hide most superficial damage.
The G Flex's 6-inch 1280 x 720 P-OLED display is a thing of beauty tinged with disappointment. The only curved, flexible smartphone screen on the market, the Flex's display offers a lower resolution than we'd expect of a $299 handset. Both Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 and HTC's One Max, also priced at $299, offer sharper 1080p screens. The reason for the lower-res display, LG explains, is that the company couldn't mass produce a 1080p panel that was also curved and flexible. The result is a screen that makes text look a bit blurrier than on competing handsets.
Fortunately, the G Flex offers some of the most beautiful colors of any smartphone in its class. In fact, only Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 tops the LG, and not by much. It's all thanks to LG's Real Stripe screen technology, which is a fancy way of saying that each of the Flex's red, blue and green pixels are the same size. As such, each color is evenly represented across the G Flex's panel, making for more vibrant photos and videos.
While watching a trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," we were astounded by how beautiful the webslinger's red-and-blue suit looked against the azure sky. Even the purples and oranges of the Flex's home screen looked gorgeous. Still, there were some instances when the lower resolution was an issue, especially when we tried to make out the fine details in characters' faces.
According to LG, the slight curve in the Flex's display creates a more immersive viewing experience. The company claims that watching a video with the handset in panorama mode at a distance of 1 foot is comparable to viewing a movie on a 55-inch TV 10 feet away. We didn't get that sensation, but the Flex definitely exhibits less glare than its flat-screen competitors.
The Flex's display is exceptionally bright. At 422 lux, the G Flex outshines the smartphone category average of 406 lux. However, the HTC One Max (441 lux) and Galaxy Note 3 (539 lux) are even brighter.
Like the G2, the G Flex features Knock-on, a gimmicky feature that lets you wake and put your handset to sleep with two quick taps on the screen.
LG claims Knock-on is meant for times when you want to quickly check a message or note on your phone without having to pick it up to press the rear buttons. In other words, it's a solution to the problem LG created by putting the phone's power and volume buttons on its rear panel.
We found the feature more reliable on the G Flex than on the G2, but pressing the Flex's Rear Key both woke up and put the handset to sleep faster than Knock-on did.
LG says the rear position of the Flex's speaker helps make audio louder when the handset is resting on its back by causing sound waves to bounce off the surface on which it's resting. Unfortunately, the speaker didn't impress us. The Flex registered just 77 decibels during our Laptop Audio Test, which measures a device's audio output at a distance of 13 inches using a continuous tone. That's much lower than the smartphone category average of 80 decibels.
Low volume wasn't the only problem we had with the audio. When we listened to Drake's "Started From the Bottom," audio sounded tinny and distorted. Bass hits were also lacking, causing the song to sound hollow. It was not a pleasant audio experience.
The G Flex gets the same skinned version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean as LG's G2. If you're keeping score, that's two updates behind the newest version of Google's mobile OS, Android 4.4 KitKat. That means you don't get access to features such as multiple user accounts, voice search from your home screen and improved multitasking.
As with the G2, the Flex's lock screen offers up to five customizable app shortcuts, though they aren't set up when you take the phone out of the box. Swiping from left to right brings up a menu from which you can choose various widgets to add to the screen. LG also added a quirky Swing Lock to the G Flex's lock screen that lets you tilt the handset back and forth to switch between a view of the ocean and the sky.
The Flex comes with three home screens, which you can increase to a total of seven. The main screen has a weather-and-time widget, as well as 10 shortcuts for apps, including Calendar, Contacts and Quick Remote. Below those are five omnipresent shortcuts for the Phone, Messaging, Browser and Camera apps, and the Apps drawer. Under those are the Android Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons.
The Notifications menu gives you quick access to your most recent notifications, as well as up to 18 customizable quick settings, including Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, Brightness, Miracast, QSlide, Quick Memo and Quiet Mode. Unlike the T-Mobile and international versions of the G Flex, the AT&T version doesn't offer sliders for the display brightness or volume. Instead, you get buttons for both. Below those is a list of available QSlide apps and the Quick Remote panel.
QSlide & Slide Aside
LG's QSlide feature lets users open up to two of nine available windowed apps on-screen at the same time. Apps can be minimized by dragging them to the right side of the screen or maximized to full-screen. Unfortunately, once maximized, QSlide apps can't be minimized again. Instead, you'll have to close the app. Equally disappointing, the AT&T and Sprint versions of the G Flex don't get access to the QSlide browser app. T-Mobile and international users do.
Slide Aside allows users to keep up to three apps running in the background at once. To use the option, simply open the app you want to put in the background, and three-finger swipe from right to left. To bring an app back to the front, just three-finger swipe from left to right to fan out the three apps across the screen, and tap the one you want to open. This feature works well, but it's not necessarily easier than using Google's own Recent Apps option.
If QSlide and Slide Aside don't satiate your appetite for multitasking, there's always LG's new Dual Window mode. Similar to Samsung's Multi Window mode, the Dual Window lets you open and use two apps on-screen at the same time. Accessible by long-pressing the Back button, again, like Samsung's Multi Window mode, Dual Window lets you drag one app to the top of the screen and one app to the bottom.
Users can choose from 13 available apps, including Chrome, Hangouts, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Videos and others. Many of the apps can interact with each other in Dual Window mode as well. For example, if you tap a URL in a text message, it will open in the browser. You can also drag photos from the gallery app into texts and emails.
Unfortunately, unlike Samsung's offering, Dual Window mode doesn't support social media apps such as Facebook or Twitter, so you can't browse your news feed and send tweets at the same time.
LG's Quick Remote feature, available on the Optimus G Pro and G2, also makes an appearance on the Flex. Used in conjunction with the Flex's rear-mounted IR blaster, the app lets you control your entire entertainment center, or compatible air conditioner, from your phone. Setting up the app takes seconds. Just select the device you want to control, choose the correct manufacturer and run through a few quick compatibility tests.
Functionally, the G Flex's remote app lacks a bit when compared to similar remote apps found on the Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One. Sure, you can control your AC with the Flex, but both the Note 3 and HTC One offer programming guides and video stores, which we found useful.
The G Flex's new Guest Mode makes it easy for parents to hand over their smartphones to their children or friends without worrying that they'll stumble across something they shouldn't. The feature works by letting you create a list of preselected apps for guests to use. To set up a guest account, you must first create a lock-screen pattern for the Flex. Next, you'll have to create a separate pattern lock for guests. You can then choose which apps guests can use and which they can't.
When this feature is activated, guests are met with a home screen completely different from yours, and any apps you chose not to enable will be inaccessible. Don't want your kids getting into your email or downloading apps from the Google Play store? Just take it off the list of accessible apps. You can also block the G Flex's Web browser, to ensure your children don't surf the Web without your permission.
QTheater gives users quick access to the Flex's Video, Gallery and YouTube apps via the handset's lock screen. To use the feature, simply hold the G Flex in landscape mode with the lock screen active, and with your thumbs in the middle of the display, swipe in opposite directions. The screen will then part like a theater curtain as you move your thumbs revealing shortcuts to the aforementioned Video, Gallery and YouTube apps. It's a fun, gimmicky feature, but we don't see ourselves using it often.
Like many high-end Android phones, the G Flex sports a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. Add to that 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage, and you've got a powerful phablet that multitasks with ease. Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 offers a similar Snapdragon 800 processor, but it adds an extra 1GB of RAM for a total of 3GB. The HTC One Max includes a lower-end dual-core Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM.
In general, the G Flex performed better than the One Max, as well as most other phones, but fell slightly behind Samsung's Note 3. For instance, it took the Flex 6 minutes and 59 seconds to transcode a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p. That's faster than the HTC One Max's time of 7:44, as well as the smartphone category average of 8:09. The Galaxy Note 3, however, completed the test in just 5:15.
It took the G Flex 17 seconds to open the game "N.O.V.A. 3," putting it behind the One Max's time of 16 seconds, as well as the category average of 15 seconds. The Note 3 beat out all comers, loading the game in just 13 seconds.
On the Quadrant benchmark, which tests a smartphone's overall performance, the G Flex scored 21,424. That's relatively close to the Note 3's score of 22,383, but far better than the HTC One Max's 11,709. Each of the aforementioned phones, however, blew past the category average of 8,544. We saw similar results on the Geekbench 3 performance test, with the G Flex pulling down a score of 2,105 and the Note 3 scoring 2,983. The HTC One Max scored a lower 1,902, while the smartphone average is 1,683.
The Flex's Adreno 330 graphics processor muscled through the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, helping the phablet notch 15,490. While that's higher than the One Max's score of 10,984 and the smartphone category average (10,161), it's shy of the Note 3's score of 18,925.
Camera & Camcorder
Equipped with the same 13-MP rear camera as the LG G2, the G Flex captured crisp images that can easily hang with the likes of Samsung's Note 3 and Apple's iPhone 5s. That said, the Note and iPhone offered more accurate colors, especially blues.
A shot of New York City's Flatiron Building looked more realistic when taken using the iPhone 5s and Note 3, with colors matching their real-life counterparts better than those taken with the Flex. However, the G Flex's 13-MP shooter did offer more detailed shots than the iPhone's 8-MP camera.
A 1080p video taken with the Flex looked just as sharp as its photos. However, colors were a bit flat when compared with videos shot with the Galaxy Note 3 and iPhone 5s.
LG loaded its camera app with a host of features, including Beauty Shot, Burst Shot, Dual Camera, Dynamic Tone, Intelligent Auto, Night, Panorama, Shot & Clear, Sports and Time Machine. Dual Camera Mode activates both the front and rear cameras to let you get a picture of your subject as well as your reaction to it, while Shot & Clear lets you erase anything that accidentally makes its way into your shot. Time Machine captures five images at once and lets you choose which ones to keep.
4G LTE Performance
Our AT&T version of the G Flex offered speedy 4G LTE performance both near our Manhattan office and in New Jersey. In New York, we recorded download speeds as high as 13.5 Mbps and uploads as high as 5.3 Mbps. Over in Jersey, downloads topped out at 15 Mbps, while uploads reached 3.5 Mbps. Websites loaded quickly over AT&T's network as well. The NYTimes.com mobile site loaded in 3 seconds, while the ESPN.com mobile site took 4 seconds. The more image-heavy Laptopmag.com loaded in 6 seconds.
If you're looking for a phone you can use all day without having to pack an extra charger, the G Flex will satisfy. Packing a 3,500-mAh curved battery to fit its chassis, the G Flex lasted an impressive 9 hours and 33 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test. This involves continuous Web surfing over AT&T's 4G LTE network with the display brightness set to 40 percent.
That runtime is nearly 3 hours better than the smartphone category average of 6:49. It's worth noting that the Sprint version of the Flex lasted a shorter 8 hours, and the T-Mobile version lasted 11.5 hours. The HTC One Max, running on Sprint's network, lasted just 8:32, while the Note 3, also running on Sprint, lasted for 8:48. On T-Mobile's network, however, the Note 3 lasted a very long 11:15.
The G Flex is an innovative smartphone that offers a colorful curved display, long-lasting battery and impressive performance. And the phablet's 6-inch flexible chassis and self-healing rear panel are sure to turn heads. However, the 720p resolution is a slight letdown, as is LG's decision to bring back its somewhat cumbersome Rear Key. The G Flex also offers almost too many different features, although we like Dual Window for multitasking.
Overall, the G Flex is a solid flagship phone that, despite some flaws, should get people talking. If the device's curved design isn't for you, you might want to consider Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, which, for the same price, features a higher-resolution display, slightly better performance and a built-in stylus. But if you're looking for a one-of-a-kind phablet, the Flex is a very good option.