Who says curved displays are only for TVs? With its G Flex smartphone, LG wants to put rounded displays right in the palm of your hand. The handset features a 6-inch 720p screen that's curved along its horizontal axis, which LG says can boost viewing angles while making the phone more comfortable to hold. The G Flex also sports a "self-healing" polymer back panel capable of resisting scratches and scrapes. T-Mobile is selling the G Flex for $28 per month for 24 months, which is slightly cheaper than the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 ($29 per month). But is the G Flex's curvy design worth the price?
Unlike most smartphones, the crescent-shaped LG G Flex is curved along its horizontal axis, meaning its top and bottom edges rise up just a bit. The curved design is also meant to follow the contour of your face as you hold during a call, but the Flex is still quite a large phablet to handle.
As its name implies, LG's curved phone can actually flex. With the phone lying on its face, we applied pressure to its back, and were able to push it flat against a table. In fact, LG says it applied 80 pounds of weight to the G Flex during testing to ensure that it won't crack under pressure. This means you can sit comfortably with the phone in your back pocket without damaging it.
Like the LG G2, the G Flex's power button and volume buttons are mounted on its back, meaning you'll have to slide your finger to the center of the rear panel to turn the display on or off. In most cases this feels awkward, but the Flex's rounded design makes it a better implementation of the technology than the G2's linear body. This Rear Key form factor also means the G Flex's face and sides are completely buttonless.
Measuring 6.3 x 3.2 x 0.31-0.34 inches and weighing 6.2 ounces, the plastic LG G Flex is smaller and lighter than the partially aluminum built HTC One Max (6.5 x 3.2 x 0.41, 7.7 ounces) but heavier and thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (5.9 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches and 5.9 ounces).
The G Flex could be the Wolverine of smartphones, thanks to its so-called "self- healing" capabilities. The back of the phone uses a resin coating commonly found on cars to fend off scratches. LG claims that this layer is durable enough to ensure scrapes from objects such as keys and wire brushes, although the phone is only meant to withstand minor injuries that result from jiggling around in your purse or pocket. Serious scratches can breach the G Flex's substructure.
LG says that the process can depend on the phone's surrounding temperature, so the warmer the environment the faster it gets rid of scrapes.
When we scraped the back lightly with a penny, the minor scratches faded away within a few seconds. However, when we created three slightly deeper incisions with a key, the scratches remained unhealed after three days.
We're disappointed that the LG G Flex doesn't boast a 1080p display like its competitors, but its 6-inch 720p screen is more than capable of rendering sharp and vibrant images. The G Flex's RGB technology, which optimizes subpixel alignment, made colors look bold and attractive when compared alongside the Samsung Galaxy Note 3's 1920 x 1080 resolution display.
This was especially apparent when watching a trailer for "The Avengers," as images had more of a yellow cast on the Note 3. The G Flex, by comparison, displayed colors that seemed more true to life. When we viewed the same Web page on both devices, the white background behind an article was a pure white on the G Flex, but looked more yellow on the Note 3. Still, the Note 3 was able to display more lines of text than the G Flex when in portrait mode.
The G Flex's display is also among the brightest at 467 lux, which breezes past the 323 lux smartphone category average. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 reached a retina-searing 539 lux and the HTC One Max registered at 441 lux during our light meter reading.
If you're not a fan of LG's Rear Key controls, the manufacturer does offer another option for waking up its display. KnockOn, which was introduced with the G2 last year, lets you turn on the display by simply tapping on it. The feature can come in handy when you want to check your phone without picking it up off your desk, but pressing the back-mounted button is usually faster.
LG says it placed the G Flex's speaker on the curved portion of its rear panel so that sound bounces off any surfaces on which the phone is resting. This is supposed to create a superior audio experience, but we found the opposite in our testing. When listening to "The Mother We Share" by Chvrches, the singer's voice and bubbly background melodies sounded harsh and shallow. The phone produced tinny audio that just sounded plain cheap, especially when compared against the HTC One Max.
During the LAPT Audio Test, the curved handset reached 79 decibels at its maximum volume, which is below the 80-decibel smartphone category average and the 83-decibel HTC One Max. The G Flex still rang louder than the 70-decibel Samsung Galaxy Note 3, however.
The LG G Flex's interface is nearly identical to that of the LG G2's, but with some minor tweaks. The device runs the older Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean that's heavily skinned with LG's software. You can add up to five shortcuts to the lock screen by navigating to the Lock Screen option in the Settings menu. Holding and dragging the top of the lock screen will also bring up a blank screen that you can tap to add widgets.
LG graced the Flex a slightly altered lock screen to fit its curved display. The Swing Lock Screen changes scenery depending on how you hold it. For example, if you tilt the screen downward, an outdoor scene will pan lower to show the ocean. As you tilt up, it'll show the sun and the sky.
Like the G2, the G Flex comes with five home screens that you can populate with app shortcuts and widgets as you please. If five screens aren't enough, you can add two more for a total of seven main screens. By default, you'll find widgets for the time, weather and Google now toward the top of this primary screen.
Dragging down from the top reveals LG's Notifications menu and Settings shortcut. At the top of this screen are 16 shortcuts to settings such as Quick Memo, QSlide, Vibrate, QuickRemote, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPC and NFC. LG also lists the 10 apps that are compatible with its QSlide floating apps feature, which include Videos, Browser, Phone, Messaging and Calendar. There's also a slider for quickly adjusting the phone's display brightness and ringtone, and just below this is your list of recently received notifications.
While this screen offers plenty of useful utilities and shortcuts, its busy layout makes it easy to miss notifications.
QSlide and Slide Aside
The G Flex comes with LG's signature QSlide software, which means you can open two apps in different windows on your home screen at the same time. Dragging an app to the right side of the screen will neatly dock it along the screen so it stays out of your way. As is the case with QSlide apps on the G2 and Optimus G Pro, you can alter the opacity of an app window by toggling its slider.
The Slide Aside feature lets you open apps and park them in the background for later use. With the app open, simply swipe to the left side of the screen with three fingers to slide it aside. You can Slide Aside up to three apps at a time, and once they're stored in the background you can access them from the Notifications menu by pulling down from the top of the screen. Overall, we prefer the Recent Apps menu from Google.
If floating apps isn't your style, you can use the G Flex's Dual Window feature, which is similar to Samsung's Multi Window mode. Long-pressing the G Flex's back button will pull up a menu of 13 apps that are compatible with Dual Window, which include Google Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Maps and Messaging. Tapping or dragging one of these apps will place it in the top or bottom half of the screen. Dual Window does exactly what its name implies--it splits the G Flex's screen in half between two apps. This is different from the QSlide feature, which lets you drag and drop apps in different windows around the screen. You can also resize these apps in Dual Window mode by dragging the bar in the middle of the screen up or down.
These apps can interact with each other as well. For instance, tapping a URL from a text message will open that link in another window on your screen. This feature also makes it easy to drag and drop images directly from the Gallery app into emails and text messages.
Unfortunately, LG's Dual Window doesn't support social apps like Samsung's Multi Window mode does. This means you can't browse tweets in one window while combing through your emails in another unless you navigate to Twitter's mobile website in the browser.
Like other high-end Android smartphones, the G Flex has an IR blaster, letting you use the phone as a universal remote control. LG's QuickRemote app walks users through the easy process of connecting it to your home entertainment system. After choosing a room from the top left corner, such as Living Room, Bedroom or Kitchen, you can tap the + symbol to add a device. During our testing we turned on our Samsung TV by choosing the TV category in the Bedroom menu. After choosing the manufacturer name of our TV, we pressed the virtual power button to power on our television. While we found this feature to be useful, LG's QuickRemote lacks the robust program guide you'll find with HTC and Samsung smartphones.
Those who share their phones with children or spouses will benefit from the G Flex's Guest Mode. Another feature ported from the G2, Guest Mode creates a separate interface for others using your device that's protected by its own unlock pattern. This means you can handpick apps that others will have access to. For instance, if you don't want your child perusing the Google Play Store or combing through your Gmail messages or texts, you can leave these apps out of your selections for Guest Mode.
As its name implies, QTheater focuses on the G Flex's multimedia apps. Accessible from the lock screen, QTheater provides shortcuts to the Gallery, YouTube and Video apps without having to unlock the device. To use this feature, we simply held the phone in landscape mode and swiped outward from the middle with two fingers. The lock screen then opened like a theater curtain to reveal shortcuts to the three aforementioned apps. It's a nice feature that takes advantage of the G Flex's curved display, but ultimately we found it gimmicky.
Web Browsing and LTE
T-Mobile launched its LTE network with just 17 markets nearly one year ago, and since then the carrier has spread its network across 233 cities in the U.S. However, we saw low data speeds when testing the "un-carrier's" network in the Flatiron section of New York, where we received between three and four bars of service. Using Speedtest.net, download speeds averaged just 3.1 Mbps while upload speeds averaged a meager 600 Kbps. In another section of the city, where we had five bars of service, we saw similar speeds of 2.6 Mbps down and 910 Kbps up.
On average, it took a somewhat sluggish 8.7 seconds to load webpages, with speeds fluctuating between a speedy 3.9 seconds for LaptopMag.com to a lengthy 15.1 seconds for Yahoo.com.
Thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM, the G Flex can go toe-to-toe with today's top flagship devices. The curvy handset has no problem handling multitasking, as we opened six apps in Google Chrome, streamed an HD trailer via YouTube and played "N.O.V.A 3" without any hiccups.
The G Flex held its own in synthetic benchmark tests as well. In GeekBench3, a test that measures multicore processor performance, the handset scored 2,209, beating the smartphone category average of 1,683 by a significant margin. By comparison, the 1.7-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600-powered HTC One Max scored 1,902, but the Galaxy Note 3 (2.3-Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800) scored a higher 2,983.
The case was the same with Quadrant, which is a benchmark that tests a device's CPU, I/O and 3D graphics. The G Flex scored a roaring 22,590, which blows past the 8,544 smartphone category average and the HTC One Max (11,981). The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 came close to the G Flex with a score of 22,383.
LG's G Flex transcoded a video from 1080p to 480p in 6 minutes and 37 seconds using Vidtrim, which is faster than the average smartphone (8:09). Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 performed the same task more than a minute faster (5:15), but the G Flex still outpaced the HTC One Max (7:33).
The T-Mobile G Flex comes with a few useful apps, but there's some bloatware on this handset. Apart from the standard array of apps you'd find on most Android smartphones (Calendar, Contacts, Alarm Clock and Browser), there are some other handy additions such as Polaris Viewer 5 and Life Square, an app that aggregates your social networks and keeps track of your activity. Quick Translator is capable of translating foreign text in real time as you point the camera viewfinder at signs, and Video Editor lets you create your own movies by using video and stills from your gallery.
However, T-Mobile cluttered the phone with its own apps that don't add very much to the overall experience. Other carriers such as Verizon tuck these apps into a folder, but T-Mobile's apps are strewn across the G Flex's main home screen by default. The T-Mobile My Account app presents your account information, device support and data usage in tidy dashboard, but other apps such as T-Mobile Visual Voicemail, T-Mobile TV, T-Mobile Name ID and Mobile Hotspot make the home screen too busy.
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Camera and Camcorder
The LG G Flex's 13-megapixel camera produces sharp and colorful images, but it's not best in class. When we shot photos of the Empire State Building with the iPhone 5s, LG G Flex and Samsung Galaxy Note 3, details looked sharper in the G Flex's image than the one taken with the iPhone 5s' 8-megapixel camera. Still, we preferred the vibrant colors in the iPhone 5s and Galaxy Note 3's shots.
The G Flex has no shortage of camera modes, from its dual camera feature that lets you shoot with both front and rear cameras to its Time Catch capabilities. This feature lets you retrieve five stills from before you hit the shutter button, making it easier to capture the moment you were going for. Shot & Clear removes photobombers and unwanted intruders from your photos, similar to Samsung's Eraser Mode.
LG can shoot video just as well as it captures stills. The outlines of cars and buildings in our 1080 video from a New York street corner looked crisp and sharp. However, we feel the Galaxy Note 3's camera renders brighter colors than the G Flex's.
T-Mobile's LG G Flex lasts incredibly long on a single charge. The curved handset's 3,500 mAh battery survived for 11 hours and 25 minutes during the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves constantly surfing the Web via 4G LTE with the display brightness set to 40 percent. This is longer than the 6:47 smartphone category average, and it also beats the Sprint HTC One Max by a few hours (8:32). The G Flex also lasted longer on T-Mobile than other carrier versions we tested. The AT&T model died after 9:33, while the Sprint edition lasted 8 hours.
T-Mobile offers buyers two options for purchasing the G Flex. You can either pay $28 per month over the course of two years, or pay the full retail price of $672 up front. If you opt for the monthly payment plan and cancel your service before the two years is up, you'll have to pay off the balance. The Galaxy Note 3 is available through T-Mobile for $29.50 per month for two years, or $708 for the full retail price.
If you go for the $70 unlimited data plan through T-Mobile, you'll be paying $98 per month, including the $28 cost of the device. Over two years this amounts to $2,352. While the Sprint version of the G Flex costs $299 upfront, a two-year unlimited data contract costs $110 per month, so you'd end up spending $2,939 over the same timeframe. A 4GB data plan on AT&T would also cost the same amount as Sprint over two years.
With its curved display and "self-healing" rear panel, the LG has broken the smartphone mold. The curvy handset gets points for its strong performance, long battery life and colorful display. However, while we like the G Flex's screen, other flagships offer a full 1080p HD display for the same price. We're also still not fans of the inconvenient Rear Key design.
Overall, we prefer the Galaxy Note 3 because of its lighter design, better software and pen integration. But if you want epic endurance and snappy performance in an innovative package, the G Flex is a strong choice.