LG G-Flex Australian Review: The Trouble With The Curve

I promise that headline will be the last pun I use in this review. Mostly. Puns aside, the LG G-Flex is a phenomenal device that can’t seem to get out of its own way.

What Is It?

The G-Flex is a 6-inch Android 4.2.2 device from LG packing a 1280x720 screen (244ppi), a speedy quad-core 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of non-expandable storage. It’s all powered by a 3500mAh battery to keep you going and going and going.

Oh yeah and it’s curved, like most gadgets and TVs strive to be these days. It’s the latest headline-grabbing gimmick, but unlike most gimmicks, it does actually make some sense here. It's not quite a Bananaphone in its curve, instead it's an elegant sway.

What’s Good?

The LG G-Flex packs one of the first OLED screens to go into a smartphone, and even without the device being a curvy monolith, it’s still excellent to look at, provided you’re indoors. Blacks are rich and deep and colours are shockingly vibrant. You can even up the saturation so those colours pop even more.

LG has made the G-Flex based on the same principle it makes curved OLED TVs: it’s more immersive for media. The curve probably isn’t enough to draw you deep into the action on screen because of its relative size compared to a TV, but it’s one of the better phones we’ve seen for watching stuff on.

There’s a UI tweak in the (ancient) version of Android LG ships with the G-Flex which allows you to swipe horizontally outwards from the lockscreen, and go straight into a dedicated media mode for your movies, music and images. It’s one of the best gestures the G-Flex has going for it, because it actually makes sense.

When you look at this thing, it becomes evident that it’s what the LG G2 should have been. It was a phone that lacked something really special beyond a button in the back. By making it bendy, it makes it fancy, special and something you want to touch and hold.

It still packs the same minimalist design when it comes to buttons, with on-screen soft keys taking over the navigation on the front, while a vertical three-button array for volume and power sits around the back, naturally resting underneath your finger whenever you go to hold your phone. Those buttons are no longer flat like they were on the G2: they now have more tactile feedback to let you know what you’re clicking.

Those buttons, paired with the subtle curve, means that the device fits you better. It curves around your face nicely while you’re taking calls, contours to your butt when you stick it in your back pocket and moulds to your hand when you pick it up. LG has also designed the device cleverly so that it doesn’t rock when placed flat on its back. Instead, it rests upon the volume rocker so as not to bounce around.

The G-Flex is also packing the self-healing back plate. It’s coated in a material that “bounces back” when scratched lightly by keys in your pocket or handbag. Self-healing materials are a good idea, but if you scratch the cover with something more serious, therefore breaching the protective plastic layer, you’ll be in the same position you would be with any other device: left with a big ugly scratch on it.

LG has made some tweaks to the software meaning it gets out of its own way a little more, but there are still a few problems which we’ll cover in a moment. It’s still fairly zippy to use, with it acing Geekbench 3 tests for a final score of 2257, making it one of the most powerful Android devices on the market right now.

The Best Part

Normally we’d only have one “best part”, but with the G-Flex, it’s a tie for first.

On the device front, the 3500mAh battery is phenomenal. I got three days of constant use out of the G-Flex before it started complaining for its charger. That’s three times longer than my iPhone lasts, and even a day longer than the battery-sipping Nexus 5 lasts. It makes sense given the lower-resolution screen, but it’s still impressive. What’s more impressive is the fact that all that power comes from a curved battery developed in-house by LG Chem; one that flexes with the device as you bend it.

Speaking of such hardware innovations, that’s the other best bit: this phone represents more than just an attempt at getting with the curvy gimmick. It’s packing hardware innovations which will pave the way for the next generation of phones you’ll definitely want to buy.

Last year at CES we saw OLED TVs with a fixed curve. This year we have TVs which can curve on demand. Presumably, the idea for a curved phone display came out of the TV arena, so hopefully curved-on-demand and even flexible devices are on the way over the next two years.

Self-healing plastics are the new waterproofing, and should be on every device ever made given the way people treat their phones these days.

LG has a slew great ideas bolted onto the G-Flex, and it’s great to see a company putting something this innovative out on the market for people to buy and call their own.

What’s Bad?

But as with all new innovations, there are teething problems.

LG still can’t get out of its own way when it comes to designing software. It’s in your face and for the most part, still rubbish. There are a bunch of proprietary apps for stuff like video, voice controls and note-taking, all of which you’ve either got a third-party app for or don’t need.

Take the Video app for example: LG built this phone for watching video. It’s curved to “aid engagement and immersion”, and its an OLED screen which means superior colour, contrast and battery life. All the hardware lines up perfectly for this to be a great media device, and then the Video app lets the whole thing down by giving you a jagged playback experience full of dropped frames and audio glitches. If the unstable VLC Beta for Android can do better than your bespoke Video app, it’s time to fire some developers.

There are other bugs running around the operating system which rear their heads every now and then, but nothing is as annoying as having a futuristic phone with crappy old software. The G-Flex comes out of the box running Android 4.2.2. That’s an OS two years old now. For shame. Hopefully a Google Play Edition of the G-Flex rears its head in the next few months so we can pilfer the ROM for the retail models. Mind you, these software problems are nothing new with LG devices: we’ll just keep repeating them until they’re fixed.

The G-Flex is also a curious device when it comes to not just its size, but also its depth. The Galaxy Note 3, for example, is a 5.8-inch device that doesn’t really feel like a 5.8-inch device due to the relative thinness of the device. Same goes for the Xperia Z Ultra: it’d feel like a bigger handset if it were bulkier. The G-Flex suffers from this problem: it’s a six-inch phone that feels like a seven-inch tablet because of how goddamn thick the curve makes it. Get ready to be carrying around some heft with this thing.

Finally, LG has opted for a bit of pomp when it comes to the SIM removal tool, casting it in the shape of an aluminium “G” for G-Flex. That’s pretty cool, and would be even cooler if it was worth a damn to get your SIM card out. If you buy it from Harvey Norman and ever want to get your SIM out again, ask if they have any iPhone/iPad SIM removal tools kicking about you can have. The stem on the iPhone tool is long enough to punch out your SIM card, and the oval shape won’t slice at your fingers like the G does.

The Worst Part

The G-Flex is actually quite a nice phone to view indoors. It’s highly-saturated with colour as we mentioned above, and the blacks are rich and deep thanks to the OLED panel. But there’s a certain angle at which you can hold the G-Flex which spells death for the screen’s visibility in direct sunlight.

The light catches it at a particular angle, and the whole panel tints a fugly shade of brown, rendering the already dim screen even dimmer. You can certainly get around it by facing the phone away from the Sun, but it’s easily the most problematic screen we’ve ever used outdoors.

Should You Buy It?

It’s a tough decision here. It’s the best phone LG has made in a long time, but does improvement alone make a phone worthy of your hard-earned smartphone-buying bucks? At this point, I’d have to say no, but with a small caveat.

Don’t write the G-Flex off entirely as a device. View it as a proof-of-concept you can buy: a window into the future of curved devices for this year and next. Flexible battery technology from LG’s in-house chemical developer, flexible screens which can bend back on themselves from the display department and a self-healing back from the book of spells the company keeps in a vault somewhere are all promising innovations that should and could end up on all phones (not just LG’s) in the future. Software can be tweaked and changed thanks to the nature of Android, 4G networks can improved and deployed and screen resolutions and glare problems will be fixed. These problems aren't permanent, and can be solved with a little more work.

If you want to be on the cutting edge of technology, buy the LG G-Flex. If you want to wait until those innovations are more reliable, wait for the next one. I sincerely hope there is a next one.

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