LG G Flex review rebuttal: a curvy ergonomic conundrum
As efforts like After The Buzz, the Pocketnow U-Review, and Empty Nest demonstrate, we’re constantly searching for fresh ways to review mobile technology. The newest product of those efforts is Pocketnow’s “Review Rebuttal” series, in which a member of our team is assigned to test a smartphone or tablet that’s already gone through our standard review process. While the resulting video or editorial doesn’t affect the “official” Pocketnow review score, we hope it provides added context by showcasing an editor’s personal opinion, rather than a team-wide consensus.
We call it the “rebuttal” because the new opinion often differs significantly from the thrust of the original review. Rather than reject or bury that, we think the dissenting opinion is valuable – and we present it for your evaluation alongside select product reviews.
Since the LG G Flex arrived on our metaphorical doorstep, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride with one of LG’s most compelling and … potentially innovative smartphones in recent history.
Like our own Michael Fisher reported in his full review, the phone’s design alone is daring and bold, signifying that mobile manufacturers aren’t done blowing our minds just yet. But when new technology, form factors, and features arrive, questions and skepticism abound.
One of the biggest questions we’ve been tasked with answering: “Are the curved display and chassis of the G Flex or its self-healing abilities practical in everyday life?”
We’ve put the G Flex to the test a second time, and below are our additional thoughts on the most curvaceous smartphone yet, our G Flex review rebuttal.
If you were to take the curve out of the G Flex, it would be just another one of the half dozen massive smartphones on the market. Quite honestly, outside the curve – which, according to the company required over 300 prototypes to get the proper feel and effect – this is just your average flagship.
The face is almost entirely bare, save for the 6-inch display, earpiece speaker, front camera, and notification LED. Contrasting LG branding can also be found at the very bottom of the face. The edges are rounded and quickly bevel off into the backside, which is composed of a “specially-modified resin,” which self-repairs minor scratches and abrasions. Michael put that to the test in the video below.
The 13-megapixel camera is center-mounted near the top on the backside, flanked by the flash LED and IR blaster. To the bottom of the camera is the rear-facing button controls: volume up, standby, and volume down, in that order. The buttons, like on the G2, take some getting used to, but are not our least favorite thing about the G Flex.
The curve cannot be ignored, though. It’s there, and it sets the G Flex apart from every other similarly-sized smartphone out there. We dig deeper into the effects and usefulness of that differentiator in the User Experience section of this review.
Talking specifications, the G Flex comes equipped with everything you would expect out of a high-end flagship. Inside it has the Snapdragon 800 chipset (composed of a 2.3GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU), 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a top-end set of connectivity options: infrared, NFC, Wi-Fi ac, LTE-A, and Bluetooth LE. The sizable battery inside is rated at 3,500mAh, or 13.3Wh – more in line with a tablet battery than a smartphone. And if you’re in South Korea, the DBM-TV antenna is tucked away in the lower left corner for your mobile television viewing pleasure.
So far, so good.
Reach your finger around back and press the power/standby button and turn on the display, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Michael and I, personally, have been back and forth over the display on the G Flex. His findings are different from mine, yet both opinions have been corroborated by an array of other G Flex reviews around the Internet.
We have no way to definitively confirm or deny the existence of two different P-OLED panels, but we can agree there is a great variance in display quality between different G Flex models.
The 6-inch 720p P-OLED panel has some great attributes. No, at 245ppi, it isn’t the most crisp panel around. Pixelated corners are plainly visible on the corners icons, text, and throughout the operating system. But at full brightness, the display looks great. Colors and blacks, as expected from an OLED style display, are fantastic. Blacks are inky and colors are incredibly vivid. Even viewing angles are great, thanks to the curved panel.
The display is passable … until you drag the brightness slider down from 100 percent. Even at about 90 percent, highly saturated colors and gradients begin to look surprisingly grainy. This problem only intensifies as the brightness is scaled down. The absolute worst is the wet parchment or speckled look found on the whites. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Super AMOLED displays on the Galaxy Nexus and original Galaxy Note.
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of the G Flex’s display problems. That designation is reserved for the image retention (or ghosting) found on the display. When you turn the brightness down, when the display switches from a darker image to a lighter one, parts of the image are retained and slowly fade away. This happens in the browser when reading, in anything with black text on a white background, and even when looking at the notification shade and flicking it up, revealing the lighter colored app or picture beneath.
After you notice it, it’s one of those things you can’t unsee.
Michael very thoroughly covered the software on the G Flex, so we’ll keep it short and simple here.
LG’s custom software, in many ways, can be paralleled with TouchWiz, and that’s only more apparent in the latest version of software. The G Flex ships with Android 4.2.2, and it looks somewhat different than the G2, thanks to the appropriately named Flex theme. It’s darker with neon accents.
It looks marginally better than before. But the functionality hasn’t really changed. Like TouchWiz, this software is packed to the brim with features many may never even think to use. This version also has a split window multitasking feature, not unlike a more rudimentary version of Samsung’s Multi-Window. And we’re certainly happy to see that – it gives reason to carrying around a much larger phone.
Where LG’s software differs from Samsung’s is the level of customization software LG has included. You can tweak everything from font size and type, transition animation, theme, to the appearance and function of the soft navigation buttons. The ability to toggle the notification shade with a button in the Navigation Bar is something we’ve fallen in love with, since we have to stretch to reach the status bar.
The software, at times, does feel overbearing, and like with TouchWiz, we feel the heavily laden customizations have negatively affected the performance. But more on that in a bit.
The camera performance failed to meet our expectations.
Following the optically stabilized G2 camera, the 13-megapixel shooter in the G Flex is somewhat disappointing. In our comparison against the similar image sensor in the Galaxy S 4, we found the images taken with the G Flex to be significantly more muted, blurry, and dull. Contrast was low, the reaction to adjusting the focus setting the exposure was delayed, and the shutter seemed to hang at times.
The feature set is as broad as any within the camera app, but that doesn’t offset the overly mediocre performance of the camera on the G Flex. We’ve certainly seen worse and far better, this year alone.
In benchmarks and standard performance, the G Flex is an absolute monster, just as any Snapdragon 800-powered device before it has been. In that regard, the G Flex is great.
Gaming performance, multimedia playback, and even standard usage – switching apps or Web browsing – is perfectly smooth. But at times, the G Flex seems to hang and stutter through the little things, such as swiping between pages of applications (and especially widgets) in the app drawer. There is sometimes an unexpected latency between pressing the app drawer button and the drawer actually opening.
We feel confident in saying, based on the performance of many Snapdragon 800 devices before it, the performance issues are largely – if not entirely – due to a lack of optimization on LG’s part and the heavy theming. The G Flex is no slouch, but we expect buttery smooth performance out of such a high-end device.
To corroborate Michael’s findings, the G Flex’s battery life is fantastic – among the best we’ve ever experienced on a smartphone. The 13.3Wh (3,500mAh) cell is a large factor in the great stamina, but the power efficiency of the Snapdragon 800 and lack of LTE support here in the States likely have a lot to do with it as well. Either way, we were able to go a full day plus on the G Flex on more than one occasion, reaching upwards of six hours of screen time.
If you value stamina, the G Flex has a lot to offer.
Finally, the curve is literally the sole reason this smartphone exists. LG went far out of its way and spent a lot of man-hours and money to bring something new and exciting to the market. We have to ask: was it worth it?
The screen contours to your face when you talk on the phone. As Michael noted in his review, the experience while gaming and watching video is notably more immersive than your run-of-the-mill pocket cinema; this phone literally gives that cinematic feel you normally only get from the silver screen. And its self-healing abilities and flexibility give it a sort of durability and resilience no other smartphone currently offers.
But is any of that actually worth such a steep price tag in day to day life? Are the advantages of a curved display helpful in any way?
We have a difficult time saying no, simply because it’s different and new. That’s an exciting and rare thing these days. The G Flex is a stepping stone to a new, more resilient smartphone and the foundation for breaking free from the overused candy bar form factor.
However, no part of the G Flex’s curved display has made a major impact on how we view non-curved smartphones. It doesn’t drastically improve the comfort of voice calls, it doesn’t tremendously improve mobile multimedia consumption. And, arguably the most voiced advantage, ease of one-handed use, is completely unfounded.
If this were a reasonably-sized (read: 4.5- to 5-inch), one-handed smartphone, the curve would have a much more dramatic effect. Instead, this is, by all means, a two-handed phone (for the average user with average-sized hands). Building one-handed ergonomics into a two-handed phone is a bit silly, because even though the curved display does bring the top of the screen marginally closer to your thumb when stretching, we still have to adjust our grip to reach the top. On a slightly smaller device, this may not have been the case.
We hesitate to debunk the advantages of a curved display. We just feel it’s misplaced and on the wrong device. It would be much more fitting on the G2’s chassis.
The G Flex isn’t the groundbreaking masterpiece which will upend the smartphone market. It’s not the drastic change we’ve been longing for in the mobile industry. And after a week of carrying it around, it isn’t a drastically different smartphone from the masses of other 6-inchers we’ve handled this year.
The G Flex isn’t a bad device, though. There are a lot of positive aspects which compare well against the toughest competition out there – performance, battery life, etc. But we’d be hard pressed to recommend the G Flex to the general public, and even many enthusiasts.
If you value display quality in the least, steer clear. The G Flex’s P-OLED display is one of the worst we’ve seen in a long while. And you have to weigh the value of having an ever-so-slightly curved display over the actual quality of the panel, which fares poorly against the similarly-sized competition, both in density and appearance.
That said, the G Flex does have a certain appeal to specific types of users, the forward-thinking enthusiasts, the ones who dare to be different, and early adopters. It’s a conversation starter, a unique smartphone few (comparatively) will ever have, and a glimpse – albeit very small – into the future of mobile.
The G Flex is a beautiful, dull blade. Once LG has a chance and the technology to sharpen that blade, we could be in for an interesting ride. Until then, the G Flex and its curvaceous competition are more novelty eye catchers for marketing purposes than a futuristic, ergonomic dream come true.