Review: LG G Flex, Their First Curved Display Smartphone - KMSP-TV

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Review: LG G Flex, Their First Curved Display Smartphone

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I can't help but admit that I was pretty excited to get my hands on LG's G Flex. It's brother, the LG G2 was one of my favorite handsets of 2013 and what could be more awesome than a G2 with some upgrades and a curved screen? Not a lot in my opinion. Once I actually did get my hands on the phone though, my jubilation was met with some of the harsh realities of first gen hardware. Read on for a curvy roller coaster ride of a review.



The Hardware
As a lover of all things phablety, this 6" phone is a beautiful piece of hardware design. It is big, it is minimalist and I like that. Looking at the face of the phone, you're met with a large 6" curved panel, LG's logo at the bottom, the earpiece/speaker, 2.1 megapixel front facing camera and two sensors- a proximity and light sensor. You won't notice any buttons jutting out from the side of the phone because there are none. The phone's profile cuts a clean image of a solid, curved slate with only a SIM slot on the left side. On the top and bottom of the phone, you'll see microphones, a microUSB port and the headphone jack (on the bottom... uggh!).

The back of the phone is what makes this sleek design possible. With the G2, LG decided to place the power and volume buttons on the back of the device. Some in the tech industry lauded the move while others were not so enthusiastic. I'm firmly in the camp of the former and think the placement is brilliant. No less so in this implementation. The G Flex is larger which means more space between the edges of the phone and the power and volume controls but being 6' tall with fairly large hands, I didn't find it a challenge at all to comfortably access those buttons. On the other hand, pun intended, my wife and a 5' tall co-worker, both with petite hands, found it a bit of a stretch (pun intended, again). I know, #firstworldproblems, but this is a review, so if there are any dings in the armor it's my job to make you aware of them. To be fair, the whole phone really does fit comfortably in my hands and when the two gals were holding them, I noticed they had to shift their grips slightly to access those buttons.

The power button glows blue but you can also select which apps you'd like to allow to use it for notifications as well. Next to the 13 megapixel camera, you'll see and LED flash and an IR blaster. Some may think this is a weird place for an IR blaster but when you actually hold the phone, the curve places the IR port in a location that works just fine for interfacing with your TV and cable boxes, or other IR enabled equipment. Back to that camera for a second, it doesn't include OIS like the G2. I think this is a bad omission on LG's part because optical image stabilization really does make a difference in the quality of pictures a phone takes. Hopefully, they'll add that back in the next iteration of the Flex line, should there be one. On the other hand, the camera can record video in both 30fps and 60fps 1080p but the real game here is its ability to record video in UHD, aka 4K. I didn't actually have a 4k monitor at the time of this review so I can't actually tell you how good that looks natively, but feel free to post up in the comments below if you pick up a Flex and have a 4k monitor handy.

While we're talking about what's on back of the phone, I can't skip talking about the new self-healing back that LG has included in the build. Yes, much like my favorite comic book character, Wolverine, if you scratch the back of the phone, it will heal itself over time. Literally, those scratches will go away. Heat seems to activate the healing factor on this phone, so the warmer the environment, the faster the back of your phone will be back to its unscathed glory. Conversely, the cooler your environment, the longer those blemishes will be visible. The back of the phone has a brushed metal appearance and it is slick so you may want to put a grippier cover on the phone as well, if you are a little, ahem, clumsy.



The Software
There are some very cool software enhancements with LG's overlay, Optimus UI. Many tech reviewers will call it heavy handed, and in some areas I completely agree, but there are some features which I think are pretty well implemented. From the lock screen you can hold the phone horizontally and swipe both thumbs across the screen which opens up the Q Theater mode and allows you to quickly access photos, videos on your device and YouTube videos. On a phone where the screen is supposed to be the selling point, features like this just make sense and, in this case, are well implemented.

Another well implemented feature on a phone with a screen this size is LG's version of multiwindow, aka Dual Window. The G Flex does have other multi-tasking functionality like QSlide and Slide Aside but Dual Window is well thought out and make it simple to have two apps share that 6" screen at the same time. Simply hold down the back button for a few seconds and a menu pops up providing you with a list of apps you can tap, or drag and drop, into the upper and lower halves of the screen. Once on the screen, there's even an icon in the left side of the center bar of the split-screen which allows you to flip which app is on top or bottom. You can even adjust how much of the screen each half takes up. On the right of the split screen bar, you get a menu option which allows you to go back to the Dual Window app chooser, make a Dual Window full screen or close out the feature. I found that apps ran very well with no lag in split screen mode.

Other than those features, the G Flex shares many of its software features with the G2. The only other standouts are Urgent Call Alert and the very cool Swing Lockscreen. The former alerts you to urgent calls (people who call you consecutively back-to-back) by lighting up the LEDs red on both the front and back of the phone. Swing Lockscreen places an image on the lockscreen which changes with the time of day and weather. Just head on into the lockscreen settings and setup the weather functionality to update, along with the interval and you're set. Other settings like Knock On, Quick Remote (which I love), and Guest Mode are unchanged from what I reviewed when I looked at the G2. I especially like and encourage teens to use Guest Mode as it is a great deterrent for people getting a hold of your phone and posting inappropriate things to your logged-in social media profiles.



That Display Though! No.
I hate to end things like this, but the biggest reason to have this phone is its display. It is big, it is vibrant and it is grainy. Yes, grainy. Dark colors are washed out and watching videos like Transformers: Dark of the Moon appeared as though I was watching a YouTube video on a bad connection. The video was grainy and looked low res. The last image on the left side of this page is actually an extreme close-up of photo taken of the display to show how the greys and darker colors looked grainy, or washed out. You can click on it for a larger image. Professionally, we refer to that "grain" as "noise" and this display is loud! Watching claymation movie Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase proved to be an exercise in screen noise as well. What you will find is that with visual media that is bright like Shaun the Sheep, the noise is less noticeable but Transformers, where you'll get some very contrasty shots, some dark scenes, that noise is very much present. In all fairness, this is a first generation version of this type of display, the POLED or plastic OLED. Traditional OLED panels do not have the plastic element, using glass instead which means this is tech that is still being perfected. I'm sure subsequent generations of this display panel will get better, especially after seeing the display technology that LG is working on when I was invited to a private tour of their upcoming displays at CES this year. Their 70" curved displays were some of the most impressive I've seen to date! They had touch-enabled transparent displays mated to vending machines which were incredibly impressive. LG Display is doing some impressive things so I expect impressive results as they improve POLED manufacturing processes in the coming years.

To place my criticisms into context though, I did have a co-worker who doesn't work with video and media every day (I have for the last 18 years) take a look at the panel and it was only after a few minutes of comparing it against another smartphone's display that she really noticed it. I've included a photo attached to this post which really shows how grainy the display can be but I'm willing to bet that many consumers may not even notice it that much. I'll also add that there's something oddly immersive about looking at content on this curved display. It may be Pavlovian because we're trained by movie theater screens, but watching videos, it "feels"  as though they pull you in. Like I said I've spent 18 years, professionally, looking at some of the best monitors money can buy so I would like to think I'm somewhat immune to gimmicks in display technology but there is definitely a different feel to the experience of viewing content on a mobile curved display compared to the standard flat displays.



The Wrap Up
The battery life is great. The software is very good, though the notification area can get a little crowded. The phone's design definitely gets attention. The downside is that the selling point, which is the curved display, is not as good looking as current 1080p displays on other smartphones on the market. I look forward to the next iterations of LG's curved display technology and if they're as good as what I saw in January, they should definitely impress but today's product just isn't tops in the market. That said, you should definitely hit up a brick and mortar and see for yourself. Like I said, you may not notice it and if that's the case, it is definitely a compelling product with great speed, good looks and a bonus if you're a Sprint customer where their new Spark network has rolled out... it is one of the few spark enabled devices on the network.

Tshaka Armstrong Tech Ninja Tshaka Armstong writes about the latest technology and helping FOX 11 Viewers understand how to be safer, smarter users of the internet and their "gadgets. He's also one of our social media guys, helping guide the station's online efforts and social media outreach.
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