LG G Flex: First Impressions

In today’s saturated smartphone market, there are few innovations one can make. Perhaps, the last major innovation for smartphones has to be the introduction of the iPhone – a release that shook up the whole face of mobile devices. LG claims that it has got the next revolution right at hand, and they might actually be correct. Please welcome, the LG G Flex.

A few days ago, our team was sent an invite to the official media launch for the G Flex, which was held yesterday. Having spent a considerable amount of time with the device, we would like to share our first impressions of the G Flex.

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First and foremost, let us have a look at the specs of LG’s latest phone. Sharing most of its innards with LG’s flagship G2, it packs a powerful punch.

  • Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 (2.27 GHz)
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 32 GB non-expandable storage
  • 6 inch 16M-colour 720p capacitive Plastic OLED (POLED) display (~245ppi pixel density)
  • 13 MP camera (no OIS)
  • 3500 mAh battery
  • NFC
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support; 3G with 42Mbps HSPA; 150Mbps LTE

And immediately, red flags pop up. The LG G Flex is priced at the high-end spectrum, alongside the G2, Note 3 and Xperia Z1. Retailing for $1088 (SGD), one would expect it to have all the top-end specs, but it does not. As a consumer, if I am paying over a thousand dollars for a smartphone, I fully expect it to continue with the norm, which in this case is a Full HD 1080p screen. What is more, these pixels are spread over an even larger diagonal, meaning that pixel density drops like a stone. The difference is stark, especially when put next to my Z1 and Shiv’s iPhone 5, which even with a 1136 x 640 screen manages to have a higher pixel density than the G Flex.

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From left: Apple iPhone 5, Sony Xperia Z1, LG G Flex

While it is not clear in the above photo, the Z1 and iPhone 5 jump far ahead of the G Flex in terms of the pixel density. In fact, the G Flex has such a poor resolution, that with minimal effort, one can clearly see individual pixels on the G Flex screen. This might be acceptable if the price of the device was halved, but it is simply unacceptable for a thousand dollar one.

LG representatives claimed that due to the fact the POLED displays are new, they are not yet capable of supporting 1080p, which frankly does not convince me.

There is also another gripe with the display – it is an OLED display. As is standard with all OLED displays, colours on the G Flex are over-saturated and unrealistic, even with the display setting set to ‘Standard’. This setting tries to emulate an LCD screen, but falls short, as much as it tries. In the end, an LCD only produces realistic colours.

It comes as a surprise that the G Flex utilizes an OLED display, especially since LG has only used LCD displays in all of their smartphones to date. This is made even more baffling when you discover that curved LCD screens do exist, and plastic ones at that, meaning that with some R&D, they too can become flexible. Still, the display itself (OLED as it is) is pretty good, with minimal contrast compression when viewed at extreme angles.

The camera also has been downgraded too for the G Flex. Gone is the OIS from the G2, which according to a spokesperson, could not fit into the G Flex due to lack of free space. While the impact on daylight photography is not too large, you can see a visible difference in low-light shots between the G2 and G Flex.

Even with these shortcomings, there are many positives about the LG G Flex.

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Let’s start with the obvious – the curved display. A curve along the horizontal axis has different benefits that a curve along the vertical axis (à la Samsung Galaxy Round). First, it makes the device seem impossibly compact. Upon holding it in your hand, it really does not feel like you are holding a 6 inch behemoth. We saw this compactness with the LG G2 as well, where the bezels were minimized to give 0.2 inches more screen estate than the Xperia Z1, all in a smaller chassis. The G Flex uses the minimized bezels as well, except the curve enhances the feel greatly. With this, it is much easier to reach the notification bar and slide it downwards, as it is on a similar sized Samsung Galaxy Mega (5.8 inches). Not only that, the curve means that it is much easier to reach and press the rear power and volume keys than it was in the LG G2. Moreover, putting the phone to your ear feels more comfortable, especially with today’s flagships being little more than a rigid slab of plastic/aluminium. To sum it up: the curve is immensely useful, and more than you might imagine.

It also has a unique feature where in landscape mode you can slide away from the centre of the screen with both thumbs to open a menu which allows you to jump to your photos, videos or YouTube directly, as you can see below.

The device is not just rigid too, as the Samsung Galaxy Round is. It can be flattened with enough pressure, but returns to its curved shaped once pressure is relieved. According to LG, the device can handle up to 32 kg (71 lbs) of weight, so don’t go sitting on it just yet. Not only that, as flexible as the G Flex is, it takes significant pressure to flatten it, meaning that it cannot be slipped into the front pockets of your jeans without protruding out and making your life really uncomfortable.

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As important as the curved aspect of the G Flex is, the self-healing rear panel is important too. An extremely practical function, this means that the little scuffs and scratches that your device inevitably collects after being used will all disappear minutes after they have been inflicted. This is a feature that works extremely well, as you can see here, and will protect your device from the nasty keys and some drops onto the floor. Keep in mind that the healing only works for light scratches, so don’t run around taking a knife to your G Flex as a party trick.

The G Flex also brings along the G2’s pulsing notification light hidden under the power button, and the UI is virtually unchanged from the G2. One feature that is has ahead of the G2 is 4K video recording capability, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The G2 will be receiving the feature, but only with 4.4 KitKat.

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There are many other features of the LG G Flex, but most serve no practical function, hence I will not be touching on them right now. That will happen once we get our hands on a review unit, which should be available in a couple of weeks.

All in all, I do think it is safe to say that the G Flex has an idea that possesses the capability to bring another revolution in the mobile device industry, much like the iPhone did back in 2007. While the device itself might not sell by the dozens due to a combination of potential deal-breakers, I do think that the industry will be soon scrambling to jump on the curved bandwagon.

The LG G Flex is available for pre-order in Singapore since 8 December and will be launching on 21 December. Hong Kong customers will be able to purchase it today.

What do you think about the G Flex? Do you want it, and do you believe it has the potential to shake up the smartphone market? Leave your comments below!

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