LG G Flex flexible smartphone review: Gadget Watch

One of the more promising new technologies on the tech horizon is the development of curved and flexible screens.

Both of the big South Korean tech giants – Samsung and LG – have developed their own AMOLED screens using this technology.

Samsung’s version of this technology uses flexible glass, while LG have opted for a plastic screen.

Currently, manufacturing yields are low, so the first smartphones to use this technology are only being released in South Korea, although this is likely to change in the New Year.

When held in portrait position, Samsung’s version – the Galaxy Round – curves left-to-right while LG’s G Flex phone curves top bottom.

The LG G Flex also incorporates new display technology called POLED (Polymer Organic Light Emitting Diode), a ‘self-healing’ backing that absorbs small scratches, and returns to its original shape after being flattened.

So is the LG G Flex the future or just a fad? It’s time to find out!

Hardware and features

Unlike Samsung’s curved OLED displays, LG’s POLED display uses an OLED panel built on a plastic substrate, rather than glass.

As with the company’s flagship LG G2 smartphone, the device features most of its main buttons on the back.

It also shares the LG G2’s quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor running at 2.26GHz.

The 6-inch display uses a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, significantly less than the 1920 by 1080 pixel 5.2-inch display on the G2, although LG claims its POLED Real RGB display technology – incorporating red, blue and green sub pixels in a single display pixel – means a more precise display.

The device also runs Android JellyBean 4.2.2 and features a 13-megapixel rear camera with a 2.1-megapixel front camera.

The back of the device features a “self-healing” elastic coating and comes in a colour called “titan silver”.

What’s the consensus?

The big advantage of curved phones is that, in theory, they should be more ergonomic.

However, as Engadget discovered, in practice that depends on which way the phone is curved:

The Samsung Galaxy Round, which arcs from left to right, was much more comfortable than the Note 3 because its curves allow the phone to rest naturally in the hand. Since the G Flex arcs from top to bottom, however, it feels a little more awkward than it would if the phone were simply flat; my index finger frequently slips off the edge because the phone curves up and makes the sides harder to reach.

Just as the name implies, the G Flex indeed offers a little flexibility, the likes of which we’ve never seen on a smartphone before. With the right amount of pressure, the banana-shaped device can actually be flattened, though it will revert to its original form afterward. LG told us it tested the feature by applying 88 pounds of pressure 100 times without permanently altering the phone’s physical shape.

However, according to Ars Technica, there are some significant issues still with how LG’s POLED display show solid colours: 

The display is not one of LG’s typically-fantastic LCDs but rather a new type of panel called a “P-OLED.” The “P” in “P-OLED” stands for “polymer” (aka plastic) which is the secret to the screen’s flexibility. In other OLED applications, like Samsung’s AMOLED, the display substrate is glass—a hard, inflexible material. P-OLED uses thin, flexible plastic as the substrate, thus allowing the curve in the G Flex. P-OLED is a relatively new, experimental technology, and while it has lots of potential for future applications, for now, P-OLED displays have a myriad of compromises on display quality.

Low pixel density is only the beginning of the G Flex’s display problems. The G Flex seems to have the most trouble displaying a solid, uniform colour, of which you can see a comparison above. This is the corner of the LG settings screen, which is supposed to be a solid-grey colour. The LG-made Nexus 5 does a decent job, displaying a mostly-uniform shade of grey. The G Flex display, however, randomly displays green, red, and blue pixels, resulting in a grainy, noisy image.

According to SlashGear, the G Flex shares many features with its sister phone, the LG G2, including the unusual location of the buttons on the back. A big difference, however, is in the price:

Like the G2, LG has put the G Flex’s primary controls on the back of the phone, underneath the camera. Up and down buttons – generally for volume, though working as a scroll in some circumstances – flank an illuminated centre lock/power key. The system arguably works even better than on the G2, since the larger form-factor of the G Flex makes reaching to its extreme edges more tricky.

It’s tough to get past that huge price, however. Unsubsidized, in Korea the G Flex comes in at the equivalent of around $US940; LG points out that the subsidized pricing in the US will be undoubtedly lower when the launch details are staked out, though it’ll still likely be at the top end of the market given the unusual features. Hard to recommend to the smartphone audience at large, then, but while the LG G Flex is an experiment, it’s no folly. Every new form-factor has to start from somewhere, and we may well look back at the G Flex as the device that first overthrew flat phones.

Overnight

By all indications, it’s probably a good thing that this smartphone is not being released outside South Korea.

While those who are super keen for the very bleeding edge in technology might want to try to import one of these from South Korea, it’s probably a safer bet to wait until an official Australian release.

By then, hopefully some of the bigger issues – such as the uneven screen colour – should be ironed out.

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