Review: LG G Flex

Here is a curious phone. It’s a large phone, and at first glance, it bears great resemblance to many such large phones that have come before it. But in an attempt to differentiate itself, this one is equipped with a curved screen. Its arc runs lengthwise — grasping it in your hand, you gaze upon all six impressive inches of it as it extends away from your body, curving gently skyward.

The concave glass panel is the most noteworthy thing about this phone. The only other thing you must know is that you should not consider buying it.

The curved screen has many problems, the biggest of which is that it’s curved. The phone is already massively proportioned, and is difficult to carry in a pocket comfortably. Even if one could manage a modicum of comfort with such a monstrosity tucked into one’s pants, the perpetual bulge of the device’s plastic back — which arches like a cat stuck in a state of just-awakening — makes itself known all too rudely.

A double-tap on the screen brings the device to attention. Take note of the sluggishness, the labor with which the animations struggle to complete. Launch an app with a white background — Instapaper, Twitter, or Chrome — and one’s eyes will detect a fine graininess on the screen. It could be described as a paper-like texture, or more accurately, as an evenly applied layer of fine sand on what should be plain white canvas. Load up a video. It too is grainy. The mind notices a theme developing.

Load a page with text and read it. Sharp enough, though certainly not as sharp as one would expect. Scroll down to read more and — what was that? Am I seeing ghosts? Yes, I am. The double image of the words one just read now float in negative space, disembodied and lost, like damned souls condemned to hover above that terrible patina of digital sand.

I know what you’re thinking: something was terribly wrong with my review unit. I too developed this fear once I noticed a blueish tint in the upper corners of the screen, artifacts of poor lighting. I asked LG to send me a second phone. This new one did not have the same light or tint problems, but the graininess and the ghosting were apparent on both screens.

A word about the plastic back: It has been treated with some magical “self-healing” coating that supposedly makes it very difficult to scratch. Using a key, I lightly etched my name into the corpus. It did not heal. An LG representative assured me I could restore the soft coating to its original state by rubbing it repeatedly and warming it up. So I rubbed and rubbed, expecting a change. But it remained soft. Alas, my mark prevails.

It is not all tragedy and cold stew. The camera is decent enough, and particular forgiving of poor indoor light. The battery inside has been designed with a curve that matches the shape of the device, giving it slightly more volume and more staying power (it’s 3500mAh, enough to last longer than two days on a full charge). The buttons aren’t on the sides as one would expect, but centered on the back of the device’s upper half, just like LG’s G2. It’s strange at first, but one grows used to it quickly.

The phone is only available in parts of Asia right now — South Korea presently, and Hong Kong later this month — and LG has not announced any stateside carrier relationships. Purchased today on the open market without subsidy, the phone would cost $940. That’s top-tier money, and if it were to reach American shores, it would likely be priced between $200 and $300 on-contract to match other premium offerings. I can’t imagine what arguments you could put forth as to why this phone should command a premium price.

In the end, one is left wondering simply: why? A curved display is good for what, exactly? The technology cannot match the perfectly excellent flat screens we’re all using now. And a mobile device built around a six-inch curved screen is awkward and unnatural, forever getting in the way.

The best excuse I heard: The curved body of the phone matches the curvature of those corded phones of yesteryear. Hold the G Flex up to one’s face to make a call, and yes, it’s true. It does feel a little bit more natural than a non-curved slab.

So LG has designed a smartphone that slightly improves an experience that only a minority of people will actually use the device to do: talk on the phone with the handset pressed to their face. Sorry, but you’ve lost this round. Please try again.

Photos: Josh Valcarcel/get-gadget

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