LG G Flex $999
17th Feb 2014 | 21:29
The future of smartphones is here, but don't get too excited
The future of smartphones is upon us - the LG G Flex is the world's first flexible smartphone and it can be yours right now.
While the curved display on the G Flex isn't exactly new - just take a look at the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus - the ability for the whole chassis to flex gives us a brief glimpse into what the future holds.
The future comes at a cost however, a really big cost - at least £630 SIM-free in fact.
You can always pick up the LG G Flex on contract, but a free handset will require you to part with £37 per month for two years, giving you just 1GB of 3G data in return.
Fancy a bit of 4G action on your G Flex? Then expect to part with some cash up front as well as paying more per month. This phone is a considerably investment.
To be fair you do get a whole lot of phone for your money - a 6-inch display, quad-core processor and 13MP camera are all onboard, but that's still a lot of cash to splash.
Don't get too excited about its flexible abilities either - the LG G Flex does boast the most defined top-to-bottom curve of any smartphone (the Samsung Galaxy Round curves side-to-side), but you can't actually go about folding it up.
In fact, lay the LG G Flex face down on a flat surface and at it's most curved point the screen is still just a few millimetres above the surface - but then comes the fun part.
Apply a decent amount of pressure to the rear of the G Flex and you can flatten the handset out - actually flexing the screen, the glass and the chassis without breaking anything.
When I demonstrated this to my friends, family and colleagues I was met - without fail - by a sea of wincing faces as the G Flex made some seriously concerning creaking and crunching sounds as I performed the flattening trick.
Sure the handset does flex, slightly, but it never sounds like it's enjoying the workout and I fear that after many months of constant flexing the movement may start to take its toll on the G Flex.
In terms of the phones it's up against we have to look at the phablet market, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, HTC One Max, Sony Xperia Z Ultra and Nokia Lumia 1520 keeping LG's monster company - although all four are cheaper than the G Flex, making it a tough crowd to break into.
Unsurprisingly design is one of the major talking points on the LG G Flex, and the most noticeable aspect of it is that curve.
When I picked up the G Flex for the first time the curve felt very pronounced, almost overwhelming, and I was left wondering how I'd cope.
It was rather unnatural and I was constantly shuffling it in my hand to find a comfortable, workable position.
As the days ticked by though the LG G Flex became easier to manage and the curve which initially felt overpowering, started to fade into the background, to a point where I rarely noticed it.
There's no metal on show with the G Flex, although that's no surprise as it requires its frame to be able to flex - so plastic it is.
On the rear of the G Flex though is a new material, and one LG claims is self-healing, managing to absorb small scraps and dents and reforming them to the natural, smooth curve.
While that sounds wonderful I did notice that my G Flex picked up a small scratch which didn't disappear, calling into question the effectiveness of the technology.
Unfortunately this covering doesn't provide much in the way of grip, which is a bit of an issue considering the sheer size of the G Flex (160.5 x 81.6mm) means it's already difficult to hold in one hand.
Another thing about the self-healing rear is that it's a magnet for dust and grime, and I was constantly having to wipe the G Flex to avoid it looking dirty.
At 8.7mm deep the LG G Flex is pretty slim, so as long as you can wrap your digits round the width of the device it should sit snugly in the palm - although I found myself doing a lot of shuffling as I moved from the navigation bar to the top of the screen.
Carrying on from the design of the LG G2, the G Flex doesn't feature any physical buttons on its front, sides or top - with LG electing to place the power/lock button and volume keys on the rear, just below the camera lens.
I'm still not sold on the location of these buttons, but LG has at least made them easier to find on the G Flex.
Both the volume up and down keys sport protruding nubs allowing your fingers to find them much easier than on the G2.
The power/lock key has also been enlarged on the G Flex, making it much easier to hit unsighted compared to the G2.
It subtlety glows when you receive a notification, alerting you to a communication when the G Flex is face down, but without disturbing the meeting you're in, or the in-depth discussion you're having down the pub.
I found the buttons were relatively easy to find, but there were occasions where I had to flip the G Flex over to make sure I was hitting the correct key.
The 13MP lens on the rear of the LG G Flex is flanked by a single LED flash on its right and an infra-red blaster to the left - the latter of which is located on top of the G2, but its placement on the Flex is far superior.
When I used the G2 to control my TV I had to point the handset like a traditional remote control, but that meant it was difficult to see the on screen buttons.
With the LG G Flex I was able to have the screen facing me at all times, making it much easier to hit the correct buttons to adjust volume, change channel and power my TV on and off.
The left side of the G Flex isn't totally uninterrupted, with a microSIM tray slot breaking up the plastic frame.
On the base you get a centralised microUSB port for charging and connecting the handset to your computer, plus a headphone jack.
The speaker however is in the bottom corner on the rear of the device, which isn't particularly useful as it means audio is muffled when holding the G Flex in hand.
Laid on a surface however, the curvature of the G Flex means audio reverberates nicely from beneath the device.
At 177g the LG G Flex is lighter than the 217g HTC One Max, although its plastic construction means it looks and feels inferior to the all metal chassis of the Max.
The G Flex is also lighter than the Nokia Lumia 1520 (207g), but once again the build quality is more premium on the Nokia, and when you consider the cost of the LG phablet it's a little disappointing.
The fact that the LG G Flex curves is fun when it comes to showing off the handset to others, and its party piece flexing trick is cool - but that's all it is. A party piece. It offers very little other than something to show off.
Is it a party piece worth more than £600? In short, no.
It is a sign of things to come, but in its current form on the LG G Flex the flexible ability is more a milestone for the industry to refer to, rather than offering consumers something genuinely useful.
Clearly the biggest feature of the LG G Flex is its curved chassis and ability to actually flex - if only very slightly - which we've already covered.
It's not just its seal-healing, bending body that the G Flex has going for it though - there's more.
Sadly the G Flex doesn't quite match up to its rivals, as its 720 x 1280 resolution doesn't compete with the full HD offerings on the current crop of phablets on the market.
That difference is almost immediately noticeable, especially if you're switching from a full HD smartphone to the G Flex.
I was using the full HD, 424ppi LG G2 before starting my G Flex review and from the word go I was moaning about the poor screen quality.
Images are noticeably grainy, app icons are pixelated and text looks a little blurred, which detracts from the whole user experience.
There is, of course, space in the market for smartphones with lower resolution displays, but the G Flex is one of the most expensive devices around and when you're paying top dollar you want the best.
When it comes to screen quality though, the LG G Flex is some way off the best.
Slight of hand
As I've already highlighted the LG G Flex is a sizeable device which can be a little tricky to manage in one hand, but LG has tried to combat this issue with a few handy interface tweaks.
First up is gesture control which includes LG's Knock On screen technology. This allows you to double tap the screen to wake it, saving you from fumbling around for that power/lock key on the rear of the G Flex.
When browsing around the phone, double tap the notification bar and the G Flex will lock, turning the screen off in the process.
This is a feature I much enjoyed on the LG G2 and I'm pleased to see it make the transition to the G Flex, as it's a much easier way to lock and unlock your phone.
That's not all from the gesture side of things though. You can also elect to have the G Flex answer a call when you bring the handset to your ear, decreasing your ringtone volume when you pick it up and silence a call by simply turning the phone over.
These save you from having to locate those rear buttons on the sizeable body of the G Flex, plus you can opt to use motion control to pause video, move apps between homescreens and even silence your alarm.
I found the gestures surrounding phone calls, and the Knock On function, to be very useful, although I rarely found a need for gestures when it came to app movements or pausing video as both are easier to do with a finger.
Look mum, one hand!
Another way to make the LG G Flex easier to handle in one hand is to dive into the one-hand operation menu in settings.
Here you can shrink the keyboard, dial pad and your lockscreen pin/pattern on the LG G Flex, making them hug either the left or right side of the screen depending on the hand you're holding it in.
This works nicely for the dialpad and your pin/pattern, as you don't have to overstretch your fingers to get to the other side of the screen, and while the concept is also welcome for the keyboard it does become rather cramped.
If you want to tap out a message quickly you're still better off grasping the G Flex with both hands and using your thumbs on the full size offering.
Something I found rather useful was the ability to easily align the navigation buttons to the left, right or centre - just swipe across the bar and the buttons will jump in the direction of your finger.
This meant my thumb could easily access the back button without an awkward shuffle in the hand, reducing the potential of dropping the G Flex.
Interface and performance
This is the same version of Android that the LG G2 is running, but considering the LG G Pro 2 and new L Series handsets are arriving with Android 4.4 on board we'd have hoped the G Flex would already be running it.
With a 2.26GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM I'm confident that the G Flex will get a KitKat update in due course.
That's a decent amount of power under the hood, and it means the LG G Flex happily runs Android without issue.
LG has slapped its own user interface over the top of Android and while for the most it gives you a relatively standard experience, there are noticeable additions and changes.
One of the biggest ones is in the notification bar - pull down from the top of the screen and you'll see LG has fully loaded this area on the G Flex.
Not only do you get a row of quick settings which frequent many Android phones these day, below that you get a row of QSlide apps, followed by two sliders - one for screen brightness and the other for volume.
This puts a wide range of control at your fingertips, and saves you from digging around in the settings menu - but it's not all good news.
All these options means that half the screen is taken up, leaving less space for notifications - the whole point of this area in the first place.
Luckily the expansive 6-inch display on the G Flex means a few notifications can sneak in before you have to scroll - but it can get annoying if you're one of those super popular people.
Thankfully you can remove the row of QSlide apps which frees up a chunk of extra space, and I opted for this layout as I rarely found myself requiring the QSlide feature.
What is QSlide, I hear you ask. Well in response to multi window on the Galaxy Note 3, QSlide allows you to pull up select apps in their own window on top of whatever you're currently viewing - a mini application perfect for multitasking.
You can adjust the transparency of the app window allowing you to see what's on screen behind it, and by dragging the bottom right corner of the window you can easily resize the app.
As I've hinted at you can't do this with every application on the G Flex, but nine core apps including Internet, Calendar, Calculator and Messaging are available.
You can only have a maximum of two QSlide windows open at once, and while it's a nice little novelty to have multiple windows on your phone's screen, I found the multitasking menu - accessed by holding down the home button - was actually a far easier way to skip between apps.
The G Flex does cope with all of this very well, and I didn't experience any slow down or stuttering as I fired up mini apps and jumped between games and web browsers using the multi-tasking menu.
While the G Flex never lagged, it never felt as super slick as some of the top flagships on the market. That's not a huge issue, but when you consider the LG G Flex costs more than most you may feel a little hard done by.
I was a little disappointed by the default theme on the G Flex, as it seemed a little bit childish and the low resolution display made some of the icons looks especially grainy.
Heading into settings you can change from the "Flex" theme to the "LG" theme, the latter of which is very similar to the overlay on the G2 - and the icons here look more professional and are slightly better in terms of detail.
Still, I would have preferred an option to switch to the stock Android design (with LG's extra features) as it's a smarter setup - but I guess I can't have everything.
Those looking to fill the G Flex with loads of movies, apps and music need to take note of the storage limitations of the handset.
It does come with 32GB of internal storage, but there's no microSD slot and the Android OS accounts for 8GB of that storage.
This means you have 24GB to play with - which should be plenty for most users, but the media heavy among you may need to tread carefully.
Battery life and the essentials
Battery life on the LG G Flex is seriously impressive. It gave me the best performance out of the all the smartphones I've recently had the pleasure of using and reviewing.
LG has equipped the G Flex with a sizeable 3500mAh battery pack, which not only makes it bigger than the batteries found in the Galaxy Note 3, Xperia Z Ultra and Nokia Lumia 1520 - it also outperforms every single phablet on the market.
The G Flex consistently saw out 24 hours on one charge, even with moderately heavy usage. Playing an hour of Flappy Bird while streaming music via Spotify saw the G Flex lose just 3% of its charge.
If you are conservative with your smartphone usage there's no reason why the G Flex couldn't eek out two whole days (and sometimes more) on a single charge - something most smartphones can only dream of these days.
Of course the lower resolution 720p display helps with extending the battery life on the G Flex, as its rivals all sport full HD screens - yet at 6 inches there's still a lot of screen to power.
Another bonus of the LG G Flex is its incredibly fast charging times, from near flat you can get it back to 100% in just three hours.
A fast charger also comes packaged in the box, ensuring you won't be left waiting too long when the G Flex finally does run out of juice.
I put the LG G Flex through the standard TechRadar battery test, which involves playing our 90 minute Nyan Gareth video with brightness on full at 100% battery and accounts syncing regularly in the background.
After the 90 minutes were up the G Flex had lost just 6% of battery life - a seriously impressive feat when you consider the Galaxy Note 3 lost 13% and the Lumia 1520 dropped by 16%.
That means you can sit down to watch a movie, or engage yourself in a bit of a gaming session in the knowledge you're not going to absolutely kill the battery on the LG G Flex.
As with all smartphones you can, of course, make and receive actual telephone calls on the LG G Flex - something which it handles well, but it doesn't excel at.
The curved nature of the G Flex means it sits nicely against your face, cupping the cheek and moving the microphone nearer to your mouth without top of the handset leaving your ear.
It's a more natural shape for calls, but I can't say I noticed any real difference in call quality due to the design.
In fact I found quality to be a little hit and miss, with the G Flex not always delivering the clearest of audio, although I could still hear what was being said.
I never found the G Flex struggled for reception and with 4G capabilities superfast data is at your fingertips, so long as you're in a coverage area.
LG's custom Android keyboard is a little bit hit and miss however, as I had to turn on the next word prediction and spell check option in the settings, and when I did it wasn't the greatest system.
Thanks to the huge 6-inch display on the G Flex, it does mean there's space for an extra row of keys along the top of the keyboard for all the numbers, which makes them a lot easier and quicker to access then having to hold down a letter.
As well as the traditional QWERTY keyboard you can elect to use handwriting recognition to enter your missives - although without a stylus this is a rather slow process.
The G Flex did do a pretty good job of recognising my joined up handwriting, but tapping out a message on a keyboard will always be quicker here.
SwiftKey's prediction engine and layout is far superior and it wasn't long until I'd ditch LG's effort and downloaded the alternative keyboard from Google Play.
The good think about LG's effort is the ability to float the keyboard to the left or right of the screen for one handed use - but as I've mentioned earlier in this review the keys become a little cramped and I'd still recommend both thumbs for a decent typing speed.
You get two internet browsers on the LG G Flex - Google's "Chrome" and LG's "Internet".
I'd recommend Chrome as your go-to browser on the G Flex as it appears to load web page just a touch faster and syncs nicely with Chrome on your other devices.
The advantage of using LG's browser is the fact you can minimise it to a small QSlide app, allowing you to have the internet on top of another application.
You can also easily switch between mini and full mode by hitting the icon in the top left corner.
Full desktop sites tended to load in an impressive four seconds on the LG G Flex, while mobile sites took just two over a strong Wi-Fi or 4G connection. You can add another second or so for 3G browsing, but the G Flex is quick anytime when it comes to surfing.
The LG G Flex comes equipped with the same 13MP rear facing camera that you'll find on the LG G2, while the front also sports the same 2.1MP snapper.
That puts the G Flex in pretty good stead from the off, as the G2 performed well during its in-depth review.
LG has stuffed the camera app full of features on the G Flex, but when you start it up everything is set to automatic, and to be honest for most photos these settings will be fine.
However for the more budding photographers out there the G Flex offers an array of options including various modes such as beauty shot, burst, panorama, night and sports.
There are also more advanced features such as "shot & clear", which allows you to cut an object out of a photo - such as a stray passer by - and "time catch shot" which can give your image a ghostly movement sequence.
Tap the settings cog to the side of the viewfinder and you'll find even more options to play with, such as ISO, white balance, brightness, focus and three simple colour effects (sepia, negative and mono).
With the LG G Flex being as large as it is, and with no dedicated shutter key down the side it's welcoming to see the option of using the rear volume keys as shutter buttons (or zoom controls).
This makes it easier to snap a picture as you're not attempting to hit an onscreen button - however their proximity to the lens on the back of the G Flex means my fingers strayed into shot every now and then.
Another frustration was the inability to silence the shutter tone without putting the whole phone on silent.
I don't want to have to change my volume settings every time I take a photo, I just don't want it to make a really loud "snap" every time I hit the shutter.
Shutter speed is rapid, with the G Flex focussing immediately and taking the picture - although I did find when I needed the flash things took longer as it sorted out the lighting.
For day to day snaps the LG G Flex won't let you down, providing shots with excellent detail and decent colour reproduction - plus the range of features on offer means you can tweak your pictures no end.
Low light shooting is still a little bit patchy, but we're yet to see a smartphone really nail this environment and once again the flash is always there to help you out - although it tends to over power the shot.
As well as taking some decent photos, you can also use the LG G Flex to record UHD (ultra high definition) video - that's a 3840 x 2160 resolution which will play nicely with any 4K TV or monitor you have knocking about. Not so great though on the 720p display on the G Flex.
There are considerably fewer options available to you when you switch from camera to video mode, but you can still adjust brightness, white balance and anti-shake controls.
A couple of clever modes have been included here, including "tracking zoom" which allows you to film a whole scene and select a part of it to pull into a separate zoomed-in window.
Another is dual recording, which uses both the front and rear facing cameras to capture two video streams at once. I struggle to see when you'd actually want to use it, but it's a neat feature.
A large screen, a powerful processor and all manner of connectivity options means the LG G Flex is definitely set up to be a media powerhouse.
LG has realised the G Flex's media potential and included the QuickTheater application on the phone, which is a hub for your photos and videos as well as providing a link to YouTube.
You can launch QuickTheater from the lockscreen by dragging two fingers apart on the display.
A slight downfall though is the issue of internal storage, with no expandable option in sight you're stuck with the 32GB inside the G Flex.
Now that will suffice for most users - although you actually only get 24GB once the operating system has been taken into account - but for those who like to stock up on music, movies and large applications the G Flex may start to feel the strain sooner rather than later.
The LG G Flex comes equipped with a pretty standard music player offering up all the features you'd expect - shuffle, repeat, create playlist, they're all there.
To aid playback the G Flex offers both home and lockscreen widgets for easy manipulation of your tunes, and the well populated notifications bar gets another addition here it the form of music controls.
This means you can quickly skip a song when viewing a web page by pulling down the notification bar and hitting next - without having to exit the app.
Sound quality is more than acceptable, via the internal speaker and through headphones, and the G Flex will satisfy the majority of listeners.
There is a graphic equaliser residing in the music player app if you do feel the need to tinker with the output, and the G Flex can even play files stored in the cloud, saving you precious storage space.
With its 6-inch display and curved chassis the LG G Flex is set up to be a top movie watching device - with enough screen to enjoy a motion picture and a design which draws in your eyes, concentrating them on the action.
Unfortunately the G Flex is let down a little by its 720p resolution display, which fails to provide the same sharp, powerful images of rival handsets.
Colours appear a little washed out and the lack of clarity is noticeable, especially if you're switching from a phone which boasts a full HD display.
The G Flex may have gotten away with things if the screen was a little smaller, but it's not and thus the pixel density is poorer resulting in a disappointing viewing experience.
That said the LG G Flex is one of the more comfortable smartphones to hold during a movie marathon, with its curving, soft touch back sitting nicely in your hands.
Audio quality from the rear speaker is actually pretty good, and you can turn the volume up a fair way before it starts to distort - although plug in a decent set of headphones for a superior listening experience.
LG has equipped the G Flex with a dedicated video player - something which is sorely lacking on many of today's smartphones - making it very easy to access your movies and get watching right away.
You can even pop the video player into a QSlide mini app, allowing you to continue to use other features on the G Flex while your video continues to play over the top.
I found this worked wonderfully well, and the G Flex had no issue making the switch between full screen and the small floating window - perfect for firing off a quick text without having to pause your video.
With its quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and Adreno 330 GPU the LG G Flex can handle pretty much any game your throw at it, from the simple tapping addiction which is Flappy Bird to the rather more intense Clash of Clans and Real Racing 3.
The curved nature of the G Flex helps when holding the phone for gaming, making it feel more comfortable in the hand during extended periods of play and the rear speaker once again gives a good showing.
Unsurprisingly though the one piece of kit which lets the show down again is the screen - with the low pixel density failing to do any favours for the usually fantastic looking Real Racing.
It's a shame, as the LG G Flex is an excellent size and shape (not to mention the top notch battery life) for a handheld gaming device - I just wish it had a full HD display.
The original Samsung Galaxy Note started the phablet craze we're witnessing today and the Galaxy Note 3 is the latest instalment in the Korean firm's supersized smartphones.
Bundled with the S Pen stylus, the Galaxy Note 3 already has an advantage over the G Flex when it comes to handwriting recognition and note taking.
Samsung has also stuffed the Note 3 full of eye, hand and heading tracking technology - so if you don't fancy touching the screen all that often you'll want to check it out.
The Note 3 isn't a great deal cheaper than the G Flex, but it does boast a full HD, 5.7-inch display, an extra GB of RAM and a microSD card slot for expanding on the internal storage making it an all round better offer.
The Galaxy Note 3 is becoming mainstream, so if you fancy a smartphone that's going to turn heads the G Flex is the one. If you just want to get things done then plump for the Note 3.
Unique, in a different way
While the LG G Flex has its curved, flexible chassis the Sony Xperia Z Ultra has a massive screen. Seriously, it's huge - a whole 6.44 inches of real estate makes this device more tablet than smartphone.
That whopping great body is also dust- and waterproof, meaning you can happily whip it out in a thunderstorm or take it in the bath and watch a movie while soaking in the tub.
The trade off however is the Z Ultra's size. It's large, unwieldy and will stretch your pockets to their limits - I found the G Flex tricky enough at times to manage and the Xperia Z Ultra just enhances the issue.
If you want a decent camera on your smartphone you're better off going for the G Flex, as its 13MP snapper trumps the 8MP offering on the Z Ultra.
However if you fancy a small tablet which you can make the occasional call on, and use a normal pencil as a stylus (I kid you not!), then the Xperia Z Ultra may be the one for you.
The LG G Flex is basically a bigger, more flexible LG G2 with a lower screen resolution. The two phones share the same processor, GPU, RAM, cameras, operating system and interface. Heck they even have the same buttons-on-the-back set up.
The LG G2 has two key advantages however; price and screen. In fact a SIM-free G2 will cost you around £200 less than the G Flex, and for that you get a 5.2-inch, full HD display with a 424ppi pixel density.
Compare that to the 720p, 245ppi 6-inch screen on the G Flex and the G2 makes a very convincing case for itself.
I also find the G2 much easier to manage in one hand, while I'm always worried that the G Flex may slip from my grasp as I shuffle its long body in my hand as I desperately claw at the notification bar at the top of the screen.
The G2 can't compete when it comes to battery life though, with the LG G Flex's 3500mAh comfortably outstripping the 3000mAh offering in its smaller brother.
If you fancy a top LG smartphone then go for the G2 - it's cheaper, just as powerful and easier to wield.
Hands on gallery
I wanted to love the LG G Flex, I really did. When it was first announced I was stupidly excited - a flexible smartphone! A self healing back! It was the stuff of dreams - sadly, like most of my dreams, it failed to come true.
This could be the phone we look back on in five years time and herald as a game changer, but for now the LG G Flex is more of an extravagance than anything else.
The battery life on the LG G Flex is incredible. Seriously, I haven't been this impressed with the battery life on a smartphone for years.
It will just keep on going and going and for that I must applaud LG - for too long have I been suffering at the hands of 18 hour batteries.
The camera on the G Flex is also pretty decent and you can take some nice shots with it, plus the inclusion of 4K video recording is a nice touch - even if a 4K TV is still way, way out of my price range.
The price. It's the biggest stumbling block for the LG G Flex and it's ultimately the reason why I'm finding it hard to recommend.
For £600 you can have the pick of pretty much any other smartphone on the market, but you'll need to shell out more than that for a SIM-free G Flex, with its distinctly average screen. If I'm spending that much I want the screen to dazzle me.
There's a place in my heart for the flexible design of the G Flex, but realistically speaking it doesn't offer any genuinely useful additional functionality and that's a real disappointment.
This biggest issue I have with the LG G Flex is the fact that it's impossible to recommend.
A sky high price tag means the LG G Flex is immediately out of many people's price range and while the "flexible" nature of the phone is certainly interesting, in it's current form it's little more than a gimmick.
All are cheaper than the LG G Flex, but none are inferior in terms of power, features or experience.
The only real USP is the slightly flexible, curved design which is innovative, but it's just not worth the considerable outlay the G Flex's price tag commands.