Mobile

LG’s G Flex: Is a curved smartphone screen innovation or desperation? (review)

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Curved smartphone screens are going to be the next hot thing — if you believe the likes of Samsung and LG.

The two Korean electronics companies have recently rolled the first curved-screen smartphones out to market. These devices will likely serve as precursors to phones with truly flexible displays. (Imagine a smartphone you could twist onto your wrist — talk about a smartwatch.)

LG was first out the gate with the G Flex, which builds on the company’s recent experience creating solid-yet-boring Android phones but adds a curved screen. It’s fast, sports a massive screen, and ticks off just about every check box for what you’d want in a powerful new Android phone.

But why does it have a curved screen? What exactly does it offer that our boring old flat phones don’t? That remains to be seen.

The good: It sure is a conversation starter

If there’s one thing the G Flex has going for it, it’s that it doesn’t look like any other smartphone around right now. When you’re surrounded by iPhones and Android look-alikes, sometimes it’s nice having a way to stand out from the crowd.

Heck, even big-screened phablets are becoming a common sight these days. If you truly want to look like a unique butterfly, then whipping out a curved screen phone may be your thing. (Then again, maybe we all need to stop attributing so much of our personal identity to our gadgets.)

The G Flex makes a strong impression from afar — on several occasions, complete strangers walked up to me on the subway just to take a closer look at it. Most were impressed by the phone’s shape, though few found it intriguing enough to give up their current smartphone.

Perhaps more interesting than the G Flex’s curved screen is the “self-healing” technology on its rear cover, which allows it to repair automatically minor nicks and scratches as if by magic. I tried scratching my G Flex slightly, and I definitely noticed that the scratching faded over time. Below, you can check out a more extreme test of the phone’s self-healing capabilities from YouTube gadget host Marques Brownlee (I didn’t feel comfortable trying to destroy a review model):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-W66HINFLg

This sort of self-repairing technology is something we’ll likely see on many smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets over the next few years. Unfortunately, LG hasn’t divulged the specifics of how this self-healing technology works.

The bad: This curved screen doesn’t add much

For a phone that’s being marketed primarily for its curved screen, it’s kind of shocking how little LG takes advantage of it. Samsung at least made an effort with its Galaxy Round, which lets you view notifications by tapping one side of the phone. LG seems to think the curved screen is a selling point all on its own.

Notice how the Flex isn't nearly as curved as LG's initial renders of the phone.

Above: Notice how the Flex isn’t nearly as curved as LG’s initial renders of the phone.

What’s even worse is that the G Flex isn’t as curved as LG initially claimed. The first images of G Flex showed a far more extreme curve than the final units. That slight curve may actually make the phone more usable, but it undercuts much of the excitement many had for the G Flex initially. (Then again, this isn’t the first time marketing folks may have stretched the truth a bit.)

Once I got over the initial rush of using a curved screen smartphone (which primarily involved showing it off), I mostly forgot about the G Flex’s shape. Its contours make it better suited for holding up to your face and sitting in your pocket, but otherwise the G Flex’s curved screen doesn’t add much to the overall smartphone experience. It’s still running LG’s wonky Android skin, and it doesn’t have any features that make use of the curved display.

Up close, the G Flex looks a lot like your typical LG smartphone. The power and volume buttons are on the back, a confusing design move LG made last year to differentiate itself from the countless Android clones, and it is clothed in an uninspired grey case.

The G Flex comes in a massive 6-inch OLED screen size, though it only has a 720p HD resolution (most smartphones above 5 inches today offer 1080p HD screens). That means it doesn’t quite make it into Retina-display territory — at times, it was pretty easy to make out pixelation, something that feels almost archaic in this era of ultra-sharp smartphone screens. Still, the G Flex’s screen is bright and vivid, though it does take some time to get used to the curve.

The verdict: This is a curved prototype

The G Flex is a reminder of the biggest rule in buying consumer tech: Stay away from first-gen products. While it’s a solid Android phablet, its curved screen is more of a gimmick than anything truly useful.

I’m all for novelty gadgets, but when it’s something as important as a smartphone, I tend to fall on the pragmatic side of things. You’ve got far better options on the market (or coming soon) — Samsung’s Galaxy S5, HTC’s new upcoming One, and Samsung’s Note 3 if you want a phablet — and it’s clear that LG doesn’t know what to do with its curved screens just yet.

More information:

LG Corporation is a South Korean multinational conglomerate corporation. It is the fourth-largest company of its kind in South Korea, following Samsung Group, Hyundai Motors Group and SK Group. Its headquarters are situated in the LG T... read more »

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