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May 7, 2014

No need for tablet with curved-screen G Flex by LG

There's a bit of hilarious marketing copy on LG's web page discussing the features of the G Flex -- in describing the smartphone's curved design, it claims that the device "follows the curvature of your face, for an outstanding voice and sound experience by reducing the gap between the microphones and your mouth."

Funny, because I don't see many people smash their phones to the side of their face. I know the crap that my face leaves on a screen, and I don't even wear makeup. And though the G Flex is indeed curved, it's not curved by that much, so voice isn't magically amplified for the other half of a phone conversation.

That being said, much of the site's advertising copy is spot on. The G Flex is a powerful device, with a curved screen and high-powered processor that helps videos and games play like a dream.

AT&T provided a device that I tested out for about 10 days. It's available at AT&T retail stores around Joplin ranging from $299 with a two-year contract to $694.99 without.
 

Thrown a curve

The device's curve is definitely eye-catching. While using this phone for about 10 days, it captured attention and captivated phone fans. It's a great conversation starter, for sure. Pull out a curvy smartphone, and you'll get a few eyeballs turned your way.

The curved screen is the major feature of the G Flex. There's only one other device I know of that features a curved screen is the Samsung Galaxy Round, and its curved screen is vertical, like someone sliced the cardboard core of a roll of paper towels in half. The G Flex's curve is horizontal, like a banana.

While I don't know how a Round feels, the Flex's curve helps a big phone feel better in the hand. It's a little easier to hold.

And that's a good thing, because this phone is big -- it can completely hide a Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5 in its shadown, and should probably be labeled a phablet. The 6-inch screen features a 1280-by-720 resolution with 245 pixels per inch.

While the curve is great for the hand, it's not great for the pocket. The phone's large size makes carrying it in a jeans pocket a bit awkward. And you'd think the curve would help accommodate carrying it in the "rear" pocket, but that actually threatens to bend the curve inward -- the direction LG specifically warns NOT to bend the phone.

That raises a question: The phone can be bent? Yes it can.

The display is actually made out of plastic. When detached from the rest of the phone, this display can be bent like a plastic playing card.

While I didn't get a chance to separate the screen from my tester device, I did flatten the entire phone. Pretty easily, too. It doesn't stay flat, however. The tension is springlike; if the curve were deeper, it could probably propel itself upward a few inches.

While it's cool to be able to flatten a curved phone, there doesn't appear to be a lot of functionality to it, other than some assurance that the screen won't break as easily as flat-screen glass. But that may be all the function that's needed from a flexible phone screen. Talk about some peace of mind.

And along the lines of device durability: The back features a self-healing material that buffs out scuffs and scratches. While I didn't carve my initials in the back with a pocketknife, I carried the phone in a pocket with change and another cellphone, and was pretty happy to see virtually no damage.

Great display

Those who know smartphones might realize that those display numbers above are a bit disappointing for such a high-end device. But I didn't have a single issue with the display. It looked gorgeous to me.

Call me crazy, but the device's curve seems to enhance the video quality. Maybe it's because, when holding the phone correctly, each pixel is aimed directily at the eye. Or maybe it's because I was enamored with the phone's curve.

All I know is that everything I saw looked fantastic, from YouTube videos to the game "Smash Hit," from "The Guild" on Netflix to a video of my stepkid's band concert.  

Part of the reason what I saw looked so good was because of the processor. Armed with a SnapDragon 800 2.26 GHz Quad-Core processor and 2 gb of RAM, everything ran and played super smoothly. The only crashes I suffered came from running an app in its beta phase -- everything else ran perfectly.

The phone has a few features made to capitalize on the high performance. Its Quick Theater mode offers easy shortcuts to YouTube, photos and videos, without having to tap your way through a gallery. A dual-screen option redefines multitasking on a smartphone by allowing two apps to run on the same screen without switching back and forth. For even more apps running at the same time, the phone offers Slide Aside, which lets a user switch between running apps easily, skipping Droid's Task Manager.
 

Daily use

Running Android's Jelly Bean operating system, the phone features a high degree of customization. Most things, from the order of back, settings and home buttons on the screen to keyboard styles, can be tweaked to a user's preference. I also liked the lack of clutter on the Android home screens. Where Samsung phones and tablets come loaded with unnecessary widgets and apps, the G Flex is relatively clean.

And the device's tech helps traditional apps run flawlessly. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ran like a dream. Evernote, Box and other cloud-based apps synced perfectly. The processor takes advantage of AT&T's LTE network -- Netflix and YouTube streamed without a hiccup.

The keyboard gave me some issues, however. LG's custom keyboard features swiping, autofill and autocorrect fuctions that learn as you go, but make special characters a bit awkward. And one-handed options are kind of a joke -- they shrink the keyboard to the point where it's smaller than an iPhone display, making text entry by single thumb an exercise in frustration -- especially for a perfectionist grammar nerd like myself.

The device's headphone jack is placed on the bottom of the device -- a handy innovation that makes playing music while working on a desk simple. And as a music player, it's symphonic. The player's equalizer offers a surround sound mode that sounded incredible through my simple Apple EarPods -- I can only imagine how some high-quality Bose headphones would perform.

But while the processor speed makes the device seem great for media consumption, it is hampered by a major setback: The lack of an expandable memory slot.

The device offers 32 gb of hard drive space, which may seem generous. But pictures, music and movies fill up memory fast, which makes memory cards handy.

Because the device offers no expansion, users have to switch back and forth by either connecting to a computer or swapping files between the device and a cloud service.  
 

Better for consuming, not creating

Content creators such as YouTubers and Instagrammers may also be disappointed with this phone.

I was able to take some great photos and videos with the device. I was impressed with the amount of control over the camera that I had. I could choose to focus manually, automatically or through facial detection -- handy for selfies. And if I wanted to take a selfie with the 13.2 megapixel rear-facing cam, instead of the dinky 2.2 megapixel front-facer, the LED light lit up when I was in focus. AWESOME.

The camera also has good white balance and ISO options. And video was just as serviceable. I was able to record a video, add a title and share it easily.

But while the camera impressed me, the results would likely disappoint someone who cares about high-quality images and video.
 

Low light performance no highlight

The camera does not handle low-light situations well. I was surprised that a video taken in low light came out as well as it did, because pictures were not good. (As you can see below, it's not bad, but it's grainy and dark.) Low-light pictures came out grainy and rounded. That might be OK for someone who plans on viewing photos only on a device or through a social network, but anyone who pulls a photo file off the device to correct it on a computer will be shocked with the image degredation.

Pressing my button

The other disappointment of this phone was a lack of buttons. All three of them are on the back of the device, instead of at the sides.

When holding with one hand, they are in the perfect position for the index finger to use. But for such a natural place, the buttons don't have much function between apps.

Summary

The phone is a powerhouse, no doubt. It's made for media consumers, not creators. The display is gorgeous and the performance is strong. People looking for a phablet-sized device will enjoy the capabilities and ease of use.

Creators looking for a high-end phone will be disappointed, because of the mediocre performance of the camera.

But the G Flex just works, and works well. There's not a lot of complicated software to gum things up, and a high degree of customization that will please picky users. Native software -- especially the photo and video editing -- is intuitive and handy, and whatever isn't native can easily be found on the Google Play Store. The performance is worth the price, and the device's size, durability and flexibility will please many.

DEAL MAKERS

  • Great screen display. The curve aims every pixel toward the eye for gorgeous video.
  • Flexible screen and self-healing back ensures a higher degree of durability. Screen breakage doesn't feel like much of a threat when the phone can be bent flat.
  • Outstanding performance. This plays movies and games out of the box like a dream. Photo and video editing was simple and intuitive with the built-in software.
  • The device's size, performance and functionality make this a great all-in-one device. It's small enough to still fit in a pocket, but its big screen and durability make this a perfect replacement for a tablet.

DEAL BREAKERS

  • No expandable memory slot or battery access. While 32 gb of memory is generous, the device's strength in performance will lead users to fill it up quickly with movies, music and games.
  • Not enough buttons on phone's exterior, and the function of the existing buttons is limited. Not very good for one hand, and as intuitive as the back placement may seem, the limited functions waste that innovation.
  • A 13.2-megapixel camera on a high-end device should not be this disappointing. Its low-light capabilities and occasional grain were underwhelming.
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