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posted: 2/8/2014 7:15 AM

LG G Flex: Curved phone avoids getting gimmicky

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  • LG Electronics's smartphone G Flex is displayed during a media event at its head office in Seoul, South Korea.

    LG Electronics's smartphone G Flex is displayed during a media event at its head office in Seoul, South Korea.
    associated press/November 2013


By Hayley Tsukayama, The Washington Post

It would have been so easy for the LG G Flex, available on AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile this week, to be just a collection of gimmicks. And while it's not a phone suited for a majority of people -- its $300 price tag alone cuts most folks out -- it is a surprisingly good option for the growing number of folks who want a phone-tablet hybrid.

What saves this phone from being ridiculous? Mainly that all of its crazy features do exactly what they're supposed to do.

Take that curved screen, for example. The screen bows away from the user, a shape that actually does cut down on glare from indoor lights and sunlight. Watching any kind of video on the phone is a great experience. At short distances, the slight curling at the edges does make the phone feel more immersive -- the main selling point LG and others are using for curved TVs. The screen itself hits most of the high points: big, bright and responsive. On the negative side, the display quality is not as good -- it's not "retina" quality, for example -- and images can appear blurry at times. The camera, a 13 MP sensor, is also just average, and not a standout feature on a phone that one might assume would place a high premium on good quality images.

As a trade-off, however, the screen doesn't drain the battery as quickly as other large displays can. In fact, the LG G Flex can survive more than a day, maybe even two, of normal use without giving out.

The curve also mitigates some of the discomfort users would have wielding that big phone in a variety of circumstances: against your tush when you slide it into a back pocket, against your cheek, and in your hand. (And yes, the phone bends, but only to withstand pressure -- it's not a party-trick level flexibility.)

While we're talking about comfort, having the buttons on the back of the phone, a design LG has used before, also works out well. The curve also gives you just enough grip to hold it in one hand and still manipulate the buttons without feeling like you're going to drop it. During calls, the buttons are exactly where your finger rests naturally while holding the device to your head.

That is, if you ever do want to hold the phone up to your head. It is, perhaps, an uncomfortable truth that this phone's greatest weakness is as a phone.

Conversations, particularly long conversations, on a phone this large are pretty uncomfortable, and definitely this phone's greatest drawback. And if you use a headset or headphones, it can be annoying to have all the controls on the back of the phone -- particularly if you're trying to tell someone about something that's on your display.

And given its size, the chances that you will drop it are pretty high. LG has an answer for that, too, however: the G Flex is "self-healing," though it's probably more accurate to say it's scratch resistant. A larger gouge to the back of the review unit provided to The Washington Post by AT&T did leave a more noticeable mark, but the phone got through the general scuffle of daily life without a scratch.

Sadly, the software on this phone doesn't quite live up to the hardware. LG has certainly packed the phone full of features -- you can use it, for example, as a remote control for most devices -- that could be a little overwhelming for most people. Apart from a critical few, not many of them were really necessary features. The best features include being able to run two applications at once and being able to turn on modifications for one-handed use -- features that take away some, but not all of the most annoying parts of that big screen.

LG's own twist on Android isn't nearly as intrusive as it has been with past models, and the firm has added some of its own navigation features, such as the ability to wake up the phone by tapping on its screen, which are useful. All that, however, doesn't quite make up for the fact that the G Flex is running an older version of Android rather than the newest version, KitKat, which was announced back in October.

In the final analysis, the LG G Flex is not a phone most people should run out to buy. The big screen is great for specific people who aren't quite sold on a tablet but want something for big Web surfing and video-viewing. For most, the sheer awkwardness of fumbling with the big phone is going to keep them away from the G Flex. But it is a device that does what it's designed to do well, and could be a sign of greater things to come from the phablet world.

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The LG G Flex is available this week for $300 on contract with AT&T or Sprint. T-Mobile customers can have the phone for 24 monthly payments of $28, equivalent to the phone's unsubsidized cost of $672.

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