Does "different" automatically mean "better"? That's the question I keep coming back to every time I use one of LG's recent Android devices.
The company's been trying fervently to stand out from the pack, first by moving the volume and power buttons to the back of its phones and now, with the new LG G Flex, by adding a curved shape into its design. But do those qualities meaningfully enhance the user experience? Or are they just different for the sake of being different?
I've been living with the G Flex for the past week to find out. All hype aside, here's what the phone is actually like to use in the real world.
(The LG G Flex is available as of this week from AT&T for $300 with a new two-year contract, from Sprint for $300 with a new two-year contract and from T-Mobile for 24 monthly payments of $28, bringing its grand unsubsidized total to $672. Verizon has not announced any plans to carry the device as of this writing.)
Body and display
Forget the curve for a minute: The first thing you notice about the G Flex is that the phone is huge. At 6.3 x 3.2 x 0.33 in. and 6.2 oz., the G Flex is more than a third of an inch longer than Samsung's plus-sized Galaxy Note 3 -- and a bit heavier as well. The size alone is going to turn most people off from this device; it's awkward to hold in one hand and even more uncomfortable to carry.
The phone sticks with the glossy plastic construction LG's been favoring as of late, which unfortunately looks and feels rather chintzy and doesn't give off a very premium vibe. The material is said to have a "self-healing polymer" that helps it "recover from minor scratches," which sounds cool on paper but is less impressive in person; the few minor scratches that showed up on my device were still present and visible days after they developed.
So how 'bout that curve? In practical terms, it's far subtler than you might expect (especially if you've seen LG's marketing materials). Don't get me wrong: You can absolutely tell that the phone has an arc to it, especially when you set it down on a flat surface -- but in terms of most day-to-day use, you don't really think about it that often.
The curve is at its most noticeable when you hold the device lengthwise, in landscape orientation, which causes the left and right sides of the screen to slope slightly toward you. LG says it creates a "cinematic-like panoramic viewing" experience for video watching and game playing, but I'd say it's more of an interesting subtle effect than anything transformative. And in regular reading-based usage -- email, Web browsing, social media surfing and the like -- I actually found it to be slightly distracting.
Regardless, any potential benefit the curve might provide is cancelled out by the subpar quality of the G Flex's display. The phone's 6-in. 720p plastic OLED panel packs only 244 pixels per inch, which is a significantly lower pixel density than we've come to expect from high-end phones today -- and boy, does it show.
You can easily make out individual pixels on the G Flex's screen, and colors look dull and oddly grainy. There's also a weird ghosting effect where elements sometimes stay partially visible after they're no longer on the screen -- almost like they're temporarily burned in before they eventually fade away. It's bad enough that I thought maybe it was a fluke defect limited to my review unit, but I was able to observe the same issue on two other devices.
Display quality aside, the curve does make the phone fit nicely against your face for voice calls, though the sheer size of the handset counterbalances that benefit. And the arc is actually counterproductive in terms of pocket comfort; if you could somehow fit the phone horizontally in your pocket, it'd match the shape of your leg nicely -- but in a vertical position, the curve clashes with the natural form of your body and makes the device feel extra bulky.