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LG G Flex deep-dive review: The curious case of the curved phone

February 4, 2014 06:30 AM ET

The software

The G Flex runs custom LG software based on 2012's Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. LG has not yet said if or when the phone will be upgraded to the more current Android 4.4 KitKat release.

The G Flex's software is pretty similar to what I saw on the G2, so I'll refer you to the software section of my G2 review for an in-depth look at its pros and cons. In general, I'll say this: LG continues to fall into the trap of attempting to "differentiate" by making arbitrary UI modifications, many of which end up hurting the quality of the user experience.

To the company's credit, the G Flex's software is more polished than some other manufacturers' takes on Android -- but it's still cluttered, messy and a step backwards from the restrained and tasteful base OS upon which it's built. LG also continues to insist on using the outdated Android 2.3-era Menu button in place of the current Android 4.x Recent Apps button, which makes getting around the system far less elegant and intuitive than it should be.

Interface aside, LG has loaded the phone up with a smorgasbord of software features, a few of which are genuinely useful. One example is a new Samsung-reminiscent Dual Window mode that lets you split the screen in half and view two apps simultaneously (with a limited range of compatible programs).

At a Glance

G Flex
Price: $300 (AT&T and Sprint with two-year contract), $672 (T-Mobile with 24 monthly payments of $28)
Pros: Excellent performance; outstanding battery life; technologically impressive curved form; can run two apps on-screen at the same time
Cons: Bulky and awkward; subpar display; mediocre camera; messy user interface; ships with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean); uses outdated Menu button; glossy plastic casing looks and feels cheap compared to other high-end phones

While that feature can come in handy, it also speaks to the broader lack of focus within LG's software design: Dual Window is one of three separate and confusingly similar multitasking mechanisms LG has added into the G Flex.

That's a common theme with the phone, ranging from the slew of apps that unnecessarily duplicate existing Google services to the smattering of gimmicky features you'll likely never use. A little focus would go a long way in refining LG's products and creating a more compelling overall user experience. It'd also make it more feasible for LG to keep its devices up to date with current Android releases -- an area where the company consistently falls short.

On a related note, the G Flex is jam-packed with bloatware, some of which can't be easily uninstalled. On both the AT&T and the Sprint models of the phone, I counted more than two dozen such applications.

Bottom line

Back to my original question: Does "different" automatically mean "better"? In the case of the G Flex, the answer turns out to be no. The phone's curved and flexible body is a noteworthy feat of engineering but not terribly meaningful in terms of actual real-world value, especially when coupled with the phone's dismal display.

The G Flex does offer excellent performance and outstanding battery life, but with all of the caveats that accompany those traits -- and all of the more well rounded smartphones available within the same price range -- it's difficult to recommend this device as a sensible purchase for most people.

The G Flex is an impressive technological concept -- no question there. Maybe by the second generation, LG will figure out how to turn it into something that's equally impressive from a consumer perspective.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

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