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The new LG G Flex is billed as the first flexible, curved smart phone. The flexibility is supposed to help it survive tight pockets and accidental drops—a good thing, because the phone's gargantuan dimensions (6.3 inches × 3.21 × 0.34) make it harder to stash and more awkward to handle than most models. And the curved shape is intended to nestle in the palm of your hand and enhance voice quality by bringing the phone closer to your mouth and ear.
I’ve spent a few days with AT&T and Sprint press samples of the phone and found that the G Flex was less rigid than typical phones—but not what I'd call flexible. On both phones, the seam between the phone's case and front panel split open under pressure (see photo below). The parts snapped together easily, though the G Flex isn't designed to open.
LG also claims the G Flex's 13-megapixel camera has an improved image sensor with larger pixels for "unsurpassed" pictures and videos. Our engineers are checking those claims in the lab, and we'll post their findings soon. In the meantime, here are my impressions of this unique and interesting smart phone.
The screen is dazzling. LG executives have implied that the wide, curved aspect of the G Flex's 6-inch flexible plastic organic light emitting diode (POLED) panel provides an immersive effect, like IMAX or Cinemascope. Sorry, guys, not quite. But it is easily among the sharpest (1,280 × 720 resolution) and brightest displays I've seen on any phone. In fact, the preloaded video clip featuring a young girl traipsing through a forest of oversized vegetables looked almost three-dimensional. Text and other nongraphic elements within Web pages, Google Maps, and other apps are impressively crisp.
LG credits the display performance to a new screen technology called Real RGB, which essentially crams in one-third more pixels than on other displays. The display is about half as thick (0.44mm) as conventional OLED panels, which means less material between the pixels and your eyes. We'll have to see whether this thinner design affects display durability.
Tough skin. The word "flexible" seems to be an exaggeration when it comes to describing the G Flex. You have to push hard to get it to budge, and even then it barely moves. But it bounces back (even if you have to snap part of it back together), and that's more than other phones do (see our CES video below). More important, that kind of flexibility can spare you the potentially super-big headache of dealing with a broken phone, as well as costly extended warranties and insurance plans.
Also good is the phone's glossy, scratch-resistant case, which is covered with "self-healing" polymer paint. The case maintained its blemish-free luster bouncing around in my pocket, which it shared with keys and coins. It also recovered from an accidental drop on a flagstone walkway. (The case is not designed to survive intentional gouges with knives and other sharp objects.)
Immortal battery. After fully charging the G Flex on Friday night, I used it extensively (streaming media, viewing Web pages, social networking) on and off for at least 8 hours a day through the weekend. On Sunday evening, the battery indicator said it still had 35 percent of its charge remaining. That's pretty good. Part of the credit no doubt goes to the more efficient quad-core CPUs and wireless technologies now standard on most new phones. I'm sure the G Flex's giant 3,500mAh battery also had something to do with it.
Dual windows. LG phones have allowed you to keep several apps open on their large displays for several generations. But this latest enhancement allows you to drag and drop links and large files from one app to another. So now you can just drag a photo from the phone's gallery into an e-mail you're composing. Previously, only Samsung's late model Galaxy and Note phones allowed you to do this.
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It's just too big. Manageable size is one of the main advantages smart phones have over other mobile devices. But it's not easy to slip the LG G Flex—or any of the other 6-inch-plus phones I've seen recently—into your pocket or use it with one hand. At what point does big become too big? I think we're getting there.
Rear-mounted controls. The LG G Flex incorporates the rear-key design first offered with the LG G2. On the G2, which was easier to grip, I found the controls easy to use and even intuitive with a little practice. But on the G Flex, my fingers were preoccupied with holding on to the phone's edges. Message to LG: If you continue to make phones this big, you should move the controls back to the sides.
Silly selfies. Taking a self portrait, or selfie, is easy using a smart phone's front-facing camera, because you have the benefit of being able to see yourself in the phone's display so that you can aim the camera properly. The G Flex comes with a "Face Tracker" feature that allows you to use the phone's better-quality rear camera. Its rear key blinks a yellow light to indicate it’s focusing, and changes to green when your face has been detected and the camera has focused on it. To snap a picture, you push either of the adjacent volume buttons.
But the feature didn't work well for me. The camera often failed to focus properly, and unwanted objects or people often sneaked into the background because I couldn't see them. Lesson learned: If you want a nice picture of yourself, ask a friend to take it.
Bottom line: The LG Flex's tough, flexible case and display are a great step forward in phone design. If this capability is widely deployed and copied by other phone makers, consumers can say hello to phones lasting longer and looking better while saying goodbye to extended warranties and insurance plans. But the phone itself is too big for most users.
The LG G Flex is available from Sprint for $300 with a two-year contract. It will be available from T-Mobile on Feb. 5 for $0 down with 24 equal monthly device payments of $28, and it will be available from AT&T on Feb.7 for $300 with a two-year contract.
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