The new LG G Flex is billed as the "world's first curved, flexible smartphone," but once you get your hands on one it becomes clear right away that only half of that line is really true for practical purposes. It is a beautiful, sleek and powerful phone with an elegant curve to it, and yes, it does have a flexible display, but that display has been set in a rigid case that prevents it from actually flexing.
Not that I was able to even try. At the G Flex station of LG's booth for CES 2014, the first caveat the company's marketing folks passed on before talking about any of the phone's positive attributes was a disclosure that it doesn't actually flex or bend. LG's promotional website for the G Flex claims it can be forced into a flat position "for a limited period of time only," but warns against attempting to bend it inward or twist.
Instead, the majority of the pitch for the G Flex is about the advantages of its curved screen, which is just slightly concave, and vaguely mimics the curve of old-school landline handsets. LG's people told me that this helps better deliver sound to and from the phone during calls and also provided a better viewing experience from the display.
I wasn't able to place a call with it to test audio quality, but after years with Bluetooth headsets that work just fine, it almost seems a silly claim to make. As for the screen, it's the same argument being made by every maker of a new curved screen HDTV at CES this year, and there is some merit to the curve, at least on the scale of a big-screen display that takes up the majority of a living room wall, but for a six-inch screen on a (admittedly large) smartphone, the visual effect seemed negligible.
The only part of LG's rationale for the curve that I could really get on board with was its tactile advantages. As I first learned with a Moto X, a little bit of curve on the back of a phone actually does make a difference, and handling the G Flex for a while, I began to think that this could soon become a truism in the smartphone world. The G Flex is nice to hold, and there's at least a certain amount of enjoyment (or maybe just novelty, I'd need to spend more time with it to know for sure) to tapping, swiping and typing on a touchscreen that isn't completely flat.
The curve isn't the only unique feature of the G Flex form factor on display at CES. LG was also giving demonstrations of its self-healing back panel, which can make minor scuffs and scratches disappear in just a few minutes. It's hard to say if the special coating on the back that makes this possible would stand up to truly normal wear and tear, but it certainly works as advertised to heal at least a small portion of abuse.
During the limited time I spent with a G Flex, its performance was snappy and flawless, living up to the promise of some pretty top notch specs. It carries a 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, a whopping 3,500 mAh curved battery, and a 13 megapixel camera.
The claims that the curve produces a great viewing experience would seem to be a little limited, however, by the fact that the G Flex P-OLED display resolution is only 1280 x 720.
As for availability, LG reps would only tell me that the G Flex will be coming to some markets, including the UK and US, by the end of the first quarter this year. The American launch will include Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T;, but not Verizon just yet.