LG G Flex review: Daring design, but plays it safe with features

As for video quality, the camera showed varying results. Shooting in 1080p HD video yielded sharp footage, with both moving and still objects remaining in focus. Colors appeared true-to-life, and the camera was able to shift its focus for lighting without having that odd "pulsating" effect seen in the Nexus 5.

However I did experience issues with audio. Nearby audio sounded hollow, almost echo-y, and when I shot video indoors and outdoors, I could hear a subtle and continuous rustling noise, as if I were underwater. Lastly, when I recorded a rustling magenta feather boa, the video would suddenly be saturated with a vivid shade of blue. Sometimes the blue stayed, and other times it would switch back and forth to the regular color of the boa. This happened consistently when I was in both camera and video mode.

Like we've seen previously, you can record with both cameras simultaneously, and take photos and pause video while recording. Both cameras have fun live effects that manipulate the shape of your face, as well as an anti-shaking feature that stabilizes shaky video footage which can occur from involuntary hand movement.

LG G Flex (video grab)
This photo, taken while I was recording video, shows the blue hue that would suddenly wash over my footage of the boa. Lynn La/CNET

The rear shooter can record up to 60fps for a fast-forward effect. It also has audio zooming and tracking zoom. The former let's you emphasize certain sound sources while recording, and the latter enables users to zoom in on a particular object or person while recording background video. This works easily and smoothly, and LG has added new frames to tracking zoom and dual recording,so the front-facing camera can appear in many shapes, such as a stamp or a star.

Performance

Call quality
I initially tested an unlocked handset in our San Francisco offices using AT&T's GSM network. Call quality was adequately clear. Although I could hear a bit of static from time to time, it was rare. None of my calls dropped, audio remained consistent, and volume was at an adequate level. My calling partner's voice did sound a tad on the flat side, and I was told I sounded similar. (My partner also commented that I sounded "nasally" but that's most likely due to the fact that I am, at the time of testing and writing, battling a cold.)

I also tested three G Flex models that were optimized for AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile's networks. In general, all units had reliable call quality. Maximum volume was pleasantly loud and even when adjusted to a lower volume, voices were easy to understand and clear. My calls on AT&T's version sounded the clearest, though not by much. Calls made on Sprint and T-Mobile's G Flex did have a distant rumor of static, but it wasn't overly distracting.

LG G Flex (AT&T, unlocked) call quality sample

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LG G Flex (AT&T) call quality sample

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LG G Flex (Sprint) call quality sample

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LG G Flex (T-Mobile) call quality sample

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When I took these phones outdoors, call quality remained excellent. My calling partner couldn't hear any background noise across any of the three carriers, even though I was speaking along a busy street with cars passing by. I was told that there wasn't even a noticeable difference between indoor and outdoor sound quality. However, there was one time during a call made with the Sprint unit that my partner said I sounded just a bit muffled, but that soon went away after a few seconds.

Audio speaker quality with phone conversations, music, and videos yielded the same sort of hollow sound across all models. Sound came off a little thin, especially when volume is cranked all the way on max. Though it never reached an overly distracting or troublesome level, it was disappointing that audio wasn't very impressive given how much this smartphone is touted as a more immersive, media-rich device.

Data performance
When I initially tested our unlocked unit, the G Flex was only able to connect to AT&T's 3G network because of international wireless incompatibilities. Speeds weren't always consistent (sometimes it'd take anywhere from 5 seconds to 2 minutes just to load the same Web site), but keep in mind that our international review unit may not be optimized with US carriers. That being said, data speeds were decent when they managed to stabilize. On average, CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 6 seconds. The first two desktop pages loaded in 13 seconds, while ESPN's desktop site loaded in 9. Ookla's speedtest app showed an average 3.17Mbps down and 1.04Mbps up. The (then) 37.61MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in an impressive -- for 3G, anyway -- 2 minutes and 13 seconds.

Later in our San Francisco offices again, I was able to test the G Flex models that were optimized for AT&T and T-Mobile's LTE networks. While the latter clocked in with slightly slower times, it was the most consistent and reliable of the two. At times, the AT&T G Flex would take more than a minute to load a Web page, but during another trial, the same site would take just take a few seconds. On average however, the AT&T unit took 4 seconds to load CNET's mobile site, and 10 seconds for the desktop page. The New York Times' mobile and full sites loaded in 5 and 9 seconds, respectively. And it took 5 and 6 seconds for ESPN's mobile and desktop sites to load. About 29 seconds passed to download Temple Run 2 (which since the testing of the unlocked unit had now grown to 40.89MB). Ookla results lead to an average 19.92Mpbs down, and 8.39Mbps up.

LG G Flex (Temple Run 2)
Our data tests measured how long it took the G Flex to download and install Temple Run 2. Josh Miller/CNET

As for T-Mobile, our unit took 4 and 9 seconds to load CNET's mobile-optimized and full sites. Both the mobile sites for The New York Times and ESPN loaded in 5 seconds. Their corresponding desktop sites took 7 and 6 seconds, respectively. The 40.89MB game Temple Run 2 took 45 seconds to download, and average speed times showed 10.94Mbps down and 9.86Mbps up.

The Sprint device is currently branded with the carrier's high-speed Spark 4G LTE network. However, Sprint's LTE is currently available in 405 official markets, which doesn't include San Francisco. As such, we were only able to measure the handset's 3G data speeds. In general, it took about 38 seconds for it to load CNET's mobile site and 1 minute and 19 seconds for our desktop site. Mobile and desktop sites for The New York Times took 13 seconds and 1 minute, respectively. It took 51 seconds for ESPN's mobile site to appear, and 1 minute and 14 seconds for the full site. During the time of testing, Temple Run 2 was 44.22MB big, and it took 24 minutes for it to download and install. Finally, Ookla test results showed an average of 0.26Mbps down and 0.66Mbps up.

AT&T (unlocked, 3G) AT&T (4G LTE) Sprint (3G) T-Mobile (4G LTE)
Average download speed (Mpbs) 3.17 19.92 0.26 10.94
Average upload speed (Mbps) 1.04 8.39 0.66 9.86
Temple Run 2 app download 37.61MB in 2 min. and 13 sec. 40.89MB in 29 sec. 44.22MB in 24 min. 40.89MB in 45 sec.
CNET mobile site load (in seconds) 6 4 38 4
CNET desktop site load (in seconds) 13 10 79 9
Restart time (in seconds) 31 23 23 26
Camera boot time (in seconds) 1.75 1.55 1.59 1.65

Processor speed and battery life
The Snapdragon 800 processor in conjunction with the Adreno 330 GPU deliver reliable, ultrasmooth gameplay. Riptide GP, which is graphics intensive, launched quickly, and the app never stuttered or force quit. Animation had a high frame rate, but (understandably) didn't look as crisp as I've seen before on 1080p displays. It goes without saying that less complicated tasks, such as returning to the home page, calling up the keyboard, and launching the app drawer, took no time at all. Though the Flex's 19,826 Quadrant score is impressive (the G2, for example, runs the same processor and scored 19,050), it's important to note that the Note 3 scored higher at 23,048.

What carrier you have plays no role on the processing speeds of a phone, but on average, it took the unlocked unit about 31 seconds for the handset to power off and restart, and a mere 1.75 seconds to launch the camera. AT&T and Sprint's units both took 23 seconds to restart. As for opening the camera, the AT&T model took 1.55 seconds while Sprint clocked in at 1.59 seconds. T-Mobile's model took 26 seconds to restart and 1.65 seconds to launch the camera.

LG G Flex (Ookla and Quadrant)
A few 3G data times of the unlocked G Flex (left), and the Flex's Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

As previously mentioned, the Flex contains a 3,500mAh battery. This is slightly larger than the Galaxy Note 3's 3,200mAh battery, and the same size as that of the Droid Maxx. Keep in mind, however, that the Maxx has a smaller 5-inch display and a dual-core CPU. With medium use, brightness turned up to max, and a 3G data connection, the device lasted 13 hours with 36 percent leftover. And even at that level, the Flex estimated that I still had about 8 hours of usage time remaining. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, it lasted an impressive 17.82 hours.

According to FCC radiation standards, the handset has a digital SAR rating of 0.52W/kg on AT&T, 0.73W/kg on Sprint, and 0.92W/kg when operating on T-Mobile's network.

Conclusion

When I first heard about the G Flex, I did roll my eyes. Personally, the bowed shape wasn't initially compelling, and LG's initiative to "mix things up" seemed contrived.

However, after using the device, I stand corrected. The curve does indeed render the massive handset more manageable and comfortable. And not only did I feel more drawn in when I watched movies or played games, but even small tasks like Web browsing and swiping through photos became more engrossing because of the curved depth of the display.

But the phone faces stiff competition from Samsung's own curvy device. Though it bends on the sides rather than on top and bottom, the Galaxy Round has a sharper screen, a newer version of Android, and a better build quality.

LG G Flex (all carriers 2)
Can the LG G Flex stand up against its rival handsets? Josh Miller/CNET

So should you get it? Without taking price into account, the Round is the better device. However, right now you can only get it for a high (unsubsidized) price from third-party vendors.

If you want to remain within the same price range as the G Flex though, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a worthy alternative. It, too, is $299.99 on-contract, or $708 on T-Mobile. At 5.7 inches, its screen isn't as big as the G Flex, but the 1080p display is sharper, and its built-in S Pen stylus and bevy of software features pushes user productivity to the next level.

Don't get me wrong, though -- if you want a bowed phone, the LG G Flex won't disappoint. It's still an excellent device if you're looking for something with a big screen that's fast and reliable. Even as a standalone phone, the handset will prove satisfactory in its performance and novel in its form factor.

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LG G Flex

Part Number: GFLEX Released: Nov 12, 2013
Low Price: $249.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 12, 2013
  • Weight 6.24 oz
  • Diagonal Size 6 in
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