Hands on with LG’s curved, self-healing G Flex smartphone

Unlike most new smartphones I’ve seen this year, the LG G Flex genuinely surprised me. And not just because of its curved design or the fact that it’s built from materials with “self-healing” properties. What really caught me off guard is the fact that I actually kind of like it.

When the box for the LG G Flex – curved, just like the phone itself – landed on my desk, I approached it with an open mind. But there were already a number of factors that also made me a little prepared to hate it. For one thing it’s a 6-inch “phablet,” which I think is just too big. Period. Then there’s the curved shape and all that self-healing marketing, which I find incredibly gimmicky. And to top it all off, I wasn’t in love with the LG G2, which, in many ways, the G Flex is based on.

G Flex table curve

And yet all those things I thought I would hate about the phone have somehow worked in its favor. Think about it: The LG G Flex is a 6-inch curved phone with a self-healing back cover and its only physical buttons are located on the back. That’s kind of ridiculous. But taken together, it’s all so ridiculous it kind of works.

Don’t get me wrong; you probably shouldn’t buy the G Flex. And considering it isn’t available in the U.S. you easily can’t anyway. But I appreciate that LG is trying something different here, and I hope to see some of these ideas surface in other devices in the future.

Strange but promising new features

Let’s start with the most prominent new feature: That curve. When you set the G Flex down on its back, only the very middle of the phone actually touches the table – the top and bottom curve upwards. Flip it over and the G Flex proves true to its name – You can flex the phone down until it rests flat against the table. Let go, though, and it pops right back up.

LG claims the curve of the phone contours to your face better than a flat phone, improving sound quality. Additionally, the curve supposedly reduces the distance between your mouth and the microphone. This might be true, but I think 6 inches is a little too large a form factor to put this idea to the test. For instance, how much can a gently curved mouthpiece aid in call quality when the microphone is 2 inches further past your mouth than on a 4-inch phone?

G Flex display

Where that curve does come in handy, however, is for something you’re much more likely to use the phone for anyway – consuming media. While carrying the G Flex for a week, I found that the curve really helps reduce glare from ambient lighting. It also seems to improve viewing angles. The G Flex features a 6-inch, 720p display, so it’s clearly built for watching video (even though it’s not nearly as pixel-dense as much of the competition), but I think it benefits from the curve.

Another benefit that remains to be determined is whether the curve makes the phone easier to carry. Theoretically, a gentle curve should make the phone more comfortable in your back pocket. I tried to put it to the test, but I just don’t think 6 inches of phone is comfortable in any pocket. Still, I can see how this could improve the ability to carry a smaller curved device.

G Flex flexing

True to its name, the G Flex features a curved design that can flex up to 90 degrees.

Once you get past the curve, the G Flex’s other standout feature might be even more interesting. According to LG, the phone is covered in a “self-healing” coating that actually clears up scratches and other damage made to the case. It won’t replace a heavy-duty drop-proof case, but given the increasingly fragile state of mobile phones, I think the idea of a phone that won’t get all scuffed up in your bag is brilliant.

And in practice this coating works – to a point. Light scratches, for instance, made by rubbing my keys against the back of the phone, did clear up fairly well over time. A deeper scratch I made by really pushing a key in there also improved over a few hours – it looks about 50 percent better – but it’s still visible. Finally, a deeper gash I made using a staple remover (sorry, LG) didn’t heal at all. So while tiny scratches might improve over time, if you somehow manage to take a good chunk out of the phone it isn’t growing back any time soon.

G Flex scratch

The G Flex features a special coating that automatically “heals” small scratches, but it can’t repair a small gash like this one. Sorry, LG.

But again, much like the curved display, I see a lot of potential here for the future. If LG can really nail this coating, who wouldn’t want a device that gives them just a little less to worry about it?

Hope for the future

As for the rest of the phone, it’s really quite similar to the LG G2. It features the same design decision to move all of the phone’s physical buttons to the back panel. I’m not a big fan of this; I have a hard time finding the button I want to press, which is exacerbated by the phone’s large form factor.

I’ve been testing the Korean version of the phone, which runs Android(s goog) 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) and has a ton of bloatware, along with many of the same software modifications (like QSlide) as the G2. The phone’s 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm(s qcom) Snapdragon 800 processor is as fast as ever, and its 13-megapixel autofocus camera is quite good.

G Flex size

The 6-inch G Flex is gigantic compared to the 4-inch iPhone 5s.

Given the high-end specs, it’s a little surprising that the display only features 720p resolution, instead of the more standard 1080p. I suspect it’s because LG isn’t able to produce a flexible 1080p panel cheaply enough yet.

I’m not posting a full review of the G Flex because it seems more of a proof-of-concept than a device actually meant for consumers. And in that regard, I’d consider it a success. The LG G Flex is definitely not the phone we need right now. But a curved screen and self-healing build? Those are features I’d like to see more of in the future.