Monthly Archives: February 2014

LG G Flex review

What if screens didn’t have to be flat? It’s a question designers and engineers have been asking for years as they imagined tablets you could roll up like a newspaper, or mocked-up smartwatches that were just screens coiled around our wrists. Displays could be even larger while devices shrank; they could be more durable and more flexible; they could even be on all four sides of a smartphone instead of just one. It would change how we think about screens, and how we interact with the devices we use every day.

While everyone dreamed, LG went to work and built its first-ever curved phone, the G Flex; it and the Samsung Galaxy Round are the only smartphones of their kind. The G Flex is a high-end smartphone in every way, but its 6-inch screen doesn’t lay flat — it bends. And it flexes.

Bendable, foldable, flexible screens have long hovered on the horizon; now, LG’s hoping that it can make them a reality. Is the sci-fi dream of a moldable display about to come true?


Learning the curve

At first, I almost didn’t notice the gentle concavity of the G Flex. Its curve is subtle and vertical, the top and bottom of the phone curling forward ever so slightly. Put it face-up on a table, and the top and bottom both rest slightly aloft; flip it over and you’ll see the screen glow in the small gap between it and the table. It’s flat enough that it doesn’t wobble, but pronounced enough that it makes a half-decent catapult.

The G Flex exists almost entirely to show off LG’s curved OLED display, the 6-inch, 720p screen that is the centerpiece of its design. I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it, but once the novelty wears off, it’s not entirely clear why a curved screen like this is a good idea. LG says the curve makes the phone feel more comfortable against your face, provides a more immersive video-watching experience, and makes the screen less prone to glare because of the way light reflects off it. The last part seems to be true — there’s noticeably less glare off the G Flex, especially in sunlight, than with most other big phones. If movies are more immersive, however, it’s due to the sheer size of the display. And I don’t care what it’s made of: a 6-inch smartphone is never going to feel comfortable on my face while I make a phone call.

Samsung’s horizontally curved Galaxy Round is much more ergonomically awkward than the G Flex, but it comes with some clever optimization for its form factor. Tip the phone over to the side and you’ll see notifications or battery levels — it’s a small innovation, but at least it’s an attempt to do something unique. LG offers nothing: there’s a strange, laggy animation on the lock screen that moves as you tilt the phone, but that’s neither relevant to a curved screen nor at all cool. We’re given no reason to want a curved display — just proof that LG can make one.

Ultimately, the curvature may not be what makes phones like this useful. It’s the fact that in addition to bending, the screen can flex. With enough pressure I can effectively flatten the phone, only to have it pop back into shape when I let go. I stepped on the phone, sat on it, bent it in my hands, and loaded heavy things on top of it, and it never creaked or snapped under the pressure. This is a phone you can stick in your back pocket (as long as you have big ones) and sit on without worrying about it. And from what we’ve seen, the screen itself is even more flexible – LG just made a slightly more rigid chassis to go along with it.

The 6-inch display is otherwise fairly unremarkable. Most high-end smartphones have screens both smaller and higher-res than the G Flex with its 720p; this one just doesn’t look that sharp in comparison. It’s an OLED display by necessity: it’s made of plastic substrates so it can flex and is then bonded to the glass panel on the front. The screen does have great viewing angles and solid color reproduction — it’s a good display, just not a great one.

The display is something new and different, even if it’s not yet obviously better. But that’s really where the G Flex’s uniqueness begins and ends. In almost every other way, the G Flex eerily resembles a phone we’ve seen before.

Sony Xperia Z1

For the longest time, the prevailing trend with mobile phones was to take last year’s handset and make it smaller. Shave a few millimeters off, shed a couple of grams, and give users the same experience but in a leaner shell. The rise of smartphones and their incessantly improving spec sheets derailed that habit, but now Sony’s returning to the old ways with its new Xperia Z1 Compact.

In all the important ways, this is still the Xperia Z1. The processor and camera are untouched, the software is identical, and the physical design retains its signature mix of waterproof ruggedness and glossy stylishness. Only the Z1 Compact shrinks it all down to the footprint of a 4.3-inch screen.

As Sony Mobile CEO Kuni Suzuki recently said at CES, “we are Sony, so of course we’ll do things a little differently.” The Compact swims against a tide of ever-expanding Android flagship phones and finds itself occupying a weirdly neglected space between Apple’s 4-inch iPhone and the litany of 5-inch contenders. You can already buy 4.3-inch phones and you can certainly buy top-tier Android handsets, but it’s been a while since you could get both in the same device. Is the Xperia Z1 Compact such a phone?

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro review

It’s Sunday, it’s January, and it’s freezing outside. In other words, it’s the perfect day to spend the morning lying in bed, finally catching up on the Friday Night Lights and Battlestar Galactica seasons I somehow missed a few years ago. Normally this is a job for my iPad mini with Retina display, but ever since I lost its Smart Cover watching shows in bed requires a perfect and precarious leaning of tablet against pillow stack. Plus I have another device here with me, one even better-suited to the task.

It’s the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, the follow-up to one of the first great Windows 8 ultrabooks. This is a laptop with a twist, a flexible hinge that lets the screen rotate a full 360 degrees. It’s supposedly equal parts laptop and tablet — and this year’s model comes with a massively improved display that ought to make it better in either case. The Yoga 2 Pro is never going to replace the iPad mini for subway rides and mobile gaming, but if it can be both a solid ultrabook and a great in-bed TV, it’ll solidly be worth its $1,049.99 price tag.

As long as it has good battery life, anyway. My charger’s all the way out in the living room, and I’m not getting out of bed anytime soon. Battlestar is a long show.

For the most part, the Yoga 2 Pro feels like any other laptop. The Yoga 13 was actually one of the more restrained, inside-the-box visions for what a Windows 8 device might look like, how it might marry touch with mouse and keyboard. This year’s model is just a hair over 3 pounds, and 0.61 inches thick — imperceptibly both thinner and heavier than the same-size MacBook Air — with a soft, matte gray shell and a textured black palm rest. It’s softly tapered on the sides, with rounded edges that feel comfortable against my wrist. The Yoga isn’t particularly exciting, nor does it feel very high-end, but it’s nice to look at and it’s plenty rugged.