The Consumer Electronics Show always has its fair share of over-excited tech journos fawning over what they think will be the next big thing, but one of the biggest draws this year was a demonstration by LG of its new smartphone. Nothing particularly interesting there, you might think – after all, new phone launches seem to be ten a penny these days. But what made this one special was, for the first time, LG let journalists get their hands on what claims it is the first-ever phone to go on sale with a flexible curved screen.
The LG G Flex can be laid out with a flat screen, just like any other, but you can also bend it from top to bottom like a banana. Apart from providing yet another excuse for restless hands to fiddle with a phone, LG says this will help it fit a user's face better and offer a more immersive experience when using the device in landscape orientation.
It will also be on sale in the UK very soon – though you'll have to have deep pockets and a thirst to get your hands on the latest technology to buy one. Carphone Warehouse has become the first retailer to unveil the pricing of the device, with it costing a whopping £689 SIM-free, though if you're upgrading from an existing contract, you can get it for £42 a month with no upfront cost.
But should you consider it? That depends on if you think we're we seeing the first steps towards the future of mobile phones, or if it's just another gimmick that will be forgotten about by this time next year.
Are we there yet?
The first thing to point out is the LG G Flex is still a pretty early example of the technology, and its still a long way from the final vision of designers. So if you've got ideas of folding it up into a ball and springing it around like it's made of elastic, you'll be disappointed. The range of travel for the flex is still limited to a couple of degrees at this stage.
But it's still progress. The G Flex isn't the first curved-screen phone to hit the market – that honour went to Samsung's Galaxy Round last year. But that had a fixed screen that you couldn't bend, so we're already seeing advances being made with the latest models. Given time, you can expect the screens to get thinner, lighter and even more flexible – with some analysts predicting a future where phone displays can be bent like paper isn't too far away.
So what's the point?
But for now, why should you opt for a flexible-screen phone over one of its more conventional cousins? When the G Flex was first announced to the world last year, LG claimed that it offers an "immersive, cinematic experience, with the result being the most comfortable viewing angle for watching videos or playing games" – though it's still hardly going to turn the palm of your hand into an IMAX.
It also helps provide a richer sound, as the company said the curved form boosts the output by three decibels compared with a flat screen. When using it as a phone, the curve should also help it conform more closely to a user's face while bringing the microphone closer to their mouth.
Another bonus is the malleable plastic used for curved displays is less fragile than traditional glass, so if (or, let's be honest, when) you drop your device, there's less chance that you'll end up having to peer at the screen through a spider web of cracks.
But for now, these features may seem like fairly minor benefits – and whether or not they justify the additional expense is still a question that's hard to answer.
Where are we going in the future?
The current products are just the start, so you can expect a lot more innovation from curved and flexible smartphone screens in the coming years. For instance, one idea that's been thrown around a lot recently is a screen that wraps around the edges of your phone. This might mean no more thick borders at the edge of the screen, while you can also tap the edges to access different functions, depending on the app.
In years to come, you might even be able to get a tablet that you can fold down into the size of a smartphone for easier portability, or a paper-thin screen that can roll up into a compartment that looks like a pen.