LG and Samsung go round the bend

Are Samsung and LG ahead of the curve on this one, or have they gone round the bend? The age of the curved display is upon us, but what does it really mean? Is this pointless gimmickry, or is there a real benefit to the new designs? You may remember a few months ago we discussed the potential of flexible displays and smartphones. Well, the LG G Flex and the Samsung Galaxy Round are pioneers in this space and interestingly they curve in different ways.

Samsung Galaxy RoundSamsung Galaxy Round

Claiming first place in the race to release a curved display smartphone, Samsung released the Galaxy Round in Korea on the 10th of October. This goes beyond the gently curved Galaxy Nexus with a very noticeable horizontal curve from left to right. The Galaxy Round is big too, it has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen that’s full HD, and it’s closest to the Note 3 in terms of size.

Looking beyond the respectable high-end specs, what wasn’t immediately clear was the benefit of the curve. Samsung’s press release talked about “Roll” and “Gravity” effects, but it soon transpired that this is effectively just tilt controls for navigating, quickly checking info when the screen’s off, and skipping music tracks (nothing that wouldn’t work on a flat screen device). The most concrete advantage seems to be the fact that it is easier to hold one-handed.

LG Flex

LG G Flex

Just a few weeks later LG was pulling the wraps off its new G Flex smartphone. It boasts similarly high-end specs, a lot like the flagship G2, and it has a 6-inch display, though it’s 720p whereas the Round is 1080p. The key difference is that it curves from top to bottom in the vertical. LG’s press release explained that it’s “a curvature arc that is optimized for the average face” and, presumably as a dig at Samsung, LG CEO, Dr. Jong-seok Park, said this is “how a smartphone should be curved”.

Software features like QTheater with a curtain effect and a changing lock screen sound fairly uninspired. The interesting thing about the G Flex, beyond the curved display, is the self-healing coating on the back cover which can actually repair itself when scratched. You can see the demo video on YouTube. It only works for light scratches and it won’t work when it’s cold, but it’s still a nice idea.

Proof of concept

These early releases are experimental and they’ll no doubt help the manufacturers work out some kinks and then hit us with more exciting form factors and functionality. We’re not really convinced that there’s anything enticing about them anyway. The G Flex might fit your face, but it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable in your pocket, while the Galaxy Round looks like it would curve round your leg, but not your face. The lack of any obvious functional improvement is the real disappointment.

We’ve already seen concepts that are more imaginative than this. The wrap around display, offering a separate notification area or clear controls looks like an obvious place to start. There are strong rumours that Samsung intends to release a device like this early in 2014. Our real dream of devices that can be portable smartphones and then fold out to become tablet sized is still far off. The technology right now that allows the screen to be curved is limited and it has to be rigid to function as a touchscreen, not to mention that you’re still stuck with the solid components inside.

Do we want curved smartphones?

The potential for flexibility is exciting and it extends beyond durability to new form factors and tactile functionality. It will obviously take several stages of development to get there and this is just a beginning, but if we’re expected to buy them there has to be a reason. As it stands right now do curved displays really serve any purpose at all? It’s just not clear that they do.

These devices do have high-end specs, but early adopters are going to pay a premium for the privilege of testing a new form factor. It’s tough to look at either without getting the impression that they were rushed out the door as a new technology in search of a problem to solve. At least in the case of the Round it may be a moot point anyway as it doesn’t look like it is going to be released officially outside South Korea. LG has promised that the G Flex is coming to the rest of the world soon. We’ll keep you posted about a UK release.

What do you think? Are you excited about these curved displays or unimpressed?

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.