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Curved smartphones: just a gimmick, or the next big thing?

Florence Ion | Feb. 3, 2014
Smartphones can't get any bigger. Talking on today's 5-inch-plus models borders on trying to hold a small tablet up to the side of your head. So what's a phone manufacturer to do to differentiate its phones from all the others? Bend them! These new curved phones might seem gimmicky, but if early models catch on, they'll become the next hot commodity.

The Samsung Galaxy Round, on the other hand, appears to have been designed for a better viewing experience. Some early reviews of the device mention that call quality is only sub-par, but it's unclear if that's because of its shape or because Samsung didn't put much emphasis on that particular feature of the phone.

Do curved phones look better?
One of the most persuasive arguments in favor of curved smartphones is that they simply look better. It may be difficult to imagine why, considering a curved display is essentially just a flexible OLED panel, but that gentle curve actually helps reduce the amount of ambient light reflections off the screen, which in turn makes it easier to see the display.

Reflections from bright lights around you may prompt you to turn up the brightness on your screen, but by doing so you're also using up more battery power. With less screen reflectance, you won't have to worry so much about the ambient lighting around you, or have to crank up the brightness just to read a text message.

The Samsung Galaxy Round is curved specifically to help with this particular scenario. Dr. Raymond Soneira, the president of DisplayMate Technologies, explains how in his thorough writeup of the device:

The concave screen shape on the Galaxy Round cuts down on reflections from the surrounding ambient light two ways: first, by reducing the screen's 180 degree opening angle, which eliminates reflections from some ambient light coming from the sides. Second, from specular mirror reflections off the concave screen, because the curvature directs reflected ambient light coming from behind away from the viewer's line of sight.

LG added that it also curved the display for a "more natural viewing experience" and the G Flex's shape is meant to reduce glare and distortion. It certainly helps — I found it pleasurable to peruse my Instagram feed and read a Kindle ebook with the curved screen in a variety of lighting situations. But its screen is still glossy, and it doesn't completely negate reflections — if there's an overhead light up above you, you'll still have to turn the phone so you're not staring at a reflection of it. 

Do curved phones feel better?
There's a reason old landline phone handsets were curved — they were easier to hold. "[A curved phone like the Galaxy Round] is more comfortable to hold because the hand nicely fits the entire curved back instead of just holding it along the left and right edges," said Dr. Soniera. "It also improves screen privacy because the curvature makes it harder for other people to see the screen."


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