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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.

Kevin Costello, a Certified Professional Ergonomist (or CPE) and President of US Ergonomics, a firm that focuses on workplace ergonomics, hasn't had a chance to use either of the devices himself, but he appreciates the new form factor. "If you look at an iPhone or a lot of these bricks,' they're square, rectangular and the body is not necessarily square and rectangular." Costello added that a device that is a little softer in appearance and is formed to fit the body more naturally offers some advantages, and "demonstrates some sensitivity to the fact that we're not all robots." Indeed, the G Flex felt more comfortable to type with two-handed, and despite its large size, wasn't as difficult to grip as other large handsets. 

Still a few kinks to work out
As is often the case with new technology, it takes a couple of iterations to get all of the kinks worked out. Curved smartphones are so nascent that there are mixed opinions on the actual quality of the plastic OLED displays.

Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo wrote in his review of the LG G Flex that although the phone is comfortable to hold, its plastic display is wrought with issues. "The resolution of the G Flex is only 1280×720. That gives it a worst-in-class 245ppi. For reference, the original Motorola Droid — released in 2009 and shipped with Android 2.0 — had 265ppi." ComputerWorld's JR Raphael agrees in his hands-on with the phone, "Forget 720p vs. 1080p," he writes. "244 pixels per inch is just a bit sparse by today's high-end standards. I'll hold off a bit on any final judgments, but my initial impressions have me somewhat concerned, especially given the phone's price."

There's also the matter of whether consumers are actually interested in using a curved phone. Ramon Llamas, a research manager with IDC's Mobile Phones team, doesn't think there's much of a demand for it in the current smartphone landscape. "I don't hear too many people out there saying I can't hear or be heard very well on my smartphone," he said, citing LG's marketing take on its G Flex. Llamas added that rather than highlighting the hardware, companies should try shifting the focus on the media that can take advantage of the new screens. "Having the curved screen face you is a much more immersive experience...that to me is the silver bullet that vendors are still trying to figure out."

If manufacturers can't get consumers on board, curved smartphones will likely go the way of the dojo. Remember 3D smartphone displays? "[They] went over like a lead balloon," recalled Llamas. "That just goes to show that not every display is intended for everybody, or to last long. For this curved display stuff, it's going to take some time."


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