Gimmick or next big thing? The verdict is still out on curved phones

curved screens gimmick or next big thing lg g flex samsung galaxy round

“Real women,” I read once on a movie poster somewhere, “have curves.” And while I can’t say I actually got around to seeing the film, the point stands. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the sentiment can be applied to most of us, fairer sex or no — increasingly so, in these days of desk jobs and bacon-wrapped cheeseburgers. So, why then have our phones grown increasingly flat as society has become, well, more rounded?

If you map the body image of the telephone over the past few decades, you’ll see a gradual transformation of an object built with the shape of the human head in mind, to what’s essentially a flat slab of plastic and glass. That’s the primary motivation behind the LG G Flex and Samsung Galaxy Round, two recently released handset that harness new technologies to offer a slightly different bent to the standard smartphone slab.

If humans are creating the technology, shouldn’t technology be created with humans in mind?

The announcement of both was largely written off by much of the press and public alike as gimmicky, an attempt for two device manufactures to set themselves apart (albeit at the same time) from a market flooded with samey devices. Samsung, in particular, has never really been above such whiz-bang maneuvers. Over the past few years, the company has earned a reputation in the industry for its “throw everything against the wall” approach to gadgetry, largely regarded as the popular opposite of Apple’s “one device to rule them all” approach.

LG and Samsung both seem, at best, cautiously optimistic. After all, the companies have both unveiled new flagship devices in the past month, which, contrary to rumors, take a pre-Magellan approach to phone construction. At the moment, both companies seem to be, at best, dipping their toes in the curved waters at the moment, in hopes that bowed screens will become the next mobile phenomenon, on-par with the phablet explosion of the past few years.

That said, the fact that two off the biggest mobile players embraced curved mobile displays at nearly the exact same time does seem lend some credence to the technology — or at the very least, it calls for a closer examination of the claims put forth in their respective press material. Let’s start with the big claim: We’ve got curves, so why shouldn’t our phones?

This point is part of a larger backlash that we’re seeing pop up all over the electronics industry, and it’s a valid concern. If humans are creating the technology, shouldn’t technology be created with humans in mind? This is why you hear phrases like “natural user interface” to describe the sort of motion control enabled by devices like the Xbox Kinect and leap motion. It’s an attempt to rethink technology in a way that works with our natural movements. And it’s easy to see why it’s been such an appealing concept.

Leap Motion

Who wouldn’t want a phone that feels a little better on your face, or sits a bit more comfortably in your back pocket? It’s something we think about every time we hear more promises about flexible displays. It’s exciting to imagine a time when, instead of carrying around massive 7-inch phones for maximum screen real estate, we’ll be able to just pull the things from our back pockets and unfurl them like a roadmap.

But such fantasies only drive home what these new devices aren’t. As much time and effort as no doubt went into building, say, the G Flex (keep in mind that the screen isn’t the only thing you’ve got to curve here), the “Flex” part is hugely overstated, as anyone who’s ever played with the device can tell you. The flexing here is limited to the ability to push the center of the phone down ever so slightly when the phone is resting on its face. Ultimately, the Flex is yet another six-inch phone, bringing with it all of the downsides of lugging around a massive handset. And while you may feel a slight difference with the device pressed up against your face, is anyone using the “phone” part of their smartphone enough for a small curve to make that huge of a difference?

Not really. This ultimately seems to be a case where, like the touchscreen keyboard before it, man has adapted to machine, and we’re doing just fine, thank you very much.

The other principle advantage manufacturers claim for the technology is the same reason they’re now trying to curve all of our TV sets: viewing angles. If you’ve seen one of those new curved sets from (shocker) Samsung or LG, you’ve probably struggled to take in those purported advantages. Now shrink that technology down to six inches, and it becomes harder to detect by orders of magnitude. It also makes one wonder exactly who is gathering the whole family around the old Galaxy Round to watch the latest from Pixar. The argument can be made, perhaps for curving larger displays, but in this form factor, the advantages are minimal at best.

lg flex curved oled tvNow keep in mind, none of these are actually arguments against the technology, but rather arguments against picking up a curved phone for the sake of the curve. In fact, in the time I spent with the G Flex, the only notable downside I could find (so far as the curved was concerned) was the fact that the giant phone didn’t fit as comfortably in my front pocket. Slipped in the back pocket and it becomes pretty clear: This is a phone designed with the butt in mind.

So long as manufacturers continued to relegate curved displays to handsets without much else going for them, the technology will likely never take off. Added to an already great flagship phone, however, the small improvements the curve brings will only serve to make the phones better. I’m all for smartphone manufacturers working to distinguish themselves from the pack of handsets running the same operating system on the same components, but until a company is willing to go all in with the curve, it will continue to be innovation for innovation’s sake.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

Benchmark scores surface for Google's midrange Pixel 3 XL Lite

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 Lite XL.
Mobile

On a budget? We found the best affordable smartphones you can buy

Here are the best cheap phones for anyone working with a tight budget, whether you're a fan of stock Android or marathon battery life. Find out what you can get for under $500 or far, far less as we round up the best budget smartphones.
Mobile

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Photography

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone…
Mobile

The Sony Xperia XZ4 shines in case renders from accessory maker Olixar

Sony may have released the Xperia XZ3 in the past few months, but already it's preparing to release a follow-up, the Xperia XZ4. We're learning plenty about the phone now some details have started to leak out, and it's getting exciting.
Apple

Rumors say Apple's AirPower wireless charger may finally be in production

At its September event in 2018, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Computing

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 
Mobile

The LG G8 ThinQ may arrive at MWC 2019 with an on-screen speaker

LG is expected to release a successor to the LG G7 ThinQ, possibly called the LG G8 ThinQ, this year and rumors about it are already spreading. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Mobile

Oppo could reveal a new smartphone with a 10x optical zoom

Cracking a solid zoom on smartphones has been a riddle many years in the solving. One company may have finally cracked it though: Oppo may be about to show off a phone with a 10x optical zoom.
Outdoors

Nike’s Adapt BB shoes let you tighten your laces with an iPhone

The new Nike Adapt BB shoe comes with smartphone connectivity that allows the user to tighten the laces using a smartphone while providing the ability to adjust tension throughout the game.
Wearables

How to switch TicHealth to Google Fit on the Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro

The Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro are both much-loved and feature-packed watches, and they offer excellent fitness tracking. Recently, Mobvoi has switched out Google Fit for TicHealth, but you can switch them back. Here's how.
Mobile

If you're looking for a good laugh, here are 70 questions to ask Siri

Siri has come a long way since her first appearance on the iPhone 4S in 2011. We know she can make appointments and give directions, did you know she can make you laugh too? If you want proof, here are lots of funny questions to ask Siri.
Mobile

Benchmark results show Snapdragon 855 destroys previous-generation chip

Almost exactly a year after the launch of the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm took the wraps off of its next-generation mobile platform, the new Snapdragon 855. The new chip puts an emphasis on A.I. performance.