Review: Curved phone falls flat, literally

Oct 29, 2013 by Youkyung Lee
In this Oct. 10, 2013 file photo, a model poses with Samsung Electronics' smartphones the Galaxy Round at Korea Electronics Show in Goyang, west of Seoul, South Korea. Samsung has released the curved-screened smartphone called the Galaxy Round. It has created some excitement in tech circles but for consumers it does not look much different from the flat screened Galaxy Note 3 phone. The curve in the Round's screen is slight enough to not be apparent without a close look. It is also the most expensive smartphone on sale in South Korea. The Round is an experiment for Samsung with a new phone design. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

The Galaxy Round created some buzz in tech circles when Samsung announced it earlier this month, but no one in the downtown Seoul cafe where I played with the curved screen smartphone asked me about it or even gave a curious glance.

That is likely because the curve is so subtle it is not apparent without a close look.

At first glance, the Galaxy Round appears similar to the Galaxy Note 3 phone, which also has a big display measuring 5.7 inches diagonally. I could see the Round's left and right edges were raised slightly only when viewed from the top or from the bottom.

After handling the device for about 20 minutes, it became clear why Samsung shied away from putting a more dramatic curve in the display.

Reading news articles and Twitter messages made me feel light-headed after just a few minutes, especially with the phone in an upright position. Sentences weren't level and looked skewed, hampering my reading experience.

It's less of a problem, but still one, with the phone placed horizontally.

Perhaps this is an optical distortion that I'd get used to after a while. But given that computer screens, laptops and smartphones are mostly flat, I wouldn't want to constantly switch my eyes back and forth between a curved display and flat screens everywhere else.

Aside from the price tag of more than $1,000, the mobile reading experience was the chief problem I found during my brief hands-on. When watching videos or browsing pictures on the Round, I noticed little difference compared with flat displays.

In this Oct. 10, 2013 file photo, a model poses with Samsung Electronics' smartphone the Galaxy Round at Korea Electronics Show in Goyang, west of Seoul, South Korea. Samsung has released the curved-screened smartphone called the Galaxy Round. It has created some excitement in tech circles but for consumers it does not look much different from the flat screened Galaxy Note 3 phone. The curve in the Round's screen is slight enough to not be apparent without a close look. It is also the most expensive smartphone on sale in South Korea. The Round is an experiment for Samsung with a new phone design. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

According to Samsung, curved displays are a step toward mobile devices that are foldable like a map, which explains why the Round generated excitement in tech circles.

It says inflexible curved displays have benefits for users. None of them, however, seem transformative.

Samsung's promotions for the Round say the curve makes it easier to grip the giant phone. But when answering calls, I could barely notice a difference from a flat screen.

Two new features make use of the display's curve only when the Round in screen-off mode is placed on a flat surface, allowing it to be rocked like a cradle. Tilting the device to one side displays its battery status, time, missed calls and unread emails. But to check emails, I had to unlock the Round and go to the home screen.

The second feature is music playback. You can skip to the next song or go back one by tapping the right or left corners of the display. This feature is useless when listening to music on the move.

All this points to the Galaxy Round being an experiment for Samsung and not a product meant to be sold widely.

Like the first generation of the Galaxy Gear, the wristwatch released last month that works in conjunction with some Samsung smartphones to display emails and other information, the Galaxy Round appears built to test its potential.

Samsung can afford to do this because the roaring success of its smartphones has endowed it with cash to burn.

In this Oct. 10, 2013 file photo, Samsung Electronics' smartphone the Galaxy Round is held by a model at Korea Electronics Show in Goyang, west of Seoul, South Korea. Samsung has released the curved-screened smartphone called the Galaxy Round. It has created some excitement in tech circles but for consumers it does not look much different from the flat screened Galaxy Note 3 phone. The curve in the Round's screen is slight enough to not be apparent without a close look. It is also the most expensive smartphone on sale in South Korea. The Round is an experiment for Samsung with a new phone design. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Besides being the world's largest seller of smartphones, Samsung has a business designing and making display screens. It has its own manufacturing plants and engineering staff. It doesn't need to pay another company or hire experts to turn a concept into a product.

For a company that wants to be seen as an innovator rather than a copycat, as Apple Inc. has alleged in multiple lawsuits over phone designs, the Round also sends a message that Samsung is trying to rethink how phones look and feel.

For consumers, there is little reason to pay 1.09 million won ($1,027) for the Galaxy Round. It's available only in South Korea through SK Telecom. The company gives a discounted monthly service rate when the Round is bought along with a two-year contract but it is still the most expensive smartphone in the market.

In South Korea, the same money can buy a Galaxy Note 3, which has similar features and a stylus for note taking on the screen. The Note 3 is just a hair thicker and a tad heavier than the Round, but it also has more battery life.

Samsung said the Round's overseas release schedule is still up in the air.

But that should not matter as I would wait to see the next generation.

Explore further: Kickstarter project SnapJet hardware device lets you print your smartphone pic as Polaroid

2.9 /5 (8 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LG unveils curved-screen smartphone

Oct 28, 2013

LG Electronics unveiled Monday a curved-screen smartphone, taking on rival Samsung in a niche market seen as a first step on the road to fully flexible products.

Samsung reports record-high profit for 3Q

Oct 04, 2013

Operating profit at Samsung Electronics hit another record high in the July-September quarter, likely driven by robust sales of its cheaper mid-range smartphones in developing countries.

Recommended for you

Form Devices team designs Point as a house sitter

Nov 22, 2014

A Scandinavian team "with an international outlook" and good eye for electronics, software and design aims to reach success with what they characterize as "a softer take" on home security. Their device is ...

Amazon offers Washington Post app on Kindle

Nov 20, 2014

Amazon said Thursday it will offer a free Washington Post app to Kindle users for six months, a move highlighting the digital strategy for the newspaper owned by Jeff Bezos.

Gift Guide: Help your selfie with some add-on gear

Nov 20, 2014

Not all selfies are created equal. Some are blurry, are poorly framed or miss the action entirely because you might be scrubbing your thumb fishing for a virtual shutter button as the moment passes you by.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.