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Is LG About to Unveil an Unbreakable OLED Smartphone?

By Steve Symington - Jan 1, 2015 at 7:30AM

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Bendgate would have been a nonissue for this new smartphone

If you've ever suffered that sick feeling of bending, cracking, or generally just breaking your smartphone, you're gonna love this.

According to sources speaking to AndroidAuthority, LG Electronics (NASDAQOTH: LGEAF) will unveil a "major upgrade" to its G Flex smartphone at next month's annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The original LG G Flex, Credit: LG Electronics

Before we get into the details, perspective is in order. LG in late 2013 officially announced the original G Flex, a curved device featuring one of LG Display's (LPL -0.63%) flexible, "unbreakable" plastic OLED screens, which themselves are made possible by materials and IP from OLED technologist Universal Display (OLED 3.55%)

But rather than curving from side-to-side like Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) similarly timed Galaxy Round smartphone, LG's G Flex sported a more dramatic vertical curve, which the company spun as more closely following the contours of users' faces. Neither device was particularly popular, however, given a combination of limited manufacturing, high prices, and the fact many consumers viewed the curved displays -- which were both still rigid in form -- as unnecessary novelties. 

90 degrees of awesome
So what makes the G Flex 2 any different? According to a separate report from ZDNet Korea, the G Flex 2 is expected to feature a rubberized chassis co-developed by LG Electronics and LG Display, and capable of being bent at up to a 90 degree angle.

Combine that chassis with the original G Flex's innovations -- namely its plastic OLED display and flexible battery -- and LG could be about to take a massive leap toward releasing the world's first virtually unbreakable smartphone. Or, at the very least, one that could render obsolete the kind of issues that plagued Apple and (later on) Samsung during last year's "Bendgate" scandal.

Your move, Samsung
This would also be an effective answer to Samsung's recently revealed plans to by the end of 2015 commercially launch a device featuring a flexible display that can be folded in half. That said, it seems at this point Samsung's focus is more on eye-popping functionality -- for example, a tablet that could fold into a smartphone -- and not so much on the jaw-dropping durability of a flexible rubber chassis.

Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge: Credit Samsung.

Samsung also recently launched its Galaxy Note Edge smartphone, which at the time I dubbed the most exciting phablet yet based on its status as the first to include truly useful functionality for the curved display, and for the futuristic devices that display portends going forward.

For consumers at this point, it's difficult to tell whether Samsung's functionality or LG's durability would be of greater importance. That might depend on just how amazing and useful Samsung's impending new technology turns out to be.

Challenges remain?
That said, the durability of the G Flex 2 could depend in part on whether LG has identified a suitable protective cover for the plastic OLED display. Plastic OLEDs have proven extremely durable -- even withstanding multiple strikes from a hammer in early videos -- but they're still sensitive to environmental contaminants such as oxygen, so require effective encapsulation and protective layers to function properly. 

Corning's (GLW 1.08%) Gorilla Glass was used to protect the original G Flex. But Corning only claims Gorilla Glass can be contoured and shaped without sacrificing strength, and it's unclear whether it can be repeatedly flexed if need be -- let alone over a device bent to a 90 degree angle.

And while Corning's ultra-thin Willow Glass was designed to bend to that degree, it was not meant originally as a protective cover like Gorilla Glass was, but rather to be used inside a device as a substrate material on which the actual electronics are applied. In the case of flexible plastic OLEDs from LG Display, Willow Glass is implemented in the manufacturing process as a reusable glass carrier to save money during the actual panel-making process, but isn't left by LG as a permanent component of the end product (more on that here).

That is not to say Willow Glass could not eventually be used as a protective cover or encapsulation layer for the plastic OLED, but it almost certainly would not resist everyday damage as well as Corning's most popular primate-titled cover glass.

In any case, if these reports are to be believed, we'll see exactly what LG has up its sleeve during CES from Jan. 6-9, 2015. Be sure to check back here at for the latest on the event then.

Steve Symington owns shares of Apple and Universal Display. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Corning, and Universal Display. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Corning, and Universal Display. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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