LG G Flex 2 Review

Is the curve worth it?

It was back in October of 2013, when two Korean giants — LG and Samsung — wanted to disrupt the mobile market with curved screen smartphones. However, before releasing them to masses, they performed a test in which they only launched the devices in their home country — South Korea. After receiving initial feedback from customers, Samsung’s Galaxy Round never managed to cross the border, while LG did make the G Flex available in Asia, Europe, and North America, soon after the Korean launch.

 

The G Flex was more than just a curved screen smartphone; it featured LG’s self-healing technology, which would help reduce minor scratches, and the device could literally flex, after applying a bit of pressure on the back, without the glass cracking or the battery exploding.

Nevertheless, it was a first-generation product; it was destined to have problems, and it most certainly did. Now, LG is back with the successor, the G Flex 2; doubling-down on the new form factor. Let’s check it out, and see if it’s worth your hard-earned cash.

Design

Just like its predecessor, the G Flex 2 features a curved form factor with the curves ranging from 400-700 radius, which gives the device a unique look and makes it very ergonomic to hold, and talk on. The curve makes the device much easier to use with one hand, especially after LG decreased the screen size to 5.5-inches from 6-inches on the original G Flex, making it super painless to access the top and bottom edges of the display, without the actual grip needing to be adjusted.

It also sits naturally on the cheek while conversing with someone over a phone call. And, as the curved design brings the microphone closer to the mouth, it increases the sound pickup capabilities and prevents outside noise from entering the microphone, resulting in an improved, noise-free calling experience.

Ever since the release of the LG G2, I have been a big fan of LG’s power and volume keys’ placement, which is on the back of the device — underneath the camera sensor, and they are located at the same place on the G Flex 2 as well. I don’t know why other manufacturers don’t try this button placement; it’s really convenient to use. Whenever you hold an LG device in the hand, your index finger will naturally rest on top of the power/volume button at the back, which gives you easy access to the entire key layout. By the way, remember the notification LED on the G Flex, the one inside the power button? It’s not there anymore on the G Flex 2, the company moved it to the front of the smartphone instead.

In terms of build quality, we are dealing with a complete plastic construction, that’s mainly because LG’s Self-Healing technology (and the device’s ability to flex) requires it. LG claims, its improved Self-Healing technology reduces the healing time from three minutes to just 10 seconds at room temperature. And, it works as advertised, just don’t expect it to make scratches and nicks completely disappear, especially the deep ones. What it really does is, it reduces the intensity of the scratch, it doesn’t actually remove/fix it, and it works best on tiny, minor scratches.

Plus, the plastic back does give a cheap feeling to the flagship-class smartphone.

Unlike the G Flex, LG’s latest curved smartphone doesn’t sport a unibody design, you can actually remove the back cover, this time around. Despite that, the battery is still sealed in and isn’t user-replaceable, it’s curved and does flex, though — just like the rest of the phone, including the display. I have tried numerous times of actually breaking the phone (for science, of course) by intentionally flexing it, but it just doesn’t break. So, you shouldn’t worry about it much, if it’s in your back pocket and you sit on it.

The hyper-glazed back cover features a Spin Hairline Pattern, which gives the device a distinctive look, and it looks really beautiful, mainly on the Flamenco Red color variant. It’s also a complete fingerprint magnet, which is more noticeable in the Platinum Silver color. The device itself is very thin — the thickness isn’t constant throughout the device, due to the curved form factor — and light. Dimension-wise, it comes in at 149.1 x 75.3 x 7.1-9.4mm and weighs 152 grams.

Display

The LG G Flex 2 packs a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920x1080)  Curved P-OLED display panel — a major upgrade from 720p resolution on the G Flex — which provides deep blacks, high contrast ratio, and punchy colors. Maybe a bit too punchy for my liking, but I was quickly able to make the colors, somewhat, less saturated by selecting the ‘Natural’ screen mode under settings. There are three different display color profiles to choose from Standard, Vivid, and Natural. By default, its shipped with the standard preset from the factory. 

Now, let me explain what P-OLED is, as it’s not a conventional OLED panel found in smartphones these days. The ‘P’ in the name stands for plastic, and that’s because, instead of a glass substrate, LG is using a plastic substrate. In simple words, it’s just like an ordinary OLED display with the glass components swapped for plastic. And, that’s what allows the display to have such a unique shape and curvature, and be flexible at the same time.

Nonetheless, the display isn’t completely flawless, there are three major problems with it — brightness, color shifting, and color banding.

When performing highly CPU/GPU extensive tasks, the device won’t let you increase the brightness of the display all the way up to 100% due to an increase in the temperature of the phone. If you’re already at maximum brightness and the phone heats up, the software will automatically decrease the brightness down to 70%, and will not allow you to increase it until the device cools down. Also, if you’re the kind of person who views and reads content on your phone before going to bed, be prepared to put some strain on your eyes, because even on the lowest brightness setting, the display still emits a lot of light. 

Then there’s this issue with color shifting, if you look at display straight up in the center, the colors look just fine. However, as soon as you look at the display from a different angle — even a minor tilt, the whites start shifting color to a pink or blue tint. And, that’s mainly due to the curvature of the display, which disturbs the viewing angles. Also, the display suffers from color banding, which basically means the colors aren’t smooth throughout the panel, resulting in an unpleasing experience.

Software

Software-wise, the G Flex 2 runs on Android 5.0.1 Lollipop with LG’s skin on top of it, out of the box. And, LG’s skin isn’t that great. There’s just too much bloatware, it looks nothing like stock Android, and there are too many options in the settings. The first thing you should do, if you buy this device, is to open settings, hit menu, and change from tab view to list view — you will thank me soon after.

 

For all that, LG does bring in a few quite useful features. For example, there’s multi-window, which allows you to run two apps simultaneously at the same time, however, there’s lack of applications on the Google Play Store who actually support this feature, compared to Samsung’s offering. There’s also extended volume settings, which allows you to control system, ringtone, notification, and media volume through one press of a button. On stock Android, you need to go deep into the settings app to do that. There’s also double tap to wake, Knock Code, a built-in file manager with cloud storage support, which, for now, only supports Dropbox — just to name a few.

Then there’s Glance View, my favorite feature by far, it’s exclusive to the G Flex2 and uses the curved display to enhance the user experience. To access Glance view, simply slide downwards on the screen, while the display is turned off, and the top portion of the display will lit-up and show key information such as time, recent messages or missed calls. This way I didn’t have to wake up the entire display just to check the time, this helped in preserving battery life.

LG’s skin is currently in the same state as Samsung’s TouchWiz UX from two years ago. It’s bloated, it’s not optimized, it’s not beautiful, yet it has potential, because of a few useful features which are non-existent on stock Android. What LG really needs to do is, start developing its software from scratch, while keeping Google’s latest design guidelines in mind, and implement its flagship features to the new skin. That’s a winning formula right there.

Camera

In terms of camera capabilities, the G Flex2 is boasting a 13-megapixel main camera sensor with Laser Auto Focus, OIS+ (Optical Image Stabilisation), dual LED flash, and 4K video capture support. The camera quality is actually really good, especially outdoors, the autofocus is lightning fast, and there’s zero-shutter lag — which means, you tap the shutter button and it instantly takes the picture with no delay. The camera does fall short indoors under low-light with pictures having quite a bit of noise.

For all you selfie-takers out there, the device is equipped with a 2.1-megapixel camera with Full HD (1080p) video capture support. It’s not a wide-angle lens, so don’t expect to take any groupies with it. The actual sensor quality is average, don’t expect much from it.

Let’s talk about the stock camera app now. It has a clean, simple, and easy to use interface with not too many options or modes to confuse the user. It does have two special features: Gesture Shot and Gesture View. Gesture Shot allows you to capture a selfie with a simple hand gesture, while Gesture view makes it easy to check your last shot after taking a picture; no need to open the gallery. 

There’s no manual mode in the camera app, but LG has fully implemented Lolipop’s Camera2 API into its operating system, so you can use 3rd party applications — like Manual Camera — to gain more control over your pictures, and shoot in RAW.

Performance

The device features the infamous eight-core, 64-Bit Snapdragon 810 SoC — it was actually the world’s first device to sport it, and that’s the biggest drawback of this curved smartphone; more on that later — with four high-performance cores clocked at 1.96GHz and four low-power cores clocked at 1.56GHz, an Adreno 430 GPU with a clock speed of 600MHz, and 2GB / 3GB (depending on which storage configuration you go for: 16GB or 32GB, respectively) of RAM. I tested the 16GB variant with 2GB of LPDDR4 RAM. There’s a microSD card slot onboard as well, you can pop in a memory card with up to 2TBs of capacity.

Now, let me tell you a few things about the processor. Even before Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 810 earlier this year, there were reports of it overheating, and that was one of the reasons Samsung decided not to ship any of its 2015 flagship devices with Qualcomm’s SoC; instead, opted to use its in-house developed Exynos processor. When LG announced the G Flex2 with the S810 chip, there were many concerns, however, the company assured us that with a little help from Qualcomm they have optimized their software and drivers, and the device won’t suffer from any overheating issues. But, after testing the product for more than a month now, let me tell you one thing: it overheats.

Well, you might say that every smartphone heats up when performing processor extensive tasks, and you’re right. However, the G Flex2 starts getting warm as soon as you have more than 3-4 applications running in the background. Why is it such a bad thing? When the device overheats, the CPU starts to throttle itself and clocks down to a very low frequency, which makes everything laggy, and most of the time the entire phone just freezes completely. 

I regret to say this, but the performance is average to bad on this phone, and the company knows it. That’s why it released its LG G4 with a Snapdragon 808 processor, instead of the 810. There is a slight possibility that LG might be able to fix the overheating issue with a software patch in the future, as the OnePlus 2 review sample I have, which has the same processor — Snapdragon 810 — runs just fine with optimal performance and no overheating issues.

Call Quality and Speaker

I have tested the call quality under various environments on two different networks here in the UK and have no complaints about it. The noise-cancellation works well in loud environments, with the recipient of my call having no difficulties hearing me. 

The G Flex2 has a rear-facing mono speaker, which is loud enough. But, the sound does start to crackle a bit at the highest volume. 

Battery Life

Powering everything is a curved, 3,000mAh battery, which will barely last you a day, depending on your usage. Even though the battery itself is big in capacity, when the CPU starts throttling, it starts draining the battery at a much higher rate. Nonetheless, I was actually really impressed by the standby time on the G Flex2, if you don’t use it, you’ll get great battery life. If you use it, you’ll have to charge it at least two times a day. The maximum screen-on time I was able to achieve on this smartphone was of only two hours. 

Technically, if you used the power saving mode, you could probably get through an entire day. However, by enabling the power saving mode, you limit the performance even more and you really don’t want to do that.

Fortunately, it comes with Qualcomm’s Fast Charge technology, which can charge the battery up to 50% in under 40 minutes. Just make sure you use the charger supplied along with the device, inside its box. 

Conclusion

The LG G Flex2 is not a great smartphone, especially at such a high price point. What it really is, is an engineering marvel. It’s a huge accomplishment for LG, they have a product with no substitute. And, it’s highly likely that if you’re interested in the G Flex2 in the first place, it’s because of its curved display, Self-Healing technology, and its ability to flex. No other OEM can offer you that kind of a package in a smartphone. So, if you do decide to buy a G Flex2, it’s purely for those three features. Sure, Samsung has its Galaxy S6 edge with a dual-edge display, but it’s something totally different from LG’s G Flex series.

After playing with the G Flex2, I’m excited to see what the Korean company does with its successor. I have high hopes.

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Disclaimer: The review is based on a pre-production device.

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