LG G Flex 2 review: Ahead of the curve?
Curved screens are the latest fad in the smartphone world. But what do they actually add to the whole experience? LG was the first manufacturer to push the concept, and now its concave-screened G Flex 2 is set to bend the rules again. See also: What’s the best smartphone of 2015?
You’ll probably read some marketing fluff about it being a more “human-centric” design, designed to fit in the pocket and hand more comfortably than other phones; but we’re not convinced these claims hold water.
There are a couple of practical benefits. LG claims that the curved screen minimises the effect of glare and reflections, and that certainly seems to be the case. With a curved screen, you’re less likely to scratch the screen when you place it face down on a surface, and it’s also supposed to be more resistant to shattering when dropped.
For every advantage, however, it’s possible to find a disadvantage, and the G Flex 2 has several: texting on a flat surface is annoying; mounting such an unusually shaped device in a car dock is tricky; and if your pockets are tight, let’s just say you probably want to be careful about which way around you pop it in.
Design and features
In terms of design, the G Flex 2 boasts a line-up of features familiar from recent LG phones. As ever, the volume and power button are found on the rear, so they’re easily accessible by both left- and right-handers, although not when the phone is sitting on a surface.
The rear panel is plastic and can be popped off for access to the SIM and microSD slots beneath, although the battery isn’t removable (unlike that of the LG G4). The back is also endowed with LG’s latest “advanced self-healing” coating: scuff if or scratch it by accident and, in ten seconds flat, the marks supposedly disappear from view. This only seems to work for light damage, however. If you go at it with a scalpel and a sense of purpose, it will never recover its looks.
The 5.5in screen on the front is similarly tough, topped with Gorilla Glass 3, and the rest of the specification sheet is a laundry list of everything you could possibly want in a smartphone – and some features you’ll probably never use: there’s an infrared port so you can use it as a remote control for your TV; an FM radio; 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth; plus a 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation and dual-tone flash.
The LG G Flex 2’s display, aside from being curved, is the one thing that sticks out as lagging behind the very latest tech. Where most top-end smartphones are now hitting the market with screens boasting a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 or above, the G Flex 2’s 1080p display looks behind the times.
It’s far from being a serious problem, though. With a 1080p resolution stretched across a display measuring 5.5in across the diagonal, it’s no worse off than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. It looks pin-sharp from normal viewing distances, and the pixel density of 401ppi is high enough that you’d need a magnifying glass to see the individual pixels.
The AMOLED panel itself is a mixed bag, though. There are plenty of plus sides: perfect blacks help photographs and movies really leap from the screen, especially in the phone’s Vivid colour preset; and for those who dislike the candy-coloured brightness typical of AMOLED displays, there are Standard and Natural presets that tone things down. In the Natural mode, colour accuracy is good, too, although not quite as on the money as the Samsung Galaxy S6.
The big downside of the display is that maximum brightness is limited to 318cd/m2, which means it’s tougher to make out the screen in bright sunlight than it is with the very best smartphones. In a side-by-side comparison with the LG G4, there’s a visible difference in readability, with the latter performing significantly better. On this front, it can’t match the Samsung Galaxy S6 either.
Internals, performance and battery life
Unlike the more recently launched six-core LG G4, however, the internals of the LG G Flex 2 are tough to beat. You get a high-end octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, with twin quad-core CPUs running at 2GHz and 1.5GHz for performance and lighter tasks respectively.
There’s 2GB or 3GB of RAM, depending on whether you choose the 16GB or 32GB models (we’ve tested the 16GB/2GB model here), and an Adreno 430 GPU.
All-round performance, as you might expect, is fantastic, especially with games and graphically intense tasks. The comparatively low-resolution 1080p screen really helps here, as it’s easier to drive than the Quad HD displays in the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6, helping the Flex 2 nudge in front of both those handsets.
Subjectively, it’s lightning-quick most of the time, dispatching demanding games and graphically intense web pages with ease. It is prone to the odd lapse now and then, though, pausing before opening certain apps and while navigating from one screen to another.
LG G Flex 2
Samsung Galaxy S6
GFXBench 3.1 – Manhattan, onscreen
GFXBench 3.1 – T-Rex HD, onscreen
Geekbench 3, single-core
Geekbench 3, multi-core
I found battery life to be very respectable, with the LG G Flex lasting easily a day and more of moderate use – as long as I kept gaming to a minimum. It compares favourably with its competitors in testing, which is an impressive feat considering the large, 5.5in display and power-hungry hardware.
LG G Flex 2
Samsung Galaxy S6
Audio streaming over 4G (screen off)
3.93% per hour
2.82% per hour
3.6% per hour
720p video playback (local storage, screen at 120cd/m2)
5.96% per hour
5.99% per hour
6.29% per hour
LG made a big deal of the improvements to the G4’s camera at its launch, but the G Flex 2’s 13-megapixel rear camera is less exciting. It has a lower resolution; inferior light-gathering capabilities, with an aperture of f/2.4; no colour-spectrum analyser; and no raw capture capability or fancy manual mode.
Still, it’s a perfectly capable camera. Autofocus is quick, assisted ably by LG’s laser autofocus system, while optical image stabilisation helps you take blur-free snaps and smooth videos at up to 4K resolution. In good light, photographs and video shot with the LG G Flex 2 look superb. However, noise quickly comes into play when the light goes down, with the G Flex 2’s noise-reduction algorithms turning details mushy and smeary.
It’s in these conditions that the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 start to pull ahead of the G Flex 2, with crisper, cleaner, sharper images all round – they’re the best phones for capturing images on a night out, hands down.
The front camera is even less exciting – it has a resolution of only 2.1 megapixels when the benchmark now seems to be 5 megapixels and above. It’s still a capable performer, avoiding the washed-out ghostly look in favour of images that look clean and full of contrast. And it does sport a couple of interesting features from a software point of view.
As with the LG G4, you can snap selfies by opening your hand in front of the lens and closing it into a fist – imagine you’re on a Communist rally and you’ll be most of the way there. And, in another nifty trick, once you’ve snapped your self-portrait, you can drop the phone down to waist level for an instant preview.
As with all of LG’s recent Android handsets, the G Flex 2 features the latest version of Android – in this case Android 5.01 Lollipop – cloaked with a manufacturer-designed skin.
You might like it, you might hate it, but I don’t think it’s all that bad. In fact, there are a number of extra features that are rather appealing. There’s the Knock Code unlock feature, which allows you to unlock the phone with a pattern of taps to the screen while the phone is in standby.
The ability to double-tap to wake comes in handy, too, as does the customisable LG keyboard, which lets you swipe along the spacebar to move the cursor left and right.
Elsewhere, for the most part, any changes to Android are subtle and unintrusive, and the LG-specific clock and Smart Notice widget on the homescreen can be removed if they get on your nerves.
There are few smartphones around that can match the ability of the LG G Flex 2 to turn heads, so if that’s a key part of what you want from a handset, there’s nothing here that’s going to put you off. It’s a fast phone, and the screen, camera and battery life all hit the mark too.
Even if you ignore the curved screen for a moment, it’s worth noting that the LG G Flex 2 offers pretty good value for money as well. It costs well under £500 SIM-free and, at the time of writing, is available free on contracts costing less than £30 per month.
It might not match the market leaders blow for blow on the technology front, then, but it’s probably the most cost-effective way of making a grand smartphone statement.