LG G Flex 2 review:

LG revisits the curve, and steps it up with high-caliber hardware

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The LG G Flex 2 sports a uniquely immersive and comfortable arched design, a sharp 1080p display, the latest Snapdragon 810 processor and a scratch-resistant coating.

The Bad The device's camera takes muted photos, its battery capacity is smaller than its predecessor, and performance can be slow at times.

The Bottom Line No longer just a daring experiment, the G Flex 2 finally has the killer screen and top-of-the-line processor that its bold design deserves.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0

With its new G Flex 2, LG went back to its curved drawing board, corrected all the missteps of the original G Flex -- namely its unwieldy size and unimpressive 720p display -- and delivered a marquee-worthy device. Equipping it with a crystal-clear 1080p touchscreen and the latest quad-core Snapdragon 810 processor from Qualcomm, the company managed to elevate its arched handset from a gimmick (as some saw it) to an arched handset you actually want, regardless of its shape.

Such a task doesn't come easy for LG. Despite steadily pumping out premium phones like the G Pro 2 , Google Nexus 5 and G3 , LG has had difficulty carving a place for itself in the Android market. Its devices lacked the sophisticate aesthetic of the HTC One series, the quirky customization incentives of Motorola, and the brand awareness of Samsung, which overshadows all these companies. For a while, it seemed that LG was bound to be without a hero phone that could set itself apart.

That is, until the G Flex 2.

With this high-end handset, LG isn't holding much back, and it's clear that the G Flex 2 will elevate LG ( at least until the G4 is announced in April), and give its rivals a run for their money.

Editors' Note: This piece was originally posted on updated on February 18, 2015, and was updated on April 3 and April 15 with US carrier analysis from Sprint and U.S. Cellular, respectively.

Availability

The G Flex 2 has already launched in Korea and Singapore. It is available now in the US through Sprint (for $200 with a contract or $504 without) and US Cellular ($150 with an agreement or $630 prepaid). AT&T also plans to carry the device soon. In the UK, Vodafone will stock it exclusively for six weeks after launch. LG Australia has confirmed that it will not bring the G Flex 2 to Australia -- Aussies will need to use grey importers to get their hands on this phone.

Design

With a premium aesthetic that feels incredibly luxe, the handset comes in platinum silver and flamenco red. Compared to its predecessor, the phone is smaller, thinner, and 15 percent lighter. It measures 5.9 inches tall and 3 inches wide, has a profile of 0.3 to 0.4 inches at the thickest (149 by 75 by 7.1 to 9.4mm), and weighs 5.4 ounces (152 grams).

As a result of this reworked size, the G Flex 2 is now much more manageable in your hand and easier to maneuver. It still won't be a comfortable fit in your jean pockets, but unlike the unwieldy G Flex, this iteration is easier to hold vertically during calls and horizontally while watching videos.

Though not a rugged device by any means, the handset is designed to withstand a certain degree of abuse. When it's facing down, you can push against or step on its apex to flatten it straight; and when it's facing upward, you can press down its curling edges. After doing this intermittently throughout the week (totaling to about a couple dozen times altogether) with both slow aplomb and frantic rapid-fire movements, my review unit bent back to its original shape without difficulty.

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If you accidentally sit on the device, don't worry -- it's durable enough to flex back straight. CNET

Similar to the original, the phone's battery door is layered with a slick protective coating, not unlike the ones you find on cars. During my time with the G Flex 2, it had no problem fending off everyday scuffs and scratches. LG says the "self-healing" coat mends itself faster than before, but I didn't notice much of a difference. In any case, it worked well enough that there were no marks left after I scratched my car keys over it several times and clawed my nails across it.

LG doesn't claim that this veneer is impenetrable, however. Slice an X-Acto knife, or in my case, jagged rocks across the device, and it will leave a scar. (Oops, go figure.) Fortunately, I don't usually sweep my handset across a bed of craggy rocks, and unless you're aiming to give the phone a beating, the G Flex 2 can sustain your regular dose of wear and tear.

Screen

LG reported that due to an in-house chemical treatment, it has made the device's Gorilla Glass touchscreen 20 percent stronger. But I believe the display's biggest improvement is in its resolution. I was disappointed that the first generation had only a 720p resolution, but that has now been bumped up to 1080p. And given the screen's size has decreased (it now measures 5.5 inches instead of 6), it has a higher pixel density of 403ppi.

The result is a noticeably sharper display. Images, videos and text are bright and rich in detail. The screen is easily viewable in sunlight with the brightness turned all the way up, it has a wide viewing angle, and it's responsive as well.

The phone's screen has been bumped up from 720p to a sharper 1080p resolution. Josh Miller/CNET

Though the handset's distinctive 23-degree arc doesn't appear as prominent as in the original G Flex, the curve still does well to lend a more immersive viewing experience. Don't get me wrong -- there's no need to throw out your flat phone for a curved one anytime soon. But by pulling in the sides closer together, you end up feeling a bit more drawn in. For me, watching movies, flipping through the photo gallery and even scrolling down Web pages became a touch more engrossing.

Software features

The G Flex 2 ships with Google's latest mobile OS, Android 5.0 Lollipop (version 5.0.1 to be exact), with software goodies like notifications on the lock screen, and a richer approach to recent apps known as Overview that you can access by tapping on the square hotkey. Our unit had the usual lineup of Google software, like the Chrome browser, Gmail, the Play Store, Hangouts, Drive and Maps. It also had a slew of Korean apps that are likely exclusive to this variant only.

Layered on top of Android is LG's user interface. While the company got rid of some software features seen in the device's first iteration such as a "swinging" lock screen and QTheater (both of which were pretty useless anyway), others have been retained. Smart Notice, for example, is a digital assistant that displays notification cards to help inform users of calendar events, weather alerts and other tasks (like deleting any long unused apps or returning a missed call).

There's also Dual Window, which you launch by either long-pressing the triangular back hotkey or selecting "Dual Window" after hitting the Overview hotkey. A small menu of apps appears, wherein you can choose two apps to "split screen" and use simultaneously.

Some signature software features from LG include Dual Window (left) and the new GlanceView. Lynn La/CNET

LG also includes KnockOn and KnockCode, which let you wake up or unlock the handset with various tapping gestures directly from a sleeping lock screen. One new lock screen characteristic is GlanceView. By swiping your finger downward from the top of the display, GlanceView allows you to quickly check the time, date and any missed notifications, without having to wake up the phone.

For Sprint users, the device comes with a hefty amount of bloatware. Carrier-branded apps include a gaming and ringtone portal called Fun and Games; Sprint Zone, which enables users to check on their data and billing information; a 15-day trial with Family Locator, so you can keep track of your family member's handsets and whereabouts; and the streaming TV app TV and Movies. Additional preloaded software from Sprint are FamilyWall (a private pseudo-social-networking platform for your family); a digital payment wallet, and a music portal. Other companies preloaded their apps as well, like the Lookout security app, a 1Weather widget, Nascar Mobile 2014, eBay, Amazon, NextRadio, the Box mobile office suite, and a handful of others.

The G Flex 2 for U.S. Cellular (left) in grey, and for Sprint, in red. Josh Miller/CNET

Amazon and Box are also included in the U.S. Cellular model. The carrier also included City ID, Mobile Data Security; a media portal called MobileTV; Wi-Fi hotspot; and a navigator app. You can also find McAfee Security, the office suite ThinkFreeViewer, and a digital assistant called Voice Mate.

The G Flex 2 has Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and two different storage options (16 and 32GB). It includes either 2 or 3GB of RAM depending on availability, and like some variants of the G3, the device has a microSD card slot that's expandable up to 2TB. But don't jump for joy just yet; no one's really mass producing 2TB microSD cards, and the largest one you'll likely see on the current market is 128GB.

Camera and video

Photo quality for the G Flex 2's 13-megapixel shooter was respectable -- auto-focus was sharp when it locked onto an object, the shutter was fast and responsive, and the camera retained a good amount of fine detail when zooming into a photo.

On the whole, however, I wasn't too impressed with the camera. Though colors were accurate for the most part, they could come off muted and washed out. Macro-focus took a while to latch onto an object up close, and I wasn't always guaranteed a super-sharp picture afterward. Indeed, photography enthusiasts might not be too enthused, but it performs well enough for everyday, casual snapshots. For more details on picture quality, click on each image below to see them at their full resolution.

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