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LG G Flex 2 review: LG revisits the curve, and steps it up with high-caliber hardware

With the latest Snapdragon processor and a sharper display, the G Flex 2 aims to show that real smartphones have curves.

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Lynn La
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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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14 min read

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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.

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8.3

LG G Flex 2

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.

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.

LG's G Flex 2 has the right curves (pictures)

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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In this well-lit outdoor shot, you can see the fine intricacies in this dog's fur. Lynn La/CNET
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In this closeup shot, the flower petals in the foreground could be sharper. Lynn La/CNET
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The pink and purple flowers look appealing, but the white ones in this bouquet (taken indoors) are washed out. Lynn La/CNET
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This dimly lit evening photo is understandably a bit blurry and grainy, but you can still make out a good amount of detail. Lynn La/CNET
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In our standard studio shot, objects have distinct outlines, and the flash casted a nice, even light. Lynn La/CNET

Shooting in 4K video on the rear camera was satisfactory as well. The camera adjusted fluidly and quickly for different focus points and lighting situations. Both moving and still objects were sharp with distinct outlines, colors were true-to-life, and there was no noticeable lag behind my moving of the camera and the onscreen viewfinder. Nearby and distant audio also picked up well without any odd extraneous noises.

Both the rear and 2.1-megapixel cameras have HDR shooting, voice-activated shutters, timers and burst shot, which groups together several photos taken in quick succession. You can pause recording and take pictures while shooting video on either cameras. There's also a "dual camera" mode that lets you take pictures or record video with both cameras at the same time. These images can be split right down the middle, or in a little rectangular window. If you want to have a little more fun with it, the window is resizable and movable, and can come in other shapes like a heart, a postage stamp or a Polaroid. To switch between cameras, swipe across the display in any direction.

Like the G3, the rear camera has a laser-guided auto-focus, dual flashes on the back, and optical image stabilization, which reduces motion blur if you accidentally take a photo with an unsteady hand. The camera has an 8x digital zoom, panorama shooting, a gridline overlay to help compose pictures and four sizing options (ranging from 2,048x1,536- to 4,160x3,120-pixel resolution). It can record HD, full HD or ultra-HD 2160p video, as well as slow-motion at 120fps.

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The front-facing camera's faux-flash effect. Lynn La/CNET

The 2.1-megapixel front-facing shooter has several features to help improve the quality of your self-portraits. For instance, there's a "beauty meter" that can soften and smooth a particularly harsh-looking selfie, and it can automatically flip images vertically. As we saw before in the G Pro 2, there's a faux-flash tool that appears as a bright, thick peach border around the photo preview. The idea is to maximize the light emanating from the touchscreen to help brighten up your pictures. Like the G3, you can activate the camera shutter touch-free by making an open-hand gesture and then closing it into a fist.

Lastly, due to the popularity of selfie sticks, the device can now sense whenever it's being lowered from on high by a stick or a raised arm. When it picks up on this movement after a photo has been taken, a preview of the recently taken image appears without you having to manually check. It can then switch back to camera mode after it senses itself being moved away from your face.

When I tried this out, the handset didn't have the easiest time recognizing this particular motion from my arm. There were a couple of times when I moved the phone back down to eye-level after taking a picture and nothing happened. I suspect because this gesture can be executed quite swiftly. On the occasions that it did work, it did save me an extra tap or two, but I suspect my movements were registered because they were unnaturally dramatic, and I placed the screen closer to my face than I normally would.

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You can activate the camera's shutter by making a high-give gesture and then closing it into a fist. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance

Call quality

I tested an unlocked Korean G Flex 2 (which isn't optimized for any US carrier, but we inserted an AT&T SIM card inside), a Sprint variant, and a U.S. Cellular model at our San Francisco offices. Call quality on all three handsets were steady and clear. Although my calling partner came off a bit muffled, his voice sounded accurate and easy to make out. I didn't pick up on any extraneous buzzing or static on the other line, none of my calls dropped, and audio didn't clip in and out. On the U.S. Cellular phone, I did notice my partner sounded a bit more hollow and tinny. However, it wasn't overly distracting or troublesome. Likewise, my partner told me that I sounded clear as well, and that connection was consistent and strong on his end.

Podcast

Podcast

Podcast

The audio speaker was also satisfactory. Again, my partner's voice sounded distorted and was thinner and sharper, but that's to be expected from the typically small audio grilles on mobile devices. Call volume remained at an appropriate range, and on maximum volume, I could still hear my partner's voice when I held the handset at arm's length away from my ear.

Data speeds, processing speed and battery life

4G LTE speeds on the unlocked Korean variant operating on AT&T's network were quite fast and consistent. For Web browsing, it took about 2 seconds to load CNET's mobile site and 6 seconds to load the desktop version. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites loaded in 8 and 4 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 4 seconds, and 6 seconds passed before its desktop site fully loaded.

LG G Flex 2 performance times

Unlocked (on AT&T 4G LTE)Sprint (4G LTE)U.S. Cellular (3G)
Average download rate 22.97Mbps6.11Mbps0.37Mbps
Average upload rate 18.22Mbps3.75Mbps0.662Mbps
Temple Run 2 app download 42 seconds (44.52MB)2 minutes and 19 seconds (44.92MB)10 minutes and 35 seconds (44.92MB)
CNET mobile site load 2 seconds10 seconds30 seconds
CNET desktop site load 6 seconds11 seconds38 seconds
Restart time 50 seconds49 seconds51 seconds
Camera boot time 2.94 seconds3.32 seconds2.82 seconds

After five trials on Ookla's speed test app, I calculated a mean download rate of 22.97Mbps down and 18.22Mbps up. The 44.76MB game Temple Run 2 took 42 seconds to download and install, and lastly, it took an average of 10 minutes and 19 seconds to download the movie "Gravity," which was 1.3GB. Of course, data speeds depend on many variables, including your location and time of day, so don't be surprised if your personal experience from your network ends up differing from the results I've described.

On Sprint's 4G LTE network, however, things weren't as fast. On average, the download rate was 6.11Mbps down and 3.75Mbps up. The CNET mobile and desktop sites loaded in 10 and 11 seconds, respectively. It took 14 seconds to load The New York Times' mobile site, while its desktop version took 16 seconds. And ESPN's mobile site took 12 seconds to fully display. Since we tested the Sprint variant later than the global version, the Temple Run 2 app had increased to 44.92MB, and required 2 minutes and 19 seconds to finish downloading and installing.

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If you want fast data speeds from U.S. Cellular, make sure your area has LTE coverage. Josh Miller/CNET

Though U.S. Cellular's model is 4G LTE enabled, our offices were located in a roaming location, and I was only able to latch onto the carrier's 3G network. As such, speeds were notably slower, and connection timed out a handful of times. It took 30 and 38 seconds for CNET's mobile and desktop sites to load. The mobile site for The New York Times loaded in 36 seconds and its desktop page took a minute and 16 seconds. ESPN's mobile site needed a whopping 55 seconds to display on average. After five trials, the mean download and upload rates were 0.37Mbps and 0.66Mbps. And finally, you'd have to wait about 10 minutes and 35 seconds to fully download and install Temple Rune 2 (44.92MB). Again, if you are living in an area where you have LTE coverage from U.S. Cellular, you will likely experience faster data speeds than I observed.

This G Flex 2 joins the ranks of Samsung's Korean-exclusive Galaxy Note 4 as one of the first few mobile devices to include the powerful Snapdragon 810 quad-core processor from Qualcomm. The 64-bit octa-core CPU has a clock speed of 2GHz, and delivers smooth gameplay and graphics rendering. Indeed, while playing the simple perpetual running game Temple Run 2, or more graphics-intensive games such as Riptide GP 2, content loaded quickly and I saw fluid animations, high frame rates and rich image detail.

Benchmark tests mirrored this gaming experience. The handset had a multi-thread Linpack score of 878.472 MFLOPs in 0.29 seconds and the G Flex 2's best Quadrant score was an impressive 29,155, which is the best handset result we have on record. For instance, the G3, Droid Turbo, Samsung Galaxy S5 and the One M8 scored 23,103, 22,642, 23,707 and 24,593, respectively. On average, it took the handset about 50 seconds to power off and restart.

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A few 4G LTE data times measured by Ookla (left), and the G Flex 2's best Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

Given these high results, however, there were occasions when I found the device to be surprisingly slow. Daily tasks, such as calling up the keyboard, opening a new tab in Chrome, launching recent apps, opening the camera app (which on average took 2.82 seconds for the U.S. Cellular phone, 2.94 seconds on the global model, and the longest on the Sprint variant at 3.32 seconds) or returning to the home page, all took just slightly longer than usual. True, it only felt like a half a tick longer, but it was still noticeable.

LG became aware of this issue after its retail roll out in Korea, but before its launch in the US. It said it expected to solve this problem in the following weeks during the handset's launch in other major countries, and released this official statement:

After I updated the Korean model's software and got my hands on Sprint and U.S. Cellular's versions, the device, while still smooth, didn't feel significantly faster. Launching the keyboard and Overview, and returning to the home screen felt relatively the same as before, and opening up the camera, as noted before, still took more than 2 seconds.

Powering the phone is a 3,000mAh battery. Though its predecessor had a slightly bigger 3,500mAh battery (and T-Mobile's variant had a 3,400mAh battery), LG reports that battery performance has altogether improved. It claims that the G Flex 2 can regain 50 percent of its juice in under 40 minutes with the stock charger. My personal observation was pretty close to that -- it took my unit about 45 minutes.

During our lab tests, the battery on the Korean model lasted 10 hours and 37 minutes for video playback. Meanwhile, the Sprint variant lasted 9 hours and 28 minutes, and the U.S. Cellular model clocked in 10 hours and 45 minutes of video. That's all a decent amount of juice to provide continuously, but compared to the original Flex (which clocked over 17 hours), that's a notable amount of usage hours lost due to the lowered capacity. According to FCC radiation measurements, the device has a SAR rating of 0.75W/kg (Sprint) and 1.00W/kg (U.S. Cellular).

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Packing top-tier specs and the latest Android OS, the G Flex 2 is impressive regardless of its curved design. Josh Miller/CNET

Conclusion

The LG G Flex 2 has what it takes to compete in this year's smartphone arms race. Other than the Korean-exclusive Galaxy Note 4, the device is the only other handset to feature the lightning fast quad-core Snapdragon 810 processor; it has the latest Android 5.0 software; and it sports a durable, flexible design. And while you won't truly miss anything by having a phone with a flat touchscreen, the G Flex 2's curved display, coupled with a 1080p resolution, can draw you in with a more enveloping viewing experience.

That said, it doesn't have exactly what it takes to beat the flagships we've seen this year, however -- which include the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge ) and the HTC One M9 -- given its rather slower performance by comparison. And it's possible it won't beat the LG G4 when it debuts in April in terms of user experience and performance as well. As it stands, the G Flex 2 falls a hair behind.

That's not to mean that the handset is dead on arrival. After all, it does have a lower price compared to those of the other three -- nearly $100 less unlocked. That price delta can be significant to some people, and if you're yearning for a conversation-piece phone with plenty of power, then give the G Flex 2 a serious look.

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8.3

LG G Flex 2

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8