- 1 Specs
- 2 The Good
- 3 The Not So Good
- 4 Hardware
- 5 Software
- 6 Conclusion
|Operating System||Android 5.0.1|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octacore - 4x A57 processors at 2GHz, 4x A53 processors at 1.6GHz|
|Display||5.5" P-OLED flexible display with Gorilla Glass 3 and LG Dura Guard Glass at 1920x1080 (403 DPI)|
|Storage||16-32GB, microSD slot.|
|Camera||13MP (OIS, laser auto-focus) rear, 2.1MP front|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi AC, IR, NFC, 3G, LTE (bands depend on market)|
|Size||The G Flex 2 lacks the portly dimensions of its predecessor, and is just slightly larger than an ordinary G3, with the same 5.5" display size.|
|Android 5.0||For better or worse, the G Flex 2 has Android 5.0, meaning you get things like priority notification controls, screen pinning, and the much easier device restore process.|
|The curve||The G Flex 2's curve and Dura Guard Glass treatment supposedly make it harder to break, and it does practically offer scratch-resistance (you can't easily set it down on the screen, since the edges are raised).|
|I mean, it's an OK phone||The G Flex 2 isn't terrible. I feel like I need to put this here, because it's not a bad phone, there are so many other things that could be wrong with it, but... you'll see.|
|Why||Why does the G Flex 2 exist? As far as I can tell, this is just a way to half-fight the Galaxy S6 and One M9 while the G4 is still under development, but the G Flex 2 offers very few compelling reasons for purchase, even not knowing what Samsung and HTC's new phones will bring.|
|Snapdragon 810||The Snapdragon 810 in the G Flex 2 just does not feel all that snappy. It's not especially slow, but it experiences jank, app refreshes, and gets noticeably warm while doing things like web browsing. Benchmarks confirm there's some aggressive thermal throttling at play.|
|Looks and build quality||This is entirely subjective, but the G Flex 2 feels more like 2013's phone to me than it does 2015's. The styling and materials make it look and feel a bit cheap, if I'm honest, even compared to the already-flimsy G3.|
|Display||The G Flex 2's display still suffers from the aggravating graininess / waves of discoloration the first G Flex did. It's especially noticeable at lower brightness, so LG's solution seems to have been... increase the minimum brightness of the screen.|
G FLEX REDUX: A SMALLER, MORE ELEGANT SMARTPHONE
The original G Flex was one of the most interesting phones LG has ever produced - it was big, bold, experimental, and just kind of weird. From the rear-mounted power button with a multi-colored notification LED to the curved battery and 6" P-OLED display, the G Flex was a mild technological marvel that managed to make it to the production line - a rarity for truly bold consumer electronics designs.
Unfortunately, that phone still felt a lot like an engineering concept - its very large size, the 720p P-OLED panel's disappointingly grainy texture, and the self-healing rear cover's tendency to get insanely dusty were among the practical issues that made the G Flex a bit of a mixed bag. So, LG made the G Flex 2, hoping to bring the design into a more mainstream state.
The G Flex 2 thankfully solves the bigness problem many phones seem to have of late, its 5.5" display with very narrow vertical bezels reduces the overall footprint of the phone by over 15% compared to the first G Flex. Weight, too, is down - the G Flex 2 is just under 15% lighter than its predecessor. This change should make the phone more palatable to a larger group of potential buyers.
The dimensional change isn't without cost, though, as the new phone ditches 500mAh of battery capacity (down to 3000 from 3500mAh previously) to make space. That, strangely enough, also comes out to a roughly 15% loss versus the original. Like the first phone, the G Flex 2's flexible battery isn't removable, probably because it would be a terrible idea to let people take it out and try to bend it.
The smaller size and reduced weight do make the G Flex 2 easier to hold, though, and put it well-within my own 'acceptable phone size' spectrum, even if it does reside closer to the upper end of that scale.
The self-healing rear cover is still a bit of a dust magnet, and I still think it's a pretty pointless gimmick all things considered. Think about this for a moment: how often can you see scratches on a textured or matte cover on a phone like the Galaxy Note 4 or Nexus 5? They're pretty much invisible unless you really scratch them up. On the G Flex 2, scratches are highly visible against the polished, coated plastic, and the self-healing material only works on fairly shallow scratches to begin with. So, in both scenarios, a deep scratch will be visible on any device into perpetuity, but with the G Flex 2 you get the added benefit of a protective layer that gets all greasy and dusty and is at an almost comically early-to-mid-2000s-laptop level of shiny plastic couture. If you want a shiny phone, I guess this is better than a not-self-healing shiny plastic cover, so there is that.
But aesthetically, I find the G Flex 2 a little, for lack of a better word, tacky. The faux chrome edge highlights on the front, the weird contrasting bands in the glass along the top and bottom of the display, and that shiny rear cover (even in the more subdued gray) just don't feel as modern as designs from HTC, Sony, or even Samsung's new phones. If anything, the G Flex 2 feels kind of cheap, just as the G3 before it did.
The model LG sent me is the Flamenco Red G Flex 2 for Korea's SK Telecom network, with 4x4 LTE-A support and an internal TV tuner (sorry, no more retractable antennas). Here in the US, it works on AT&T's LTE network, but speeds are erratic and there are issues with SMS/MMS handling - this phone is obviously not optimized for America. We'll get an American G Flex 2 to try out later this month hopefully, so I'll discuss connectivity in a little more depth then. Watch for an update.
THE P-OLED DISPLAY REMAINS COMPROMISED
The G Flex 2's display, at first blush, seems to avoid some of the pitfalls the first phone suffered, but on closer examination it's pretty obvious that P-OLED still has limitations and suffers from some general visual weirdness. Case in point, take a look at this photo of the G Flex 2's display completely grayed out - this should be a uniform color, but there are waves and distortion throughout the display that highlight P-OLED's poor color consistency at low cell luminance. Crank up the brightness to 100% and the effect is substantially less noticeable, in fact, it almost disappears. But if you leave the brightness in auto, you're going to notice a "grainy" quality to content in some situations, and those wavy coloration distortions in others.
Please note that the image on the left above (the first one if you're on the mobile site) was modified deliberately to make the issue more visible - it doesn't come through especially well in a digital camera snapshot, so you have to coax out the contrast. In real life, this is pretty close to what you see, the image above is just brighter for additional contrast.
To reduce the noticeability of the distortion at very low brightness levels (it was pretty terrible on the first G Flex), LG appears to have simply raised the minimum brightness of the display panel. This is simple enough to test - look at the four devices in the image here.
Two Note 4s on the left are in two different modes - manual 0% and auto-brightness (I think the auto one was picking up light from the phones next to it), and on the top right we have a G3 set to 0% manually (though it looks the same in auto). The G Flex 2 is absolutely retina-searing if you're trying to use it in a pitch black room, say, when you're in bed, or outside late at night. For the record, I did this test with pretty much every combination of display settings on the G Flex 2, and they all had basically the same result. This is almost certainly an artificial restriction put in place to avoid the graininess criticisms the original G Flex's display received, which... why? That's kind of a lame thing to do, especially at the expense of usability (see: retinas).
Unfortunately, for a phone obsessed with its display, the G Flex 2's remains one of its biggest potential drawbacks. While the reduced size is welcome, the continued issues with graininess, distortion, and now the bewilderingly high minimum brightness are pretty substantial compromises for the sake of the curve. The one saving grace here may be LG's custom-treated Gorilla Glass 3, which is purported to have 20% greater "durability" than Corning's standalone solution. The curved display glass has benefits, as well, with its shape providing a 30% increase in shock-resistance over a flat display (LG does not comment whether they mean a flat display with GG1, 2, 3, and with or without the coating). That's not nothing, to be sure.
SPEAKER IS AN AUDIBLE UPGRADE OVER THE G3
The G Flex 2 gets a noticeably more powerful and clearer external speaker than the G3, which had the weakest showing among any of 2014's flagships in that department. Still, it's not a fantastic setup, and even the mid-range Desire 820's BoomSound-lite pretty easily outdoes the G Flex 2's single rear-facing driver.
Headphone audio is what I'd expect from any modern Qualcomm SoC - clear, crisp, and free of major distortion. Like the G3, I find the G Flex 2's headphone jack is, though, particularly susceptible to audible radio/clock noise feedback when plugged into an actively driven external audio component (eg, a speaker, or any powered line-in device), something I notice significantly less on other smartphone brands. The noise is only audible when Android's media server isn't actively outputting audio, so this suggests some kind of passive isolation issue, or inability to identify an actively driven component on the line-out.
BATTERY LIFE: TO BE CONTINUED
As is, I've been running the G Flex 2 so hard that I haven't been able to get a feel for battery life one way or the other. With all the benchmarking and constant finagling with various settings and putting it on the charger to keep it topped up, I haven't had a single full day of what I'd call "normal" usage with it.
That said, my initial impressions are somewhere from average to slightly below - the fact that the G Flex 2's minimum brightness is relatively high, coupled with the 810's heat-generating tendencies, seem to result in pretty quick drain when the phone is actually in use. I haven't been able to form any worthwhile opinions on how the standby life is, but I'll update the review as my impressions evolve.
A CAMERA FOCUSED ON GIVING YOU PICTURES, NOT GIMMICKS
While LG has introduced a gesture-based selfie mode on the G Flex 2 (honestly, everyone I showed it to thought it was actually kind of useful), this is basically the same camera you get on the G3 - and that's a good thing. Dual-flash, laser auto-focus, and optical image stabilization made the G3's camera - in my opinion - the most usable of any flagship smartphone's last year.
Daytime images turn out very nice, though noise reduction does feel a bit heavy-handed, and with HDR mode enabled you'll get some really bright, vivid snapshots.
At night or indoors, the G Flex 2's laser auto-focus works very reliably, and LG's aggressive noise reduction algorithm and HDR processing produce images you can actually use for social media or sharing with friends and family. Yes, the noise reduction can border on comically ridiculous in certain situations, but as long as you're viewing these photos below 50% of the full resolution you're probably not going to notice much.
HDR shows a clear improvement in whole-scene exposure.
As such, the G Flex 2, like the G3, isn't necessarily a great phone for serious mobile photographers, but it's a very good phone for people who like to take pictures with their phone and then share them to Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat - places where these images are generally being viewed on small screens to start with.
Still, the G Flex 2 suffers from the same basic criticism the G3's camera did: a near-total lack of configurability. No shutter speed, ISO, aperture, or white balance options - that stuff is completely off limits to the user. Video is worse: there are no video settings in the stock LG camera app, and the most you can adjust is resolution in other apps (1080p, 720p, 480p - no choice of frame rates or HDR / slow-mo). From a video standpoint, LG has one of the weakest setups on the market in terms of tools and options.
SNAPDRAGON 810 AND PERFORMANCE: MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
So, with that rather lengthy disclaimer out of the way, the G Flex 2 is the first commercially available smartphone to be equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 chipset and, as you might know, there's some substantial baggage that claim brings along. First and foremost are rumors around Samsung: the company apparently decided the Snapdragon 810 wasn't good enough for the upcoming Galaxy S6, and is instead opting for one of its own Exynos processors in what is likely to be Android's best-selling handset of 2015. These rumors came in on the heels of existing suspicion that Qualcomm had been unable to get the Snapdragon 810's thermals in check, resulting in a chip that was prone to heating up and throttling.
Consider, too, that Qualcomm has extracted nearly two years of life from its Snapdragon 800 platform and, more importantly, the Krait 400 CPU inside it, iterating the Snapdragon 801 and 805 on the same 28nm process with basically the same application processor. But instead of waiting for work to complete on its own next-generation processor, Qualcomm dropped its in-house cores and licensed ARM reference designs for an A57/A53 big.LITTLE architecture (though Qualcomm is using a custom implementation). The Snapdragon 810 is the first high-end Qualcomm chip not to use the company's own core design.
Why? There's been extensive speculation that Qualcomm's roadmap did an abrupt about-face once Apple announced the 64-bit A7 in September of 2013, and that customers - OEMs and users alike - began demanding 64-bit chips for devices at any cost. Qualcomm likely knew its own ARMv8 64-bit chip wouldn't be ready for customers until too late in 2015, perhaps planning on shipping the 805 for the duration of H1 before transitioning to the next-generation Snapdragon. So, it's entirely possible the 810 was a side-project, a sort of stopgap Frankenstein for the Galaxy S6 (was being the key word there), One M9, G Flex 2, and new Xperia flagship, along with a host of Chinese devices.
My thoughts on the Snapdragon 810 in the G Flex 2 as it runs now make me wonder just what compromises Qualcomm has made to get on the 64-bit bandwagon. The 810-powered G Flex 2 often feels slower than the G3 I have running Lollipop in side-by-side testing, and while the G Flex 2 does benchmark better initially, it's substantially more prone to throttling back its performance extensively with repeated CPU-intensive usage. All phones do this to some degree (maybe a 5-15% reduction), the G Flex 2 does it a lot - by three or four CPU benchmarks in Geekbench 3, that G Flex 2 is scoring 20-30% lower in single core performance, and 10-15% lower in multicore, and it just gets worse the longer you do it.
I bring this up because the G Flex 2 often feels sluggish or experiences considerable "jank," and that's why I started doing the benchmarking: to see if I could corroborate that feeling with something a bit more concrete. Benchmarks alone prove nothing, but the fact is that the G3 I have here running Lollipop with its Snapdragon 801 doesn't really feel any slower than the G Flex 2, and in some situations is demonstrably quicker.
The other thing to note is that LG has consistently released phones that regularly engage in some level of throttling behavior. The G3, while it doesn't throttle as heavily or often as the G Flex 2, does experience a pretty consistent 15-25% drop in single core CPU performance if you run Geekbench 3 ten or fifteen times. The G Flex 2, by comparison, sees more like a 50-60% drop after so many runs, and by then is actually benchmarking substantially lower than the already-throttled Snapdragon 801 chip, instead yielding scores more like a Snapdragon 615 (I have a 615 device, and it will throw out the same scores basically all day with maybe a 10-15% variation).
It's possible that other OEMs will find a way to tame the 810 and package it in a manner that avoids these problems (or Qualcomm will release a revision of the chip), though only time and software updates will tell the full story on the G Flex 2. If I'm honest, the G Flex 2 feels jerky in a way that sort of reminds me of the Nexus 9 (including getting warm while web browsing), and that's not a flattering comparison. Again, as LG releases updates, I'll go back and reevaluate these statements.
This all aside, the G Flex 2 isn't slow so much as it is noticeably slower than it should be. When last year's phone with last year's chipset and a higher display resolution feels quicker and cooler than one that isn't even out yet in the vast majority of the world, I think it's fair to say something's wrong.
Oh, and it's not Android 5.0's encryption: the G Flex 2 I'm reviewing is not running firmware that comes encrypted out of the box.
LG'S SOFTWARE: UNINTRUISIVE, IF LESS THAN BEAUTIFUL
Let me level with you here: I've never liked the look of LG's software layer. In recent years, they have proven to be one of the least forward-thinking smartphones OEMs in terms of interface design, clinging to skeuomorphic virtual toggles, a dated app drawer layout, and iconography that looks a lot older than it probably actually is. The result is an aesthetic clash with Lollipop in some areas. Still, LG does embrace the software navigation buttons (weirdly enlarged as they are) that go transparent on the homescreen, so it's not as though they're just out to avoid Google's look for the sake of avoiding it in every place, or altering normalized UI interactions just to be different (*cough* HTC *cough*).
LG's Lollipop notification bar on this Korean G Flex has dedicated sliders for brightness and call volume, though those generally seem to get culled by most American carriers, who generally decide exactly how the software (and even hardware) on the device they sell will look (this was true of Optimus G, G2, and G3). The highlight color is now more of an aqua than an aquamarine (more blue, less green), but the scrollable list of power toggles harkens back to TouchWiz circa 2011.
LG has opted to implement Google's priority notification system introduced in Android 5.0, but they call it do not disturb mode instead. Yep, that means your phone doesn't have a silent, no-vibrate mode unless you turn vibration off entirely. Interestingly, the G Flex 2 does not have the 5.0-style pop-up volume controls, instead using the old slider plus settings gear situation, whereby hitting the gear brings up all volume profiles without exiting the current screen. This is one of those areas where the old way still seems better to me, as Google's current system makes it extremely annoying to adjust notification volume when you're listening to music or watching a video, or want to adjust the media volume before hitting play. Again, how this will play out on American versions of the G Flex 2, I don't know, but I do know the AT&T G3 I have still has the gear in the 5.0 update.
The G Flex 2 has three screen color modes and an adaptive screen tone option for the display (IMO, it makes it look yellowed), as did the first G Flex, settings similar to those commonly found on Samsung handsets. Interestingly, LG seems to have removed the Guest Mode (essentially, guest account access) feature from the G Flex 2, and the phone does not support Android's native multiuser mode.
LG has also implemented something called Glance View on the G Flex 2, which is their attempt at an Active Display-esque feature. Basically, you pick up the phone, and then you drag your finger down the screen, and the top of the display lights up. You get a clock and your notification bar, but that's it. First thing wrong with it: it's really buggy. It works like half the time I go to use it, maybe, and the relatively little utility it provides just makes me have no desire to use it in the first place. Why drag when I can double tap and get more information? Just copy active display (ambient display) and be done with it, it's better.
Oh, and my favorite thing about the software on this SK Telecom G Flex 2? As per Korean law, all the bloatware needs to be removable, so I removed it. It felt nice. The only thing I couldn't remove or disable was a preinstalled copy of McAfee Security, which I was rather annoyed to learn, but I bet there's some stupid loophole for "security" software in that law.
The G Flex 2 is a difficult phone to corner - it's not clear exactly why it exists other than to act as a tech demo for LG's P-OLED flexible display. From a marketing perspective, this is essentially LG's distraction from the Galaxy S6 and One M9 until the G4 comes out later this year. Given the Flex 2's more "normal" size, it seems LG wants the Flex 2 to appeal to a wider audience than the original G Flex did. Still, the Flex 2 will probably be more expensive than the S6 or One M9, and it's going to get significantly less advertising.
Compared to a G3 running Lollipop, the G Flex 2 offers a brighter, more vivid display (that's curved!) with stronger glass. And... that's pretty much it. The processor doesn't seem appreciably quicker (at this point), the software is almost identical, and it has the same camera. The speaker is a bit louder, sure, so don't forget that. Oh, and despite having the same display size as the G3, the G Flex 2 is taller, wider, and (slightly) heavier.
I think LG was banking on the Snapdragon 810 providing real-world speed and efficiency advantages over 801 and 805 to help differentiate the Flex 2, but as things are now in the real world, it runs slower than my 805-powered Nexus 6 and is only occasionally quicker than the G3 with its 801. Perhaps with optimization things will change.
Basically, the component pieces of the Flex 2 don't really differentiate themselves all that much from the G3, and this is probably my greatest point of hesitance about the phone. There's nothing that feels more premium or special about the G Flex 2 aside from the curve, unless you want to buy into marketing hype about '64-bit' (and that's all it is - hype), which LG could very well expect to work in certain markets. For a smartphone buyer looking to stay on the cutting edge, though, the G Flex 2 isn't anything to look twice at.