LG G Flex 2 (Sprint) review: a curveball in 2015’s flagship lineup
Back in January, I got my hands on LG’s latest curved contender, the G Flex 2, at CES 2015 alongside Michael Fisher and Jaime Rivera. The following month, Michael took a closer look at the device and praised it for its ergonomic design, but ultimately had trouble recommending it for its poor battery performance and sluggish performance. There’s just one problem: the unit he tested was made for South Korea.
That makes factors like battery endurance, cell reception, and price hard to judge properly for most readers … which is where I come in. I’ve spent a week with the Sprint G Flex 2 in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, and I’ve come to know it for all its quirks and virtues.
Software · Camera · Performance · Pros/Cons
LG G Flex 2 Review Video
Specs & Hardware
The first G Flex, for all its accolades as a uniquely designed and powerful device, was also a flawed proof-of-concept product. The vertically curved display in particular faced burn-in issues like no other, and at only 720p stretched across 6” diagonally, it felt proportionately low-resolution compared to similarly priced competitors. This year’s model is a different story entirely, with a much higher density 1080p 5.5” P-OLED display (that’s 403 ppi vs. last year’s 245 ppi) that never showed signs of burn-in during our testing. The new panel produces much more accurate colors than that of the original G Flex, although some colors (particularly grays and whites) still look a bit murky. Outdoor visibility, while still far from perfect, is a marked improvement from the previous model as well, which was next to indiscernible in direct sunlight.
The G Flex 2 also feels significantly more polished in design than its predecessor with a much smaller footprint and a less exaggerated curve for easier pocketability, and at only 152g it’s one of the lighter phones on the market, if you’re into that. As with all of LG’s smartphones from recent years, the Flex 2 features rear-mounted control keys, making room for a near bezel-less face — according to GSM Arena, it has a 73.5% screen-to-body ratio. Sitting just above the rear keys is the phone’s 13 MP camera with optical image stabilization and the same laser focusing system originally found on the LG G3. There’s also the entire back of the phone itself, which carries over the self-healing powers of the first G Flex. Whether this actually works (and to what degree) depends on who you ask, but in our testing it does a good job repairing minor scuffs and scratches … though take care to avoid large gouges, which are more likely to scar. Thankfully this year you can just replace the back plate if it gets too trashed!
Inside, LG has upgraded the already powerful Snapdragon 800 of yesteryear to the latest, greatest octa-core Snapdragon 810. Clocked in at 2.0 GHz between a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and a quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57, there’s almost no stopping this chipset … almost. (More on that later.) There’s also 3 GB of RAM –a 50% bump from last year– keeping this ship sailing, and 32 GB internal storage packed into the Sprint variant expandable up to a whopping 2 TB of extra space, should such a sizable microSD card become commercially available in the phone’s lifetime.
But Michael already covered all of the design changes between the two generations of Flex — what about the hardware changes made just to the G Flex 2 during its trip from South Korea to the United States? Well, there aren’t many. In fact, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, there aren’t any at all. On our Sprint model, there isn’t even any carrier branding, though that’s a different story on the U.S. Cellular and upcoming AT&T models. The only real hardware differences to be found here are in the cellular radios, with Sprint adding support for its Spark LTE and supporting networks.
Michael also already touched on the software experience of the G Flex 2 in his original review, but as goes the rest of the story, there are some considerable differences in the model optimized for The Now Network. We can go ahead and get the Sprint-specific changes out of the way first: firstly, there’s a lot of bloatware out of the box. (Editor’s note: This is admittedly one of my only experiences with a Sprint device, so there may not be more bloat than on other Spark-sporting smartphones.)
Thankfully most of this stuff can be uninstalled, but there are also quite a few apps that can only be disabled or hidden. This is especially annoying when only 21 GB of the provided 32 GB is allocated for personal use; we’ll at least give LG points for including the increasingly rare microSD support.
Another software tweak found only on the Sprint model is the carrier’s new Wi-Fi Calling support, previously a feature exclusive to T-Mobile phones. For the uninitiated, here’s the deal: whenever you’re without cellular service (insert cheap shot at either carrier in discussion here), you can connect to the nearest available Wi-Fi network, initiate the Wi-Fi Calling feature from the settings, and make high-quality VoIP calls using your own phone number. This means no having to explain the strange number calling to your friends or fiddling with Skype credit, and while it’s known to be a pretty significant battery drain when left on, it can be a life-saver when you need it. A very welcome feature, in our book.
LG’s nameless UX remains largely unchanged from what was found on the G3 here, retaining all of the customization options we’ve praised in past reviews. There’s still LG’s take on multitasking, called Dual Window, which works quite well — at least, for the apps that support it. Like Samsung’s similar feature, you can resize, rearrange, and replace the two running apps to your liking, and LG’s variety even allows the option to open supporting links and attachments in Split View automatically. We found this setting to be more of a nuisance than a convenience, preferring more subtle solutions like developer Chris Lacy’s Link Bubble, so we were thankful that LG left this setting optional.
If you are a fan of Dual Window or some of LG’s other key features like QSlide or QuickMemo+, you can ensure the quickest possible access by adding them to the navigation bar (or “Home touch buttons,” as LG calls them). We quite enjoyed the optional toggle to summon and dismiss the notification shade without having to reach all the way to the top of the display, something that grows more and more tedious as smartphones get larger. Even if you don’t add any of the custom buttons, it’s nice to be able to rearrange the standard three buttons, especially if you’re coming from a Samsung phone whose buttons arrange opposite of the traditional Back-Home-Multitasking order.
The home screen you’ll revert to each time you touch the Home softkey (unless you set a custom launcher) is … Well, it’s fine. As you’ve surely come to expect from Android home screens, you can add and rearrange icons and widgets, create folders, manage multiple pages, or just leave the whole screen blank. The leftmost panel highlights “Smart Tips” to help get you started with the phone, as well as LG Health, but we (and we expect most users as well) were quick to turn that off.
We did have some fun with features new to the G Flex 2, like the Glance view that lets you pull in from the top of the display with the screen turned off to peak at the time and notifications. Of course, LG also incorporates the beloved double-tap to wake functionality first popularized with the G2 — this is especially nice on the company’s recent smartphones that migrate the standby button to the back of the chassis. Another feature ported over from some of LG’s other offerings is Knock Code, a unique security system for the lock screen that lets you tap a set pattern to unlock the device, even when the screen is off.
The 13 MP camera is sort of a mixed bag that leaves us feeling overall quite positive, but with some caveats. First off, launching the camera is quick and easy with a long press of the volume down key. You’ll feel a short vibration, then in a couple of seconds you’re met with LG’s viewfinder — a clean and simple interface with mode selection, manual controls, and so on. It’s easy to use for the most part, but some settings are confusingly laid out only by icons, without captions or titles to signify their purpose.
Like its glossy crimson backing, the G Flex 2’s camera really shines in direct sunlight, where you’ll be hard pressed to take a bad shot. There’s a good balance of contrast and saturation, and you likely won’t even feel the need to disable Auto-HDR mode — as long as you don’t mind the cinematic feel of the deep and vibrant colors it produces. Thanks to the laser auto-focusing mechanism ported from the G3, focusing is nearly instantaneous, though one of our few complaints about the outdoor shooting experience is the phone’s lack of depth. That’s not to say that you can’t make the subject of your shots pop, but you’ll have to work a little for a clean bokeh effect.
Everything starts to go downhill when you take the camera inside. Colors start to fade into obscurity as the saturation tanks, and sharpness takes a significant hit. The guitar in the gallery below looks much less faded in person, and the roses more red. It’s not the worst lowlight camera we’ve seen by any means, but it’s still frustrating knowing what phones like the Galaxy S6, iPhone 6 Plus, and One M8 are capable of.
Launching the front-facing camera opens up a different can of worms, with a mixture of clean UI and quirky features like beauty mode that we weren’t too keen on, but were hesitant to disable entirely. Of course, the purpose of disabling beauty mode is to see a more direct representation of what’s in front of the camera (you), but that’s not quite what’s happening here. LG’s sharpening is so drastic that it begins to exaggerate blemishes and imperfections that in many cases aren’t even visible in person, and a lot of people may prefer using at least the first notch on the beauty slider. The front camera experience isn’t all that bad, though. While nothing extraordinary, the 2.1 MP sensor takes adequate enough photos for the occasional Instagram selfie or Snapchat, and gestures like clenching your fist to take a photo make for fun add-ons that might or might not come in handy in actual use.
Michael’s review of the South Korean Flex 2 featured heavy criticism of the device’s performance. Being the first device to ship with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 chipset meant facing the hushed concerns of overheating, which LG managed to avoid … by throttling the processing power at the first hint of warming. Thankfully subsequent software updates seem to have significantly improved on those issues, but improvement doesn’t equate to complete resolution. Slight hiccups were common during our review period, and we often found ourselves waiting on the app drawer to redraw.
Battery life was also disappointing, only twice lasting a full day in our six days with the phone. Even when we disabled Bluetooth and avoided battery-intensive processes like Dual Window or gaming, screen-on time never managed to drag past four and a half hours. This is especially disappointing given the original G Flex’s longevity, but maybe it’s unsurprising given the newer model’s higher resolution display and the 500 mAh drop in capacity.
Cellular reception was one of the stronger points of our testing, despite Sprint’s conveniently timed small outages during our time with the phone in the outskirts of Indianapolis. LTE connection was solid and speeds were impressive, and call quality was on the better side of average. One thing about the G Flex 2 is that thanks to its soft curve around your face, suddenly talking on the phone isn’t a daunting experience; you actually end up looking forward to the next phone call. It’s great.
+ Striking design and excellent build quality
+ Good camera performance outdoors
+ Impressive spec list
– Poor battery life
– Photos taken indoors lack saturation and detail
– Occasional sluggish performance
Pricing and Availability
The G Flex 2 came to Sprint stores back in February, and is being sold in both Volcano Red and Platinum Silver with a suggested retail price of $504 USD at the time of this review. You can also pick up the phone for $199.99 with a two-year contract, and for the less conventional, Sprint offers a $0 down financing option with 24 monthly installments of $21. Eventually the G Flex 2 will be made available at AT&T and U.S. Cellular as well, but for the time being your only option in the States is with Big Yellow.
Battery life is one of the biggest factors in most people’s buying decisions, and at the end of the day the G Flex 2’s battery just doesn’t last as long as it needs to. There’s also the issue of performance which, though vastly improved from the time of our review on the South Korean model, is still considerably less than on other Snapdragon 810-toting devices like the absurdly fast HTC One M9.
But the G Flex 2 isn’t defined by its flaws. It’s more than just LG showing off curved design again, it’s a refined and sophisticated smartphone that’s just as powerful as it is stylish. It’s one of the more comfortable handheld devices I’ve ever used despite being a bit bigger than I what typically prefer, and it’s almost impossible to take out in public without catching someone’s eye. For those reasons, I’d gladly overlook its minor shortcomings and carry it as my personal phone … if only the damn AT&T model would get here.
Despite its rocky start, the G Flex 2 is a great smartphone — it’s just not the smartphone for everyone. Those who don’t find added value in the curved screen will have a hard time justifying this phone against the tough competition on the market, and to those people I say … the LG G4 is right around the corner.