2014’s LG G Flex was a pretty interesting phone. In among the super-flagships of that year (most notably LG’s own G3) was a bendy Android with some of the worst marketing we’ve ever seen. This year, LG released its sequel (“The second coming of the banana phone,” as The Guardian memorably put it), with its standout curved screen bumped up from 720p to full HD, but reduced from 6 inches to 5.5.
We didn’t get on so well with LG’s other flagship of this year (so far), the LG G4. So how did we fare with its flexible friend (thankfully not clad in leather this time)? Here’s our LG G Flex 2 review.
1. The LG G Flex 2 handset
- 149.1 x 75.3 x 8.9mm
- Colours: Platinum Silver, Flamenco Red (though the red doesn’t seem to be stocked by UK networks and retailers, and the silver is usually described as black)
Without the curve, this is a pretty bog-standard looking handset. But since it’s bendy, prepare yourself for a heck of a lot of questions – these included:
“OMG, did you sit on your phone?”
“Is that one of those flexible phones I’ve read about?”
“Lolol banana phone”
That’ll drive some people crazy, but personally I really like it. It’s the beauty of Android – having the kind of crazy-ass bendy handset that makes people do a double-take. No one asks iPhone users what phone they have.
I’m a big fan of the curve from a practical perspective too – it’s more comfortable in your back pocket, it feels better cradled against your face, and LG say it makes calls 3 decibels louder because the microphone is closer to your mouth. You can actually put the phone face-down and press on it to make it flat (and people will ask you to) – but LG point out that you should only do it for short times. I wouldn’t do it at all. Don’t break your phones, folks.
The back of the handset has a pleasing circular pattern (‘hairline spin’ in LG-speak), and is reputedly self-healing – LG demonstrated the feature with scouring pads at Mobile World Congress. However, despite the blurb saying it can “recover beautifully from minor scratches,” I’ve been carrying mine for a month and there are already some gouges on the back.
The LG logo appears on both sides of the phone, and as with the LG G4, the buttons are on the back. You’ll find the power button in the middle, surrounded by a volume rocker. They’re a bit easier to use on the G Flex 2 than the G4, because the power button is about twice the size, making screenshots and suchlike easier to manage without looking. Taking screenshots was a minor annoyance on the G4, so this is good to see.
Otherwise, the two phones look very similar from the back, even down to the speaker and headphone jack placement:
And from the front, they’re even closer:
Put them side by side, though, and you’ll see the major difference:
In short, then, the LG G Flex 2 looks a lot like a G4 that’s been sat on.
Comparisons aside, it’s a good-looking phone and a definite conversation piece. I much prefer the red edition to the grey, and it’s a real shame that it doesn’t seem to be available in this country, but even in the duller colour it’s smart enough to show off.
2. LG G Flex 2 speaker
As with the G4, the speaker on the G Flex 2 is on the bottom-left of the back panel. I usually find this placement quite irritating, as it’s easy to muffle with the heel of your hand and you have to put the phone face-down if you’re placing it on a surface – but the curve of the GF2 is actually a big benefit here. It lifts the grille away from the surface so even face-up on a table, the speaker is free to play music at full volume.
Sound goes up to what I’d call slightly-too-loud (for personal listening, anyhow – don’t be the person playing party music out of a phone), and the back panel only vibrates slightly at the highest volume. Sound is clear and rounded – this isn’t one of those phones that outputs thin, tinny music.
3. LG G Flex 2 screen
- Full HD (1920 x 1080/403 pixels per inch)
The 720p screen was one of the disappointments on the G Flex 2’s predecessor, so LG have seen sense and bumped it up to 1080. However, understandably it pales in comparison to the G4’s IPS Quantum quad-HD display, with whites looking creamier and the picture seeming further below the surface than on the G4. At Carphone Warehouse prices, these two phones currently cost the same, and the substantially cheaper LG G3 also has a quad-HD screen. So while 1080 is fair at this price point for the market in general, compared to other LGs it’s a bit of a letdown.
It’s a P-OLED display, with the P standing for ‘polymer’ – in other words, it’s part plastic. This is to facilitate the dramatic curve of the screen, and to add flexibility. LG memorably ask you to “Imagine a ball with a 700mm radius” (erm… I’m trying…) and then state that the phone’s screen would hug the edge of the ball. Alternatively, think of it as the same level of bendiness you’d see on a 55-inch curved TV – or just pretty curved for a phone.
It’s protected with Gorilla Glass 3, ie the previous generation of Gorilla Glass, and LG say they’ve added a chemical and heat treatment that also ups durability by 20%. In addition to that, the screen is 30% more likely to survive a face-down drop, due to the curve – though in my experience, it’s not face-down drops that have smashed my screen. It’s those buggers where it hits the ground on a corner. But I digress.
The curve adds a pleasant cinematic feeling when you’re watching movies (or, realistically, RuPaul) sideways on the G Flex 2. Viewing angles are slightly worse than on most flat phones, though, and I did notice some darkening at the top and bottom of the screen when reading Kindle books.
Speaking of darkening, there isn’t enough on this display. I like to turn my phone way down when I’m reading before bed (I know: don’t read on a phone before bed, hurr hurr) and it just doesn’t go low enough. Not even close. Max brightness is better, but it could do with a couple more levels for sunny days – and again top brightness is dimmer than the G4’s. Auto-brightness is also prone to the surprisingly endemic problem of constantly over-darkening the phone for the ambient light level – so I had to turn it off, which will dent battery life.
4. LG G Flex 2 hardware
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (2.0GHz octa-core, 64-bit)
- 2GB RAM
- 4G LTE
It’s worth noting that there are two versions of the G Flex 2 floating around the global market: the 16GB/2GB version and the 32GB/3GB. We tried the UK version, ie the 16GB/2GB and it performs very well – except when you push it a bit. Then, like the G4, it gets laggy.
The G Flex 2 was the first phone to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, and it sadly suffers with the chip’s infamous overheating problem. This baby gets hot, and the lag is particularly bad when it does. Taking it on the tube means it’ll get to almost uncomfortable temperatures, and performance really suffers. I’ve actually been embarrassed sometimes that people in the seats next to me will see how long it’s taking my phone to launch an app. And on quitting one, I often had to stare at the empty homescreen for what felt like forever while it put all the apps and settings back.
When it’s not hot, performance is snappy and smooth – it’s only when I’m using it intensively or the ambient temperature is high that I notice problems. But it’s bad enough that I was getting really frustrated with the phone after a month’s use. At this price point, it’s not good enough, and I said the same of the G4.
5. LG G Flex 2 software
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
The G Flex 2 runs Lollipop with an LG skin over the top, including the homescreen-based Smart Notice widget. It’s designed to be similar to Google Now, and is thus kind of pointless – much like most of LG’s other tweaks to Android. Yes, manufacturers have to distinguish themselves somehow in a crowded market, but making pointless changes to an excellent OS is akin to the junior marketing manager making the slogan worse just so he’s had a say. It happens all the time, and no one benefits.
That said, I do like Smart Notice for its weather updates, provided by AccuWeather. It usually gets my location completely wrong (it likes to lock onto somewhere I was yesterday, and even refreshing won’t change its mind), but it also makes me smile sometimes. Which is a feat in a manufacturer widget.
The rest of the functions of Smart Notice are not so useful. Occasionally (like today, in fact) it’ll make three notification noises in a row. You pick up your phone, puzzled, and it excitedly tells you that you have apps you don’t use! And space you could maximise! And downloaded files you might not need! Um, thanks. Was that really worth making noise for?
I’m also not keen on LG’s changes to the Android menu system, needlessly subcategorising everything so it’s actually harder to find what you need. But the animations on the quick settings icons are nice, and it’s cool that you can change app icons if you want to:
Sadly, there’s quite a significant downside to the software on the GF2. It has an incredibly frustrating WiFi issue whereby it’ll declare your connection ‘poor’ and refuse to cooperate. It constantly drops WiFi or won’t connect in the first place. It does this at home, at work and on the tube, so I know it’s not just my network – and in fact, Engadget had the same problem. There’s nothing wrong with the networks – there’s something amiss with the software.
6. LG G Flex 2 storage
- 16GB storage
- MicroSD slot
Hooray! There are still phones with microSD slots! I’d started to think they were a myth after all the recent releases leaving them out (*side eyes Samsung*). This is a major plus point for the GF2, especially with the somewhat meagre 16GB of inbuilt storage.
The G4 comes with 32GB, but you’ll need it a lot more on that phone with its super-high-quality photos and the ability to shoot in RAW. 16GB for nearly £500 is a bit insulting, though – SD slot or no SD slot.
7. LG G Flex 2 selfie camera
- ‘Gesture Shot’ feature
The G Flex 2 has the same camera specs as the LG G3: a 13MP main camera and 2.1MP selfie cam. The G4 got a considerable upgrade to 16GB main and 8MP selfie, but again, costs the same as the GF2.
The selfie camera on the G Flex 2 is OK. 2.1MP is pretty low for 2015, and it really struggles in low light, but does have the benefit of the Gesture Shot feature we mentioned in our G4 review: put your palm up to the phone, then make a fist (in other words, offer a high-five, then a fist-bump. The phone will leave you hanging for both, because it doesn’t have arms). That automatically sets the selfie timer ticking, and when the picture’s taken, you can view it by bringing the phone towards your face. Handy.
You can use either of the back-mounted volume keys as a shutter button, and they’re really well-placed for selfies, being exactly where your finger rests. If this were 8MP, it’d be a terrific selfie phone.
LG G Flex 2 selfie camera samples:
8. LG G Flex 2 main camera
- 13MP rear camera
- Laser autofocus, optical image stabilisation, dual-LED flash
The 13MP main camera on the GF2 is quick to focus and snap, and in good light it takes detailed, colourful pictures. It performs less well in low light, or with particularly bright subjects. Snap what you’re watching on TV and you’ll have light leaking out on both sides – as we found when we tried to photograph Buddy the robot:
The laser focus is good, though, and usually finds the right subject. There’s optical image stabilisation to try to negate the effects of camera shake, and the dual LED flash leads to more natural portraits.
Overall, it’s a great camera – but again, considering that the LG G4 with its famously stellar camera is the same price, it still feels a bit lacking.
LG G Flex 2 camera samples
9. LG G Flex 2 battery life
- Fast charging
This is one of the real high points of this phone. Packing a 3000mAh battery, the GF2 has the same capacity as the G4 but without the quad-HD screen to power. That means it usually lasts the day (and I’m a heavy user), especially if you keep auto-brightness on. I was actually really impressed by the battery life on this phone – you could probably go more than a day on a charge if you do less Snapchatting than me.
There’s a fast charger included in the box, which provides a half-charge in 45 minutes or so. An hour of screen time on max brightness will cost you 16% of battery, which is not bad. It’s not removable, of course, but we’ve come to expect that in 2015.
10. LG G Flex 2 UK price and availability
SIM-free, it costs £479.99 from places like Carphone Warehouse and PC World, but it’s also available a lot cheaper elsewhere online. Just make sure you get it from somewhere reputable, and pay with a credit card (not debit) so you’re protected.
For about £300, we’d be fairly happy with this phone. But at current costs – at least from the big-name retailers – it’s overpriced. A lot of the specs are on par with 2014’s G3 (the main difference being the processor), which is now over £100 cheaper, and the flagship G4 is the same price.
This phone shouldn’t be positioned or priced as a flagship: it’s a mid-ranger. And a good one, too: I could definitely make a case for it against some of the other excellent phones in the £300 range. It looks cool, lasts ages, takes great pictures and has some really thoughtful features (like the button placement, or Gesture Shot). Yes, it has some big flaws: the WiFi issue, the overheating issue and the lag, but that’s much more acceptable in a mid-range than a flagship. In short, this being priced the same as LG’s big flagship of 2015 (so far, anyway) is a mistake.
If you can get it for sub-£300 or on a good contract deal and you like something a little different, though, this could be the droid you’re looking for.