Curved. Adjective: A sure indicator that a phone is designed around a gimmick. Sample sentence: "Hey, I bought a curved phone yesterday," said the dumb gadget enthusiast. At least, that's how it's been for the past couple years. LG's new G Flex 2 redefines the word.
This phone has been in my pocket for about five days now, and honestly it just feels like pure future. At one point I had to switch to my daily driver, an Xperia Z3, to access some interviews, and it felt like I just Deloreaned back in time. What is this boring, uncurved slab of a phone?
The curve, especially at 5.5-inches, does almost everything better. Simply using the screen is more comfortable since your thumb naturally arcs outward when scrolling, and the slight curve draws your attention inward instead of just being a blank slate. Netflix? More immersive. Games? Easier to play, especially titles with software thumbsticks. You can even slide this guy into your pocket pretty comfortably, with the screen towards your leg (or butt).
Yeah, you'll run into a few annoyances after years of using flat phones. I tend to do hunt-and-peck typing on my desk when I'm working, and because of the curve, the phone kind of bounces all over the place. Also, getting a grip on the phone can be a little strange when pulling it out of your pocket. But these are minor annoyances overshadowed by big improvements.
The original G Flex was a thought experiment. LG was curious if it could make something different, and at scale. But the original's 6-inch display made it an unwieldy monster, and the 720p resolution felt pretty lackluster when top-tier phones were generally 1080p. It also predated LG's major UI redesign with the G3, so even the software had a painful 2012 vibe.
Now, all of that is gone. In a rare move for any smartphone, let alone one that's curved, LG scaled down the screen to a more reasonable 5.5 inch, 1080p OLED display, and baked its UI directly into Android Lollipop. Oh, and it's one of the first phones available with Qualcomm's beefy new Snapdragon 810 processor.
But this phone isn't about predictable specs that you'll find on any upgrade. This phone is about dat curve, and it's the best curve on a smartphone you can buy. Sure, Samsung's got its Galaxy Note Edge (and possibly S6 Edge), but that's little more than a glorified notifications ticker on a normal flat device. We're talking about the whole phone here, Nexus S style.
I've been driving with the "flamenco red" version, which LG says will be a Sprint exclusive, but the Silver one will show up at AT&T and U.S. Cellular (though pricing and exact dates haven't been announced).
The volume rocker and power button still hang out underneath the 13 megapixel camera on the back of the phone, which for the most part is fine. Especially because it lets the edges of the phone stay nice and thin. Speaking of that camera, it's the same as the one on the LG G3, complete with laser autofocus and optical image stabilization. We gave the G3 camera thumbs up last year, and it delivers the same experience here. Low light still tends to suffer a bit, with some glare issues, but I was mostly happy with what I saw.
Now you can't immediately tell looking at it, but the phone's back is removable. It's hard plastic with a glossy finish. Yes, glossy. Like Samsung Galaxy S III glossy. But not cheap. It may not have the premium chiseled aluminum that defines most high-dollar devices nowadays, but it is by no means cheap looking (or feeling).
Of course, a removable back means you can pop off the casing and have easy access to your SIM card. And here's a big bonus: a microSD card slot, a rare unicorn for premium smartphones. Unfortunately the 3,000mAh battery is stubbornly tucked away, but my G Flex 2 can last one day on a full charge, no problem, and make some serious headway on day No. 2 before blinking out.
The software here is great too, though my experience most likely will differ from any G Flex 2 you'd get in the United States. Since the G Flex 2 will actually release in LG's home country before making it to the U.S., I've been using a Korean model that honestly makes me super glad I don't live in Korea. So. Much. Bloat. So some of the software hiccups and weird processing issues most likely aren't present on the U.S. versions.
I will say that I had a horrible, horrible defect where the G Flex 2 would just freeze and then reboot. The flaw was obviously specific to my handset and LG is sending along a new unit. So we'll see if I just had a bum smartphone or if there really is reason to worry.
Update: All is good. I've been using the second G Flex 2 (gray this time!) for a couple days now and have no performances issues. Must have been a one-off fluke.
When the G Flex 2 wasn't randomly rebooting and disrupting my Deafheaven Spotify sessions, the software feels even more cohesive here than on the G3, mainly because LG's approach to flat icons with Optimus UI mixes well with Google's own Material Design in Android Lollipop. In some instances, LG even adds some functionality. For example, the drop-down notification menu is much more simple and better designed than stock Android. But there are a few misteps, like LG's Health and Tips menu instead of the always wonderful Google Now utility. You win some and you lose some, but at least the Flex 2 looks good doing it.
But more so than its software or screen resolution or awesome battery life, the LG G Flex 2's greatest contribution is just making a curved smartphone a thing, pulling it up from its experimental, quirky, gimmicky, prototype bootstrap of a definition, and making it something worthy of your attention.
Maybe this year, "curved" can also mean "great."
Photos by Michael Hession and Nicholas Stango
LG G Flex 2 Specs
• Network: AT&T, Sprint, U.S. Cellular
• OS: Lollipop 5.0 with Optimus UI
• CPU: Snapdragon 810 (2.0GHz 64-bit octo-core)
• Screen: 5.5-inch Full HD Super OLED (408ppi)
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 32GB plus micro SD up to 2TB
• Camera: 13MP rear (with laser autofocus and OIS+) / 2.1 MP front
• Battery: 3000 mAh (non-removable)
• Price: Not announced (the original G Flex was $300 on contract)