It's time to pit LG's latest curvy handset against its 2014 flagship.
The LG G3 was one of our favorite Android devices of 2014, bringing a super-sharp Quad HD display resolution and a 5.5-inch screen size packed into a surprisingly hand-friendly smartphone. Even a year on, it's a decent buy.
However the G3 has competition from a more recent LG phone. Even though the LG G Flex 2 isn't usurping its predecessor's position as LG's flagship phone, it's a natural rival for buyers looking to pick up a high-end phone — particularly those inclined to choose an LG device. These are two phones with many contrasting features, and we'll break them all down in our G Flex 2 versus G3 comparison.
1. Hardware and Specs
We're looking at two plastic LG-made phones here, built around a similar design language. Despite this, the LG G3 and G Flex 2 are surprisingly dissimilar to hold and use — and there are big and small reasons for these differences. First off, one's flat and the other's curvy. The G3 features a curved back and rounded corners, but this is mostly a run-of-the-mill square rectangle. By comparison, the G Flex 2 in its entirety is curved and flexible — including the chassis, display and battery. The idea is you can sit down with the G Flex 2 in your back pocket and it'll suffer no permanent harm.
The same, but different.
Elsewhere, the family similarities are plain to see. LG's rear-mounted buttons, of which we're fans, dominate the back of the phone, below the 13-megapixel camera. LG's using the same sensor in both phones, though the 'Flex boasts upgraded OIS+ (optical image stabilization) compared to the OIS+ G3's camera module. The same goes for the laser autofocus designed to speed up focusing times — improved on paper, but we're noticing relatively few differences in real world use.
The backs of the devices are also radically different. The G3's is a traditional plastic with an anti-smudge coating and faux-metal design, while the G Flex opts for a glossier finish with an "self-healing" layer. As a result, both feel very different in the hand. The G3's is a little slick, though still easy to hold onto, while the G Flex 2 feels almost tacky, though not in a way that attracts fingerprints. And that unique coating comes with a few side effects — the G Flex 2 is a magnet for dust and lint, and we've found it's actually more prone to heavy scratching than the G3. The unique makeup of the self-healing layer will recover, with heat, from minor nicks, but deeper cuts are going to remain, and they'll stand out like a sore thumb.
On paper there's a generation's difference, but in day-to-day use the G Flex 2 and G3 feel equally responsive.
When it comes to internals, these two represent the natural progression in smartphone technology in the past year — Snapdragon 801 (quad-core) in the G3 versus the new 64-bit Snapdragon 810 (octa-core) in the G Flex 2. These are two radically different processors, the former using Qualcomm's Krait architecture and the latter combining low-power four ARM Cortex A53 cores with four high-power A57s in a big.LITTLE configuration. We're also looking at a 32-bit phone versus a 64-bit one, though that's not going to make any huge difference to the average user.
As our testing revealed, the G Flex 2 pulled ahead of the G3 substantially in graphics-based benchmarks, suggesting its beefier GPU (and lower screen resolution) should make it a faster gaming phone. In regular day-to-day app use, however, the difference isn't nearly as pronounced, and if anything it feels like it's software, not hardware holding these two phones back.
LG G Flex 2 versus LG G3 specs
|Category||LG G Flex 2||LG G3|
|Display||5.5-inch 1080x1920 Plastic OLED (403 ppi)||5.5-inch 1440x2560 IPS LCD (538 ppi)|
|Operating system||Android 5.0 Lollipop||Android 4.4 KitKat
(5.0 Lollipop upgrade available in some countries)
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 at 2.0 GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 at 2.5 GHz|
|RAM||2GB or 3GB LPDDR4, depending on region||2GB or 3GB LPDDR3, depending on region|
|Storage||16GB or 32GB eMMC, microSD card||16GB or 32GB eMMC, microSD card|
|Rear camera||13 megapixels with OIS+, laser autofocus, dual flash||13 megapixels with OIS+, laser autofocus, dual flash|
|Front camera||2.1 megapixels||2.1 megapixels|
|Network||3xCA, 300Mbps theoretical max||4G LTE, speed varies by region|
|Battery||3,000 mAh non-removable with quick charging||3,000 mAh removable battery|
|Size||149.1 x 75.3 x 7.1-9.4mm||146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm|
|Weight||152 grams||149 grams|
|Connectivity||Wifi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 2.0, NFC||Wifi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + APT-x, NFC, USB 2.0|
The displays are arguably the biggest point of differentiation between these two phones, despite their identical measurement of 5.5 inches. The LG G3 was the first mainstream phone with a Quad HD display — an IPS LCD panel with an enormous 2560x1440 resolution, whereas the G Flex 2 downscales to a Full HD (1920x1080) screen using LG's flexible P-OLED technology.
The G3's display offers a less compromised visual experience.
And neither is perfect, but the win, in our view, has to go to the G3.
Aside from its resolution advantage, the G3 doesn't suffer from the graininess we've witnessed in the G Flex 2 at lower brightness levels. What's more, it's possible to actually crank down the display to a comfortable level for use in the dark, whereas the G Flex is saddled with an alarmingly high brightness floor. When it comes to color quality, you'll get deeper blacks and slightly more contrasty colors on the G Flex, though to our eyes the G3 remains the more pleasing to look at.
A quick glance at color charts reveals LG's doing less contrast-enhancement on the G Flex 2 than the G3 — on the latter in particular, there's some weirdness going on with reds causing this color to be boosted more than others. And then there's the image sharpening filter applied aggressively on the G3, but absent from the G Flex 2. It's not to everyone's tastes, but it hasn't bothered us all that much in several months of using the G3.
Newer model: LG G4
3. Software and Performance
Here's where these two devices are most alike. For the most part, the LG G Flex 2 and G3 present an identical software experience, with only a few small changes and additional features in the newer model. That is, assuming your carrier has rolled out the Android 5.0 update for the G3. Not all have, particularly in the U.S. where holdouts like Verizon still haven't pushed out Lollipop for their G3s. (In Europe and Asia, the update's been rolling out since late 2014.)
You'll use the same LG UI on both devices, complete with features like Smart Notice, KnockOn and KnockCode.
So both phones run Android 5.0 Lollipop — the G3 with an update, the G Flex 2 out of the box — along with the latest LG UI. For all the under-the-hood changes in Lollipop, LG's software hasn't changed a whole lot since we first reviewed the LG G3 almost a year ago. It's a UI dominated by squares and circles, and muted pastel tones. As such, it's not as overbearing as some more colorful Android UIs, though it's a reasonably big departure from the subtlety of Google's Material Design. And on the whole, the current LG UI still feels like using a KitKat phone — only a handful of the delightful animations you'll find in stock Android have survived the addition of LG's software layer.
What's there is mostly inoffensive, though, and a sizeable improvement on the technicolor mess found on earlier LG smartphones. Major LG features include the Smart Notice widget, combining a typical weather clock with a Google Now-like card deck, designed to send you useful notifications based on how you use your phone. For instance, if you've received a missed call but haven't called that person back in a while, it'll notify you. Similarly, you'll get advance warnings of upcoming birthdays from your contacts.
LG's also offering a bunch of innovative ways to power on and unlock both devices, through KnockOn and KnockCode. The former lets you double-tap to power-on the device — useful if the regular power button isn't accessible because the phone is laying flat. The latter adds extra security by letting you set a specific pattern of taps, similar to a pattern lock. And LG has expanded upon this on the G Flex 2 with Glance View, which lets you preview the time and notification icons by dragging down on the screen when it's powered off.
The biggest problem, however, is performance — and it's an area in which neither device excels compared to the competition. LG's done a lot to streamline the G3's performance since the first early firmware builds we used last May, but we're still seeing occasional performance hitches even on Lollipop, and surprisingly that's also true of the G Flex 2, despite its beefier Snapdragon 810 processor.
Like the software experience, the camera setup of the LG G3 and G Flex 2 are pretty much identical. There's the same 13-megapixel shooter around the back, with LG's OIS+ tech for optical stabilization and laser-assisted autofocus. The optical stabilization and laser AF units have both been upgraded in the G Flex 2 — and the Snapdragon 810's faster ISP (image signal processor) should speed things along a little too. But in reality we've noticed virtually no difference the imaging capabilities of these two phones.
Both devices offer essentially the same Android camera experience — and it's still one of the best out there.
The 13-megapixel rear camera is competent in most situations, with LG's uncomplicated camera software and hardware stabilization doing a good job of avoiding blurred shots, and enabling HDR mode where necessary. That hardware stabilization also allows both devices to shine in low-light conditions, where it lets the shutter stay open for vital additional fractions of a second, leading to brighter, less noisy shots. Our only real complaint with stills has to do with LG's tendency to aggressive reduce image noise, which inevitably scrubs away some fine detail as well.
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Video recording is also supported at up to 4K resolution on both rear cameras, though if you opt to crank it all the way up to UHD you'll only be able to record for bursts of 5 minutes at a time. Again, both devices benefit from added stabilization thanks to OIS+.
Both phones also include a handy shortcut to quickly launch the camera app when the phone's asleep — simply long press the volume down key.
The G Flex 2 does have one unique capability going for it, though. The camera app has been tweaked to work better with selfie sticks — simply lower the phone after taking a selfie to see a preview, then raise it again to return to the viewfinder. It's especially useful when combined with LG's gesture shooting mode — assuming the idea of selfie sticks appeals to you in the first place.
On paper, both the G Flex 2 and the G3 have identical battery capacities of 3,000mAh. That's where the similarities end, though. The G Flex 2's battery is fixed within its chassis, despite the removable back panel, while the G3's is fully removable, allowing you to swap in a replacement if it's going to be a long day. What's more, the G3 comes with Qi wireless charging built in in some countries, while others offer Qi-enabled back panels as an accessory. So already the G3 is looking like the more versatile performer.
The choice is between fast charging on the 'Flex, and a removable battery and optional Qi charging on the G3.
The G Flex 2 does come with one trick up its sleeve, though — fast charging. Using the bundled LG charger, you can restore a flagging G Flex 2 from zero to 50 percent charge in just 40 minutes.
When it comes to actual battery life, things are a little muddier, given the differences in components and display types. In our experience, though, the G3 manages to outlast its more powerful sibling, managing between 14 and 16 hours of mixed use on Wifi and 4G LTE, versus 11 or 12 hours on the G Flex 2. What's more, screen-on time seemed to take less of a toll on the G3, with that device routinely lasting for up to four hours with the display on, compared to between two and three on the G Flex 2.
Between all those factors, we have to hand the win to the G3 in this area.
6. The Bottom Line
The LG G3 and G Flex 2 are both decent phones which serve to demonstrate just how far LG has come in the past year. The former is one of 2014's most capable Android flagships, while the latter shows LG's willingness to experiment and bring to market crazy products that no other OEM would even consider.
But there can only be one winner, and in this instance we've decided to go with the G3. It might not boast the updated internals of the 'Flex, but the G3 remains a solid all-round smartphone in early 2015, arguably more so than the newer model. It's got a better-looking display with no weird brightness limits or graininess, a more durable back panel and superior battery life, with more charging options in the form of Qi wireless charging and swappable batteries. And while the G Flex 2 might perform better in demanding games, there's just not that much difference in day-to-day performance between the two.
Besides the hardware, the G3's Lollipop update brings it up to date with the firmware running on the G Flex 2. And the G3's current position in its life cycle opens up the possibility of picking one up at a significant discount compared to the G Flex. Those wanting the very best from LG may want to wait on the expected LG G4, rumored to be just a couple of months away. In the meantime, LG's 2014 flagship remains a good buy, and arguably the best LG handset on the market.
Agree or disagree with our choice? Shout out in the comments. And be sure to read our reviews of both the LG G3 and G Flex 2 for an in-depth look at both handsets.