Innovation is a tricky. So tricky, in fact, that LG gave up on it. Instead, it merely aped its chaebol brethren, Samsung. Or more specifically, the Note 2. But that's not necessarily bad. The Note and Note 2 spearheaded the phablet revolution, and if you're going to copy, you may as well copy from the best, right?
Well, yes and no. The caveat is, of course, make sure to bite the best parts, while leaving out the shortcomings. Adapt and make it better. And while the Optimus G Pro manages to follow both rules -- packing in a brilliant 5.5-inch behemoth screen and a speedy 1.7-gigahertz chip -- it forgot the third caveat: don't mess up a good thing.
LG tinkered with the software. It still runs the latest version of Android, dubbed Jelly Bean, but the interface makes it incredibly frustrating to use. And the camera? Well, LG was never very good at cameras.
At almost six inches tall, and three inches wide, the G Pro is a pocket-ripper. It's simply gargantuan. Every time I bent down, I felt the glass uncomfortably pushing up against my buttocks. I thought my pants would literally burst apart. I'm just glad the corners are rounded. Now, I have average-sized hands, and I couldn't use it without both mitts. When I stretched my thumb to reach the very top and bottom of the display, I nearly dropped it on the ground. And I wouldn't recommend without two firm grips. To be fair, it's about the same size and shape as the Note 2.
It's a hair slimmer than the Samsung, with a textured plastic back that makes it a little more comfortable to hold. The glossy coating is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, though. If you like to jot down ideas, a quick button on the left opens LG's memo-taking app. You can set it to boot up other apps, as well -- I fixed mine to the camera. The location makes it easy to mishit, though, and I kept pressing it instead of adjusting the volume. An oblong home button below the screen lights up in various colors when you have a notification.
The 5.5-inch IPS display is simply gorgeous. At 1080-by-1920 resolution and a 400-pixel per inch density, it's sharper and more detailed than the Note 2's 267-pixels and blows away the iPhone's famed Retina display with 326. Movies and Web browsing are wonderfully clear and vibrant. But if I had to nitpick, there is a slight bluish tint that's noticeable on whites, ever so slightly.
It still pales in comparison to the top-end HTC One and Galaxy S4 with 469 and 441-pixels per inch, respectively, but they can't match the size of the G Pro's screen. If you want a phone to watch movies on, this is it.
Despite the higher count, the 13-megapixel camera is worse than some 8-megapixel lenses. Even under ideal conditions -- outdoors in bright light -- photos turn out fuzzier than on the S4. In low-light, pictures are a bit soft. Colors are often dull or overexposed, too. And if you zoom in, you'll see a loss of detail.
VR panorama mode, which mimics Google's photo spheres and lets you take a 3-D picture, is so blurry it's downright unusable. Time catch mode, meanwhile, snaps photos before you actually press the shutter, giving you interesting and unexpected shots.
I did like dual-recording, but it's a bit of a gimmick. You can record a 1080p clip while simultaneously shooting your reaction on the front-facing 2.1-megapixel lens at the same time. If that sounds familiar, that's because the S4 came out with it. You can also snap photos while shooting video.
You get the standard cache of functions, like white balance, aperture and shutter speed, and if you don't want to fidget around, an intelligent auto mode can do it for you. The camera add-ons are great, but they don't make up for the poor lens and sensor. And if you care about image quality, the One and S4, frankly, have better systems.
It runs on Jelly Bean, but LG's interface is just awful. Some tweaks -- like the ugly, cartoonish icons, blue color scheme and LG's gigantic clock on the homescreen -- are more annoying than deal-breaks. But others, like the app drawer, are a jumbled mess. It lets you see what apps you've install, but you can't organize them in any reasonable way -- what you download gets stuck in the back.
Rather than the two-panel approach of the Note 2, LG uses "QSlide," which overlays up to three semi-transparent windows -- think of picture-in-picture for apps. You jot down notes, watch videos or use the calculator without exiting what you're doing. The international version lets you load the browser. In theory, it sounds great, but it's just not that practical with the limited screen space. They crowd out important notifications. And I found it easier just to exit and switch apps. Unfortunately, you can't disable the windows.
With Quick Memo, you can jot down notes in various nib sizes and colors. Again, it's a page from Samsung's book, but the G Pro lacks a stylus. Despite what Steve Jobs says, the finger is not that accurate for writing. You can scribble a phone number or doodle atop photos, but anything more and you'll see fat-finger syndrome. Note-taking is one time I wished I had a stylus, and the Note 2 is more accurate and useful.
View talk lets you write on the same screen in real-time between two devices, but only if it's a G Pro, too.
AT&T's added a bit of bloatware. In total, you'll be bogged down with 15 apps that you can't remove, ranging from useless paid services like Navigator and Mobile TV to actually helpful ones like Smart Wi-Fi to find free hotspots and the Kindle app. LG also added an infrared port, so you control household appliances like TVs, cable boxes, entertainment equipment and even air conditioning units. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually found it simple and easy to use.
With NFC, you can program phone settings on tags to trigger when you walk by them. So, for example, you can program a tag to silence your phone and then leave it in a conference room. When you walk into a meeting, it'll automatically mute your phone. For about $20, you get a handful of tags to set. And it's a cheap, yet versatile, way to automatically adjust settings at work, home or in the car.
Meanwhile, the 1.7-gigahertz quad-core chip and 2-gigabytes of RAM is powerful and fast. It's incredibly quick and responsive and everything ran smoothly, from graphics-intensive games to simultaneous apps. It's one of the best parts of the device.
Massive screens tend to drain battery, but the G Pro lasts nearly a day and a half with moderate use, and about six hours with heavy use -- full brightness, 4G and video streaming. It comes with 32-gigabytes of storage, but only 23-gigabytes is free due to all that bloatware. For most, that's enough -- you can load a bunch of songs and movies -- but if you need more, just pop off the back and slip in a microSD card.
It also runs on AT&T's 4G LTE service for rates of about 20-megabits per second. If there's no coverage, it drops back to 3.5G.
If you want some serious screen space, the G Pro is designed for you. But make sure you try it in-store first, it's not for the small of hand. And even if you have big paws, don't think you're going to use it with just one hand.
The hardware is excellent -- the display is bright, the processor is speedy. But the bigger issue is the interface. It's chunky and poorly planned. A lot of ideas are useful, but the execution, like QSlide and the app drawer, is poor.
LG took a step forward for with the Optimus G was a, but G Pro takes a step back. Aside from the software flaws, the lens produces often blurry photos. And if you don't need a gargantuan display, I'd recommend the S4 and One over the G Pro. Both are great alternatives that give you the complete package. But, of course, the displays are much smaller.
If you need a phablet, though, there's always the Note 2. The camera is better and the note-taking app is more accurate. It's the king of phablets for a reason. ♦
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