LG Optimus G Pro (unlocked) review: No stylus, but still a phablet done right

There are also six shooting modes, including HDR, beauty shot, panorama, and VR panorama. The last one is similar to the Nexus 4's "Photo Sphere" feature, which patches together several pictures from one viewing angle. However, instead of rendering it into a 360-degree spherical image like the Nexus does, a VR panorama photo ends up resembling what a 360-degree photo would look like if someone laid it out flat. Meaning, it looks like several long panoramic photos stitched together to make one wavy, wonky super-panoramic photo.

LG Optimus G Pro screenshot
Using dual-recording mode, I can record both the gloomy day in Barcelona, and my disdain for the rain. Lynn La/CNET

The front-facing 2.1-megapixel camera includes three photo sizes (from 1,280x960 to 1,920x1,088); two scene modes; and the same white balances and color effects. You'll also get geo-tagging, a timer, the option to save a picture's mirror image, voice shutter, and beauty shot.

Video recording options with the rear camera include five video sizes (from 176x144 to 1,920x1,080 pixels); antishaking; a brightness meter; the same white balances and color effects; and geotagging. There are four shooting modes, one of which is dual recording. This lets you record with both cameras simultaneously. The front-facing camera has all of the same video options except for the ability to record video at different exposure levels called WDR recording (think of it like HDR photos, but for video).

Photo quality was excellent, but it didn't blow me away. Shutter speed was fast, there was little to no lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback I saw, and taking panoramic shots was quick and smooth. With ample lighting, photos came out crisp and sharp, and objects were in focus. There were some incidents when auto white balance was off and colors came out inaccurate, however. For instance, a car that was a deep orange in real life came out distinctly red from the camera. Understandably, photos taken in dimmer lighting showed a lot more digital noise and blurriness. Colors also appeared more muted or colder than in real life. For the most part, however, photos were impressively detailed. For more photos from the G Pro, check out the slideshow below.

LG Optimus G Pro (outdoor)
On this cloudy day, you can still see details in the foreground tiles and the nuances of the trees and buildings in the background. Lynn La/CNET

LG Optimus G Pro (indoor)
This shot inside the Barcelona Cathedral is dark, but you can still see the details in the brick walls and ceiling. Lynn La/CNET

LG Optimus G Pro (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, colors remain in focus and sharp, even with the dim lighting. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording was also perfectly adequate. I did notice a slight lag between moving objects and the live feed from the viewfinder, but in general, recordings came out very clear and smooth. Audio picked up well and you can even adjust the focus of the audio (either left-, right-, or center-focused), when you play the video back. Colors were true to life and images were sharp. I do not like, though, the fact that you can only watch videos in landscape mode. If you hold the phone vertically, the video will be warped and stretched out, instead of simply being letterboxed to fit the portrait positioning.

Performance
I tested the unlocked LG Optimus G Pro on AT&T's network in our San Francisco office and call quality was excellent. Voices were clear and volume range was reasonable. During times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any static or extraneous buzzing sounds. None of the calls I made dropped and audio was always consistent, with no one cutting in and out. Likewise, I was told I sounded fine as well, and my voice sounded crisp and clean.

Speaker quality was also respectable. In the past with previous LG handsets like the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G, speaker quality was usually disappointing because audio would come off flat and harsh. However, voices from the G Pro's speaker sounded much more even and pure. Music also sounded full and clear. At maximum volume, I did get some tinniness, but this was minimal; overall, music sounded great.

Because the handset comes with Dolby Mobile technology, you can improve your music listening experience when you plug in headphones. In addition to a full EQ module you can customize, you have the ability to enhance the bass, treble, and vocals.

LG Optimus G Pro (AT&T) call quality sample

Listen now:


It's important to remember that while the G Pro is 4G LTE-capable, I had to test this unit on AT&T's 3G network. However, data speeds were still respectable, at times being much faster than midtier 4G phones. On average, the handset loaded CNET's mobile site in 12 seconds and our desktop site in 24 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 33 seconds, while its desktop version took 51 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 11 seconds, and its full site loaded in 52 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 2.71Mbps down and 1.0Mbps up. It took an average of 2 minutes and 51 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

LG Optimus G Pro Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 2.71Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 1.0Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 2 minutes and 51 seconds
CNET mobile site load 12 seconds
CNET desktop site load 24 seconds
Restart time 37 seconds
Camera boot time 1.78 seconds

The device is powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU, and it's one of the first to run a Snapdragon 600 processor. I can attest that it's incredibly fast -- small tasks like quitting to the home screen, browsing through the app drawer, pinch zooming, and scrolling through text were all executed without hesitation. And more complicated tasks were done just as smoothly. On average, it took just 1.78 seconds to launch the camera and 37 seconds to restart the phone altogether. During my time playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, there was no stuttering or unexpected shutdowns with the app. Graphics ran swiftly, with a high frame rate, and the phone was responsive to my slight movements.

LG Optimus G Pro Quadrant screenshot
Quadrant benchmark results for the G Pro's quad-core processor. Lynn La/CNET

During our battery drain test for the 3,140mAh battery, the handset lasted 7.15 hours for video playback and a whopping 22.37 hours for talk-time. Needless to say that anecdotally, it had a solid battery life. Standby time lasted for a couple of days, and the phone can survive a whole day, or at least a good portion of it, with high use.

Conclusion
Although the Optimus G Pro is a blatant manifestation of LG knocking on Samsung's Note door, the handset is still an excellent standalone device. Its 1.7GHz quad-core CPU keeps it running smoothly and swiftly, and the 1080p screen is nothing short of impressive.

But while I'm a fan of the handset, I remain cautious of its potential if and when it comes to the U.S. What's the point of giving consumers a great 5.5-inch display if you also don't give them a stylus as well? LG provided one with its Optimus Vu, so it makes it that much more odd that the Optimus G Pro doesn't get similar treatment.

True, lacking a stylus isn't a deal breaker. Not everybody uses one, and the phone doesn't come packed with a bunch of productivity apps that take full advantage of a stylus, save for QuickMemo. But considering the fact that its obvious rival, the Note 2, has one, I find it difficult to imagine a user choosing the Pro in lieu of the Note 2 given this notable oversight.

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