LG's massive new phablet may offer blazing performance on a gorgeous screen, but its design flaws cost it a few points for style.
Editors' note, March 13, 2014: This review has been updated with additional data and call performance analysis.
With the new G Pro 2, LG hopes to make would-be Note 3 buyers think twice. Like Samsung's popular phablet, the Pro 2 boasts a huge, bright, and colorful HD screen as well as an excellent 13-megapixel camera. LG also packs in plenty of software tricks and UI enhancements to throw veteran Android users a curve or two.
Of course the G Pro 2 will have a tough time deflecting potential Note 3 shoppers off target. While LG's latest creation matches the current phone/tablet hybrid in terms of power and components, its design isn't quite as classy as that of Samsung's killer, overgrown smartphone. Additionally the G Pro 2 lacks a stylus, so it can't tackle the same inventive S Pen features that the Note line brings to the table. That said, while the unlocked, Korean model of the G Pro 2 we reviewed isn't sold in US or Europe, if you can grab it for significantly less than the Note 3, it's one heck of a bargain no matter where you live.
Key hardware components and what's improved
The new G Pro 2 represents a huge leap forward, especially when compared with the older Optimus G Pro. While the previous Optimus G Pro relied on a quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 processor, the G Pro 2 uses a much more robust quad-core 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, similar to LG's highly popular Google Nexus 5.
The device also features an Adreno 330 GPU, and the removable battery's capacity jumped from 3,140mAh to 3,200mAh.The Pro 2's screen's bigger, too: 5.9 now as opposed to 5.5 inches. As for its camera prowess, it has a rear-facing 13-megapixel camera (more on that later) and a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter.
Measuring 6.2 inches tall, 3.2 inches wide, and just 0.3 inch thick, the G Pro 2 is available in three colors: white, silver, and titan, aka black. Just like the previous G Pro, the device is massive. People with small hands will definitely have to use both of them to navigate the handset properly. When held side by side with the gargantuan G Flex, the G Pro 2 is just as large. There is a setting, however, that you can turn on to shrink the display image (more on that later).
Like LG's current marquee handset, the G2, the Pro 2 houses its physical control keys (including the power and volume buttons) on its back. LG has also added a lustrous but subtle overlay on the battery door, which we personally like since it gives a premium feel to the phone.
That said, the faux-leather backing of the Galaxy Note 3 is more comfortable to hold and adds an extra touch of sophistication. By comparison the G Pro 2's thin edges possess an almost bladelike sharpness, not a trait handheld objects should have.
Along with its superslim 3.33mm bezel (which has a subtle glitter pattern that's only noticeable in the light), the phone is equipped with a 5.9-inch full-HD IPS display that has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. Though that's a size bump compared with its predecessor, pixel density has slightly decreased from 400ppi to 373ppi. We did not, however, notice any downgrade in quality. When viewing a sample HD video, images looked crisp, bright, and clear. True to LG devices, whites looked especially pure, and viewing angles were pleasingly wide.New software goodies from LG
Knock Code combines turning on your phone and unlocking the lock screen into one action. By dividing the display into four quadrants, users can tap a certain combination within these zones to wake up and unlock their device. With passwords ranging from two to eight taps, LG says there are more than 80,000 different combinations possible.
The function works rather smoothly, but we had to make sure that our taps were distinct and timed with equal cadence. It works mostly anywhere on the screen, too, but you'll need to wait a few moments before your code is registered and the screen unlocks. Personally, we find a swipe code to be easier. Though it does save you an extra motion when you have your handset laying on a flat surface, it'll be difficult to successfully unlock your phone through Knock Code with one hand, such as when you're in a car. We did manage to do it a few times that way, using our thumb, but it was uncomfortable and we constantly felt as if we were on the verge of dropping the Pro 2 onto unforgiving pavement.
LG adds a few more software tools into to the mix. There's Content Lock, which lets users password-protect certain files, photos, and videos. Mini View gives users the option to scale down the display from 4.7 inches to 3.4 inches to facilitate one-handed navigation. Lastly, LG's Dual Browser lets you split the phone's browser into two, thus allowing you to view more than one Web page while surfing the Internet.
Additional software features
Like most marquee devices these days, the handset runs Android 4.4. KitKat (v2). It has all the usual Google fixings you'd come to expect, like Chrome, Gmail, portals to the Play store, Maps, YouTube, and more. You can also access Google's virtual assistant, Google Now, by swiping upward from the bottom bezel. In addition, because our review model is from Korea, the phone also had a bevy of Korean apps. Should this device ever hit our shores, you can bet that these apps won't be included, and would probably be replaced with US carrier-specific apps.
Camera and video
Recognizing the craze sweeping the globe, the G Pro 2's 2.1-megapixel front camera comes with a clever selfie mode. Essentially, the phone shrinks the preview screen and surrounds it with a white border that illuminates your face in dark environments. And like its predecessor the G2, a Voice Shutter fires the shutter when you say words like, "smile," "cheese," and "whiskey."
The Pro 2's main camera features the bulk of the bells and whistles. It relies on a sharp 13-megapixel sensor backed up by optical image stabilization to quell jittery hand shake. LG also piles on the camera settings and shooting modes, including HDR, panorama, and burst, plus just about any manual toggle you can think of. One of the our favorite features is "Magic Focus" which lets you adjust the focus of an image after you've taken a photo. As for video, the camera is able to capture 4K and 120FPS slo-mo recordings. For more on the camera features, check out our deeper dive.
As for now, the device passes our regular camera test with flying colors, as expected. It's very nimble, with a practically instantaneous shot-to-shot time. This is no doubt due to the phone's quick autofocus and speedy image processing. Images were sharp and in focus, and in well-lit environments, colors looked bright. Whites, especially, came off true-to-life, and you can see just a small amount of artifacts and digital noise in low-light situations.
We tested the handset in our San Francisco offices using an AT&T SIM card and call quality was impressive. Volume range was adequate, and voices came across loud and clear. We didn't hear any extraneous noises or buzzing, and we couldn't detect any static in our conversations. In addition, none of our calls dropped. We were told by our testing partner that our voices sounded clear as well, and that there was no outside disturbance.
LG G Pro 2 (unlocked, on AT&T) call quality sample
Though this phone isn't optimized for US carrier's 4G LTE network, it showed some of the fastest, most consistent data times we've seen on AT&T. On average, the CNET mobile and desktop sites loaded in 4 and 9 seconds, respectively. The New York Times mobile site loaded in 5 seconds, and its desktop site loaded in 10. ESPN's mobile site loaded in 4 seconds, with its desktop site clocking in at 6. Ookla's speedtest app showed an average 18.34Mbps down and 9.93Mbps up. The 44.22MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in an impressive 37 seconds.
|LG G Pro 2||Performance testing|
|Average 4G LTE download speed||18.34Mpbs|
|Average 4G LTE upload speed||9.93Mbps|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||44.22MB in 37 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||4 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||9 seconds|
|Restart time||33 seconds|
|Camera boot time||1.87 seconds|
Flaunting all the power of a modern Snapdragon 800 processor plus a hefty 3GB reservoir of RAM, we weren't surprised that the G Pro 2 handles like a speed demon. The big phone churned through menus and home screens with buttery-smooth swiftness. Applications opened in the blink of an eye, provided we were connected to a respectable network.
Synthetic benchmarks confirmed our lively anecdotal experience. The Pro 2 blew the doors off of both the Quadrant and Linpack tests, scoring 17,483 and 613.3 MFLOPs (multithread), respectively. On average, the camera powered off and restarted in 33 seconds, and the camera launched in just 1.87 seconds.
Even though the handset is thinner than the Galaxy Note 3, the phone is equipped with a battery just as large (3,200mAh). This helped the Pro 2 demonstrate impressive longevity both in everyday use and while running benchmarks. Indeed, the handset persevered through the CNET Labs' video playback battery drain test for a long 14 hours and 1 minute before expiring. Still, it's an hour short of its rival, the Note 3 (15 hours), and two behind the Droid Maxx (16 hours) when subjected to the same test.
With its stunning 5.9-inch LCD screen, Android 4.4 KitKat software, and oodles of mobile processing power, the new LG G Pro 2 is an excellent smartphone no matter which way you slice it. That said, the way this massive handset is positioned in the market puts it on a collision course with Samsung's similarly appointed Galaxy Note 3. And in a spec-for-spec battle, the Pro 2 is an even match with the Samsung juggernaut. Design, however, pushes the Note 3 over the top, and its more comfy grip makes the difference. Oh, and if having a stylus is what floats your boat, well, the Note 3's S Pen interface is icing on the cake.
To be clear, though, much of the G Pro 2's allure will depend heavily on how much it costs. Unfortunately, specific pricing for the Korean LG G Pro 2 model we reviewed isn't available, or at least it's not yet sold as an unlocked or US carrier-branded equivalent. But if you can snap up the G Pro 2 for about $100 less than the Note 3 (which it is predicted to be so, since its predecessor was priced at $200 on-contract), well, that's a steal in any book.