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LG G Vista review: Supersized phone without the supersized specs or price

Sold on both AT&T and Verizon, the 5.7-inch G Vista is LG's inexpensive, earnest attempt at the midrange phablet.

Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

9 min read

With its giant 5.7-inch display, the LG G Vista joins such phablets like the massive Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the ZTE Boost Max .

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7.0

LG G Vista

The Good

The LG G Vista is inexpensive with a carrier agreement, has a bright and expansive display and features LG's customary software goodies.

The Bad

The phone's size can be unwieldy for some, onboard storage is minimal and its 720p resolution keeps the display quality from shining.

The Bottom Line

Given its midrange specs, the LG G Vista for AT&T and Verizon is a solid buy if you want a big "phablet" at a low cost.

But while its size is definitely big, its on-contract price isn't. The device costs only $50 on AT&T and it's free on Verizon. (Without a carrier agreement, however, it's $355 and $400, respectively.) Why the low price? Because its hardware, which includes an 8-megapixel camera, a 720p display and a Snapdragon 400 CPU, remains strictly midrange. Think of it like LG's G3 flagship scaled up in size, but scaled down in specs.

As such, the handset won't take the best pictures or have the fastest processor. But that doesn't mean it's not a good phone for what it is. Indeed, with its reliable performance and competitive price tag, I'd recommend the Vista for anyone who's in the market for a phablet, but on a tight budget.

Big LG G Vista goes big on value (pictures)

See all photos

Design

As I said before, the Vista is big. Though there are other larger phones (the Nokia Lumia 1320 and 1520, for example, have 6-inch displays, and the Samsung Galaxy Mega has a 6.3-inch screen), it's still quite big. And unless you have a large grip, you'll need two hands to maneuver the device, which measures to 5.99 inches tall, 3.12 inches wide, and 0.36 inch thick. Though you can toss it into most shoulder bags without a problem, it'll definitely be a snug fit for jeans pockets and small handbags. At 5.93 ounces, however, it's surprisingly lightweight for its size, and during phone calls, I didn't feel too bogged down holding it up to my ear.

On its top edge sit the 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster, which works with LG's Quick Remote app to convert the handset into a universal remote for your living room. The Micro-USB port for charging is on the bottom edge. Meanwhile, all control buttons, including the sleep/power button and volume rocker, are on the rear. This is similar to many LG phones, including the G3 , the Flex , and the G2 Mini .

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Though bright, the G Vista's 720p display isn't as sharp as other higher-end phablets. Josh Miller/CNET

Below the buttons are two small slits for the speaker. An indentation on the left side of the battery door enables users to pry off the back plate. Inside, you'll find a removable 3,200mAh battery, and a microSD card slot that can hold cards of capacities up to 32GB.

The Vista's 5.7-inch HD display features Corning Gorilla Glass 3, a 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 258ppi. Though this doesn't compare to high-end phones like the 1,440p Samsung Galaxy Note 4 , a 720p resolution is quite standard for midtier handsets in this price range. As such, images and videos can look coarse or "crunchy," but only upon close inspection. In general, though, the display is bright and is easily viewable in sunlight. Its viewing angles were wide, colors had a lot of pop to them, and it's sensitive to the touch.

Software features

The device runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and has all your expected Google apps such as Gmail, the Chrome browser, Hangouts, Drive, portals to the different Play stores like Play Music and Books, Plus and YouTube.

For AT&T users, the carrier preloaded a healthy dosage of apps and services. One is DriveMode, an app that can send out a customizable message to incoming calls or texts when it senses the device is traveling faster than 25 mph. There's FamilyMap, which helps you locate family members on your AT&T account; and MyAT&T, which lets you check your data and account info.

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Available on two different networks, expect the G Vista to come preloaded with different carrier apps. Josh Miller/CNET

If your device gets stolen or lost, Mobile Locate will pinpoint its location. The news app AT&T Live is included, as well as a 7-day trial to MobileTV, which lets you stream network TV shows. The carrier also threw in its own navigation app, a handset user guide, and apps to help set up a mobile hotspot and visual voice mail. You'll get AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, which connects your phone to publicly available Wi-Fi, a usage manager so you can look over your battery and data consumption, and 5GB of free cloud storage through AT&T Locker.

For Verizon users, there's My Verizon Mobile, which lets you check your data use and minutes, as well as its cloud and caller ID services. The carrier preloaded apps for visual voice mail, branded navigating and messaging apps and VZ Protect. There are several Amazon apps, too, like the store itself, Kindle, its app and music stores, IMDb and Audible.

As we've seen with other handsets from LG, the company baked in some of its signature software features. This includes Dual Window, which you can access by long-pressing the "back" hot key on the screen. A small menu of apps will appear, wherein you can choose the two apps you want to "split screen" by dragging their icons either to the top or bottom of the display.

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Looking at Gmail and the Chrome browser at the same time with Dual Window (left) and my lock screen with KnockCode activated. Josh Miller/CNET

KnockCode 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. Other key tools are the multitasking feature QSlide, the note taking app QMemo+ and Guest mode, which keeps your content and apps private by enabling third-party users (and curious kids) to unlock your phone with an alternative password.

Additional features include 1.5GB of RAM, NFC and a paltry 8GB of internal storage. That might not bother those who plan on adding storage, but with just 8GB of space out of the box (and even less if you go by available storage), that's not much to start out with.

Camera and video

Photo quality for the 8-megapixel camera was decent, but not particularly impressive. With ample lighting, objects were in focus with well-distinguished outlines. Understandably, in dimmer lighting, photos looked more blurry, contained a notable amount of digital noise and artifacts, and objects showed a softer focus. Colors also appeared muted overall and at times, the camera's flash cast an unattractive yellow tinge on the picture. For more on photo quality, check out the images below and click on each individual picture to see them at their full resolution.

Shooting 1080p HD video yielded similarly good results. Both moving and still objects were in focus, colors looked true-to-life, and audio picked up well. Though I didn't see any lag between my moving of the camera and the live footage in the viewfinder, you'll need to wait a few seconds sometimes for the camera to adjust for lighting and focus.

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In this outdoor shot, the buildings and sculpture are nicely in focus, but colors look a bit cold and muted. Lynn La/CNET

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Because this photo was taken indoors with dim lighting, you can see more digital noise, blurry outlines, and washed-out colors. Lynn La/CNET

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With this close-up shot, the flower petals here are bright and well defined. Lynn La/CNET

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In our standard studio shot, objects look sharp, though dark hues are harder to distinguish. Lynn La/CNET

Camera options are kept to a minimum and include panoramic and HDR shooting, a voice-activated shutter, a timer, and grid lines. With the rear-facing shooter, you can take pictures in four sizes (from 2,048x1,536 to 3,264x2,448-pixel resolution) and capture either 720p or 1080p HD video. The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera has a "beauty meter" that enhances selfies by adjusting the blurriness and lighting of a photo, as well as a mirror tool that vertically flips your images. The camera has two photo sizes (1,280x720 or 1,280x960-pixel resolution) and can record 720p video.

Some other camera features include swiping the viewfinder screen to switch between cameras, pausing video and capturing pictures in the middle of recording, and a selfie gesture. This gesture was previously see on the G3 , and lets you activate the front-facing camera and timer by raising your open hand. Once the camera detects the shape, make a fist to begin the countdown timer, and the shutter will click.

Performance

I tested the Vista in our San Francisco offices on both AT&T and Verizon's networks. Call quality was good and reliable. None of my conversations dropped, audio remained consistent without clipping in and out, and volume range was appropriately loud. My calling partner did sound a bit more muffled on AT&T's unit, however. I could also hear a subtle "whooshing" noise during pauses between sentences. But despite these small drawbacks, conversations on both devices sounded clear and were easy to understand. My calling partner reported that my voice also came in clear and that her line didn't pick up any extraneous buzzing or static.

Podcast


Podcast

Speaker quality sounded similar with both models. Though I was able to easily understand my partner and what she was saying, her voice sounded thin and tinny. On maximum volume, audio came off especially harsh. The pinching of her voice wasn't too irritating, however, and I was able to carry on the conversation through audio speaker without much trouble.

To measure 4G LTE network speeds, I conducted data tests a total of five times to calculate a fair average. In addition to our regular charting of the load times of CNET's mobile and desktop websites, I included the time it took each handset to load the mobile and full desktop versions of The New York Times and ESPN's sites as well.

LG G Vista (AT&T and Verizon Wireless) performance times

AT&T (4G LTE)Verizon (4G LTE)
Average download speed (Mbps) 31.429.98
Average upload speed (Mbps) 11.058.56
Temple Run 2 app (45.80MB) 35.1254.30
CNET mobile site load (in seconds) 7.258.31
CNET desktop site load (in seconds) 4.4216.39
New York Times mobile site load (in seconds) 40.16.85
New York Times desktop site load (in seconds) 6.456.01
ESPN mobile site load (in seconds) 6.344.28
ESPN desktop site load (in seconds) 10.347.6
Restart time (in seconds) 34.9934.58
Camera launch time (in seconds) 2.4182.322

Overall, data speeds were pretty comparable across both carriers in terms of web browsing. Mobile and desktop sites took about 6 to 8 seconds. However, AT&T's unit took an especially long time to finish displaying ESPN's full site, and even longer for The New York Times' mobile site. It was inconsistent too -- the mobile page would finish loading anywhere between 4 seconds to a full minute. Meanwhile, Verizon's device had some issues as well. It lagged to load CNET's desktop page, and it took 20 seconds longer on average for the handset to download and install the 45.80MB game, Temple Run 2. Results from Ookla's speed test app were especially bizarre. Despite clocking in decent 4G LTE speeds, Verizon's phone showed a mere 9.98Mbps download rate and a 8.56Mbps upload rate.

The Vista is powered by a quad-core, 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, which can be found in decent midrange devices on the market today. Some daily and necessary tasks were executed promptly, like closing apps, calling up the keyboard and app drawer, and switching from landscape to portrait mode. Other actions took a while to process, however. Editing photos in the gallery, for instance, required a few moments to load and render. And while the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP 2 ran well without any force-quits or stutters, I've seen more fluid and higher frame rates on other top-tier handsets.

Benchmark tests were consistent with my real-world findings. Its highest Quadrant score was 8,969 and is on par with phones like the Motorola Moto G (2014) and the LG G2 Mini (they scored 8,839 and 8,369, respectively). Its best Linpack result also put it among this caliber, with a multithreaded test yielding 230.734MFLOPs in 0.73 second (for comparison, the Moto G scored 217.916MFLOPs in 0.77 second).

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Some of the G Vista's LTE speeds on AT&T (left) and its highest Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

Lastly, while we do know that what carrier you have plays no role on the processing speeds of a handset, we measured how long it took each device to reboot itself and launch the camera. As expected, there wasn't much variation between the models, though, interestingly enough, the AT&T model took just a hair longer to do both.

Anecdotal observation for the 3,200mAh battery was decent. With mild usage and the screen turned on maximum brightness, the device was able to last a workday without a charge. It has a reported talk time of 26 hours and general usage time of 15 hours. Testing for the Verizon model yielded 17 hours and 21 minutes of continuous video playback while the AT&T unit had a shorter playback time of 14 hours and 48 minutes. According to FCC radiation measurements, the handset has several SAR ratings depending on the carrier. On AT&T, and Verizon, it has a SAR level of 0.32 and 0.48W/kg, respectively.

Conclusion

If you want a high-end phablet that can do it all, don't buy the LG G Vista. Though it costs more money both on- and off-contract, you're better off with the workhorse Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for productivity and power. Or better yet, wait for the upcoming Galaxy Note 4 . Launching next month for $300 on-contract, it will be equipped with a Snapdragon 805 processor, a quad HD display, and a 16-megapixel camera.

However, if you want a capable device that's budget-friendly, get the G Vista. Cheaper phablets do exist (the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 4G costs $300 unlocked, for instance), but of the midrange phablets I've encountered, the Vista is one of the better ones, and it's swifter and more reliable than the ZTE Boost Max . As an Android phone, it has access to a wider range of apps than the Nokia Lumia 1320 and 1520, and it runs a more recent OS than the older Samsung Galaxy Mega . In general, the device offers a smooth user experience and doesn't cost a fortune.

lg-g-vista-4848-001.jpg
7.0

LG G Vista

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7
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