When Samsung released its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note in February 2012, it started a whole new ballgame in the U.S. phone market. Though not everyone was a fan of its unprecedented size, it presented consumers with two options that were considered taboo: a stylus and an extra-large screen.
Luckily for Samsung, over 10 million people welcomed these features that were once thought of as unacceptable, and now LG is knocking on the phone/tablet hybrid's door with its own "phablet": The LG Intuition.
Previously released overseas as the LG Optimus Vu, the Intuition differs from its international counterpart in two major ways: the U.S. version ships natively with the more recent Android 4.0, and it lacks the throwback TV antenna that the Vu had. It does, however, retain the same ginormous 5-inch screen, Rubberdium stylus, and 8-megapixel camera.
The 4G LTE device is available to Verizon customers for $200 after contract.
Editors' note: Because they are the same device, sections of this review have been lifted from our review of the LG Optimus Vu.
At 5.5 inches tall, 3.56 inches wide, 0.33 inch thick, and weighing 6.08 ounces, the LG Intuition is huge for a smartphone. But for its size, it's quite lightweight and slender in the hand. Though it does fit in my palm, most of the time I needed two hands to operate it. For example, dialing the number pad while holding it with one hand and using my thumb was nearly impossible. In fact, I dropped the handset a couple of times while trying to make a call.
You can fit the device in a front or back pocket, but it won't be comfortable at all. I found that about 2 inches of the Intuition would remain above the seam, and it felt bulky when I was carrying it around. Also, speaking with it pinned between my face and shoulder weighed down pretty heavily.
On top are a 3.5mm headphone jack, a shortcut key called QuickClip for QuickMemo (more on that in a while), a Micro-USB port that can be covered with a slick little sliding door, and a sleep/power button. To the right is a volume rocker.
The plastic back is textured with a grainy design. Though I'm sure this material keeps the phone light, it gives it a cheap sort of feel, and it's definitely less luxurious-feeling than the Note. On its left corner is an LED-flash-supported 8-megapixel camera. To the right is a covered slot for Verizon's 4G LTE card. Below that are two small slits for the output speaker. Unlike other devices, it doesn't have a slot for prying the back off with your fingernail. Instead, two screws at the bottom keep the back plate secure.
The handset sports a 5-inch IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. Though it's not as great as the LG Optimus 4X HD's, the Gorilla Glass screen is still very impressive. Menu icons were crisp and images were vibrant and richly saturated. A few default wallpapers, however, looked a bit grainy. Because it has 650 nits of brightness, videos played vividly. The viewing angle is wide, even while outdoors in the sun, which is usual for IPS displays.
The display also worked great with the stylus or what LG calls the "Rubberdium" pen (don't ask me why). Though I like the fact that it feels sturdy like a real pen, it's inconvenient that there's no slot within the handset for storage. While using the stylus, I noticed that the screen was sensitive when tapping on apps and pulling down menus. It picked up strokes fairly quickly when it came to writing, though I did notice a very slight drag when writing as quickly as possible. Note, however, that LG's Rubberdium pen does not have the same pressure-sensitive functions as the Samsung's S Pen.
One odd thing about the screen is that it has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which LG claims is the most "common aspect ratio for print materials in real life." The company also says it makes browsing the Web more comfortable, which I found to be true. I also appreciated the extra real estate when browsing through news and e-commerce sites. For other content, the Intuition automatically optimizes third-party apps to fit the ratio. Sometimes it worked -- when I played Temple Run it looked fine on the bigger display -- but other times it didn't. In order to retain video ratio, YouTube clips played with a lot of letterboxing space. If an app doesn't render correctly, you can enable "aspect ratio correction" when you hold down the home button. This will change the display setting of the app to make it slimmer.
Above the display in the left is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below are four hot keys (back, home, recent apps, and menu) that light up when in use.
The phone runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Again, it doesn't hold a candle to the 4X HD's quad-core processor. There is some short, but noticeable lag time for switching from landscape to portrait mode and opening up the camera, but other simple undertakings like swiping through its seven home screen pages and opening apps were done quite snappily. Games launched and closed without a problem and transitioning back to home was a breeze.
Unlike its international counterpart, it's great to see that the U.S. Intuition ships with the more recent Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, and it comes with the slew of Google apps you expect like Gmail, Plus, Messenger, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Places, Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.
Amazon preloaded its apps too, such as: Amazon Kindle, Shop, and Music, as well as IMDb, Zappos, and the audiobook app, Audible. Other goodies include two multimedia sharing apps (Color and FileShare); NFL Mobile; the mobile office suite known as Polaris Office; Slacker Radio; two games (Real Racing 2 and Shark Dash); and SmartShare, a content distribution app.
Included Verizon-centric apps are its Mobile Hotspot app; My Verizon Mobile for customer account information; its app store portal; the video portal, Viewdini; and its native navigation app, VZ Navigator.
Basic features present are text messaging, e-mail, Bluetooth 3.0, a Web browser, a finance app for stocks, a calendar, news and weather apps, a to-do list, a clock with alarm settings, a memo pad, a calculator, and a voice recorder.
It's equipped with QuickMemo, a feature you can access by clicking the QuickClip hot key on top. It lets you jot down, with your finger or with the Rubberdium pen, quick notes or sketches directly over screen images, which you can then save and share. You can customize the color and style of your pen tip.
The device is also overlaid with LG's user interface, the Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. Though I like how the icons are customizable, some widgets look clunky (especially the unattractive weather widget), and even though I like that it's sporting the Roboto font, the keypad and app drawer still look a little outdated. There are a few welcome changes, however, like the fact that you can access up to five apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over its icon. Personally, I prefer Android's minimalistic interface, but it's refreshing to see LG actively changing and taking chances with its products' UIs.
The Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance. LG included two Tag+ stickers labeled Office and Car mode that let you use the NFC feature to activate certain settings on your phone that you customize. For example, every time you go into your car, you may want to launch Navigation and turn Bluetooth on. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Car Mode Tag sticker.
Though there were a few times when a sticker wouldn't save its presets, the feature is reliable for the most part and extremely easy to set up. The NFC chip wasn't quite as sensitive as it was on the LG Optimus 3D Max, however, since it took a couple of taps to get the NFC to register.
Camera and video
The 8-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, an 8x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, and panoramic shooting. It also has a voice command for the shutter (you say "cheese" and it'll take a picture), a brightness meter (-2 to +2), four image sizes (ranging from 1,280x960 to 3,264x2,448 pixels), six scene modes, four ISO options, five white balances, four shutter sounds, and four color effects.
The front-facing camera offers the same brightness meter, white-balance options, color effects, shutter sounds, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal, and night) and two sizes (either 640x480 or 1,280x960 pixels). There's also a "mirror image" option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.
Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from seven video sizes (ranging from full HD 1080p to QCIF).
Though the front-facing video camera has fewer options, it still retains a good deal of features; you get the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting, but there are only five video sizes (ranging from HD 720p to QCIF).
Photo quality was respectable. Images were in focus with distinct edges, colors were true to life and bright, and objects were well-defined. With dimmer, indoor shots, however, dark hues were hard to distinguish and bright whites were washed out. The front-facing camera understandably performed poorer. The smaller number of megapixels did mean more graininess, poorer focus, and muted colors, but you can still make out faces and objects easily.
Video recording was decent. Images were crisp, colors were true, and there was no lag time between the viewfinder and the movement of the camera. However, playing the recorded audio through a headset sounded way better than through the speaker. With the output speaker, sounds were tinny and harsh. But with the handset, especially with Dolby Mobile sound activated, audio sounded richer, with more depth.
I tested the quad-band (800, 1700, 1900, 2100) LG Intuition in San Francisco using Verizon. Signal quality was perfectly adequate, without any dropped calls or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality, however, was mediocre. Voices were audible, but muffled. When increasing calls to maximum volume, I heard a noticeable amount of static coming through the other end. On the other hand, my friend told me I sounded fine and clear.
The output speakerphone quality was also poor. Calls, as well as music, sounded incredibly sharp and severe, making it harsh. You can also hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the device. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, but it was disappointing regardless; for calls, it muffled my friends' voices even more.
Listen now: LG Intuition call quality sample
Verizon's 4G LTE network (1xEV-DO Rev. A, 0) was impressive. For example, loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 6 seconds, while loading our full site took 22 seconds. The New York Times desktop site clocked in at 13 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 6 seconds on average, and its full site loaded in 10 seconds. On average, the game Temple Run, which is 22MB, took 1 minute and 38 seconds to download. And the Ookla speed test app showed me an average of 2.75Mbps down and 1.78Mbps up.
During our battery drain tests, the Intuition's 2,080mAh battery lasted 9.95 hours. Anecdotally, it had a decent battery life. After spending a few hours playing games, watching videos, and chatting with my friends, I found that the battery had only drained by about three fourths of its charge. Charging it, however, took a noticeably longer time than with other phones. I plugged it in for a couple of hours and only got about 30 percent of battery back. According to the FCC, the Intuition has a SAR rating of 0.80W/kg.
As a standalone unit, the LG Intuition is a solid piece of machinery -- its attractively bright 5-inch screen belies its lightweight and slim build, its 4G LTE speeds are fast, and it's packed with features like NFC and QuickMemo. But when put in the context of what's available in the market, the device faces one notable competitor. The Galaxy Note goes for the same retail price, has a bigger screen, and its stylus can be stored inside. And while the Note's only carriers are AT&T and T-Mobile, its successor, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, is slated to be on five carriers, including Verizon. In addition, it'll have an even bigger 5.5-inch screen and a quad-core CPU.
Considering all these factors, what's the final verdict? If you're a Verizon customer and you must have a phablet right this minute, then the LG Intuition won't let you down, since again, it's a satisfactory handset. But if you're a patient soul who can sit out until November, and have $100 to spare, it's best to wait and see what the Note 2 will offer.