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An LG 'phablet' done right (hands-on)

Packing a 5.5-inch display, quad-core processor, and 13-megapixel camera, the Optimus G Pro is another mega-screened handset from LG.

Now playing: Watch this: The LG Optimus G Pro comes to the U.S. on AT&T
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Now playing: Watch this: The LG Optimus G Pro in all its 5.5-inch glory
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BARCELONA, Spain--The last time LG launched a tablet phone hybrid, it had a squarish 5-inch screen and an unusual 4:3 aspect ratio. But this time at MWC 2013, LG is trying its hand at the "phablet" market again with the Optimus G Pro. It's a 5.5-inch device sporting the more common 16:9 aspect ratio, and is LG's obvious answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It will be available in Korea from March, and in North America in the second quarter.

Design
One of the first things I noticed about the Optimus G Pro was how thin it was. Though this keeps it lightweight and sleek, it also made it slightly cumbersome to hold with one hand and navigate with my fingers. There were a lot of times when I used my thumb to click on something on the far right of the screen only to have the bottom part of my thumb accidentally select and open something on the right. It's still an attractive handset, however, and I think it's a step up from both the LG Intuition and the original Optimus G.

You can really see that LG is trying to give its top-tier phones a more cohesive look, and it flaunts the same glittery tile design seen on the Nexus 4 and the Vu II (the sequel to the Intuition that's now available in Korea).

LG Optimus G Pro
The massive LG Optimus G Pro and in all its 5.5-inch glory. Sarah Tew/CNET

On the left, you have a very flushed volume rocker that's situated quite low on the edge -- almost right in the middle of the body. I found myself often pressing the empty space between the rocker and the QuickMemo shortcut key (which sits right above it), when trying to turn up the sound. Above it is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a small TV antenna on the right corner. On the right are a sleep/power button and at the very bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging.

Of course, what's most noticeable about the G Pro is that 5.5-inch full HD IPS screen. It has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and 400ppi. It sports a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is more standard on mobile phones than the Intuition's 4:3 ratio.

Like most high-end LG handsets, the Pro's screen was bright and extremely responsive. I also like how the display edges are similar to the Nexus 4, in that it contours down toward the bezel. It has a wide viewing angle, and you can see images clearly in both indoor and outdoor lighting. Colors are extremely vibrant, icons are sharp, and text look crisp. I also have to say, watching videos on this was really enjoyable, more so than on the Intuition. Having that much more real estate is a relief to the eyes, and it gave me a more encompassing and engrossing experience than the ones offered on smaller handsets.

I did notice, however, that the whites on this screen often had a slight cold, blue-greyish tint to them. It's not as blue-greenish as on LCD displays, and you won't even notice it at first. But when I compared it quickly side by side to an iPhone, it was noticeable. In addition, though the screen size is great for entertainment, other things had to take some getting use to.

For example, texting became much more cumbersome, especially in landscape mode. Taking into account I have particularly small hands, it was hard reaching letters that were in the middle of the keyboard. The unit doesn't ship with a stylus, which would be beneficial for tasks such as these..

Features
The Optimus G Pro runs on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and includes 2GB of RAM with up to 32GB of expandable memory via a microSD card you can access from the back.

Powering the handset is a 1.7GHz quad-core processor from Qualcomm. During my brief time with it, I felt the phone was zippy and it executed simple tasks like launching the camera, scrolling through the app drawer, and returning to the home page, swiftly. Unlike the original Optimus Gs, where you couldn't take out their batteries, the Pro has a removable 3,140mAh battery.

On the back is a 13-megapixel camera that's capable of recording 1080p full HD video. It also has photo editing options like the ability to stitch several panoramic photos together in a sphere to generate a comprehensive 360-degree view. On the front is a 2.1-megapixel camera, which has dual-recording -- that means you can record a scene and your reaction or facial expressions at the same time.

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

It also includes NFC and wireless charging capabilities, but you'll need to purchase an additional back plate from LG to enable wireless charging. Other features include a few new upgrades to the user experience. QSlide, for instance, which lets you multi-task by viewing two opened apps, can now be resizeable on the display. Interface features, such as QSlide, QuickMemo and Live Zooming, have all been improved.

Outlook
As I previously mentioned, the Pro will launch in Korea in March and in North America in the second quarter. Though the U.S. market has largely passed on phablets, the growing popularity of the Note 2 may bode well for the Pro.

That will mostly depend on the price and carrier availability, however. Right now, Samsung reigns in the mega-phone market, mostly because it pioneered the hybrid, has taken advantage of that head start, and it was a solid and reliable device to begin with.

The Optimus G line was a success in terms of quality, but expanding the screen size for the Pro was an inherent risk. Yes, the device itself is attractive and stylish, but given that the phablet is a niche market, it doesn't come with a stylus, and there's already stiff competition looming, this hefty phone has got its work cut out for it.

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