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

Making its debut at MWC 2013, the Optimus G Pro is a ginormous 5.5-inch handset from LG that's equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2.

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.
Lynn La
8 min read

Debuting at Mobile World Congress, the LG Optimus G Pro is a 5.5-inch device that will launch in Korea this month, followed by a North American release in Q2. The handset is actually LG's third crack at the phone/tablet hybrid niche, after its Optimus Vu and Vu II (the U.S. carrier, Verizon, released the former as the LG Intuition, which received a lukewarm response).


LG Optimus G Pro (unlocked)

The Good

The LG Optimus G Pro packs a sharp and crisp display, a blazing Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, and Android Jelly Bean.

The Bad

The Optimus G Pro's hefty size can be cumbersome to handle and it doesn't come with a stylus.

The Bottom Line

Though it lacks a stylus and it won't fit everyone's lifestyle, the LG Optimus G Pro's beautiful touch screen and ultrafast CPU do this handset justice.

But this phone is more than just another attempt; it shows how the third time can indeed be a charm. Not only does it boast powerful quad-core specs, it also features the more common 16:9 aspect ratio (as opposed to the wonky 4:3 ratio its predecessor had) on a vivid touch screen. In both looks and performance, it's the closest any handset comes to rivaling the reigning king of phablets, the Galaxy Note 2.

Unfortunately, the G Pro lacks a stylus. Even the Vu had one, and Samsung developed its S Pen stylus specifically for the Note, which tucks into the handset and has its own tech to enhance productivity. The G Pro doesn't even have a simple analog stylus, and while this doesn't render the phone completely useless, it prevents the G Pro from usurping the Note 2 altogether.

Editors' note: This review is of the unlocked, global version of the Optimus G Pro. For the U.S. version on AT&T, read our review here.

One of the first things I noticed about the LG Optimus G Pro was how thin it was. Though this keeps it lightweight for its size (at 6.2 ounces) and sleek, the slim 0.25-inch profile also made it feel too fragile and slightly cumbersome to navigate with one hand.

There were a lot of times when I used my thumb to tap something on one side of the screen only to have the bottom part of my thumb accidentally select and open something on the opposite side. To help with one-handed operation, LG did include some additional settings, like letting you adjust the keyboard or number pad to the left or right side.

LG Optimus G Pro screenshot
You can situate the Optimus G Pro's number pad to one side for easier one-handed navigation. Lynn La/CNET

Overall, however, the device is attractive. You can see that LG is trying to give its top-tier phones a more cohesive look, and the handset flaunts the same glittery (bathroom-esque) tile design seen on the Nexus 4 and the Vu II. Personally, I find its design a step up from both the LG Intuition and the original Optimus G.

The phone measures 5.875 inches tall and 3 inches wide. On the left, you have a 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. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a small collapsible TV antenna on the right corner. On the right is 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, its screen is bright and extremely responsive. I like how the display edges are similar to the Nexus 4's, 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 vibrant, icons are sharp, and text looks crisp.

LG Optimus G Pro keyboard
Using the Optimus G Pro's virtual keyboard proved to be difficult on my relatively small hands. Sarah Tew/CNET

I also have to say that 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 those offered on smaller handsets.

I did see, however, that the whites on the screen had a slightly cold, blue-grayish tint to them. It's too subtle to notice at first, but when I compared it side by side with an iPhone, the tint was more apparent.

In addition, though the screen size is great for entertainment, other things had to take some getting used to. For example, texting became much more cumbersome, especially in landscape mode. Taking into account that I have small hands, it was hard reaching letters that were in the middle of the keyboard. Also, the unit doesn't ship with a stylus, which would be beneficial for tasks such as these.

Above the display is a 2-megapixel camera and below it are two hot keys that light up when in use (back and menu), and a physical home button. This home key is a flush, narrow oval that can also light up with several different LED colors that I found to be a nice deliberate touch.

The back of the device houses a 13-megapixel camera with flash. A small strip of chrome encircles the lens, which bubbles up ever so slightly out of the back plate. To the left is a small audio speaker. Using a small indentation on the left edge, you can pop off the backing and access the 3,140mAh battery and both the Micro-SIM and microSD card slots. Underneath the plate is an NFC chip. Lastly, the handset is capable of wireless charging, but you'll need to buy a special back plate from LG to make use of it.

LG's phablet redux: Optimus G Pro (pictures)

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Software features and UI
The phone includes 2GB of RAM and runs on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. You'll find a bunch of standard Google apps like Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Local, Voice Search, Talk, Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, YouTube, and access to Play Movies and TV, Books, and Store. Because it's running Jelly Bean, you'll also get Google Now, which is search-based digital "assistant" tied into Google Search and Voice Search. To access Google Now, hold down the home key and press the Google logo that pops up at the bottom of the screen.

Other task management apps include a native browser and e-mail client, music and video players, a calculator, a weather app, two video editors, a notebook, a memo pad, a to-do list, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, a dictionary, and a calendar. There's also the mobile office suite, Polaris Office 4, LG's app and game portal called SmartWorld, and SmartShare, which lets you share multimedia between DLNA-certified devices.

LG Optimus G Pro screenshot
QSlide lets you overlay apps while you browse your phone and access other apps. Lynn La/CNET

Because we got our hands on a Korean handset, there's also a slew of Korean apps. I won't go over these, but if and when the G Pro comes to a U.S. carrier, you can bet that the handset will include carrier specific apps that I'll note.

You'll also get the note-taking feature, QuickMemo, which lets you jot down notes and doodles either directly onto whatever your screen is displaying at the moment, or a memo pad. This is one productivity app for which a stylus would be especially handy. There's also QSlide, LG's multitasking window that was introduced with the last Optimus G. Back then, QSlide only let you overlay a video while you browsed through your phone and accessed other apps. Now however, you can view other apps, like the browser, simultaneously, and you can resize your QSlide window, too.

Camera and video
The 13-megapixel camera comes with loads of options, such as: four photo sizes (from 1,280x960 to 4,160x3,120 pixels); a 15x digital zoom; a flash; geotagging; a timer; four color effects; five white balances; five ISO options (from 100 to 800); six scene modes; three focuses; a brightness meter; a voice-activated shutter; and a time-machine option that enables the camera to take shots even before you press the shutter.

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

Testing LG Optimus G Pro's 13-megapixel camera (pictures)

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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.


LG Optimus G Pro (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9