A phablet with big ambitions, LG's Optimus G Pro combines an impressive 5.5-inch 1080p display and a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor with an impressive set of proprietary applications. With strong productivity features that let you run several apps on top of each other and a suite of helpful camera apps, this phone's software is even more attractive than its powerful components. Is this the right big-screen phone for you?
Note: We conducted this review using a Korean version of the LG Optimus G Pro, which was not optimized for use on U.S. networks. We'll review the product again when the Optimus G Pro launches on U.S. carriers later this year.
Like its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the LG Optimus G has a shiny plastic body that's highly functional, but won't win any design awards. Available in black or white, the sides of the Optimus G Pro are adorned with chrome accents, while the back has a subtle, yet attractive checkerboard pattern.
Measuring 5.8 x 3 x 0.37 inches and 6.2 ounces, the 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro is one of the larger phones on the market, dwarfing the 4.7-inch, 5-ounce HTC One and the 4.8-inch, 4.7-ounce Galaxy S III. The Samsung Galaxy Note II is taller and wider (5.9 x 3.2 x 0.37 inches) and weighs a bit more at 6.4 ounces.
When we held it in our hands, the Optimus G Pro seemed quite large physically, but perhaps because its mass is spread out over a larger area, the plastic handset felt lighter than the aluminum HTC One. Nevertheless, we had to stretch our thumb to reach all corners of the screen when using the device one-handed.
Like Samsung's Galaxy phones, a capacitive back button, a hard clickable home button and a capacitive menu button sit beneath the display. Annoyingly, the two capacitive buttons on our white unit were completely invisible when not lit, though you can set them to remain lit as long as the phone is awake. The hardware home button felt stiff to us, and we don't like that it's recessed. However, this button offers a neat special effect: a ring of light around it that blinks different colors to alert you to different things (example: blinking green means you have a notification).
Pressing the menu button opens a list of settings instead of the layers (aka task switching button) that Google and Motorola use on their Android devices. To get a list of open tasks, we had to hold down the home button. Unfortunately, there's no way to get to Google Now using the navigation buttons; you have to tap the Google search widget on the home screen.
LG has made a couple of interesting choices with the Optimus G Pro's ports. On the left side, above the volume rocker, the company placed a programmable shortcut button called the QButton, which launches QMemo by default but can be set to launch any app. The top has a 3.5mm headphone jack, an infrared port for controlling your home theater and, on our Korean review unit, a telescoping antenna for receiving TV Korean broadcasts that's unlikely to appear in the North American version. Unlike many other phones, the Optimus G Pro has a removable back panel with a user-replaceable battery and a microSD card slot for memory expansion.
Display and Audio
The Optimus G Pro's 5.5-inch, 1080p screen provided sharp images and wide viewing angles throughout our testing. With a measurement of 372 lux on our light meter, the screen was bright enough to read the screen in direct sunlight. While this score is well above the category average of 299 lux, it fell short of the HTC One's reading of 463 lux, which also produced richer colors.
When we played a 1080p trailer for "The Avengers" on both the HTC One and the Optimus G Pro, hues such as the red in Black Widow's hair or the blue in Captain America's uniform seemed colder and less vibrant. Because it fits the same amount of pixels in a smaller space, the images also seemed a bit sharper on the One's 4.7-inch screen.
While it won't replace your stereo, sound coming from the Optimus G Pro's rear-mounted speaker was loud enough to fill a small room. When we played a classical music piece that came bundled with the device, sound was fairly accurate but flat. However, when we tried listening to the guitar-laden "Holy Diver," sounds were harsh but not tinnier than most.
The Optimus G Pro's virtual keyboard is distinguished by its tiny keys. While having lots of empty space between the keys made it less likely that we'd hit an adjacent key by accident, we wish the buttons were a bit larger, particularly the microscopic space bar, which wasn't much bigger than a single letter key in either portrait or landscape mode. On the bright side, the keyboard supports haptic feedback, though we wish the level of feedback were a bit higher.
Hitting a pen button to the left of the keyboard activates handwriting recognition mode, which provides a small scribble space where you can write letters with your finger and watch as the system turns them into ASCII text. We were impressed with how accurate the optical character recognition was -- it even turned a messy version of our nonstandard name "Avram" into the right text a couple of times -- but it didn't always pick up the correct words. We wish the Optimus G Pro came with a pen, so we could write more accurately.
Software and Interface
The LG Optimus G Pro runs a heavily skinned version of Android 4.1.2 Jellybean. The default theme, appropriately named Optimus, consists of a rather bland wallpaper image of some glass spheres with clouds inside of them, against an abstract light blue and gray background. The overall look and feel reminds us of Samsung's TouchWiz. If you don't like that theme or its icons, you can choose between three other equally inoffensive but rather dull-looking themes.
Independently of the theme, you can also choose a system from one of eight system fonts. Though LG's SmartGothic was the default on our phone, we prefer Roboto font, which is the typeface Google uses in stock Android.
The Optimus G Pro's lock screen is both functional and attractive. On top of its wallpaper, our review unit had a colorful photo of red cherries, a set of clock widgets, network status and five customizable shortcuts, so you can unlock directly to the camera, phone dialer or app of your choosing. We were particularly impressed with the default unlock animation, which slowly reveals the contents of the phone screen in an expanding bubble as you swipe up. Using settings, you can configure the clock widgets, shortcuts, wallpaper and even the animation.
Like most Android phones, the Optimus G Pro has a series of shortcut icons at the bottom of each of its seven desktops. These are configurable, of course, but on our review unit they defaulted to contacts, the Web browser, SMS messaging, a video editor named Video Wiz and the apps menu.
The apps menu has some unique options in its settings menu, which allow you to choose between small and large icons, to change the wallpaper behind the icons and to sort by download date or alphabetically. You can search your list of installed apps from the menu.
Our favorite of LG's many custom features is QSlide, which allows you to run up to two of seven possible LG applications in their own draggable, resizable windows that sit in a layer on top of the desktop. Each Qslide app can be toggled back and forth between full screen mode and windows mode and can be made transparent so you see and can interact with the application running behind it. QSlide applications on our Korean review unit included a Web browser, video player, memo pad, calendar and calculator, along with QVoice voice command software that only responds to Korean and a TV player that doesn't work in the U.S.
We particularly enjoyed looking up information in the floating browser window while answering emails below and writing notes on our to-do list in another window. We also enjoyed playing a video on top of the screen while we performed other tasks below. Many third-party apps in the Google Play store can provide you with floating browsers, calculators or video players, but QSlide apps are more attractive and functional and have the transparency feature.
Samsung's Multi Window feature doesn't offer transparency, either, but you have more apps to choose from when it comes to running two on screen at the same time. The Sprint version of the Note II, for instance, includes 11 apps for Multi Window versus seven for QSlide. Plus, Samsung's feature integrates with third-party apps, like Polaris Office, Gmail and Google Talk.
LG has added perhaps the largest and most functional notification drawer of any Android handset maker. While some may consider the three to four rows of controls that appear when you swipe down from the top to be overkill, we appreciate having so many functions right at our fingertips. The top row contains a scrollable list of icons that control everything from the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to the NFC chip and hotspot capability. While most of these icons simply toggle functions on and off, a few launch apps, including QMemo, QVoice and QRemote.
The second row of icons in the notification drawer consists of shortcuts to LG's seven QSlide apps, while a third row has a brightness slider and checkbox to toggle automatic brightness. We particularly appreciated the slider, because it displays the exact brightness percentage (example: 47 percent) where many other phones just show a bar. If enabled, a small music widget appears below the brightness slider with an album cover, progress bar and play/pause, forward and back buttons. Below that, you'll find any notifications from your apps.
For a device without stylus support, the LG Optimus G Pro has a fair amount of note-taking and drawing functionality. Available directly from the notification drawer, QMemo takes a screenshot and allows you to scribble all over it in the color and pen width of your choice. You can either save these memos directly to the gallery as images, or to the notebook app, which itself stores a series of multipage notes.
You can also enable overlay mode, which keeps your drawing floating as a layer on top of the screen as you perform other tasks. So if you really want to remind yourself to "call mom," you can leave that scribbled on top of everything else until you're done.
Like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, the LG Optimus G Pro comes with an infrared port that turns your phone into a remote control for your TV, cable box and the rest of your home theater. Unfortunately, the QRemote software is extremely limited in comparison to the applications provided by its competitors. Unlike Samsung and HTC, which provide full program guides and, in Samsung's case, the ability to search its video store, QRemote provides little more than a set of virtual buttons for changing the channel, the volume and the video source.
Configuring QRemote to work with a new device was simple enough. We simply selected a room of the house (living room, bedroom, etc.), chose the type of device we wanted to control, then the brand. The software then invited us to test whether we could power on/off the device and use some of its other controls. In our tests, we were able to successfully add a Motorola cable box and an LG TV, but QRemote did not recognize a Samsung cable box on the Time Warner network. Even with the cable box it did recognize, the software did not provide a button for the cable Guide, only the settings, channel and volume.
Translation apps are fast becoming table stakes in the Android smartphone race. Samsung's recently announced Galaxy S4 has voice translation and the ability to translate emails and text messages built-in. Google makes its own Google Translate app and LG has QTranslator on the Optimus G Pro. Using QTranslator, you can hover the camera over words on a piece of paper or sign and get translations as you move.
However, in our brief testing, QTranslator was not perfect. First, we had to choose which language we were translating from, a problem if you don't know whether the menu in front of you is Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified or something else. Second, we had to wait a couple of seconds as we hovered over each word and QTranslator pulled a translation down from the cloud. The app makes available offline dictionaries, which can speed up translation time and include accuracy, but you need to buy these; they were around 3,500 wan (around $3 U.S.) on our Korean review unit.
QTranslator's online translations, which come from Google Translate's database, were highly accurate. When we scanned a Chinese language flash card with some words and phrases on it, the app translated three out of four phrases correctly.
With its 1.7-GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU and 2GB of RAM, the LG Optimus G Pro offers blazing fast performance. Whether we were editing video, surfing the Web or swiping through the gallery, performance was smooth and seamless with no awkward pauses. When we played the graphically intense Jetski racing game "Riptide GP," images were sharp and motion smooth as we zoomed around the track.
On Quadrant, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall CPU performance, the LG Optimus G Pro scored a strong mark of 12,075, well above the 3,674 category average, the Galaxy Note II's mark of 5,763 and the Galaxy S III's score of 5,159. However, the HTC One, which has the same CPU, scored just a little higher, at 12,426.
The Optimus G Pro scored a solid 7,556 on the graphics-oriented An3DBench test, much better than the 7,111 smartphone category average and the Samsung Galaxy S III (7,272). However, the HTC One managed a stronger 7,724, as did the Galaxy Note II (7,707).
The LG Optimus G Pro's 13-MP rear-facing camera took sharp, detailed images in good to slightly dim lighting conditions, but produced somewhat noisy pictures in low light. When we shot images outdoors during the day and early evening, colors were accurate but not particularly vibrant. Indoor shots in good light were also sharp, but colors such as skin tones and clothing had a bit of a yellow tinge. When we shot some photos of a baby in very low light, his features were clear and detailed but the image suffered from some visual noise.
The 2-MP front-facing camera captured sharp, detailed images of our face in bright light but washed out our features in dark rooms or with a light source behind us.
LG packs the camera with a slew of helpful photo and video capture features that dramatically improve the picture-taking experience. Our favorite of these features is Time Machine mode, which captures five additional pictures from the time right before you snap your picture, so you can go back and save any of those "missing moments."
When shooting pics of a toddler, we found Time Machine mode particularly useful, because our subject had usually turned his face away and stopped doing something cute by the time we hit the shutter button. Even so, we were able to get images of his smiling face among the five possible "missing moments" the program displayed. Unfortunately, once you take your next picture you lose the opportunity to retrieve missed moments from the previous shot.
The Optimus G Pro's camera isn't particularly fast. Though it supports burst mode, the camera took 2 seconds to shoot individual images, whether you're on the first picture of a session or subsequent shots. Compare that to HTC's One series of phones, which takes 0.7 seconds for the first shot and even less for the second and beyond. Also, when shooting in burst mode, all the images are automatically saved in the gallery, without a way to easily choose only the best shots from a series and discard the rest.
Unlike some competitors that provide a ton of filters, LG offers only a few simple options such as sepia, negative image and monochrome. A feature called Beauty Shot supposedly smoothes out skin on pictures of people, but we didn't notice much of a difference when using it.
Taking a wide image with Panorama mode was a snap; the Optimus G Pro's software simply directed us to rotate the phone around slowly and then stitched together an extremely accurate image when it had gathered enough data. Panoramas we shot in both an outdoor setting and a roomful of moving people both stitched together accurately, without blur or distortion.
Panorama VR mode allows you to capture more than just a straight horizontal band of images, as you can take pictures both above and below your original position. Though it took much longer to snap all those angles, an image we took of a rooftop stitched together really well, with just a couple of points where the railing on the roof didn't quite match up.
When it comes to video, the 13-MP camera is no slouch, capturing smooth, sharp images in a variety of situations, from a city street with cars running down it at midday to a baby pushing his own stroller in sunlight. When we shot a video of the same baby playing in his crib in a dark room, the image had some noise. However, when we enabled WDR recording mode, the image became much brighter and cleaner.
LG's highly touted Dual Recording mode allows you to shoot videos of both the front and back cameras at the same time, with one of the two sides appearing in a small box overlayed on top of the main video. Unfortunately, we found that most of the time, the image of our face was covered in shadow. Whether we were standing on a roof filming the street below or teasing an infant in a sunny room, our visage was dark even when the content from the main camera was bright and colorful. Unlike Samsung's dual-camera feature, on the Optimus G Pro you can only record video, not stills.
Once you've recorded videos, LG provides a couple of compelling apps to help you edit them. The tersely named Video Editor allows you to cut videos, stitch them together, add soundtracks or even overlay text.
Video Wiz makes it really easy to create fun music videos out of your stills and clips. Using the app, we were able to create a cute music video of our infant son in just a couple of minutes. First, we picked the clips we wanted to combine and placed them on a timeline. Then we selected background music, (which could be any music file but we chose one of LG's three preloaded songs) and selected the exact section of the song we wanted to loop in the background.
We then chose a transition style from among six types, ranging from "no effects" to "spotlight," which shines a light on your content, or "scrapbook," which makes your video appear on the pages of a scrapbook that's turning between scenes. Within a couple of minutes, we had a fun little video of a baby crawling around with a set of frequent transition effects -- the app decides when and where to place the transitions -- and background music. We could preview the clip right away, but exporting to the gallery took about 3 minutes.
Built into the back of the Optimus G Pro is an NFC chip that can be used with Wi-Fi Direct and Android Beam to transfer data from one device to another. However, it wouldn't work with an LG wireless-charging pad.
Battery Life and Call Quality
While riding on AT&T's 3G network, our LG Optimus G Pro's 3,140 mAh battery lasted a respectable 6 hours and 49 minutes, comfortably above the 6 hour and 5-minute smartphone category average and about on par with the HTC One's time of 6:45 minutes.
However, our LG Optimus Pro review unit was optimized for Korean carrier SK Telecom, so it's hard to tell whether the actual endurance will be better or worse when we test a handset that's been made specifically for an American carrier with 4G LTE. Call quality on AT&T's network was crystal clear when we dialed a friend on a landline.
With its powerful processor, billboard-like screen and powerful set of software utilities, LG's Optimus G Pro is one of the most feature-packed smartphones yet. We especially like the enhancements LG has made to QSlide for multitasking. However, some may question the need for such a large display without the benefit a stylus. And while there are a ton of camera features, the Optimus G Pro doesn't take the best pictures in low light.
Those who want a smaller handset might want to consider the HTC One, which has a better screen, more premium design and takes brighter photos. However, the One lacks the Optimus G Pro's removable battery and exciting suite of custom apps. Shoppers should also consider the upcoming 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4 (which packs even more into a one-hand-friendly design) or wait to see what the Galaxy Note 3 has in store. However, if you want a big-screen phone with plenty of performance and great productivity features, the LG Optimus G Pro should be near the top of your list.