It's not uncommon for US carriers to take an international smartphone under their wings, make a few adjustments to hardware and firmware, stamp their fat logos in multiple places and then sell it to the masses. Verizon is no exception: the LG Intuition is its interpretation of the Optimus Vu, a 5-inch phablet we reviewed over the summer. Perhaps calling it an "interpretation" is a bit of an overstatement: aside from a bump in firmware and Big Red's LTE, it is the Optimus Vu. In fact, going into this review, we had a difficult time believing our experience would be much different than our run-in with the Korean version.
Our first reaction is that this doesn't bode well for the carrier. If Verizon opted for the Intuition in order to fill a gaping hole in its lineup, we have a hard time understanding why it would choose to greenlight this particular device with the Samsung Galaxy Note II coming within the next two months. The device's quiet launch is a solid enough indication that the network isn't planning on throwing a lot marketing dollars behind it, so it feels as though the Intuition's main reason for existing is to bolster Verizon's rapidly expanding LTE portfolio. Is there something intriguing about the Intuition ($200 with a two-year commitment) that wasn't there when we first played with the Vu? Or will we find ourselves in the Twilight Zone, reliving the same moment over and over again? Let's find out.
LG Intuition for Verizon review
- Solid build, elegant aesthetics
- Performs well on a year-old processor
- Awkward to hold
- Lackluster HD video capture
- Horrendous battery life
- Included pen low on functionality
The Intuition is a mediocre phone with last year's specs, and only a select few buyers will even feel comfortable holding it.
Huey Lewis famously sang that it's hip to be square, but what would he say about a smartphone that takes an oddly similar shape? Thanks to its 5-inch screen and 4:3 aspect ratio, we know the LG Intuition (once codenamed the "Batman," hilariously enough) is more of a fatty rectangle in reality, but we couldn't help but draw this comparison shortly after we first took the phone out of its packaging. Of course, we already knew precisely what to expect; this is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as the original Optimus Vu that debuted in Korea a few months ago. To say it's the odd duck of the mobile industry is likely an understatement; this is like a phablet-sized Pantech Pocket.
You may argue that the 5-inch screen puts the Intuition in the same territory as the 5.3-inch OG Galaxy Note (and even the 5.5-inch Note II), but here's the kicker: the Notes achieve their larger screen size by adding vertical real estate and using small bezels, which actually helps them stay significantly narrower than Verizon's latest monstrosity. What does this mean? It means both generations of the Note are much easier to hold in one hand than the Intuition. Awkwardness abounds, even in the largest of hands. The one advantage here is the device's thickness: at 8.5mm deep, it's noticeably thinner than its competition. At 5.93 ounces (168g), it's a tad lighter, too. The killer dimension -- the one that will make or break the deal for the 99th percentile of prospective buyers -- is the 90.4mm (3.56 inch) width, as we alluded to before. Don't get us wrong: we're used to handling large phones, but that just goes to show how exceptionally wide the Intuition is, that it's too much for our already outlandish standards. All of our regular (and frankly, mundane) activities felt inhibited: picking the phone up to answer calls, putting it in a pocket (wearers of tight jeans will definitely be affected) and any other one-handed routine. The reason the width is so important -- and worth so many words in this review -- is because it has such an overwhelming effect on our overall usability experience. It's going to take you a lot of getting used to.
How is it possible that the Intuition is wider than the Notes, yet offers a smaller screen? Two factors are involved here: aspect ratio and bezel. The designers of the Optimus Vu wanted a 4:3 ratio instead of the traditional 16:9, which results in a trade-off of vertical pixels in favor of horizontal ones. On top of that, the bezel around all sides of the phone is seemingly much larger than it really needs to be. Maybe LG felt it was more important to have extra space for gripping when you're watching a video or looking at pictures. Perhaps the additional room was necessary to fit all of the necessary components. Regardless, we'd argue that the size of the device itself could easily be trimmed down without consequence.
Despite an awkward one-handed experience, we found that it was a completely different story when we handled the phone and the included Rubberdium (no, not Rubbermaid) stylus with a pair of hands instead. Similar to the Galaxy Note, the Intuition feels more natural to use when you're jotting notes, playing games or performing any other two-handed activity. We appreciate the girth of the stylus in relation to the size of a standard pen or pencil (it's also thicker than the S Pen), but there's one point of extreme frustration: despite being a larger phone, there is no slot to stash that Rubberdium pen. You're limited to keeping it in your pocket (a dangerous practice, in our opinion -- we have a hard enough time holding onto our keys) or clipping it onto a shirt, purse or whatever else you use the entire day. Heck, we would've been at least slightly relieved to somehow attach the stylus to the phone via lanyard, but even that doesn't appear to be an option. Is the Rubberdium pen even worth the effort of doing everything possible to make sure you don't lose the thing? Unless you plan on doing a lot of doodling, LG's stylus will likely spend more time in your desk drawer than being put to good use on the Intuition -- where the S Pen actually extends the functionality of the phone by offering pressure sensitivity, heightened precision and a built-in screenshot capture button (amongst other features) on top of a Wacom digitizer, the Rubberdium pen simply acts as an extension of your finger. It's essentially a nice-looking stylus with a small conductive rubber tip, and that's about it.
In terms of connectivity, Verizon LTE (band 13, 700MHz) is naturally present here, as is CDMA (we're reaching out to Verizon to see if global roaming is officially supported, as the numerous spec sheets seem to conflict); its Korean counterpart boasts 800MHz LTE (used in South Korea), HSPA+ 2100MHz, CDMA and quadband GSM / EDGE. Using the latter model in the US would result in nothing but utter frustration, as you'd have no choice but to use 2G data speeds. The original also features a pullout T-DMB TV antenna -- a popular addition for South Koreans -- but the Intuition doesn't seem to make use of the space created by its absence. Aside from that, the external hardware is precisely the same as you compare the two side-by-side. Above the display sits the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, proximity sensor, internal speaker and the Verizon logo. On the opposite end you'll find four capacitive buttons (an oddity for phones that come with Android 4.0 or higher, but not unheard of) and an awkwardly placed LG logo sandwiched right in between the middle two soft keys. This is even more curious, given the fact that an even larger version of the logo occupies the center of the back, and the original Vu remains void of any logos on the front. The left edge of the Intuition offers a micro-SIM slot with a fingernail-unfriendly cover, which means you have to push in the end of a paper clip to swap the cards out. We're seeing this design trend only increase rather than decrease, so we'd recommend you invest a couple quarters to grab a few extra paper clips (yes, they're still around) in case you're in a bind and you don't know where you placed your lucky Clippy. The top is the busiest part of the entire phone, since it houses the power / standby button, micro-USB port (with sliding cover, which is a nice touch that reminds us of the Samsung Captivate), screen capture button, noise cancelling mic and a 3.5mm headphone jack. We'll go into more detail about the screen capture button later. The right edge of the Intuition is where you can find the volume up / down buttons -- two separate keys, rather than a rocker.
Finally, we'll tackle the back, which sports a textured plastic build and has a slightly different pattern than the original Vu. The non-removable cover (which means the battery isn't user-accessible) appears to be raised above the rest of the chassis and stays flat until it reaches the left and right edges, where it then slopes down to meet the frame. The camera and LED flash are on the top left, while the mono speaker resides on the bottom left. The obligatory logos (LG's and Verizon's LTE symbol), as well as FCC information, are found on the back to take up much more space than they should.
We'll hand it to LG: it made a pretty solid slab of hardware: this thing is well-built and feels quite sturdy. For a device this large, durability is of the essence -- throughout our time with the Intuition, we found ourselves trying pretty hard not to drop it. From what we can tell, LG is putting in a lot of effort to fine-tune its design, as we found the latest generation of products (Optimus Vu, Optimus 4X, the L-series and Optimus G) to be a refreshing departure from some of the company's earlier efforts. You'll also be able to enjoy NFC (LG Tag+ support is included), Bluetooth 3.0 + HS, DLNA, MHL and 2.4GHz WiFi 802.11 b/g/n (no 5GHz support here, unfortunately). There's no external storage, but at least you'll have 32GB internal memory to work with (though only about 26GB is user-accessible).
This particular display is one we don't see all too often in a smartphone: the Intuition, like the Optimus Vu, takes advantage of a 5-inch XGA (1,024 x 768) HD-IPS display. This resolution results in the 4:3 aspect ratio mentioned earlier and translates into a pixel density of 256ppi, a number that display aficionados may find disappointing. Indeed, it's taking a loss of 30ppi or so compared to the Notes, but it's pretty hard to tell: we couldn't see any jagged edges, and without squinting the display appeared to be as vibrant and colorful as we'd like it to be without going the Super AMOLED route of oversaturation. On high brightness we could easily view the screen in daylight, and viewing angles were acceptable, though not as good as we've witnessed from other high-end phones like the HTC One X.
The 4:3 ratio is great in some ways, terrible in others. On the bright side, it offers more reading space, which is nice when reading an e-book, browsing a lengthy web article or writing / drawing memos with your stylus. On the other hand, apps designed for 16:9 viewing look odd when they're stretched out (we'll cover this in more detail shortly), and movies are significantly letterboxed. The last part is rather unfortunate: one of the benefits of a larger screen should be the ability to watch high-res videos and actually see a decent amount of detail, but you're not going to get that with the Intuition -- this puts it at a serious disadvantage over the Galaxy Note. The movies still look great on the IPS display, but it's basically the same experience you'd get on a smaller phone.
Look, it may not run Jelly Bean, but the silver lining is that it's not Gingerbread, either. In other words, the Intuition runs on Android 4.0.4 (the cool kids call it Ice Cream Sandwich) -- a breath of fresh air considering LG's decision to place 2010 firmware on the original Optimus Vu. We haven't heard whether the Intuition will eventually see an upgrade to Jelly Bean, but if it does, it's probably not going to be in the immediate future -- after all, LG hasn't been the quickest to upgrade its Gingerbread phones to ICS, so we have a difficult time believing it would substantially improve its refresh speed. Of course, the Intuition isn't running stock ICS -- far from it, in fact, as it sports LG's cartoonish UI 3.0, with a significant amount of work done for the phone to ensure its 4:3 display doesn't leave the core apps looking wonky. These apps make good use of the additional pixels, but third-party apps are a little different story because they appear stretched out just so they can reach out to all four corners of the panel (as a comparison, think of how phone apps look on a tablet when they aren't properly optimized for the larger screens). Some programs look just fine this way, but there were quite a few that we couldn't stand looking at without changing the aspect ratio back to the way they were developed to run. If you want to see these apps as they look in their natural 16:9 habitat, you can do so by holding the home button for a few seconds and selecting the option on the resulting pop-up menu. The Rubberdium-friendly apps also help the Intuition stand out from the rest of the crowd (aside from the Note, naturally). First on the list is Notebook, which lives up to its name by offering the full 5-inch display as a playground for your pen. It works well as your run-of-the-mill notepad, but our experience was a little jaded after having enjoyed the superior capabilities of the Galaxy Note Premium Suite, which offers handwriting recognition, answers mathematical equations and even straightens out crooked shapes and patterns. Notebook, unfortunately, does nothing of the sort.
LG Intuition screenshots
The leaf (Intuition) didn't fall far from the tree (Optimus Vu) with its camera: both devices take advantage of 8-megapixel sensors in the rear and 1.3MP in the front, and the pair are both capable of capturing video up to 1080p resolution. They both offer the same array of settings: ISO, white balance, color effect, plenty of scene modes and brightness adjustments. Panorama is also available, but HDR capabilities are nowhere to be found. We were also saddened that we weren't able to hold down the shutter button to lock exposure and / or focus. We took images with the Intuition, Optimus Vu and Samsung Galaxy Note (AT&T, upgraded to ICS) side-by-side and both LG devices offer roughly the same amount of detail, though there were a few shots in which the Intuition prevailed over the Vu with slightly better color saturation and dynamic range. Neither one, however, could match up against the 8MP sensor on the Galaxy Note -- the Samsung phone snapped images with more saturated and realistic colors (the LGs appeared to be more washed-out) and was the clear winner in dynamic range. It did better in close-up shots as well. For daylight shots, the Intuition's camera isn't terrible -- it just doesn't compete with its phablet competitor.
LG Intuition sample shots
LG Optimus Vu sample shots
AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note (ICS) camera samples
If you're hoping for better performance out of the video capture, you'll be greatly disappointed. Again, the 1080p HD quality matches that of the Optimus Vu in that we have a hard time even calling it high-definition. While the Intuition did a decent job at capturing motion, it was incredibly grainy no matter what time of day the footage was taken at. We even noticed the camcorder lose focus on occasion. Audio was also below average, as some of our movies sounded a little muffled. Results at 720p were about the same, so it almost makes sense to simply opt for the lower-res setting just to conserve storage space.
Performance and battery life
We've noticed that one key category has been the subject of much mystery and confusion: the SoC. The original Optimus Vu features a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 MSM8660 processor paired with an Adreno 220 GPU, and there has been much speculation that the Intuition was upgraded to an S4. (None of the official spec sheets say for sure.) We wouldn't have been terribly surprised if this were the case -- even the Optimus Vu itself got a generous bump up to a quad-core Tegra 3 over the course of time. Not so with the LG Intuition, sadly. The answer wasn't so easy to find; despite surfing through an onslaught of system diagnostic tests, we couldn't get a straight answer on the exact chipset used. Instead, each one told us the same thing: the Intuition features a MSM8X60 chip. That missing digit is somewhat crucial to solving the S3 / S4 puzzle, naturally, but we also discovered that the phone uses an Adreno 220 GPU -- the graphical processor of choice for S3 chips. Indeed, what we have here is in fact a MSM8660, the same 45nm silicon found in the first Optimus Vu in addition to the HTC Rezound, EVO 3D and AT&T's flavor of the Samsung Galaxy Note. In other words, the Intuition is in great company... with last year's high-end phones (or early this year, in the case of the AT&T Note).
Certainly, this fact led us to initially assume that the performance of the two phones would be virtually identical to one another. The duo has more commonalities than differences, after all. Let's take a quick look at the benchmarks to see how they hold up. Just for the sake of comparison with similarly specced devices, we also threw in the AT&T Galaxy Note.
|LG Intuition||LG Optimus Vu||Samsung Galaxy Note (AT&T)|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||2,214||2,339||2,665|
|GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)||32||34||34|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better. Tests were run on default browser.|
As you can see, the Intuition benefits from a slight uptick in most benchmark scores, and we imagine this largely has to do with the fact it's running newer firmware. Still, these results won't hold a candle to what we typically see on the more common S4 chips. In real-life use, however, we didn't have many complaints -- everything ran smoothly with only an occasional hiccup. We were able to multitask easily and gaming was a breeze. Essentially, our experience with the Intuition was quite similar to that of the Optimus Vu. The only area we noticed lag in was the browser. While it didn't take very long to load pages, we experienced slow scrolling and a bit of tiling as the phone attempted to render images and text -- especially after zooming in and out. One of our biggest concerns with the Optimus Vu was the battery life. A phone this large needs to have enough power behind it to make it last a respectable amount of time, but 2,080mAh simply wasn't enough to cut it. How about the Intuition? The battery hasn't changed, so it shouldn't come as much surprise that it performed pretty much the same way. While the Vu barely eked out a full five hours in our intensive video rundown stress test, the Intuition managed to get an extra hour of juice, totaling five hours and 58 minutes. When it comes to real-world usage, you'll be lucky to make this phone last a full 10-hour workday. It wasn't atypical for our unit to drain 20 percent in an hour and a half of web surfing and catching up on social media. When it comes to making calls, we didn't run into any problems with dropped calls, static or volume. Frankly, as you might expect, the only real concern comes in gripping the phone and holding up to your ear. Yes, this is the kind of device that encourages the use of Bluetooth headsets, as the level of awkwardness is pretty high.
Despite sporting a set of mono speakers on the back, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality found therein. We found them to be plenty loud for our needs, but it's quite obvious that users who prefer to hold phones in their right hand will be frustrated by the speakers' location when using the Intuition in portrait mode. Since the speaker grille is placed in the lower-left corner of the phone's backside, it rests smack-dab in the palm of your right hand. This is sure to cause a significant amount of muffling. Using the device in landscape mode for movies, however, you likely won't run into this concern (provided you hold it so that the volume buttons face up, anyway).
As we mentioned earlier, the Intuition also comes with MHL compatibility. Plugging in the array of cables rewarded us with a "Media Home" screen, a simplified menu letting you choose between videos, pictures and music. There's also an exit button handy in case you're just in the mood for some casual HDMI mirroring. Everything looked and sounded great when we were hooked up. The Intuition offers Bluetooth 3.0+HS, and putting it to the test we found we were able to pull down an average file transfer speed of 100-110 KB/s received and 80 KB/s sent. USB file transfers were quite a bit more varied: the phone received files at an average of 3.26 MB/s and sent them to our MacBook Pro at 14.07 MB/s. Finally, the GPS treated us quite well, locking an accurate location within 10 seconds and retaining an accuracy of less than 20 feet as we took the navigation system for a test drive.
We'll admit that our gripes with the width of the Intuition is more of a matter of personal preference and the extra girth may suit folks just fine (provided you have gargantuan hands or simply enjoy the 4:3 aspect ratio too much) -- however, we'd be more willing to give it a pass if the device itself isn't a study in mediocrity. Unfortunately, our head-to-head showdown between it and the Galaxy Note II did nothing more than convince us that this isn't the phablet Verizon fans have been waiting for. Call it a glitch in the Matrix if you'd like, but we can't shake the feeling that we've seen this phone before.
*Verizon is currently in the process of acquiring AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.