The large-phone craze is rocking the world like a hurricane, and LG is no stranger to this trend: within the last year, the Korean manufacturer has launched two big-screened smartphones as Optimus Vus (three if you count the LG Intuition on Verizon) to mediocre fanfare worldwide. Given the growing competition in the category -- most notably from its rival Samsung with the Galaxy Note series -- it was inevitable that a stronger campaign, as well as a leader to drive it, was necessary.
This is where the LG Optimus G Pro comes in, taking advantage of a 5.5-inch, 1080p True HD-IPS + LCD panel while pulling in several design and feature cues from its smaller (yet elder) siblings, the Optimus G and Nexus 4. As if the display wasn't enough, LG tops it off with one of the world's first Snapdragon 600 quad-core processors, 2GB RAM and a 13MP rear camera with all the trimmings. It may not be LG's current flagship, per se, but the laundry list of features indicates to us that it's sure acting the part, at the very least. Should its reputation be as large as its screen, or is the Optimus G Pro using that extra size to compensate for something? Follow along as we explore the inner and outer beauty of LG's large-on-life smartphone.
With a beautiful display, super-fast processor and other top-of-the-line features, the Optimus G Pro is a rock-solid Note II competitor sans the stylus.
Even though it bears the name of the Optimus G, LG actually considers the Optimus G Pro to be part of a different design lineup. Whereas the former is focused on premium design (with buzzwords like precision, delicacy and sophistication), the latter puts a greater emphasis on high-performance design; you'll be hard-pressed to find fancier componentry in a smartphone. Ergonomics -- not style -- is the name of the design game this time around, as the handset features a comfortable and friendly shape, with round corners and soft edges.
We're going to play the role of mind reader for a minute and predict that, on first blush, you're not actually looking at the ergonomics of the phone. It's much more likely that you're instead thinking that you've seen this device before. It's inevitable that any 5.5-inch device that LG puts out would automatically draw comparisons between it and the Samsung Galaxy Note II. If you quickly glance at both side by side, the two smartphones look pretty similar to each other on the front and back, but they're actually quite different in plenty of other areas. At 150.2 x 76.1 x 9.4mm (5.91 x 3 x 0.37 inches), the G Pro is shorter and narrower than its Samsungian rival, which measures 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm (5.95 x 3.16 x 0.37 inches). This is mainly because the bezel is much smaller all the way around the device. LG's model is also lighter at 6.06 ounces (172g) versus the Note II's 6.35 ounces (180g).
Even though both phones are 9.4mm thick, they achieve that mark with different designs. The Note II offers a sloped edge and slightly curved back to match its pebble-like, "inspired by nature" design, which means there isn't much room to rest your fingers; the G Pro's back, on the other hand, is flat almost all the way to the sides with rounded corners that meet up with the phone's edges more abruptly. This makes the sides of the phone straighter than the Note II, and it's much more comfortable to hold because our stretched-out fingers have a solid place to grip onto the phone. We doubt it will be much of a difference if you have small hands and a general aversion to holding large phones, but one-handed use is at least easier on the G Pro than it is on the Note II.
The Optimus G Pro is narrower and easier to hold than the Note II
Though it boasts a better fit and feel than the Note II, the G Pro isn't perfect: its back is too slippery for our liking, which means we had to rely solely on those edges to ensure that we had a tight grip on the phone. Aside from that, however, we have no qualms with the device's build quality or durability; sure, the G Pro doesn't have the same premium feel as the Optimus G, but the frame and back cover are comprised of solid plastics that don't give an aura of cheapness. There's no flexing or creaks on any part of the chassis, and we don't get quite as nervous about dropping it as we would with the Optimus G or Nexus 4.
The back is just as beautiful to behold as the Optimus G and Nexus 4, and that's mostly because the G Pro utilizes the same checkerboard-like design cues from the two previous phones. One major improvement over those two, however, is the fact that the back is not made of glass. It may not offer the same kind of premium feel for this reason, but it's much more likely to withstand a drop or two. An external speaker grille, LED flash and 13MP camera surrounded with brushed metal line the top end of the back, with U+ LTE and LG logos sitting beneath. Remove the back cover and you'll come face to face with a 3,140mAh removable battery, micro-SIM slot and a place to rest your microSD card. Additionally, this is also where you'll find contacts for NFC.
Turning the phone around to the front, you'll see the earpiece nestled along the top edge next to the sensors and a 2.1MP front-facing camera. However, the most interesting part is on the opposite end of the display: the LED notification light cleverly sits under the home button, its soft glow surrounding the button itself. (For a little bit of enjoyment, pay close attention to the light when booting up the phone -- nearly every color of the rainbow will show up as you wait for the G Pro to start.) Unfortunately, this was the only part of the home button we loved, since it was a too skinny and flush with the frame, which made it a little more difficult to press. The back and menu soft keys flank the home button on the left and right, respectively.
The LED notification light glows underneath the home button, which is a clever touch
We like what LG has done on the sides of the G Pro. It's designed the phone to offer all of the buttons, ports and customizable bits that we use on a regular basis, and it did so without making the outside of the G Pro look like a scattered mess. A chrome stripe races down the left and right edges until it widens at the top and bottom to cover the entire depth of the phone. The top of the phone features a 3.5mm headphone jack, an IR blaster, mic and retractable T-DMB antenna (which is used for Korea's live TV services). The left side is home to the volume rocker and the QButton, which is a handy shortcut key that we'll discuss later in the review. Over to the right side is the power button. On the bottom, you'll find the micro-USB charging port that's also used for SlimPort.
LG Optimus G Pro
150.2 x 76.1 x 9.4mm (5.91 x 3.0 x 0.37 in)
6.06 oz. (172g)
5.5 inches (5.46 inches usable space)
1,920 x 1,080 (401 ppi)
True HD-IPS + LCD, RGB
3,140mAh (comes with spare)
32GB (29GB available)
microSDXC, up to 64GB
13.2MP, AF, LED
1080p, 30 fps (front and back)
LTE: 850 / 2100 (bands 1 and 5)
HSPA/UMTS: 900 / 1800 / 1900
GSM / GPRS: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (APQ8064T) with MDM9615M modem (SK/KT use MDM9215M)
T-DMB, DLNA, Miracast, SlimPort
Dual-band, 802.11a/b/g/n, WiFi Direct
Android 4.1.2, Optimus UI
In the space of just three months, 1080p displays have evolved from a non-existent smartphone feature to the primary indicator of a phone's flagship status. Luckily, the Optimus G Pro offers such a screen, which LG bills as True HD-IPS + LCD. Frankly, we've never seen a 1080p smartphone panel we didn't like, and the G Pro's non-PenTile, 5.46-inch rendition is no exception -- especially when viewed next to the Note II's 5.55-inch, 720p display. (As an aside, both phones use the same panel size, but LG packs more unused pixels around the border to make the viewable screen space slightly smaller.) Crunching the numbers, the phone's pixel density (401 ppi) is lower than that of the HTC One (468 ppi) and the Droid DNA (440 ppi), but the difference between the two is not quite so cut-and-dry as the number would indicate.
Viewing angles? The G Pro's got them... a lot of them. IPS panels are known for excelling in this arena, and the Pro is now the official poster child for that screen tech. If watching movies or reading books from extreme angles is your thing (or you just like it when friends or strangers start peeking at what you're watching), it definitely won't disappoint. The only display with superior angles is the S-LCD3 on the Droid DNA, and it only beats out the Pro by an extremely slight margin. The screen takes a hit in direct sunlight, however, as we had to bump the brightness up to at least 80 percent in order to see anything clearly.
The G Pro display features incredibly natural colors and great viewing angles, but it's a bit difficult to see in sunlight
Moving on to color saturation. We viewed the Pro side by side with the Note II and Droid DNA, and the Pro easily featured the most natural colors of the trio; the DNA was typically undersaturated, while the AMOLED panel on the Note II unsurprisingly was on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Now that 1080p is becoming commonplace in the high-end smartphone market, is there really any wow factor involved with the G Pro's display? Absolutely. Seeing such rich, crisp text and smooth lines on this large of a screen is pretty close to awe-striking. It may not be packing as many pixels per inch as the DNA, but it sure comes close enough to make very little difference for our eyes -- you're not going to see a single pixel on either screen, after all. They're both gorgeous, and this one just happens to take advantage of a larger display.
As HTC noted recently, megapixel count isn't everything -- it is, however, a very welcome feature as long as you have solid enough firmware and components to back it up. We believe that LG has accomplished this very thing with the 13-megapixel rear camera found on the G Pro, which has an f/2.4 aperture, a 1/3.06-inch BSI sensor, EIS, 3.92mm focal length, AF and LED flash. As for the front, you can expect a 2.1MP module with 4.6mm focal length.
Before we dive into performance, it's worth mentioning that the G Pro has most of the tweakable settings and features we love to play with when grabbing good shots. From the customizable left sidebar you can fiddle with intelligent auto (which detects 27 modes), HDR, panorama, white balance, voice shutter mode, ISO, scenes and focus modes. A dedicated macro mode was nowhere to be found, but most close-ups turn out totally fine on normal mode, so we won't dwell too much on the absence of this feature.
Even though the G Pro doesn't come with a built-in shutter key, there are three alternative options happy to take its place: the QButton and each end of the volume rocker. The only bummer about this is that you can't partially press any of the keys to lock in focus, a feature that LG has added into the Pro's virtual shutter button. (Locking in exposure still appears to be absent.)
If we were to do a teardown of the G Pro, we'd say it's entirely likely that we would find the same camera module as the original Optimus G. By looking at the results, however, it's clear that LG's been working hard at the software side over the past few months. Most shots benefited from a crisp focus and were extremely detailed; we were impressed by how far we were able to zoom in on objects without much degradation of quality or an increase in noise. However, if we may be a little nitpicky (and let's face it; we're nitpicky a lot), many of the pictures we took appeared a little too cold primarily because the default auto white balance is on the blue side.
The camera delivers amazing detail, though white balance is a bit on the cold side
We were also impressed by how much light the G Pro was able to capture in dark rooms and outside in dimly lit neighborhoods -- and not just that; we were pleasantly surprised that our images were accompanied by relatively little noise. The LED flash works well, providing our subjects with plenty of light, yet it's not so bright that it washes out everything in sight.
In addition to the regular panorama mode, the G Pro has something called VR Panorama. Think Photo Sphere for Android 4.2: you can take a series of pictures in any direction (and a full 360 degrees, if you'd like) and VR will stitch them together to form a 3D-like picture that lets you see much more than just one simple shot can capture. With the finished product, it can either pan around the entire panorama for you, or you can move the phone around and the picture will move accordingly. When this reviewer attempted to take images of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, it quickly became evident that no standard image would be able to get the entire thing in just one take; stitch several together, however, and it becomes a completely different story. It's a great feature in theory, but unfortunately it all too often failed at its mission -- stitching was blatantly obvious in nearly every single attempt we made.
The camcorder functionality is essentially the same on both sides, which means you get 1080p video recording at 30fps both coming and going. The best news, though, is that the experience is perfectly smooth with little to no choppy motion whatsoever, and the amount of detail that goes into each video is quite intricate. Audio is very clear and loud, but background noises factored into the final product more than we expected.
The Optimus G Pro's dual-camera recording capability is a lot of fun and works surprisingly well, even if most people don't find much need for it
Along with new generations of processors come all sorts of new features and ideas to take advantage of the extra horsepower, and the G Pro's camera offers a clever one: dual-camera recording. It gives you the power to produce videos from the rear-facing and front-facing cameras simultaneously, with the selfie cam displayed as a pop-up screen. You can move and resize the window, and even switch views so that the rear-facing viewpoint is in the foreground instead. This could come in handy if you want to interview someone and you want to record your reactions and follow-up questions on video (think CNN-style). Even though this was the feature's first implementation, we couldn't find any bugs, lag or frame skips throughout the entire process. Everything was just as smooth as any of our videos that are recorded normally, though it's important to note that max resolution is 720p.
Speaking of nice software touches that enhance your overall experience, the G Pro allows you to zoom in on videos as they're being played back. This applies to all kinds of videos, whether or not they were actually taken on the device itself.
Goodbye, UI 3.0. Hello, Optimus UI. The name change in LG's signature user interface accompanies an upgrade to Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.2) and a heavy dose of bloatware that's specific to LG's U+ network in South Korea, the carrier on which our review unit is being sold. Not counting the standard suite of Android apps, there are no less than 35 apps pre-loaded on the phone, a few of which can't be disabled or uninstalled.
LG's multi-screen feature brings unique functionality but no third-party support
Outside of the carrier-specific programs, LG is also placing a heavy emphasis on its Q-branded services. For instance, QSlide is LG's take on Multi Window, one of our favorite Note II features. To begin, it's all about multi-tasking. QSlide gives you the opportunity to have two windows open at the same time, while a third app (or the front page, depending on your preference) is allowed to linger in the background. Each window can be resized and even made transparent, giving you the ability to see the app while making changes to the one below it at the same time. QSlide also takes up space in the notification bar, which is different from the Note II's use of a special sidebar on the main screen.
The concern we have with QSlide so far is the glaring lack of app support. This may change as the G Pro (and the Optimus G, which also includes the feature) gains popularity, but seven available apps simply won't cut it -- especially now that Samsung is quickly adding more third-party support to Multi Window. We'd also love to be able to open more than two apps at the same time. We have a hard time believing the Snapdragon 600 isn't powerful enough to support it.
QRemote makes use of the built-in IR sensor, turning your phone into a remote control for your home theater system. And we were happy with the results; the app lists support for nearly every major and minor manufacturer we could think of, and within a matter of a few seconds we had it calibrated to work on our Hitachi HDTV and LG Blu-ray player, each interface separated only by tabs on the top of the app. It's not a perfect replacement to their dedicated remotes, but most of the necessary navigation buttons and menus are there, and it's pretty convenient when you're lying down and that darn remote is just barely out of reach.
If you were a fan of BlackBerry's old convenience key, QButton will be of particular interest to you. While the purpose of the QButton is to give you fast access to any of LG's Q services, you can actually use it as a shortcut to any app you choose -- and it even doubles as a camera shutter key, if you prefer. We love it, but there's always room for improvement: we'd really like to see both a short-press and long-press option to give you two shortcuts on the same key.
There are plenty of other apps at your disposal, such as QTranslator, SmartTag (NFC tags), Video Editor and Video Wiz, AhnLab V3 Mobile 2.0 (antivirus), SmartWorld (LG's app store) and SmartShare (DLNA). Lastly, LG has thrown in a service called Safety Care, which takes the concept of Find my Phone and expands it. The service can send messages to a pre-determined emergency contact when the phone hasn't been used in a given amount of time, when you're making an emergency call or when you make a call (again, to predetermined contacts). Each of these messages shows your location, so your friends and family can find you as soon as possible if you're in a bad situation.
Performance and battery life
Just four months ago LG launched the Optimus G, which was the first device featuring Qualcomm's Fusion 3 chipset. The company didn't waste any time following it up with another first: the Optimus G Pro is the inaugural device to launch with Snapdragon's next-gen 600 chipset on board, which features a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU, Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB RAM to keep everything moving along speedily. Any time a new generation of wafers comes out, we naturally expect to see a hefty increase in our device's performance as a result. Before we go into more detail, let's get some metrics out of the way. Find our usual suite of benchmarks below.
LG Optimus G Pro
LG Optimus G
Samsung Galaxy Note II
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)
GLBenchmark Egypt 2.5 HD Offscreen (fps)
SunSpider: lower scores are better
Looking back at the S4 Pro's debut last fall, it was difficult for us to comprehend how anything could be faster or better than what we already had. We knew it was inevitable that Moore's law would continue along in its usual fashion this year, and we're a witness to its effect mere months after the APQ8064's introduction. The G Pro is the fastest smartphone we've ever used, though we have a feeling that it won't hold that title for very long -- 2013 will also be the year of Snapdragon 800, Exynos octo-core and Tegra 4 (our first benchmarks blow away anything we've seen so far), after all, so the war is just beginning. Since we're talking about the here and now, however, let's give the phone the credit it's due -- we threw plenty of processor-intensive tasks at the G Pro, but it remained unfazed. Websites loaded flawlessly, with no lag or tiling effects. Games also made good use of the Adreno 320 GPU inside, as we saw a lot of details in popular titles that we'd never seen on a smartphone before.
The Optimus G Pro comes with a second battery in the box, but one still gets you through a full day
The G Pro's battery life is predictable, but that's a good thing – a 3,140mAh cell is supposed to be good, and it is. And that's not the best part; our sample unit came with a second battery of equal size. This alone may be enough to win the hearts of power users and international travelers. But how well does a single battery do on one charge? If you judge by our battery endurance test, which consists of running a high-def video on endless loop, it's rather average, at just over seven and a half hours. Real-life use, though, was much more solid: we took a day to tour Barcelona, taking hundreds of pictures, doing a respectable amount of emailing and other work-related activities, getting involved in social media and battling dead zones as we walked around the city. The G Pro got through 14 hours before it died. This means that between the two batteries, you theoretically should only have to charge up once every other day, if not less frequently.
Phone calls? Yeah, we made our fair share of those on Vodafone Spain's 3G network, and our experience was great. The voice on the other end of the line was always loud and clear, and the noise cancellation filtered out the busy Mobile World Congress convention center so our friends couldn't even tell we were around other people. The external speakerphone was amazingly loud for calls, which was a pretty sharp contrast to the quieter speaker used for music and videos (this is an area in which the Note II beats out the G Pro soundly). With a decent pair of headphones, however, it's the opposite result: plenty of custom EQ settings and a surprisingly solid Dolby Mobile mode, with the help of a powerful audio driver, ensure that you have the best possible sound for multimedia playback.
We also conducted speed tests on 3G and averaged around 8 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up; of course, since our unit (the F240L) is optimized for use on LG's U+ network in South Korea, we have no doubt that we're not getting the best speeds possible in Europe. While we're on the subject of compatible radios, let's go into more detail: this particular unit has dual-band Korean LTE (850 / 2100), CDMA1800, HSPA / UMTS 900 / 1800 / 1900 and quad-band GSM / GPRS (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900). Even though Americans will want to wait for a variant that comes with the appropriate LTE radios, the G Pro at least includes support for 1900MHz 3G in case you're really interested in becoming an early adopter. With an AT&T SIM inserted, we received anywhere between one and four bars of signal (although the signal changed erratically), and our speed topped out at around 3.5Mbps down / 2Mbps up.
The G Pro offers both aGPS and GLONASS support, and in our navigation tests the positioning was always accurate within just a few feet and we were able to find our way around Barcelona pretty easily. Connectivity-wise, the phone also features Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n, SlimPort and WiFi Direct.
LG has been on a roll. In the last four months we've been treated to the Optimus G and Nexus 4, both flagship devices that have left us quite impressed. Fortunately the momentum continues to build for the Korean manufacturer as it launches the Optimus G Pro. With a higher-res screen, stronger performance and a solid design, the handset might be even more desirable than the Galaxy Note II. It'd be nice to see some stylus support, and we'll also have to wait a while for non-Korean variants to encircle the globe, but otherwise the G Pro succeeds as a compelling device for anyone interested in getting a phone larger than five inches.
(Updated on March 6, 2013, with additional camera specs and 3G bands)