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.