As Android smartphones go, the LG Optimus G is a pretty capable, if nondescript, handset. Apparently, the folks at LG thought they could do one better, and the result is the 800-pound gorilla known as the Optimus G Pro.
Increasing the already expansive 4.7-inch display on the Optimus G, the G Pro features a stunning 5.5-inch, True HD IPS LCD. While it's only packing a pixel density of 400ppi, it's a bright, in-your-face display that consumes nearly the entire front of the device and can be viewed from just about any angle you can imagine.
For comparison's sake, that's bigger than either of the current Android darlings, the Samsung Galaxy S4and HTC One, and only slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, its spiritual cousin. As plastic handsets go, we prefer the Optimus G Pro's look and feel to that of current Galaxy models, although you'll want to keep a tight grip on it, since the back cover tends to be somewhat slippery at times.
Externally, the Optimus G Pro is a welcome departure from its predecessor. In place of the square-ish frame of the earlier model, LG has rounded off the corners and edges here to keep the 5.91 x 3.0 x 0.37-inch device as thin and unobtrusive as humanly possible.
At 6.14 ounces, the end result weighs nearly a full ounce over the original G, but the difference is negligible without holding them at the same time. Although AT&T markets the Pro as "indigo" in color, the fishnet-style dark blue back cover comes off as sheer black in all but the brightest lighting.
Aside from the 1920 x 1080 Full HD screen, the front of the G Pro features a physical home button that echoes the Galaxy S4, but this one is more slender and ringed with a cool LED light that pulsates in different colors to get the user's attention when notifications arrive (or crimson red while charging). Capacitive buttons for back and menu flank the home button, but they're invisible until you actually use them.
A thin metal frame surrounds the Optimus G Pro, almost thin enough to be imperceptible on the sides, but definitely noticeable at top and bottom, which feature a 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port respectively, along with a pair of noise-cancelling microphones.
On the right edge is a power/lock button, while the left features a volume rocker along with a customizable "QuickButton," which can be set up to launch anything you'd like. The removable back cover features a 13MP camera lens with the familiar AT&T globe beneath it; at left is a small speaker, with LED flash at right.
All this goodness is powered by a quad-core, 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB RAM, and this combo does a rather spectacular job while scrolling, swiping between screens and pretty much anything else. We benchmarked the G Pro at 19,791 using AnTuTu 3.3, which smokes most anything else Android with the exception of a Galaxy S4 or HTC One.
At this writing, the LG Optimus G Pro is an exclusive to AT&T that will set you back $199.99 with two-year agreement or $549.99 for those who prefer to go month-to-month. (The unlocked international model, which even includes a spare battery, will set you back $750 by comparison.)
As a general rule, we tend to recoil at the very sight of Android wearing a skin of any kind. While manufacturer customizations and carrier bloatware have improved in recent years, Android 4.1: Jelly Bean tends to be so good at what it does, we hate to see it littered with these unwelcome "improvements."
We were pleasantly surprised with the LG Optimus G Pro's user interface, although it rivala Samsung's TouchWiz for sheer number of features. That said, we definitely prefer what LG has done here to Samsung's skin or even the latest version of HTC Sense.
Touch and drag anywhere on the home screen to unlock, which by default makes a water droplet effect. If "Dewdrop" doesn't strike your fancy, five others are available via the Screen Effect setting. Unfortunately, while Google Now is included as part of Android 4.1.2, it can't be accessed by swiping up from the bottom as it can on other handsets.
LG has divvied up Settings into four tabs: Networks, Sound, Display and General. While it's a departure from the Jelly Bean way, we found it easier to get around with a minimum of scrolling this way. These improvements also make their way into the notifications area, which adds one-tap buttons for Sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS; a second group with NFC, Airplane, Rotation and QuickRemote can be found by swiping left. If you don't like those choices, the Edit button makes it a snap to add or rearrange quick settings.
LG's QuickMemo takes up the first spot, and it's also the default feature launched by the left-hand QuickButton. For those who prefer to scribble out a quick note by hand, QuickMemo does just that, in a variety of colors and pen sizes. Unlike Samsung's phablets, there's no actual physical stylus included, but the screen size makes it plenty easy to write with just your index finger.
And if finger scribbling doesn't appeal to you, the QuickButton can be programmed via settings to launch any app, third-party or stock. This mean a one-touch camera launch, email access or Google Now. It's a great customization option.
Sandwiched between Quick Settings and Brightness control are QSlide apps, essentially resizable widgets for Video, Note Pad, Calendar or Calculator that can be placed anywhere on the screen with adjustable size and opacity. The gear icon jumps straight to settings, which includes such dubious wonders as "Smart Screen" for keeping the display active anytime the front-facing camera detects the user is looking at the device.
Finally, we have to offer up props to the LG Optimus G Pro keyboard. Prior to using this handset, stock Jelly Bean tied with third-party SwiftKey as our personal favorite, but LG actually improved on Google's own by adding a row of number keys across the top. Users also have the option of drawing a path across letters, LG's version of the popular Swype.
Contacts and calling
As you might imagine, a 5.5-inch display makes for one serious dialer, and the G Pro's Phone app is among the biggest and best we've seen. Light gray buttons are easy to hit with accuracy, and if you hold the device just right, this can almost be done comfortably with one hand.
Start punching in a number, and the dialer automatically presents the first contact with matching data. A number appears at right when multiple matches are found; tap the downward-facing triangle to display them all. Tapping a contact places that number in the dialer, but you'll need to hit the big green Call button to actually connect.
Across the top are shortcuts for Dial, Call Logs, Contacts, Favorites and Groups – all pretty straightforward stuff, but a tap of the Menu button pulls up additional options including Speed Dial, Send Message, Add 2-Second Pause, Add Wait or the ability to switch to One-Handed Operation, which collapses the dialer by adding space to the left or right of the screen to make it easier to dial with one hand. We found this unnecessary for those with larger hands, however.
On the Contacts tab, users can also select entries to call, which can include other G Pro users via VuTalk, which allows voice callers to share handwritten QuickMemo notes between devices. Sadly, none of our contacts own an Optimus G Pro, so we were unable to try out this feature, which seems like it could be handy for business users to collaborate.
Otherwise, we have little to complain about: The LG Optimus G Pro produced clear, noise-free voice calls on AT&T's network, and the rear speaker volume was exceptionally loud and clear even while driving, which is a good thing since the handset's girth is quite large for longer conversations.
Internet and messaging
LG hasn't done much with the stock Android browser here, aside from making AT&T's Yahoo! portal the default homepage. We've always found its anemic feature set no match for Google Chrome, which can thankfully be installed via Google Play.
However, we discovered one surprising exception on the Optimus G Pro: In what's a first, at least from our personal experience, the stock browser was actually faster than Chrome by a wide enough margin to make us run the tests twice to be sure it wasn't a mistake.
That's not quite enough of a lead to make us switch from Chrome, but regardless of which browser you choose, the G Pro offers desktop-class speed from a mobile device.
For those who decide to stick with the default Browser app, the pop-up Browser Bar at the bottom of the screen is ready to assist with your social networking needs. In addition to Facebook and Twitter buttons, users can jump between three panes with hotlinks to AT&T Yahoo! sections for Popular, News, Sports, Entertainment and Offers or even customize it with your own selections.
The built-in Messaging app is a fairly straightforward affair for sending text or multimedia missives. LG has included six different "conversation skins" for changing the look and feel of your chats, with the ability to schedule a future time for messages to be sent.
Rather than head to the notifications window to read incoming messages, a nifty pop-up balloon appears at the top of the screen, easily dismissed by tapping the X. This came in quite handy for entering verification codes sent from apps like Facebook, since the balloon remains onscreen until dismissed.
If you're the type who prefers to live in AT&T's world, the carrier has also preinstalled (as in, you can't remove) its own cloud-based Messages app, which saves texts, voice calls and voicemail messages in a central location on their servers. The app is free and handy if you have more than one Android device, but we still prefer Google Voice for this kind of thing.
Most smartphone users today rely on such devices to take and share photos or video, especially in an era where point-and-shoot cameras and digital camcorders are an afterthought. By and large, the LG Optimus G Pro's camera features do not disappoint.
Ready to tackle images with a resolution of up to 4160 x 3120 as well as full 1080p HD video at 30fps, the G Pro features a 13MP rear-facing camera with autofocus. While it struggles a bit with grain and noise on indoor photos taken without LED flash, outdoor images rivaled those of our current mobile favorite, Apple's iPhone 5.
The G Pro creates photos with accurate color saturation and sharp detail. Unlike many AMOLED-based Android smartphones we've tested, rich colors don't bleed when viewed on the beautiful display, and look virtually identical after importing the JPEG files to our MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
LG also brings the G Pro's penchant for customization to the Camera app menus, where often-used features can be added for quick access, while the large display features big, finger-friendly buttons. The device also quickly switches between camera and camcorder modes.
Should you choose to configure QuickButton to launch the Camera app, this same button can then be used to trigger the shutter – a nice touch we'd be happy to see other manufacturers adopt. Sadly, the button is only a single-stage affair, so you'll want to wait for the software to lock onto focus, exposure and white balance before snapping.
LG has come up with a number of clever tricks here – some work quite ingeniously, while others fall short of perfection. Intelligent Auto is supposed to use the characteristics of a scene to get the best aperture and shutter speed, but its use seems to override autofocus, resulting in images that were nowhere near as smart as advertised.
The corny-sounding "Cheese Shutter" uses voice commands like "Cheese" or "Smile" to snap a photo without ever touching the display or QuickButton. (Other possibilities include "Whisky," "Kimchi" or "LG.") It worked great in our tests, but we'd also like the option to record our own trigger word.
In addition to usual HDR and Panorama shot modes, the G Pro includes Burst (for taking up to 20 shots at once), Beauty (for smoothing skin imperfections) and a number of scene or color modes. Time Catch grabs a few pictures before you actually press the shutter button to aid in selecting the best pose.
While LG includes a few live effects while in camcorder mode (gimmicky Silly Faces and Backgrounds), those who prefer artistic expression added to their still images before sharing will want to keep Instagram or other third-party options around.
The G Pro camcorder also includes Dual Recording, which composites video from the 2.1MP front-facing camera (also touted as "Full HD") into a square on the rear-facing camera that can be positioned anywhere you'd like. It's not quite as customizable as Samsung's implementation on the Galaxy S4, but handy for putting yourself in the same space as your subject.
With such an expansive display, the Optimus G Pro practically screams out to be your new BFF when it comes to playback of multimedia content. Some of the built-in options fall a bit short, but thankfully there are plenty of others to choose from via Google Play.
Almost small enough to overlook, a small infrared sensor sits on the top of the handset, next to the headphone jack. Coupled with the included QuickRemote app, this sensor allows the G Pro to take control of living room devices – assuming it can find them, that is.
QuickRemote mimics a traditional remote with an attractive user interface that adapts to whatever device you're controlling. We had no problem adding a seven-year-old, 50-inch Samsung HDTV as well as a recent LG Blu-ray player, but the software failed to discover settings for our Sony receiver.
While QuickRemote does provide categories for TV, cable box, audio, DVD, Blu-ray, projectors and even air conditioners, we were surprised to discover absolutely nothing for modern set-top boxes, such as Roku or Apple TV. This is a shame, especially when QuickRemote can has the ability to control different gadgets in up to five different rooms.
LG also continues to push Miracast for Apple AirPlay-style content sharing to a larger display. Unfortunately, this feature requires a 2012 or later LG HDTV or the purchase of a separate dongle, and we had neither on hand, but our initial hands-on with the G Pro showed "a decent amount of lag," ultimately limiting this dual display trick right out of the gate.
Of course, we also tested plenty of third-party entertainment apps from Google Play which worked great on the G Pro, including Hulu Plus, Plex, Netflix and Dish Anywhere. (The only notable exception we found was VUDU, which only runs on select Android tablets as of this writing.) For an extra $9.99 per month, AT&T bundles Mobile TV, but with limited programming choices, users are better off downloading official (and free) apps.
LG includes stock Video and Music Player apps, which are serviceable methods of viewing supported formats including MP4, WMV and DivX for video files, or AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA audio files. Given the wide range of better third-party options, we'd rather see such apps consolidated into a single general media player.
If you prefer to create your own home movies, LG also preinstalls Video Wiz, a simplistic video editor for adding a few clips, selecting an optional theme, tossing in some music and creating a slick movie with minimal effort. It's not quite as full-featured as something like iMovie on the iPhone, but it gets the job done nicely.
You'll have plenty of space, too: The LG Optimus G Pro ships with an ample 32GB of internal storage, with 23.3GB available out of the box. If that's not enough, up to 64GB can be added via micro-SD slot, which can be found under the back cover near the SIM card slot.
Battery life and connectivity
It takes a good deal of power to keep a bright 5.5-inch display running, so a removable 3140mAh battery powers the G Pro. Slip a fingernail into the notch at the lower right edge and the entire back of the handset pops off, easily snapping right back on with a well-placed push on each edge.
Although LG rates the G Pro for 15 hours and 30 minutes of talk time or 24 days standby, those estimates vary wildly depending upon what you actually do with the device. For example, we left both Skype and third-party Google Voice VoIP app GrooVe IP running in the background and barely made it through a full day, even with the handset idle most of the time.
Of course, there's a lot going on inside this beast, not the least of which is accessing AT&T 4G LTE's network on Band 4 and 17. Though not yet as prevalent as competitor Verizon Wireless, we've found AT&T to run faster in our neck of the woods, and the LG Optimus G Pro continued that tradition.
On the high end, we peaked at 17.43mbps down and as much as 12.60mbps up when using the SpeedTest app, although something closer to half those figures would be considered a more reasonable real-world result. Unless you're spoiled by blazing-fast Google Fiber speeds, the G Pro delivers.
Those not in an AT&T LTE area will still have access to HSPA+ 21Mbps (with backward compatibility to EDGE or GPRS) with coverage on UMTS 850/1900/2100MHz and GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz. Cast aside those dreams of roaming free with any old micro-SIM card like the international model, because this G Pro is locked up tight to AT&T's network.
While imprisoned on AT&T's network, you'll have a Mobile Hotspot app to share the data connection with up to eight other devices as well as Smart Wi-Fi, whose goal is to save battery life by automatically switching to known hotspots. We gave it a spin, but found that it wasn't much of a time-saver in practical use.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, the Optimus G Pro deftly handles 802.11a/b/g/n wireless connectivity as well as Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and is also capable of streaming media via DLNA-enabled devices.
Maps and apps
The LG Optimus G Pro is a carrier-branded device, so a certain amount of preinstalled bloatware is to be expected. AT&T's selection of 10 apps may be more useful than not, but it still makes us sad to see Android apps we can't uninstall in the year 2013.
On the throwaway end of the spectrum is AT&T Navigator, the carrier's $9.99 per month subscription-based service with 30-day free trial. However, Google's excellent – and free – Maps and Navigation apps are also on hand, so it's hard to imagine who would want to pay this monthly fee when the free service is so far superior.
AT&T DriveMode is a more useful addition, limiting what the user can do with the phone when driving faster than 25MPH. This is something Google and other device makers should start including at the OS level, especially when AT&T's app features some chunky, low-resolution graphics clearly not designed for the G Pro's luscious display.
When the G Pro first launches, users are given the option to use AT&T Ready2Go, which rolls back the clock at least a year or two by attempting to make it easier to set up your smartphone using… a computer. We couldn't hit the Cancel button fast enough, folks.
In addition to the usual variety of Google apps, the G Pro also bundles Polaris Office 4 for viewing or editing Microsoft Office documents, AT&T-owned YP Mobile for finding nearby businesses and File Manager for managing local or online storage, although the latter is limited to Dropbox only for now.
While the LG Optimus G Pro includes a near-field communication (NFC) chip, popular apps such as Google Wallet can't yet be installed on it. AT&T's Isis Mobile Wallet is a suitable substitute, but you'll need a special SIM card only available in test markets like Austin, Texas or Salt Lake City, Utah.
The G Pro does support Android Beam file transfer, and can use NFC tags to change various aspects of the device with just a tap. The included LG Tag+ app allows users to create and write such customized tags, which can be used for convenience features like turning on Bluetooth hands-free when you get in the car. It's a neat trick, but this kind of technology hasn't found much practical use in the U.S. as yet.
LG also complements the QuickMemo feature with a Notebook app. We're happy to see LG hasn't followed Samsung down the stylus rabbit hole, and the ability to scribble a quick handwritten note right on the display actually came in handy on more than one occasion. Notebook is also a great way to entertain impatient toddlers during a road trip, assuming you put the handset into airplane mode before handing it over.
Love 'em or hate 'em, "phablets" are here to stay as long as folks keep buying them. It's certainly taken LG long enough to launch a proper response to Samsung's big-screen devices, but overall we found the Optimus G Pro a worthy contender to the Galaxy Note.
If you're going to put a massive 5.5-inch display on a smartphone, make it a good one – and that's exactly what LG has done here. Paired with photos taken using its effective rear camera image sensor, this is a screen you won't mind spending hours looking at.
It also helps that LG's custom Android skin isn't completely heinous, and we rather preferred it to all but stock Jelly Bean. The customizable QuickButton was also a nice surprise, particularly when used with the built-in Camera app.
Although we like the look, feel and placement of the home button, in day-to-day use we found our finger fumbling a bit to press it. We also found ourselves frequently worrying about the device slipping out of our hand(s), a legitimate concern for many users since there's not much to grip on the back cover.
Despite the gorgeous display, the Optimus G Pro is ultimately a tad too large for a smartphone. Despite LG adding custom one-handed features, there's just no getting around the sheer size, so users will need to get used to using it with both hands.
It's a shame Samsung has deeper pockets and a larger marketing budget, because the LG Optimus G Pro is nearly every bit Sammy's equal – not just when pitted against the equally phablet-sized Galaxy Note 2, but also the largely overhyped Galaxy S4.
Unfortunately, LG and AT&T have their work cut out for them in selling the Optimus G Pro, which arrives during a mid-cycle lull between the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the latest model expected to launch in the near future. We've always been the type to root for the underdog anyway, so we say the G Pro is well worth a look.