LG recently launched the Optimus G Pro on AT&T and we’ve given the device a spin for a few weeks now. Its closest brethren is the Galaxy Note II, which costs $100 more, but don’t take the Optimus G Pro at face value based on its price tag alone, it’s actually an amazing device. It offers a huge display, but is thinner than competitors which makes it easier to hold. There’s also a ton of software features to note. We’ll discuss all of those in the coming sections of this full review.
LG Optimus G Pro Video Review
A lot of reviewers have been saying this and I have to agree: the LG Optimus G Pro is much more of a phone than the wider, tablet-feeling devices such as the Galaxy Note II. That’s because it’s 76.1mm wide as opposed to 78.7mm wide, which makes it more natural feeling to hold with a single hand. No, your digits still won’t be able to reach to the far corners of the device, but you can still hold it without fear that it will slip from your grip. And trust me, that small gap in millimeters really makes a big difference at the end of the day.
The 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080p HD IPS display with a 401ppi is a drop-dead pleasure to look at. I found myself gravitating away from the Galaxy S4 to use the Optimus G Pro for watching Netflix or streaming other videos, largely because it’s so fun to watch movies on a bigger screen. LG loaded two full HD clips for testing purposes on the phone and the quality is draw dropping. My only gripes are that viewing angles didn’t seem to be as solid as the Galaxy S4, though they’re certainly good enough, and it’s a bit hard to view under direct sunlight. Take note, though, it’s not as sharp as the screens on the HTC One or Galaxy S4, since those have higher ppi ratings. Still, everything is crystal clear.
The phone is made of plastic which definitely attracts fingerprints very easily, but it doesn’t feel cheap and actually feels really well built. Perhaps it’s the stunning display that adds to the premium feel. There’s a power button on the right, volume controls in the middle on the left-hand side and a button that can be used to launch any application, though it’s set to launch QuickNote by default. A 3.5mm headphone jack flanks the phone’s IR blaster on top, and there’s a microUSB charging port on the bottom of the phone. There’s a return button and a menu button that flank a home button just below the screen, and the home button glows a variety of different colors based on an alert you receive. I found that the home button was pretty narrow and wish it was just a bit fatter, as it is on the Note II.
Under the hood, the Optimus G Pro is powered by a quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 chip, similar to the processor inside the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. It is blazing fast and is complemented nicely by 2GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage (up to 64GB), a 13-megapixel camera, a 2.1-megapixel camera for video chat and more.
The LG Optimus G Pro runs Android 4.1.2, which isn’t as new as the Android 4.2.2 build on the Galaxy S4, but it’s still impressive thanks to the gamut of custom apps LG added. We all know how Android works at this point, so I’ll stick to a few features that LG added. My favorite software additions are the QSlide and QuickMemo applications.
QuickMemo made its debut on the Optimus G and basically allows you to take a note from within any application. You can tap it and quickly capture the screen and start drawing on it. It’s great inside Google Maps, for example, if you want to circle and highlight a point of interest and send it off to a friend as an MMS.
QSlide is fairly useful, too. You can launch a video application, the calculator, notepad or your calendar (or several at once) and it will float on top of the current open app. That means you can watch a video on the home screen – like you can on the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II, or quickly access the calculator and then close it. The QSlide apps are easily accessible from the notification shade at all times, as is QuickMemo.
The keyboard is a bit finicky, but LG adds an option for one-handed use that works very well. Still, we prefer Google’s own Android keyboard, which is now available from Google Play for free.
Like the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, the Optimus G Pro comes with an IR blaster and software that can help you control your Air Conditioning, cable box, TV, DVD player, Blu ray player or projector. I set it up with my TV and my Tivo in just a few minutes. It’s a nice add-on, but like the aforementioned phones you can’t control your DVR for scheduling or playing content at all, which is a bummer. Surprisingly, I actually had more fun using it to control my air conditioner, the remote for which I lost years ago.
Finally, we like that the homescreen rotates out of the box, so you can use the phone in landscape mode at all times if you want to.
From a user perspective, the Optimus G Pro flies. It feels faster than the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One out of the box, and thanks to its zippier processor it’s also naturally quicker than the Note II. Applications open and close almost instantaneously; it’s probably the fastest experience I’ve ever had on an Android smartphone.
The LG Optimus G Pro received a Quadrant score of 11,858 in one test and a score of 11,931 in another. By comparison, the HTC one received a score of 11,850, the Galaxy S4 notched up a score of 12,405 and the Galaxy Note II had a score of 6,382. In other words, it’s as fast as the One and S4 on paper, though we felt like the software experience was zippier on the Optimus G Pro overall.
The Optimus G Pro is equipped with a 13-megapixel camera capable of recording HD video. It doesn’t offer any really compelling features like the Galaxy S4 or HTC One does, though, and is really basic in its function. Pictures were decent, but looked soft and not as crisp as those shot with the Galaxy S4. They’re also relatively warm. The phone’s front-facing 2.1-megapixel camera is OK, but like most front-facing cameras it’s not amazing. I wish it had a wide-angle lens like the HTC One does.
The camera doesn’t have the more granular controls for really in-depth settings and instead LG provides relatively barebones camera software. There are some small gimmicks we’ve seen before, like the ability to capture a photo by saying “Cheese” or shooting in HDR, burst shot or panorama modes, though you’ll be hard pressed to find another smartphone that doesn’t offer those options.
Like the Galaxy S4, however, there is a “live recording” option that lets you record your own actions while you record video. This could be fun if you want to film your own reactions while driving a bumper car, but we didn’t find ourselves wanting to use it most of the time.
Note: We did run into a bug once where the video wouldn’t record. Once we hit the record button the phone would seem to react but would never actually initiate the video camera. A restart solved this problem.
Call Quality and Data
Calls placed on the Optimus G Pro were solid in New York City, where I tested it, though reception faltered in the regular areas where AT&T has dead spots in the city. I did find that I’d accidentally tap the quick-launch button instead of the volume controls while on a call, however, because they’re lower than I’m used to. This was a bit frustrating but most people will grow used to it after a few days.
The speakerphone isn’t great, however, so you might want to consider an external speaker if you’re on a conference call.
Data speeds were solid in general in New York City and on a par with what we see from most handsets. I averaged about 9Mbps on the download side and 10.6Mbps on the upload side from my apartment while the phone was showing four bars of LTE.
The Optimus G Pro is equipped with a large removable 3,140mAh battery. I was able to get a full day’s use with the phone most of the time, but on the occasion I was browsing Reddit or playing games, I found that the battery drained really quickly – largely because the huge display takes a big hit on the battery. Generally, though, I think most people will get through a full day just time. The device also idles really well, so if you’re not using it every second of the day you’ll find that it lasts much longer.
Jonathan Rettinger, who also tested the phone, took it off the charger at 7:00am, used it for two hours of phone calls, synced two email inboxes, watched YouTube videos and more. At 11:30 or so at night he was at about 20-30 percent, which was about 5-10 percent lower than what he sees with other smartphones. Brightness was set at about 80 percent.
I also like that LG added a “Battery Saver” mode that can be set to activate at any percentage level. You can control the Bluetooth, WiFi, vibration, brightness, screen timeout, front touch key lights, home button LED and more, and set the phone to turn them on or off depending on the battery level. There’s also automatic quad-core control that can optimize the processor so that it’s not using all four cores when it doesn’t need to.
It’s currently my favorite device in the category, largely because it offers a beautiful display, fits well enough in one hand, is blazing fast and offers great battery life. I also really like LG’s additions, such as the battery saver mode, QSlide and QuickRemote, but kind of wish there was a stylus option.
Big screen phones aren’t for everyone, but considering that the $99 Optimus G Pro offers more power and a better display than the Galaxy Note II for $100 less, it’s definitely my top choice. Heck, I’d probably even pick one up for $199. Still, you may want to wait a few months to see what Samsung offers with the Galaxy Note III.
The takeaway? This is my favorite phablet right now… by far.
Disclosure: Jon Rettinger had the phone for nine days and used it as his primary driver for five of them. Todd Haselton also had the phone for about nine days and used it as his daily driver for four of them. We both tested the AT&T version and will be returning the devices following the publication of this review.