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With the introduction of the LG Optimus G Pro, LG is effectively attacking the large smartphone market (aka “phablets”), and it is a remarkable entry given that the Optimus G Pro is the first smartphone on the market to feature a 5.5″ with a 1080p resolution. This is not the only highlight, of this phone which also comes with a 3140 mAh battery capacity, 32GB of on-board storage (+microSD) and the latest Snapdragon S600 processor from Qualcomm.

On paper, the LG Optimus G Pro looks like a great smartphone, but how does it feel in the real world? This is the very question we will answer in this complete review of this phone, which includes a direct comparison with its most potent competitor: the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It’s time for a deep dive into the LG Optimus G Pro…

Technical highlights

Sony XPERIA Z LG Optimus G Pro (Korea) Galaxy Note 2
Display Size “ 5 5.5 5.5
Display Resolution 1920×1080 1920×1080 1280×720
Display Type LCD IPS Super AMOLED
Main chip Snapdragon S4 Pro Snapdragon S600 Exynos 4412  quad
RAM (GB) 2 2 2
Battery capacity 2330 mAH 3140 mAH 3100mAh
Micro SD Yes Yes (64GB Max) Yes (64GB max)
Back Camera (MP) 13 13 8
Front Camera (MP) 2.2 2.1 1.9
Internal Storage (GB) 16 32 16/32/64
Weight (oz) 5.15 5.64 6.46
Width 2.8 3 3.17
Height 0.31 0.37 0.37
Length 5.47 5.91 5.95

If you are curious about what’s in the box, check out our unboxing video below:

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…

Industrial design

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Given that the LG Optimus officially has the “Phablet” status (phone/tablet), it’s fair to say that its design mainly revolves around a couple of things, namely, the 5.5″ IPS display and the 3140 mAh battery, two of the largest internal components. From there, LG’s goal was to build a good looking chassis that would extend as little as possible around the screen. The end result looks really good and it’s fair to say that LG did a great job with the build quality.

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Of course, it is impossible to avoid a direct comparison with the established Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and I’ve done a few side by side pictures to give you a chance to form your own opinion about their respective designs. It’s true that the LG Optimus G Pro does have some resemblance with its competitor and some may complain that other manufacturers, namely Sony, did take a completely different design route with quite a bit of success. That aside, and as an end-user, I think that this design works very well and that the LG Optimus Pro G feels very good in the hand.

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Next to the iPhone 5

I would normally compare it with the previous LG smartphone: the LG Optimus G, but the LG Optimus G Pro is so different that I would have personally given it a different name. Capitalizing on the Optimus G brand is not bad, but users who don’t pay attention may think that it is “just” a minor update, when in fact this is another big leap forward for LG.

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The front of the phone is all glass from side to side, and there’s even a small curvature towards the edge of the glass which gives it a softer feel than a flat edge. Despite having a fair share of buttons, the sides do look quite clean because the controls have been well integrated within the frame. On the left side, you can find the volume controls and the (programmable) QMemo button. On the right side, there is a Power control. I was a bit worried that the recessed design of the ON/OFF button would be an issue, but I was relieved that it is easy to “feel” and use. Incidentally, you can also use the Home button to wake up the phone, but only the power button can turn it off.

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At the bottom, there is only a micro USB port and a small hole for a microphone. At the top, there is an Infra-red emitter (for the IR universal remote app), and a 3.5mm standard audio jack port for headphones. Check the complete photo gallery to see this phone under every possible angle.

Display (Excellent)

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The 1080p IPS LCD display is the crown jewel of the Optimus G Pro, and it does look as beautiful as you may imagine (I know, you probably have a vivid imagination). I can vouch for the fact that IPS does provide more realistic and natural colors than Super-AMOLED. It’s not a secret, and we’ve said so since the iPhone started using IPS displays (from LG incidentally) but it’s going to be most important to photographers and users who actually care about color accuracy (surprisingly, many people don’t).

I’m a former computer graphics professional, and I’m not bothered by the over-saturation often associated with AMOLED displays. Interestingly, Motorola has done a great job at tuning its OLED displays to have more realistic color rendering, and the iPhone 5′s color saturation has gone a bit on the “unnatural” side when compared to the iPhone 4S (we’ve covered it in our review). In the grand scheme of things, the Optimus G Pro 1080p IPS display is simply excellent.

Killer apps

Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of “touch” apps at their disposal, most users sill refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.

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LG’s default Android keyboard is pretty good, large and comfortable. It features an extra row for the numeric keys, which I really likes since it saves a lot of “taps”. This keyboard also supports a “swipe” option, which lets you connect letters to form words by swiping your finger around. The only thing missing for my personal use, is the ability to use two language dictionaries simultaneously without changing the keyboard layout. With this phone, I have to switch to a French keyboard (AZERTY) if I want to have French words suggestions: it’s logical, but not really practical. The good thing is that it’s only one tap to switch keyboards.

Email: The email client is clean and is a great curation platform, thanks to its quick access to the flag and delete icons. It is also possible to select multiple items to perform an action on all of them at once. It is possible to change the font (and font size) by going to Settings>Display , so pick the one that you like the most. Overall, I found the email client to easily fulfill my needs and I can get work done without any problems (I get a lot of emails!).

Calendar : here, LG is flexing some multitasking muscles and offers an optional split view between a monthly and a daily view. It’s pretty neat if you want to add an event far away in time (doctor, dentist, etc…) as you can quickly go to the date, then check if there’s something on that particular day with the close-up view. So far, the split seems to operate on a 66% (monthly view) / 33% daily view.

Maps: As you can guess, Google Maps look beautiful on that LG 1080p display. Other than that, there are no particular features that you wouldn’t find on other recent Android phones, but it is clear that the large display and extra pixel density make maps more readable in general, especially when zoomed out a bit.

I still appreciate the ability to make maps available offline, and as of late I was touring France and had no difficulty to add the whole city of Paris and a large portion of the surrounding areas in only 76MB of data on my local storage. With that, I could save on data usage and increase performance while on the go. Don’t miss this feature.

Skype: Skype works pretty well and seems to benefit from the faster CPU. The app was perceptibly faster to start and catch up with current chat threads. Placing a call was relatively quick as well. The only issue that we bumped into was that the focus control didn’t seem to work and my video feed was blurry at all times. I’ve checked in the camera app, and the focus did work in there, so hopefully this is something that will be fixed in Skype, rather than in an OS update.

Misc Software

Screen Capture with QMemo (which is LG’s note-taking application) is very easy: just click on the dedicated QMemo button to have the app appear at the top of the screen, and press “save” to add the screenshot in the gallery Optionally, you can add hand-written or text annotations  to the image before saving it. I realize that on other Android handset I can do Power+Volume Down or other key combinations, but it’s a bit more comfortable to have a dedicated app and button. Oh, and it works with games too.

Settings backup/restore: LG has an easy to use backup/restore app that saves everything, including the widgets placements and other home screen customizations that could be very important to you. This is very handy, in case you wipe the phone, or lose it and want to quickly restore all your settings on a replacement. I’ve never seen a “Google account restore” put my widgets where they were, so I think of this as a bonus. Also, the whole interface is more explicit than the stock Android backup stuff. Good idea.

Various LG Utilities: Since I have an Korean smartphone, I have noticed a ton of LG Utilities that we never seem to get in the USA. For instance, there is a RemoteCall Service app that lets an LG support technician look at your phone remotely. RemoteCall Service is awesome for support calls, since they don’t waste time figuring out what’s on your screen and can clearly see what you see. There are also shopping apps, a mobile TV app etc… that seems to be very interesting. Don’t hold your breath though, I have the feeling that many of those (hopefully not all!) will be gone by the time this hits the USA. I’ve added some screenshots in the photo gallery.

Entertainment (very good+)

Video playback (excellent): it’s no surprise that such a powerful phone does not have any trouble with playing MP4 files, or movie files from Google Play, Netflix etc… it’s easy. What’s interesting of course is the additional pixels from the full HD (1080p) resolution of the display. With the 1080p display you get all the details of the original movie, and how much of it you would notice depends on how sharp your sight is and on your content. For example, Computer Generated (CG) movies such as the Pixars, or other Transformers would benefit the most since they have tons of small and sharp details.

Gaming (excellent): we’ve loaded Riptide GP (jet ski racing) and Dead Trigger (zombie shooter) and they both ran at a solid 60 FPS. This is a case where real-world performance is even better than benchmark numbers would lead you to believe. Although these two have been out for some time, they are still considered to be resource-intensive games, so I would say that the gaming performance is excellent. If you have game suggestions for future reviews, don’t hesitate to drop a note, if we like them we’ll buy a few… “for work” of course.

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Speaker-quality (average): I was surprised to see that despite its impressive size, this smartphone doesn’t have a very loud speaker. The sound quality is pretty good, but the volume trails behind a number of other phones, namely the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy Note 2. As of late I really liked the HTC One front-facing speakers, and I hope that other manufacturers will opt for front-facing options (not always easy to integrate, I know). In the meantime, there are very good side-facing, or even back-facing options but projecting sound towards the user remains the most natural way to get the best, and most consistent, sound.

Imaging (Excellent)

In terms of digital imaging (photo/video), LG already had a very good capabilities with the LG Optimus G, but this “Pro” version is better in low-light situations. There are however differences that users can perceive: the iPhone 5 is optimized for low-light situation and doesn’t hesitate to trade higher noise for higher brightness. This is particularly noticeable in the photo below. The G Pro outperform the iPhone 5 and positions itself as a low-light performer with the Optimus G Pro. In my opinion, the Nokia Lumia 920 remains the best low-light camera phone, but it’s not Android, nor a Phablet.

lg optimus g pro iphone 5

In bright light, they all do well, but the Note 2 has color saturation settings that makes things “pop” a little more. The iPhone 5 and the G Pro do a good job of showing what your eyes can see, but the iPhone 5 has a small tendency to shift to the red, while the G Pro under-saturates the colors a bit. All in all, they are all excellent mobile imaging devices, and represent the cream of what’s available right now.

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Each camera has different color output, but LG does a good job at capturing and rendering natural colors

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Close-up crop, if you want to see the fine details

2D and 360 panoramas: the latter this is a feature that was introduced by Google in Android 4.2 and called PhotoSphere. It looks like LG came up with its own 360 degrees stitching app, and while this is great, it does not work as well as Google’s in my opinion. The stitching has a hard time matching straight lines, and parts of the photos came out blurry (I tried a couple of times for each). I really love the idea, but this requires a little more work — or maybe LG should just license Google’s app?

Video recording: as it is often the case, the video capabilities are very similar to what was said above. All three are very good, and there are variations in color saturation. The Note 2 over-saturates, but ironically, that’s sometime a good thing depending on what you film (makes the movie colors “pop”), while the iPhone and the Optimus G Pro are closer to the real deal.

I also tried the video recording stabilization, which does produce some stabilization effect. However I think that it works based on electronic stabilization, which means that it reduces the resolution a bit to be able to “shift” the image to compensate for any shaking. In the end, the non-stabilized video worked just fine, so play with it, but I would not worry too much about it.

Performance

Antutu 3.x is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.

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As you can see, the LG Optimus G Pro lands among the leading smartphones available on the market today. In this particular benchmark, it is basically neck to neck with the XPERIA Z smartphone that uses a Snapdragon S4 Pro. Keep in mind that this is a “system” test, so it’s not only about the Snapdragon S600 chip, but also about the memory and the storage subsystems.

GLBenchmark 2.5 (offscreen 1080p): this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…).  (try it for yourself).

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Given that both the Snapdragon S4 Pro and the Snapdragon S600 use an Adreno 320 GPU core, it’s expected that they would exhibit similar performance in graphics benchmarks. This also indicated that despite the change in CPU clock (Krait core), the S600 seems to have the same GPU clock (in MHz) than the S4 Pro.

GeekBench 2 tends to focus on synthetic floating point calculation performance rather than multi-core scalability. This is a good measure for general computing and generating accurate physics in games.

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Here, we can see a noticeable increase in the computational power of the Snapdragon S600 over the Snapdragon S4 Pro. This makes sense, since the S600 can go up to 200MHz faster (that’s about 12% beyond 1.7GHz). The results show a near 30% performance increase in the Geekbench 2 score from the Nexus 4 which uses a Snapdragon S4 Pro, so Qualcomm has worked on more than the frequency increase. 

Quadrant Standard Edition: I’ve seen some articles go by about how effective Snapdragon S600 is with Quadrant, and I can confirm that it scores beyond 12000. Compare that with a 7000 score that the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (which uses an Exynos 4412 system on chip). Wow! right? The thing is, I can’t quite spot anything in the specs that would translate into a 71% performance increase. That’s also true for real-world apps, so I would be very cautious with the interpretation of that particular score (and with this benchmark in general…).

Battery life (very good)

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Overnight battery depletion (8hrs) = 6%: I always like to test the depletion rate in standby mode (with data ON, WiFi ON, BT OFF, NFC OFF, sound notifications OFF) because it basically shows how much power your phone consumes when it does nothing but getting notifications and checking on updates. This represent what it does when it is in your pocket/purse and for me, that’s the state that it is in most of the time, so it’s a big deal. 6% is among the best results that we have seen on Android, but in a larger context, Samsung’s ATIV S Windows Phone 8 handset uses only 2% of power overnight.

60mn of MP4 playback = 13% of battery: with that kind of battery depletion, this could mean watching more than 7 hours of pre-downloaded 1080p movies on your phone. (WiFi ON, display at 50%, no 4G data)

Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.

A direct comparison with the Galaxy Note 2

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If you are looking for a “phablet”, this is probably a question that you had in mind at some point, since those two devices are the most potent 5.5″ smartphones right now. I happen to use a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 as my main smartphone, so I’ll take a stab at comparing the two phones.

Hardware: Since the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 was announced in September and came out in November (in the USA), the LG Optimus G Pro benefits from having more recent hardware (Snapdragon S600 and 1080p 5.5″ display). As such, it will inherently have an advantage in terms of specifications and speed. In our own review of the Galaxy Note 2, we had wished for a 1080p display, and this is exactly what the Optimus Pro brings. Sometime, it’s the little things that make a big difference: for example, the LG Optimus Pro turns on faster than the Galaxy Note 2.

Software: of the software side, I didn’t find any make or break feature on one side or the other. Both have good apps, and the killer apps (email, SMS, calls… ) are comparably productive. I find QMemo to have less friction than S-Note (faster to create a document, simpler for quick notes, dedicated button), but S-Note has more features.

Since both phones have “notes” apps, I wanted to take a closer look at this. Here, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 leads for two reasons: first, it has an integrated pen. Secondly, it supports 1024 levels of pressure while using the pen. Overall, the Galaxy Note 2 remains the  king of the hill if you want to write notes with a pen. There is no question about that.

Eco-system: while I often stick to native Android or non-OEMs apps, both Samsung and LG have a number of apps and services that may be very handy. I’ve taken a look at some of them, and I believe that Samsung holds a slight advantage as its offering is more complete and some services (like tracking your phone) are genuinely useful. LG has a ton of interesting apps for the Korean Market, but we’ll have to see what US users get. Finally, Samsung also has SAFE and KNOX, two features that may be useful for work (check with your IT department). At the moment, I will give an advantage to Samsung in terms of eco-system.

Battery life: if you compare what we found above with the Note 2 review, you will see that the results are very similar. The good news is that the 1080p screen and the Snapdragon S600 don’t seem to consume more power overall, so with the Optimus G Pro you get the benefits of better hardware without any impact on power consumption.

Conclusion (Excellent)

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LG continues to pick up speed in the Android smartphone market and the LG Optimus G Pro goes very deep into “Phablets” territory. It brings superior display, processor, and performance to a market that has proven to have an appetite for all three. That makes the LG Optimus G Pro particularly attractive for this group of users. The additional battery and the charging dock may further attract heavy users who like to be digitally active at all times.

I’m not sure why LG didn’t feature an integrated pen, but this may cost them the note-taking crowd, because although external pens do exist, they are not as convenient as an integrated one. The pressure-sensitivity remains a huge advantage for the Note 2 in this context. That’s really important, but not critical in my opinion, and I bet that this is exactly what LG thinks.

LG has been smart with the timing of their launch. By introducing their Optimus G Pro about 6 months after the availability of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, it opens a 6-months window during which LG can effectively have hardware superiority and carve a place for itself in this 5.5″ segment. At this point, we expect the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to be announced at IFA sometime in September.

I hope that this review gave you a good sense of how it is to use the LG Optimus G Pro in the real world. If there is something that I did not cover, or if you have a question, please leave a comment and I will try to address it while I still have the review unit.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews. Read more about LG, Optimus G Pro and Phone Reviews.

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