lg g pro 2 review 02 640x426At Mobile World Congress, LG was demonstrating  the G Pro 2, its latest large-display smartphone (aka “phablet”) that represent its tip of the spear for this category for some time, possibly until the next G Flex comes out.

The LG G Pro 2 builds on the software progress that was made with the LG G2, and pushes the boundaries in two main areas: First, the camera has received an upgrade and can now record 4K videos, along with 120 FPS 1080p videos and better photography overall, including low-light photos and selfies.

On the software side, LG has refined the user interface to provide slightly improved productivity. Of course, the new handset design remains the most important change, so let’s take a look at how it feels in the real world:

G Pro 2 Specifications Highlights

  • Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • 5.9” Full HD IPS display (1080p)
  • Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz), 3GB of RAM
  • 16/32 GB of Internal Storage
  • MicroSD slot
  • 13 MP Main Camera with Optical Stabilization
  • 2.1 MP Front Camera
  • NFC, WiFi A/B/G/N/AC, BT 4.0, SlimPort (TV)
  • 157.9 x 81.0 x 8.3mm, 172g
  • LTE-A / HSPA+ (varies depending on market)

Context

Before we dive deep into review territory, let me tell you how I use my smartphones: I actually don’t call much, maybe 10-20 minutes a day if at all. Email and Social Networks are the “killer apps” for me and I’m connected to hosted Exchange, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare continuously.

Photography is the second most important thing for me, whether it is work-related or personal, I like to have a great mobile camera — but the camera functionality comes second. I prefer my handset to be a great phone with a nice camera, and not a camera which happen to be a phone.

Besides these, I like to test many other apps from the startups I meet. Right now, my phones see an increase in the number of apps related to wearable technologies because I’m very enthusiastic about the Wearable Tech (WT) space. Since I’m also an advisor to a few startups, I like to keep an eye on the whole landscape. This is not really a normal usage pattern, so I did not install those WT apps on the G Pro 2.

Industrial Design

lg g pro 2 review 25 640x426If the G Pro 2 has a familiar design, it’s because it uses a design language that is nearly identical to the G2. There are some differences like the phone speaker design or the placement of the front sensors, but overall, the G Pro 2 basically looks like a big LG G2.

At Mobile World Congress, LG has been promoting the G Pro 2 actively, and it is clear that once again, this line of product is going head to head with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 large display phone. Last time, the G Pro had a generational advantage because it was using a more modern processor, but this time, it runs on a similar hardware platform (Snapdragon 800, 3 GB of RAM) to its main competitor, so the G Pro 2 distinguishes itself with a slightly larger and brighter IPS screen and thinner bezels.

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From the front, the design is quite clean. We have the black version of the phone and it features small reflective flakes that add some “glitz” to the black facade (a white version would be quite interesting too). The display is very dark and the front looks mostly like a unified shiny black surface when the screen is off.

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The back cover is made of a textured plastic, and is very flexible and relatively easy to remove when you want to access the battery. LG has designed it to provide some extra “grip”. Note that the additional grip is not very strong. What the textured plastic actually brings is a fingerprint-free surface.

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Not only there are no fingerprints, but there’s no “greasy surface feeling” that you often get with plastic back covers. In my opinion, this is the real added-value that the G Pro 2 back cover. My cover is gray, but I suspect that it would also look great in Red or Orange. the White version could get dirty, but I don’t see an issue with washing it with a brush. As always the removable cover allows for snap-on cases that have proven to be popular.

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The rear side of the phone features LG’s distinctive Rear Key design, which has been quite polarizing on the G2. Some people love it, others hate it. It’s funny because people ask for change and innovation, and when it comes, 25% of them will throw stones at you, 50% will complain that this is not innovating enough and a 25% will actually love it.

The Rear Key design does bring some good: thanks to it, the sides of the phone are devoid of any buttons, so this reduces accidental key actions. It is also truly ambidextrous, which is not the case for any side (or top) Power button location. Finally, if you are in the dark it’s much easier to tell if you’re holding the phone upside down or not, which is a common snag with a lot of other phones.

For my part, I don’t mind much about where the button is and this works rather well for me. I like it. Also, mainly use the Knock-On or Knock Code features (more on that in the software section) to turn my phone on and off. I looked at my usage, and I’m doing what is fastest at the moment. for example, if the phone is sitting on a table next to me and locked tapping on it will turn it on without having to grab it. If the phone is already in my hand, I may use the rear button if I already feel it (that’s great for one and use too) or I may double tap on the screen if my other hand is available.

"THE G PRO 2 IS A LARGER VERSION OF THE EXCELLENT G2"  

To wrap the design up, the G Pro 2 is exactly what it seems: a larger version of the LG G2, LG’s most successful phone to date. I normally put my phone in a purse, but I asked for feedback from men, and they basically said that this one is pocketable and feels more or less like having a note 3 in the pocket. If you like big phones, it will feel right. If prefer small ones you may want to branch out to the G2 review right here.

Display (excellent)

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"THE FINEST 5.9-INCH IPS DISPLAY"   This is probably not a surprise, but the large display of the LG G Pro 2 is the central feature here. As usual, LG produces an excellent LCD IPS display. At 5.9” (1920×1080), this is the largest IPS LCD available for an LG smartphone and next to the G2, the G Pro 2 looks and feels significantly larger, so don’t let the small 0.7 (inches) number fool you.

The IPS screen is very bright (a great thing in direct sunlight) and the colors look natural and not overly saturated like OLED displays often are. On the other hand, the black levels aren’t as “black” as OLED which remains superior for contrast. This has been true for some time, and won’t change with the current generations of displays. This is the finest IPS 5.9-inch Display that we have seen

Keep in mind the big screen is not only great for text readability and for watching movies, but that the camera app is also awesome of large screens in general. That’s an aspect that is often overlooked in smartphone reviews.

Camera

We know that the G2 was one of the better Android camera phone (especially in low-light), LG wanted to push things further. To that end, the company has integrated a number of Qualcomm technologies and improvements that are possible with the Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip.

Photo quality

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The G Pro 2 is very good at capturing photos with natural colors in most conditions. The photos are nice and the colors are vibrant (but not too much) on the phone’s display and in pretty much every web application that you will upload them to (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…). It is only when you open them in a PC and zoom up close that you will realize that LG is applying quite a bit of post-processing to their photos, mainly to eliminate noise. As it was the case for the G2, it may sometime seem “too much” processing, but overall, this is a very good camera that will allow to share great photos.

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In low-light conditions, it is very good too and its optical image stabilization help lower the shutter speed, and that ultimately allows more light to get to the sensor. The photos above show how night-time photos can look once you’ve shared them on a website. If you are curious, I have uploaded full-size photos to our Flickr account.

Additional Features

For instance, the G Pro 2 gets 4K video recording, a feature that create impressively detailed videos, but that is also not always practical, especially when you look at the gigantic filesize (3.6MB per second) which makes the whole thing a bit more cumbersome to use, let’s say for web uploads. Still, from a technical standpoint this is something that’s fun to play with and with better compression, this should quickly become popular.

120 FPS video recording is much more fun to use, and if you get a goofy scene, sharing it in slow-motion is priceless. 120 FPS works in 720p (1280×720), but I find that resolution to be largely food enough for now. Slow-mo is very intuitive to do and quite fun to watch. This is a winner, but keep in mind that most 3rd party software won’t be able to play the video in slow-motion.

Magic Focus is a new feature that has appeared under slightly different names and implementations in many cameras as of late including the Sony Z2 and the Galaxy S5. The idea is to take a couple of photos with different focus settings, then let the user select where the focus should be and the Camera app will do its best to blend the photos to create a final shot that matches the user’s desires. Magic Focus is derived from Qualcomm’s UbiFocus feature.

It can be a fun app to use if you are willing to take the time to do so, and it works best with a static scene or if your subject poses because it takes a couple of seconds for the camera to change the focus and re-take another shot. I suspect that I would use it mainly for static scene and to highlight an object, but don’t hesitate to post Magic Focus photos of yours down there in the comments.

Natural Flash is the first commercial implementation of Qualcomm’s Chroma Flash, a new Snapdragon 800 feature that was demonstrated at CES 2014. The idea is that photos taken with a flash often don’t look very natural because the lighting can be too strong. To make up for that, Natural Flash takes two photos simultaneously or near-simultaneously and will use an image processing technique to combine information from both images to create a final, well-lit image, with more natural colors.

Flash for selfies is a surprisingly simple idea: what if you could use the light from the display to brighten your face during selfies? Well, that’s exactly what LG is doing with this feature. Instead of showing the camera view in full-screen, the camera shows a smaller live view over a white background which is lighting your face. simple but efficient: the display does add some light, but is never bright enough to actually wash out the photo. It would be nice if the light intensity could be dialed up and down by changing the screen background color from white to gray, and this would be quite easy to do as well.

Software

The LG G Pro 2 comes with Google’s latest Android 4.4, but as usual, LG has added its own user interface and additional features on top of Android. While I would prefer that manufacturers don’t change the visual style and icons whenever possible, I have to say that some of the additional features are quite interesting to me. Here are the highlights for the G Pro 2:

Knock Code is one of my favorite feature because saves me time. It allows the user to wake-up and unlock the phone with 4 taps on the display. This shorten the time it takes to find the Power button before entering the pin. This is an extension of Knock On, which wakes up or shuts down the phone with a double-top on the screen. I can tell that this is a good feature because when others phones don’t work that way, it’s slightly annoying. Metric for success: this is a time-saver. Checked. In case you forget the Knock Code, you can fall back to a 4-digit pin password.

Dual  Browser is a feature that should have been called Dual Windows or Split Screen. Some people could think that it has something to do with the Web Browser, but it doesn’t. The idea is simple: you can use a select group of apps in a split screen (up/down) manner, to not only see two apps at once, but also to share data between apps. For instance, it’s possible to drap and drop photos from the gallery into an email, or an URL from the browser into a note taking app.

At the moment, the number of apps supporting it is limited, but here’s the list. First, the LG Apps: Video Player, Web Browser, SMS, Email, Memo, Gallery, File Manager, Dictionary, DMB. And from Google: GMail,Chrome, Maps, Hangouts,YouTube.

Dual Browser can be started by a long-press on the back button, then choosing the two apps that will be viewed at the same time. there is a little bit of setup, so I don’t use it often. It’s certainly not worth launching for a single copy/paste, but if you find yourself going back and forth between any of those apps, this should help.

Mini View aims at satisfying use cases where a single hand is required. you shouldn’t use your phone in the car, but there are situations where only one of your hands are available and that’s really when this is the most useful. I like that it is easy to launch: a right or left swipe at the bottom of the screen will start Mini View on the left or right side, and you can move it afterwards if you want.

While the idea is nice, I think that it only solves the small screen issue partially. People who like small phones tend to do it for two reasons:

1/ they can put the thumb anywhere on the screen
2/ they have a firmer grip on the phone while doing #1.

Mini view solves #1, but the phone still feels like a phablet, and there’s no way to have a very tight grip on it while reaching for a bottom corner at the same time with your thumb. At least, this will never be as comfortable as it is on a 4” phone. This is useful in some cases, but don’t expect this feature to turn a 5.9” device into a 4” one.

Content Lock is designed to protect sensitive files from being seen, or accessed by 3rd party apps. This applies to any file type, but let’s take photos for example. Suppose that you take a photo of a tax form, you may want to make sure that nobody else can see your social security number. In the gallery, just long-press the file icon and select “Lock” in the menu. Your file will be encrypted and will go unlisted.

To make it visible again, you have to enter a 4-digit pin password (setup in advance for locking purpose) and it will re-appear. The encryption should be pretty strong, so I would say that the security is only as strong as your 4-digit pin. I would not put State secrets in there, but I would feel relatively confident with things that I need to be temporarily secured, at least long enough that I would have time to send a remote wipe command to my phone.

This is also useful to prevent kids from tampering with some files, or delete them by accident while playing with your phone. It happens!

Entertainment (excellent)

As you can probably guess, multimedia activities are not a problem at all for this phone. The screen size and quality alone would get it close enough to multimedia perfection. Watching photos, movies is pretty awesome with this phone. Games also run fast, and you can easily load the most demanding games of the moment to have a blast, literally.

The loudspeaker of this smartphone is pitched by LG as a 1-Watt speaker with “Hi-Fi Sound”, so I was curious to see how it sounds. I wasn’t disappointed: the sound is both clear and loud, which is not an easy thing to do with a speaker pointing away from the user. I had a really good time watching movie trailers and the whole setup with the 5.9” display and a quality speakers quickly attracted some curious people around me. Overall, this is a hit.

System Performance (very good)

The system performance of the LG G Pro 2 is very similar to its LG cousins running on the same Snapdragon 800 platform. In fact, some benchmark show a pretty tight group of LG phones showing very similar performance numbers.

The G Pro 2 does not change this, and it looks like LG has not optimized their drivers or software further to score more points in Benchmark. I’m actually not sure why the LG G Pro 2 scores lower than the G Flex in Antutu 4.0, but I’ll have to run the test on the Flex again when I come back to the USA from Europe. It may be that Antutu got updated, but we’ll see soon enough.

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In any case, the conclusion is that while the G Pro 2 is definitely a high-end phone, it’s not going to break any records or particularly impress with synthetic benchmarks. We don’t recommend buying a smartphone based on those scores, but we understand that this may be important to some of you.

Despite not scoring the highest scores, the G Pro 2 feels just as responsive and fast as other devices that are at the top of the charts: the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Round. Gaming performance is also similar, and I couldn’t find “real apps that show a significant difference in performance, so I would say that while I can’t give this phone an “excellent” rating, I would consider it to be “very good” in today’s landscape.

Battery Life (excellent)

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With a 1.9% increase in battery life between the original G Pro and the G Pro 2, I didn’t expect a radical difference in terms of effective battery life. The display is a little bigger, but the software has slightly better optimization, so in the end, it all evens out and there is not huge difference of battery life with the previous generation.

With the G Pro 2, you will be able to watch an estimated 12hrs of MP4 1080p videos that are stored on your device, so that could work for a long flight. Gaming, which is the single most expensive activity, could go on for about 3.5 hours if you are playing a game like Riptide GP 2 at nearly 60 FPS from end to end. It’s probably more racing that I can take, but if that’s your thing, now you know.

In practice, the G Pro 2 gets nearly the same battery life as the G2, which we rated as “excellent” in terms of battery life, so the G Pro 2 battery gets the *excellent* rating, since the overall landscape has not changed much since. When 4000 mAh smartphones will hit the U.S market, things will become much different.

Conclusion (Very good+)

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The LG G Pro 2 is LG’s top product in the large-display phone category, and it comes with LG’s latest refinements in terms of camera and user-interface. Overall, it can be considered as a larger version of the excellent G2 smartphone

If you are looking to get a large phone, this is a device that we warmly recommend considering. But while the original G Pro was clearly advantaged by its newer hardware when compared to the Galaxy Note 2, the G Pro 2 is running neck to neck with the Galaxy Note 3 instead, so the choice isn’t as obvious.

"A DEVICE THAT WE WARMLY RECOMMEND CONSIDERING"  

The differences aren’t huge, but LG’s display is a little larger (5.9” vs. 5.7”) and better in my opinion, while the Note 3’s design and faux-leather back cover is more appealing to me(depending on your taste of course). The Note 3 also has an active pen, for those who really want that feature. Finally, there is the user interface design which is quite different on both phones.

In the end, and after using both, this is probably a matter of personal preferences. I would point out that the “general feel” and the display are the two most important thing that you should look at. What do you think?

Overall product rating: 9/10

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