There’s a segment of the smartphone-using population that absolutely adores lugging around a phone in their pocket with a display larger than 5”, and I admit I will probably never fully understand this particular demographic. The Optimus G Pro is LG’s first attempt at catering to these users of the size-really-matters philosophy and in doing so, LG steps up the competition against Samsung’s Galaxy Note series. Phones like the Optimus G Pro and the Samsung Note are such an exaggerated form factor that journalists had to start calling them “phablets” to make sense of them (and that’s the one and only time the sad term will be used in this review).
Even still, after spending quite a lot living and working with the LG Optimus G Pro, I’ve certainly grown to appreciate this phone for what it does well—and for what it does quite well. But even with the smaller, recently announced LG G2 on the way later this year, LG still has a lot to prove to consumers who are being bombarded by Galaxy marketing campaigns daily.
Hardware: More display than you want in a phone
The LG Optimus G Pro has a 5.5” display—right at the halfway point between an iPhone 5 and a Nexus 7. So yes, this is phone is big.
Using it with one hand is completely out of the question, as is avoiding looks in the elevator with this thing sticking out of your pocket. It’s obviously not the first phone to feature a 5.5” display. In fact, it’s been commonly written off as a “me too” competitor to the the highly successful Galaxy Note II, which was released in October of 2012. The 5.5” Note II was wildly popular in Asian markets and even found a cult-like following here in the West.
But without a 2013 Galaxy Note model to compete against, the Optimus G Pro certainly has a lot going for it. The 1080p screen is impressive, especially at this size. It doesn’t have the pixel density of the HTC One, but the color reproduction is stunning—as is the power of the familiar, but fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip powering it. And while it takes a while to get used to the size, the Optimus G Pro feels relatively thin and light.
What’s not as impressive is its plastic wrapping. As has become standard in both LG and Samsung phones, the Optimus G Pro has a slick, shiny case that still just doesn’t have the finish that define devices like the iPhone 5 or HTC One. That being said, it doesn’t feel as flimsy and hollow as the Galaxy S4, nor does it have an ugly round shape. For a phone that is ultimately too big, the Optimus G Pro feels surprisingly good in your hands—even if it requires both of them to use it.
Software: Full of features and changes to Android
The Optimus G Pro features LG’s third version of the Android UI skin and the result is fairly hit or miss. LG has never been shy about its Android skins and it’s no different here—the graphical UI invades Android at almost every point possible. The good news is that most of the graphical flourishes in the primary apps don’t get in the way too much. There are a few exceptions, of course, such as the extremely wonky bubble lock screen, which should remind us of why stock Android is such a sought-after piece of software. As I use devices like the Nexus 4 and 7, the more I realize that the more a phone takes me away from stock Android, the more I am left with a bad taste in my mouth.
In terms of apps, the Optimus G Pro can’t really compete with the Galaxy Note II’s insane list of features. With a phone this big, you want to be able to do something things that your friends’ iPhone can’t. LG’s attempts to compete with the Note II’s true multitasking system—and outperform the iPhone—in the form of Qapps. These are quick, micro-apps that can be opened over the top of whatever you are looking at. They can be accessed from the pull-down notification bar or by setting the device’s custom button on the left to whatever you want it to open.
Unfortunately, most of them end up being fairly uninteresting and more trouble than they’re worth. Because you can’t really split the screen like you can with a Galaxy Note II or even a Galaxy S4, these windowed apps such Memo just get in the way and end up being more trouble than they’re worth. It’s unfortunate because if LG can’t utilize the big display for true multitasking, it has given up one of the primary reasons consumers are looking to purchase bigger phones.
As with all of these carrier-enhanced, OEM-made Android devices, the Optimus G Pro is plagued with loads of bloatware—none of which will be of any interest to users. For the most part though, there is very little reason to use LG’s apps when Google replacements are available. So if you can get over having an insane amount of pre-installed apps in your app drawer that you’ll never use, the Optimus G Pro is a fine phone in terms of software. The design isn’t gorgeous and it certainly isn’t nuanced, but LG’s take on Android 4.1.2 is easier to swallow than Samsung’s—despite their inability to compete with Samsung feature for feature.
The final thing to mention is that the Optimus G Pro features a removable battery and expandable memory for the power users out there—a group of people who would seem like a good fit for this device. Unfortunately, due to the huge HD screen, the battery life isn’t all that impressive—and neither is the camera, which are certain to be bested when the Galaxy Note III inevitably hits shelves later this year. But even with rumors of a larger version of the HTC One floating around—when it comes to massive, an all-in-one smartphone, the Optimus G Pro is still your best bet. But if you’re like most people looking for a solid Android phone, the HTC One and the Galaxy S4 still lead the pack.
The LG Optimus G Pro is currently available on AT&T and Sprint.