Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: LG Optimus G Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Note series has been a veritable success and over time it has spawned similarly big phones from other Android OEMs as well. LG’s first shot at this market was with the awkwardly shaped Optimus Vu that was just too oddly designed to be usable even among a category of generally uncomfortably large phones.

LG’s next attempt comes in the form of the Optimus G Pro, which right off the bat comes across as a much better device. First of all, it doesn’t have an awkward square shape and secondly it boasts top of the line hardware that will make most people sit up and take notice.

So things look good on paper but how does the phone stack up in real life? Let’s find out.

LG has a history of making some fine looking phones. Regardless of what the rest of the phone would be like, the hardware has usually been attractive on LG phones. In recent times, LG lost some of its design flair and instead decided to make generic looking phones. The Optimus G Pro is exactly that sort of phone.

Well, first of all, the Optimus G Pro is a big phone, particularly the height, which is long enough for the phone to peek out of your jeans pocket. Although credit must be given to LG to make this phone a bit narrower than the Galaxy Note II despite having similarly sized displays. This is instantly noticeable while using the phone as despite its size its not quite as ungainly to use as some of the other 5+ inch phones.

Build quality also seems quite good. LG, like Samsung, has gone for an all plastic body but it feels durable and although it isn’t anywhere near as awesome as the aluminum body of the HTC One or even the glass body of the Xperia Z it doesn’t look as bad as the Galaxy S4.

The problem is with the design, which is utterly boring. You’d expect the flagship smartphone of the company to have some design flair but you’ll find none of it here. The Optimus G Pro, especially in the black unit we reviewed, looks like a generic black slabs and will easily get lost among its ilk.


The front of the phone sports the 5.5-inch display with a fairly minimal bezel on the top and bottom. Above the display is the earpiece, the camera and the sensors, along with the LG logo. Below is the physical home button flanked by the back key on the left and the menu key on the right.

The menu button has a special trick up its sleeve. The silver ring around it is actually the notification LED. And it’s not just any LED but full RGB LED, which means it can display any color you want. You can use an app like Light Flow to assign different colors to different app notifications, which can be very useful.


Along the side is the power button on the right and the volume buttons on the left. The buttons are placed perfectly, where they fall exactly under your thumb and index fingers if you hold it in your right hand. There is also an extra button near the top on the left side. You can assign any app to it you want or disable it completely.


On the top is the headphone jack, the IR blaster and the secondary microphone. On the bottom is the microUSB port and the primary microphone.


On the back, you can see the camera lens near the top along with the loudspeaker and the LED flash on either side. The design reminds me strongly of the Galaxy S III, which too had a similar arrangement, including a bump for the camera. The lens has this plastic surround with a brushed metal finish that looks terrible and gets scratched easily.

The entire back side is a battery cover that comes off from the side. On the cover is a checkered pattern, which is similar to that of the Nexus 4 but since this is plastic and on the Nexus 4 it was underneath a glass it doesn’t look anywhere as good. The plastic back also attracts a lot of smudges and just looks awful most of the time.


Remove the cover and you’d find the large removable battery underneath covering the micro SIM slot. The microSD card slot is on the side and can be removed without switching the phone off. If you look underneath the battery cover you’d find the hardware for the NFC as well as the wireless charging. The Optimus G Pro supports the Qi charging standard and will work with any any Qi-compatible charger that you might have.

The wireless charging feature is a useful addition. In comparison, neither the HTC One nor the Sony Xperia Z have this feature and the Galaxy S4 requires a special cover to work with wireless chargers. Unfortunately, I did not have a wireless charger at hand to test this functionality.

The Optimus G Pro has an utterly gorgeous display. It is a 5.5-inch panel, which means it’s the same size as last year’s Galaxy Note II, but it has a resolution of 1920x1080 and uses IPS technology, which just makes it infinitely superior in comparison.

I have complained in the past about the pointlessness of 1080p panels on smartphones because at 5.0-inches and lower, it’s really hard to make out any difference in image quality compared to a similarly sized 720p panel. But at 5.5-inches, the extra pixels really do make their presence felt. 720p at this size would have been stretched a bit thin but 1080p looks perfectly fine, as you can tell from the 400PPI pixel density.

It’s the combination of the size, the resolution and the quality of the panel that makes the display on the Optimus G Pro such a joy to behold. The colors, contrast, viewing angles, outdoors visibility, etc. are all top notch. You just have to watch one of the videos that LG has pre-installed on the phone to realize just how good this screen is.

If I have to nitpick, and I will, I will point out the minor issue with the way the display is refreshed. The display on the Optimus G Pro gets refreshed from bottom to top and there is a noticeable time difference between the two points. Due to this, every time you scroll horizontally, you’d notice that the content on the bottom of the screen is moving slightly ahead of the content near the top of the screen. This is most easily observable in the application drawer as you move left and right.

The issue is not very severe and most people wouldn’t notice it as is apparent from that fact that no one seems to have reported it so far (or maybe it’s just on my review unit). It’s a minor issue in what is otherwise an absolutely fantastic display.

Hardware, Software and Performance
The LG Optimus G Pro runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC, particularly the APQ8064T, with a quad-core 1.7GHz Krait 300 CPU and Adreno 320 GPU. This is one of the fastest processors available today and it shows in the performance, which we will discuss later. In terms of memory, the Optimus G Pro has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage space with microSD card slot for expansion. In terms of connectivity, it supports HSPA+, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS, NFC and Infrared.

In terms of software, the Optimus G Pro runs on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with LG’s custom UI on top. As far as custom skins are concerned, LG’s isn’t most popular around but if you leave aside the blind hatred that is often leveled at Android skins and look at it objectively there is a lot to like here.

In terms of features, LG’s skin is almost on par with Samsung’s skin on the S4. There is a lot of useful stuff here, such as the notification drawer shortcuts and some of the less useful stuff as well, such as Smart screen which detects if you are looking at the screen to prevent switching off the display backlight and smart video that pauses the video when you look away. As you can tell, there is a lot of unabashed borrowing of features here from Samsung, including things like the one-handed keyboard and layout of the notification screen. LG even lets you arrange the Settings app in a tabbed layout, something Samsung introduced with the S4.

However, leaving aside some of the frivolous stuff there are some genuinely useful things here. There is an LG remote control app that works with the built-in IR blaster and lets you remotely control your TV, set top box, audio system, Blu-ray and DVD player, projector and even an air conditioner. The default LG keyboard is pretty decent but the best part about it is that it lets you enter emoji into your messages. LG has included system-wide support for typing and viewing emoji and this is not the terrible black, Android themed emoji that Google introduced with Jelly Bean but full color emoji that closely resembles the one you find on Apple’s devices. I personally find this a very useful addition especially considering how heavily emoji is used these days.


Bloatware is minimum in LG’s skin and the phone just comes with a bunch of LG apps pre-installed. But the best part is that all of these can be uninstalled. There is a separate app called Application Manager that only exists to let you uninstall the apps added by LG. This is far cry from what you see on Sony and HTC phones that come loaded with all sorts of garbage apps.

My only real problem with the software is that it looks unpleasant at best and horrible at worst. LG clearly doesn’t spend enough time on the aesthetics of the whole thing or doesn’t have good enough designers. You tend to get used to it after a while but it never looks as good as stock Android or even the HTC Sense 5.


In terms of performance the UI is largely fluid. The Snapdragon 600 SoC is quite powerful and makes quick work of UI transitions, scrolling and app launches. Meanwhile, the 2GB RAM ensures that performance remains good even when you have several apps running in the background. It pains me to say that even after all these years Android still doesn’t feel as fluid as iOS or Windows Phone but it seems to be getting there and at least on the Optimus G Pro it’s not all that far behind. It’s not the smoothest phone I’ve used but it’s quite good overall and definitely the most fluid Android devices on the market right now.

The Optimus G Pro has a 13 megapixel camera on the back with an LED flash. The camera takes some really good pictures in daylight. The 13 megapixel sensor manages to capture a fair amount of detail with natural colors but there is also noticeable sharpening in the images that looks unpleasant when you zoom in all the way.


The camera has an HDR mode that you can use while dealing with high contrast scenes. The HDR mode is effective but subtle so it can be used for everyday shots without the photos looking unnecessarily over processed. More importantly, the HDR mode gets rid of the over sharpening and bit of the noise out of the images as well and gives them a cleaner look overall.


In low light things go downhill considerably. The noise reduction algorithm is so severe that photos are soft to the point where they look unfocused. Even after repeated attempts indoor shots came out soft with poor details.


For viewing images and videos, the Optimus G Pro is absolutely fantastic. A lot of this is due to the beautiful display that makes everything looks great. Watching 1080p videos in particular is an enjoyable experience and you can watch entire movies without an issue. The Dolby sound setting works really well if your videos have six channel sound in AC3 audio codec and the bundled LG headset also sounds pretty decent.

Battery Life
The Optimus G Pro has a mammoth 3,140mAh battery. With regular usage consisting of calls, messages, social networking, web browsing and playing music, the Optimus G Pro lasted for a day and a half on a single charge (3G), which is quite an achievement. While playing back a 1080p video at 70 percent brightness and headphones, the phone lasted for approximately six hours on a single charge (Wi-Fi).

There is a lot to like with the Optimus G Pro. The screen is fabulous, the phone is fast, the camera is quite decent as long as you’re shooting in daylight and the battery life is really good. It also comes loaded with a ton of software and hardware features, some of which are useful and others you don’t really need.

As with everything, there are negatives here as well. The design, for once, is just plain drab and boring. I understand that is a subjective thing but most people agreed with me on this. The low light performance of the camera was also not impressive and LG’s software, although useful at times, is just unattractive.

Are these things really deal breakers? Maybe for some, but overall I think the Optimus G Pro is a really solid smartphone. It’s quite large so obviously so it’s not meant for everyone but if you are comfortable with large smartphones and don’t like what Samsung, HTC or Sony are doing then you should definitely take a look at this. More than anything, that display might just win you over. 



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