When it comes to mobile phones, LG’s always been a bit of a dark horse. It’s had quite a few gems in the past, and we’ll be glad to jog your memory. How about the one with that superlative camera, the Viewty, or those enticingly designed Chocolate models? LG’s also been a step ahead of most in terms of innovation — the LG Optimus 2X and the Optimus 3D come to mind. And how about the Nexus 4 — a device widely acknowledged as the sweet spot between style, performance and of course, the promise of speedy Android updates? Sure, taking the Nexus tag away from it sours the deal to a large extent, but it’s still a very compelling device.
Coming at a time when the smartphone segment is exploding like never before, especially in India, LG’s new flagship, the Optimus G Pro is right in the middle of a very interesting churn. On one hand are the flagships from the likes of Apple, BlackBerry, Sony and LG’s arch rival Samsung, while on the other, there’s heat from the up-and-coming brands who’re eager to make their presence felt and offer a lot of value for money with their products. Huawei, Micromax, Lava, Spice, Karbonn, Gionee, Xiomi… the list goes on. To add to the conundrum, popular consumer brands like Lenovo and Panasonic have also jumped into the fray. While it’s clear that the Optimus G Pro is positioned right at the top of the spectrum, there’s no denying that those looking for the maximum bang for their bucks will be eying the second-tier brands with increasing levels of interest. And as far as the premium segment is concerned, brands like Samsung, Apple and BlackBerry are tightening the noose by offering some very enticing exchange offers and EMI schemes to lure buyers. Mainly due to the matching screen size, Samsung’s Galaxy Note II is currently the closest competition for the Optimus G Pro… slightly unfortunate because the Note II is a generation older, but hey… who said anything about being fair? This is a war, remember?
Let’s jump straight to the review and figure out how the Optimus G Pro shapes up.
Design and Hardware
Oh look, a large touchscreen phone. Blame it on the form factor, but the Optimus G Pro doesn’t really get us into throes of ecstasy as far as design is concerned, and looks pretty much like just another large candybar device. On close quarters though, it fares slightly better. The shape of the home screen button and rounded corners make it look quite similar to Samsung’s premium Galaxy offerings, but as far as build and design are concerned, that’s where the similarities end. The Optimus G Pro doesn’t use metal, alas, but it does feel quite solid and better built in comparison to let’s say, the Samsung Galaxy Note II. That mammoth screen eats up most of the available space in front, but the bezel on the sides is really slim and keeps the phone’s overall size to manageable levels when it comes to usability.
Apart from the screen, the fascia includes an elongated home button flanked by two capacitive touch keys on the bottom, and on top you’ll find the phone earpiece, the sensors and the front camera, with some LG branding thrown in. That home button also features another interesting new addition — a colored notification LED surrounds it, and you can specify the events that trigger it as well as assign different colors to specific contacts. A metal-finished strip runs around the sides and covers almost all of the available space on top and bottom, while on the sides, it narrows down till it’s just a thin stripe. The top is home to a 3.5mm audio socket, an IR blaster and a secondary mic, while the microUSB port and the phone microphone can be found at the bottom.[Gallery not found]
The power / sleep key is located on the right spine, right where we expected it to be, and the volume rocker is on the left. The placement of the volume rocker is right in the middle, which makes it slightly inconvenient to operate, but there’s an interesting new addition closer to the top — another hardware key that works as a shortcut button to launch any one of your favorite apps. If that doesn’t excite you too much, things get a tad better once you take a peek at the rear, which is covered with an interesting chequered pattern that catches light differently on its tiny squares as you move the phone. It’s a standout design that adds to the premium feel, if nothing else. The camera lens on top just out ever so slightly, and is flanked by an LED flash and a circular speaker grille on either side. An LG logo in chrome below it completes the picture. You’d be hard pressed to find anything resembling a stylus unlike the Note II — there isn’t any.
The Optimus G Pro can possibly boast of sporting the largest full HD display on a smartphone, at least till the Sony Xperia Ultra Z lands, and should also be challenged by the Galaxy Note III when it’s announced. The G Pro totes a 5.5-inch IPS display with a pixel density of 400 pixels per inch, which is impressive for the most part. Crisp, vibrant colors, sharp graphics, immersive videos and great gaming experience… all yours for the taking. While AMOLED displays tend to oversaturate, the G Pro’s screen leans more towards color accuracy — which is a good thing. Sunlight visibility isn’t bad too, but the display’s reflective nature does get in the way somewhat. Touch response is superb, no gripes there.
With the notable exception of the HTC One, most flagships now sport 13-megapixel snappers, and the LG Optimus G Pro keeps abreast in the megapixels race with its own rear snapper. It even ups the ante with a 2.1-megapixel front camera that supports video recording in full HD. As far as the UI is concerned, it’s loaded with all the frills we’re accustomed to by now, and then slaps on a few more for added measure. You get control over settings like ISO, white balance, and focus, along with access to a slew of scene modes and color effects.
There’s also the voice-based shutter release we saw in its sibling, the LG Optimus G. Apart from the usual add-ons like HDR, Panorama, burst and Beauty shot, an Intelligent Auto mode is also on offer, which optimizes settings automatically depending upon the surroundings. Time Catch Shot is similar to the Galaxy S4’s Best Shot, capturing a series of shots even before you hit the shutter button and then allowing you to save the one you like best.
Not stopping there, another feature is what’s called VR panorama, and it allows you to capture a 360-degree panorama by shooting and stitching a series of shots that you need to capture sequentially in various directions. Lastly, the dual shot mode we saw in the Galaxy S4 is also there, and lets you use both front and rear cameras to snap a single shot. The view from the front camera is overlaid atop the main camera’s viewfinder, and the window can be resized and dragged around the way you want. This feature even extends to video recording. Yet another handy feature is the ability to pause a video capture in progress and then continue recording from where you left off.
As far as image quality is concerned, the camera is good without being outstanding. The photos are sharp but the colors look slightly dull, and the contrast is a tad iffy. Maybe it’s just us nitpicking, and the camera performance may or may not be a deal-breaker for you. It works decently well in most conditions and as expected, low light shots tend to display noise, but you can walk away with a reasonably good shot more often than not. Ditto for the video quality — sharp and smooth, but the autofocus is a bit jumpy and colors tend to get blown away with the wind, completely in a manner of speaking.
The LG Optimus G Pro is slightly behind the curve when it comes to the Android version it offers, and you get version 4.1.2 layered with LG’s Optimus UI. As we’ve seen with the Optimus G earlier, the skin runs deep and offers a plethora of customization options. The premium smartphone wars are as much about software features as they are about hardware and the G Pro comes with its fair share, although it’s still not as heavily loaded as the Samsung Galaxy S4. So none of those gesture gimmicks we saw on Sammy’s flagship are provided except the usual ones such as flip to mute incoming calls, alarms or videos. However, you do get a couple of interesting ones that take on Sammy’s own offerings head on, and these are the Smart screen and Smart video features that use the front camera to detect your eyes and control screen brightness and video playback respectively.
For the software overview, let’s begin with the lockscreen first. The lockscreen displays a large clock, a wallpaper and five app shortcuts, and all of these can be customized via settings. A spherical lens effect accompanies the unlock swipe, revealing what lies beneath, and this can be changed as well. The customizable home screen comes with a dock at the bottom which has five icons by default, but can accommodate two more. While the app drawer icon can just be moved around, all others can be changed as per your own preferences. You can choose from built-in themes to tweak the look and feel, while the transition effect as you move from one home screen to the next can also be customized. The drop-down notification bar is fairly crowded, and offers an editable row of connectivity toggles right on top. Just below that is the Qslide apps menu, and this gives quick access to five common apps — video player, browser, notes, calendar and calculator. These run as small windowed apps atop the existing screen and only two of them can be run simultaneously. You can resize, drag them around and tweak transparency levels.
The main app drawer itself is segregated into apps, downloads, and widgets, and you can choose one from a set of 18 different backgrounds for it. A settings button on top right lets you uninstall apps straight from the app drawer or move the icons around. You can also search for installed apps, sort them alphabetically or by download date, and hide the ones you want hidden for whatever reason.
Delving into the settings menu, you’ll find a plethora of options. The toggles are displayed by means of a cool switch, akin to the light switches we have at home. The display can be customized by changing the font type and size, and there are eight different fonts to choose from. You can also specify the events that trigger that home button LED. In fact, you can assign one of five different LED colors to specific contacts as well. Text input is handled by the LG Keyboard, and it comes with all the requisite features such as word prediction and correction, theme support and gesture-based input. There’s a dedicated number row on top, and also a one-handed mode that shrinks the keyboard and docks it to one side of the screen for easier one-handed entry.[Gallery not found]
As far as pre-loaded goodies are concerned, LG has included some useful ones. There’s a backup app that comes in useful for… backups obviously, but it’s real strength lies in scheduled backups. Then there’s an emergency app that’s nice to have as well, just for peace of mind in these troubled times, if nothing else. QuickMemo is a handy one for quick note taking, and you can use it to scribble handwritten notes as an overlay right on top of the screen. LG also has something called VUTalk — an instant messenger that works with other Optimus G Pro users, but there’s no separate app for it, and it’s baked right into the contacts application. And the real gem is QuickRemote — the universal remote app. Universal remote capabilities no seem to be a favored feature in many flagships, and we’ve seen the same in quite a few devices including the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and even the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. However, LG’s implementation is a tad special. For one, it can control air conditioners as well, apart from standard home entertainment equipment such as TVs and Blu-ray players. As such, it worked with our LG TV and two LG air conditioners right at the first attempt. We know what you’re thinking — this is an LG phone and there’s nothing surprising about its bias towards its own siblings and distant cousins. However, when we proceeded to set up our set-top box, we were pleasantly surprised to find Tata Sky listed in the available options, and we were able to set up the basic functions in first shot. With most of the other devices we mentioned, the same process has always been a hit-and-trial affair. Next, the QuickRemote app can not only be accessed via the app drawer or a shortcut, but also via the notification bar and even directly from the lockscreen — quite handy. And if you think about it, universal remote functionality is a godsend while at the pub or the club, when you just want to tune to Fashion TV but everyone else is hell bent on watching sports. Just fish out your smartphone, download the required codes, and switch channels on the sly! Just don’t blame us later if you get caught doing this though.
Performance and Battery life
Powering the show is a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, which is mated to an Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. These are top-of-the-line specs and reflect clearly in the handset’s performance. The handset makes mince meat of everything thrown at it, and multi-tasks with aplomb. The goings are super smooth, and the Optimus UI doesn’t seem to bog down things at all. Heavy apps and games are handled very well, and as far as day-to-day tasks are concerned, they just fly past.
As far as connectivity options are concerned, the Optimus G Pro is loaded with pretty much everything you may need — including dual-band Wi-Fi with 802.11ac support, DLNA, NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, display mirroring via Miracast and USB On-The-Go. You name it, and this baby has it. Wireless charging is supported as well, and any compatible wireless charger should work, including LG’s own charging plate of course.
On paper, the 3,140 mAh battery looks like a mammoth, but it’s clear that the large high-resolution screen and the loaded specs take their toll. You can still stretch the battery life to a couple of days with frugal usage and making use of the customizable power saver function — there’s even a quad-core control settings that switches off two processor cores to extend battery life. More realistically however, the battery should see you through a full day comfortably with medium to heavy usage, and trust you to top it up on a nightly basis.
It’s mildly surprising that the Rs 25k price band is now the mid-range when it used to be the top end just a couple of years ago. Flagships are crossing the Rs 40k mark without raising too many eyebrows, but unless you have a lot of money to throw around, you’ll need to evaluate your options carefully to figure out whether the device you’re considering justifies its price tag. The LG Optimus G Pro is in the same elite group, and is priced at Rs 42,500 (~ $700) in India, and if you’re in the U.S., it can be yours for $99 provided you sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T.
We did mention earlier that the Samsung Galaxy Note II is the closest competition, and at its current pricing, especially with the exchange offer, is great value for money. However, if the stylus isn’t really your thing, and more importantly, if you’re looking for something more recent, then the Note II may not be for you. If you’re prepared to wait, then you can also consider the upcoming Sony Xperia Z Ultra and the yet-to-be-announced Samsung Galaxy Note III. However, if you’re the ‘right here, right now’ sorts, need a large phone that’s super fast and don’t mind the price, the LG Optimus G Pro is currently the one to shortlist.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10