LG Optimus G Pro Review: The Fastest Big Phone Out There

Fun fact: In a sprint, the hippo is one of the fastest land mammals, despite also being one of the largest. Similarly, the LG Optimus G Pro is unquestionably one humungoid phone, but it runs about as fast as the top speedsters out there. Whether or not you should consider buying it, however, is up to the elasticity of your fingers.

What Is It?

It's a bigass phone made by LG to compete with Samsung's bigass phone, the Galaxy Note II. It has a 5.5-inch 1080p HD screen, it's running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), and it has Qualcomm's screaming fast quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz.

Who's It For?

People who want a lot of screen real-estate. People with big hands, or people with small hands who don't mind using two hands on their phones.

Design

It is, frankly, so much like Samsung's Note II that the two could play a Freaky Friday-style prank on their owners. It's got Samsung's classic rounded, glossy, plastic back. Up front there's a home button that you physically press down, which is flanked by a menu button and a back button. There is a very thin bezel up front, which is a nice look. The biggest difference between it and the Galaxy Note II is the lack of a built-in stylus. (Above, from left to right: Galaxy Note II, Optimus G Pro and the Galaxy S4.)

Using It

While the phone is decidedly quick, there's just no getting around how unwieldy it is. One-handing it is a difficult proposition. I have larger-than-average hands, and it's a real strain to get into a position where my thumb can reach both the top and bottom of the screen. It was possible for me, but just barely. It also feels extremely prominent in your pants pocket. Every time I bent down to tie my shoes I was wondering if the screen or my pocket would break.

To be fair to the the Optimus G Pro, these issues aren't unique to this phone. It's a big-phone problem, and one that hasn't stopped people from buying the Galaxy Note or Note II.

The Best Part

It is very, very fast. Right up there with the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4. It flies though home screens, app drawers and opening applications. HD games (such as Dead Trigger) play like butter. It actually feels a little faster than the Galaxy S4, and just slightly slower than the HTC One.

Tragic Flaw

LG really needs to smarten up its software or (more preferably) just give up and let Android do its thing. LG's skin is exceptionally unintuitive and bad. For example, the app drawer is just a clutter mass of apps without any order by default. Fortunately, you can choose to sort them alphabetically. Unluckily, any new apps you install still get stuck at the back, regardless of alphabetical order. This is dumb. The menu system's layout is perplexing, and the remote control app (it has an IR blaster) is about as good as the app on the HTC One or Galaxy S4, which is to say, not good.

There's a whole quick menu in the notification panel (boosted from Samsung), quick apps that can hover over your other apps (boosted from Samsung), and even an option that can tell when you're looking at it so the screen stays on (again, boosted from Samsung). What it can't do is something simple like auto-adjust your screen's brightness to the ambient lighting. The option is there, it just doesn't work. At all. The Optimus G Pro's keyboard has the worst auto-correct on any mobile device I've ever used. The one positive is that LG's bad software somehow manages not to slow the phone down at all (can't say the same for Samsung's TouchWiz), but it's still awful. Replacing the homescreen with Nova Launcher and replacing the keyboard with SwiftKey 4 solves some, but not all, of these problems.

This Is Weird...

The phone has a physical button on the upper left side called the QuickButton. By default it's set to take a screen cap of whatever is on screen so you can then draw notes on it with your finger. Pretty much useless. Luckily, you can remap it in the settings so it opens up your camera application, and while it will work as a shutter button, technically, it doesn't have a two-stage press to it, so it doesn't work very well.

Test Notes

  • We tested the Optimus G Pro on AT&T's LTE network in NYC and the SF Bay Area, and in both locations it got better than average reception, and solid data speeds when it was on the LTE network. We got 25Mbps downloads and 15Mbps uploads when we had a strong signal.
  • The screen is very nice. Text looks great on it, as do videos. It's not as good as the screen on the HTC One or the Galaxy S4, but it's certainly better than the screen on the Galaxy Note II, which isn't a surprise given that it's 1080p vs 720p, both at 5.5 inches.
  • Despite the king-sized 3140mAh battery, the phone's battery life is fairly middle-of-the-road. That screen sucks up a lot of juice. On days of heavier use, I'd only make it to about 6pm. When I used it less, it would go well past midnight. Your mileage may vary.
  • Despite the 13MP camera in tow, photos are just OK. Shots are reasonably sharp, but colours tend to be washed out, and it really struggles with contrast. It does a better job in low light than the Galaxy S4, but it doesn't come anywhere near the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 900. (Samples.)

Should I Buy It?

If you're absolutely sold on owning a phone this big, well, it's the best giant phone presently out there. That said, Samsung is bound to release a Galaxy Note III in the months to come, and HTC is rumoured to be unveiling a big one too, so if you can wait, do so. Or just get an HTC One or a Galaxy S4. Their screens aren't that much smaller, and both phones are infinitely more useble, because of simple ergonomics. We'd definitely recommend either of those phones (and the Nexus 4, and the iPhone 5) over the Optimus G Pro. That said, if you want something with size and speed and you want it right now, have at it. [LG]

LG Optimus G Pro

• OS: Android 4.1 with LG's skin • CPU: 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 • Screen: 5.5-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD (401PPI) • RAM: 2GB • Storage: 32GB + microSD up to 64GB • Camera: 13MP rear / 2MP front • Battery: 3149mAh • Dimensions: 150mm x 76mm x 9mm • Weight: 160g • Price: Australian ETA not yet available, $799 at Mobicity.