In the world of smartphones, you've got the rock stars -- the phones with all the flash and hype -- and then you've got the less glitzy, less heavily marketed alternatives. Here's a little secret: The phones in the second group are frequently the better devices.
That's certainly the case with LG's Optimus G Pro. The Optimus G Pro -- available this Friday on AT&T for $200 with a two-year contract -- is the latest gadget to enter the supersized smartphone market (what some folks regrettably refer to as a "phablet"). And while it may not have the same name recognition as the current category leader, Samsung's Galaxy Note II, it outshines that product in almost every way -- and it's a hundred bucks cheaper to boot.
So is the Optimus G Pro the right phone for you? Don't let ads and store placement sway your decision. I spent several days living with the device to see what it's actually like to use in the real world. Read on and see what you think.
Body and buttons
If the form alone doesn't clue you into the fact that the Optimus G Pro is made to compete with the Note II, the design language absolutely will. Plain and simple, the Optimus G Pro looks like the Note II -- no two ways about it (although it doesn't come with a stylus).
In fact, when you first pick up the Optimus G Pro, you might actually mistake it for a Samsung device. The phone shares Samsung's plastic-centric construction, all the way down to the candy-shell-like removable back panel. Like with Samsung's phones, the plasticky construction makes the device look and feel less premium than some of its more strikingly constructed contemporaries, but within the realm of supersized phones, that style of build is presently par for the course.
The Optimus G Pro is 3.0 x 5.9 x 0.37 in. (that's a fifth of an inch narrower than the Note II, for anyone keeping track). Factor in its 6.1 oz. weight and this baby definitely ain't svelte: The sheer size of the phone makes it somewhat uncomfortable to carry and even more awkward to hold up to your ear. That's more of an issue with this category of product than with this device in particular, though; a phone this big just isn't going to work for everyone. I'd suggest spending some time holding it in a store and seeing how it feels in your hand to figure out if the form suits you.
Size aside, LG has ditched the all-capacitive button styling it used on past devices for a distinctly Samsung-like setup: The Optimus G Pro has a physical Home button flanked by capacitive Back and Menu keys. This is unfortunate, as the odd and dated hybrid configuration presents the same disadvantages seen on Samsung's products. The Optimus G Pro's Home button is narrower and more recessed than Samsung's, too, which makes it especially awkward to press after you get used to gently tapping the capacitive keys at its sides.
One nice touch: The Optimus G Pro's Home button doubles as an LED indicator. The button glows a rainbow of colors when the phone boots up and then flashes different colors to alert you of missed calls and other notifications during use. It's a clever and unusual implementation that serves as a distinctive visual element for the phone.
The Optimus G Pro has another useful button-related feature: An extra physical button on the device's top-left edge called the QuickButton. By default, pressing the QuickButton loads the phone's QuickMemo feature (more on that in a bit), but you can customize it to load any app you want. You could set it to open the Camera app, for instance -- in which case it would also serve as a shutter button -- or you could turn it into a one-touch shortcut to Google Now or Google Voice Search. That's a pretty powerful option to have.
Beneath the QuickButton is a volume rocker, positioned about halfway down the device's left side. The phone's top edge, meanwhile, has a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the top-right edge holds the power button. A standard micro-USB port sits on the Optimus G Pro's bottom edge; like on the LG-made Google Nexus 4 phone, it can double as an HDMI out with the aid of a SlimPort adapter.
The Optimus G Pro has a single small speaker on the upper-left side of its back. The sound quality is decent enough but nothing to write home about -- and that's pretty normal. With the exception of the superb front-facing stereo speakers on the HTC One, most phones' external audio setups are mediocre at best.