Optimus G Pro deep-dive review: A supersized smartphone done right

LG's new Android smartphone brings a fresh dose of elegance to the large smartphone form.

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Display

The Optimus G Pro has a giant 5.5-in. 1080p IPS LCD display. With 400 pixels per inch, the screen looks fantastic: Images are crisp and vivid with bright, true-to-life colors, and text is sharp and easy to read.

To my eye, the phone's display doesn't quite reach the level of the HTC One's in terms of color brilliance, but we're talking about a slight level of difference here -- an amount akin to the difference between first and second place in an Olympic swim race. For all intents and purposes, this phone has a stellar display; it's among the finest you'll find on a smartphone today.

LCD technology in general does tend to show less deep-looking blacks than AMOLED screens, which are used on most Samsung smartphones. On the flip side, LCD shows noticeably purer-looking whites -- and, perhaps most important, it remains easy to see outdoors, even in direct sunlight. That's a significant advantage over AMOLED screens, which are often difficult to view in glary conditions and impossible to see in direct sun.

Under the hood

The Optimus G Pro runs on a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor along with 2GB of RAM. That's the same setup used in the HTC One, and this phone is no less impressive when it comes to real-world performance.

The Optimus G Pro hums along effortlessly with anything thrown its way: Swiping between home screens is fast and fluid, and even the most intricate system animations execute flawlessly. Apps load instantly, Web browsing is snappy and multitasking is smooth as butter. All around, the phone performs the way a high-end phone should today, with immaculate responsiveness and no signs of lag.

The phone is equally impressive in battery life, and it's no wonder: The Optimus G Pro packs a massive 3140mAh removable battery to keep it running from morning to night. In my experience, it did just that: Even with heavy usage, I consistently got through a full 14 hours before the device started giving me low battery warnings (and those only occurred when I neared five full hours of screen-on time -- including, in some cases, nearly an hour of LTE-based HD video streaming). That's commendable, to say the least.

The Optimus G Pro provides 32GB of onboard storage, about 23GB of which is actually usable after you factor in the operating system and various preinstalled applications. The phone also has an SD card slot that allows you to add up to 64GB of extra external space.

As for connectivity, the Optimus G Pro is an LTE device, meaning you'll get 4G-level speeds on AT&T's network in the U.S. The phone also supports HSPA+-level data connections for instances when LTE is not available.

I found voice quality on the Optimus G Pro to be fine; I could hear people loud and clear, and those with whom I spoke reported no static or distortion surrounding my voice.

The Optimus G Pro supports near-field communication (NFC) for wireless payments and phone-to-phone data transfers. And while the international model of the phone apparently requires a separate accessory in order to take advantage of wireless charging, the AT&T model boasts Qi-based wireless charging support right out of the box. I tested the phone on a wireless charger designed for the LG-made Nexus 4, and it worked without issue.

Cameras

LG's Optimus G Pro has a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera. I found its photo-capturing capabilities to be good -- the camera certainly holds its own and is more than sufficient for everyday use -- but compared to the superb imaging systems we've seen on other recent devices, the Optimus G Pro isn't quite as exceptional.

The phone's image quality varied, not surprisingly, based on what I was photographing. Indoors, it performed well. Outdoors, however, the phone's images had a tendency to look a little dull and washed out. Even so, they often looked more realistic than those captured with the Samsung Galaxy S4, which I used as a comparison; in the same conditions where the Optimus G Pro's photos looked lackluster, the GS4's images were sometimes oversaturated and filled with colors that weren't true to life.

(You don't have to take my word for it: Click over to my Optimus G Pro vs. Galaxy S4 camera gallery to see side-by-side samples and compare for yourself.)

I also noticed that the Optimus G Pro's images -- while perfectly suitable for online sharing or small-sized prints -- had a visible amount of noise when viewed at their full resolution. With the way most people use smartphone images, that won't make a difference, but camera enthusiasts may want to take note.

What about low-light performance? The Optimus G Pro did well in moderately dim conditions and was able to produce respectable shots (more so than the GS4). When conditions got very dim, though, the phone failed to pick up much of anything -- which is generally the case with most smartphones, save for the low-light-focused HTC One.

The Optimus G Pro's camera interface is simple and easy to use. It's a little light on show-off features compared to some other devices, but it has the important stuff -- controls for adjusting brightness, ISO and white balance; an option for manual focus; a variety of scene modes and even a live color-effect applicator. You can also opt to activate the camera shutter by voice if you want: The phone will take a picture in response to a handful of spoken commands, ranging from "cheese" and "smile" to the more puzzling "whisky" and "kimchi" (I swear I'm not making those up).

The phone has a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera; both the front and rear cameras are capable of capturing 1080p-quality HD video and offer an "anti-shaking" mode that does a solid job of hiding subtle hand movements. The phone can record in a dual-video mode, too, if you ever find yourself wanting to make a video of something with your face superimposed in a small box on top of it.

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