Steve Kovach/Business InsiderEveryone but Apple seems to be making their smartphones bigger and bigger and bigger.
It's easy to make fun of those so-called phablets (part phone, part tablet) for being absurdly large compared to most devices, but the truth is tens of millions of people around the world own them. There's a real market here. Samsung may be the leader in the space with its Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note II phones, but I've found one that's better –– LG's new Optimus G Pro.
The Optimus G Pro is only available on AT&T for $200 right now, but it's the best device in the growing phablet category that I've used so far.
The Optimus G Pro is huge. At 5.5 inches, its screen is a full inch and a half larger than the iPhone 5's and half of an inch larger than the Samsung Galaxy S4's. It won't fit comfortably in your pocket and you'll need both hands to perform most tasks. The phone is thick and bulky –– almost like holding a flattened plastic brick –– but all that extra size gave LG plenty of room to fit in some impressive internal hardware. The Optimus G Pro has one of the fastest processors available in a smartphone today, plus a huge battery that I found easily lasts all day with power to spare.
You also get a gorgeous screen, one that can play full HD video and sports a resolution that's sharper than the iPhone 5's. It's the best screen I've used on a phone of this size. Video looks incredible, and with 32 GB of memory built in you have a good amount of storage to keep a lot of content. (You also have the option to add extra memory with a SD card.)
I also enjoyed the tweak LG made to the home button, which has a blue glowing border that pulses whenever you get a new tweet, email, calendar alert, or other notification. The camera works well too and takes decent 13 MP photos.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of plastic on this phone, which is disappointing to see on a premium device. The flimsy back cover snaps off with an unpleasant crack, just like the covers on most Samsung phones. Some people may prefer plastic because it's less likely to attract dings and scratches, but I still like metal a lot better.Software And Other Extras
Like most smartphone makers, LG noodled around with the Android operating system and added a few of its own extras. Luckily, LG's Android modifications don't detract much from the core Google experience, and some of the changes are actually pretty useful.
When swiping between panels on the home screen, the apps fly out at you at an angle, mimicking turning pages in a book. I found that a bit distracting. But overall, LG's tweaks make Android's settings a bit easier to navigate, with nice big icons to guide you along. I also enjoyed the changes to the lock screen, which has a big digital clock displayed in a bold font. You can also switch up the lock screen to store some of your favorite apps so you can open the phone directly into Facebook, Gmail, etc.
Other extras include a sketch pad that lets you doodle on any screen and share your annotations via email or social networks. You activate the feature with a tiny button the left side of the phone. It's not a very useful tool, but luckily it's well hidden. I imagine most users won't even know it exists unless they hit the button by accident.
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The camera app has all the basic shooting modes you'd expect like panorama and HDR, but you can also use both the front and rear cameras to shoot video at the same time. The front-facing video appears in a tiny adjustable window on top of the what the rear camera sees. The feature works well, but it's incredibly gimmicky.The Competition
If you're interested in phablets, you really only have two choices right now: The Optimus G Pro or Samsung's Galaxy Note II. Both are great devices, but I still think the Optimus has a slight edge over the Note. It's $100 cheaper, has a sharper screen that can play HD video, and it doesn't have a pen, which is largely unnecessary on touchscreen devices. (Samsung's special pen also adds to the cost of the Note.)
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But it's also pretty clear that LG copied Samsung's Note II design when it built the Optimus G Pro. The LG phone looks nearly identical, with rounded corners and a pill-shaped home button. Erase the company branding, and you'd have trouble telling the two devices apart at first glance. However, the Optimus has a better, more solid feel to it and its body is slightly smaller than the Note's, even though both devices have the same display size. The Optimus may be a me-too device, but LG improved on Samsung's design in almost every way.Conclusion
The Optimus G Pro is a good deal considering all the great hardware you're getting: a huge screen with incredible picture, a long-lasting battery, and plenty of storage, all for the same price as the cheapest iPhone 5. Not bad.
It's a great phone, but you should only buy it if you're absolutely sure you want a huge screen. I suggest going to the store and playing around with it first. It's not the best Android phone –– that title still goes to the HTC One –– but it is the best in the phablet category.
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