MWC 2013: LG Optimus G Pro Hands-On Preview

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Mobile World Congress 2013The LG Optimus G Pro was revealed late last month, with details about the new handset trickling out bit by bit. Now, it’s making its first major public appearance in Barcelona at MWC 2013, and we spent some time with it to see what LG has been making us wait for since electing to pass on its reveal earlier this year at CES.

The Optimus G Pro is intended to be LG’s next flagship phone and it shows. The 5.5-inch, full HD (1920 X 1080) IPS display dazzles, with the glass from the screen connecting seamlessly to the body of the device. The bezel of the Optimus G Pro is also ridiculously thin, ensuring that the phone isn’t any larger than it has to be to accommodate the massive display.

LG Optimus G Pro FrontThe phone’s glossy plastic back isn’t really for us, between it being a fingerprint magnet and the fact that we prefer textured and/or rubberized finishes. But the phone is appreciably thin and light, measuring only 9.4 millimeters and weighing in at 5.64 ounces.

As sleek as it is though, it is undeniably massive, which is unfortunately the direction many smartphone companies are going these days. It seems that there’s no fighting the “phablet” evolution, since there seems to be demand for it. As it seems that most people wouldn’t mind it, we can’t knock it for its unwieldy footprint, even if it really isn’t our preference.

What we did enjoy was that LG included its “quick button” on the Optimus G Pro, a programmable button that can be assigned to launch an app of the user’s choice. It’s easily accessible, found on the left edge of the phone above the volume rocker. The bottom and right side of the phone are host to the micro USB port and the power switch, respectively, while the top features a headphone jack and an IR blaster for remote control functionality.

LG Optimus G Pro Left SideWhat really sets the Optimus G Pro apart from the other massive-screened, quad-core phones that are coming out of the woodwork now, though, is its software. LG was showing off a number of proprietary software aspects that come preloaded on the phone, including VuTalk and Q Slide 2.0.

VuTalk is an intriguing idea that’s reminiscent of Pictochat on the Nintendo DS. Whenever users are on a phone call with someone, they can send a request to engage in VuTalk. Once the other user accepts, a shared screen is launched on which both users can draw and write freely; whatever one user draws on the screen, the other user sees as well. We did experience some issues while trying to test out the feature, however, as sometimes invitations to launch VuTalk didn’t always go through to the other user.

One of the differentiating factors between VuTalk and Pictochat, however, is that users can also drop in photos onto the shared screen and even doodle on them. Doing this in real time can prove to be useful if, say, one user wants to point out a certain aspect of the photo to the other. Each VuTalk board can be saved to the users’ notebooks at the end of the session too, so any images or drawings shared can be kept for later viewing.

LG Optimus G Pro Sideways

As mentioned, the version of Q Slide that’s being introduced here is the second iteration of LG’s multi-tasking software. Version 2.0 doesn’t a whole lot of new offerings to the table here in terms of functionality so much as it expands the list of compatible apps.

Previously, Q Slide could only be used when watching videos. Users could dim the video or shrink it to a window and perform other tasks with the video still running in the background, but that was it. With Version 2.0 on the Optimus G Pro, new apps can now be used — and run at the same time — with Q Slide.

LG Optimus G Pro Top with IR BlasterUnfortunately, the selection is still rather limited, as the only ones that are currently available are the calendar, calculator, Q Voice (voice commands), video, memo, and browser apps (the model I was handling also had an antenna and a Korean TV tuner app, DMB, but that obviously won’t be available in the West). Users can select any of these apps to run in Q Slide by pulling down the top menu in Android; LG has added a bar there that lists all of the user’s selected Q Slide apps.

Since these are the apps that can be overlaid over any other app on the phone, certain alternatives, like messaging, probably would have been ideal. But even though messaging can’t be run as a Q Slide app, users can always do it the other way around by, for example, launching the browser, increasing the transparency (or shrinking it to a window), and opening up the messaging app regularly.

Q Slide works quite well in terms of performance, undoubtedly aided by the Optimus G Pro’s 1.7 GHz, quad-core processor. After all, for multitasking like this, the handset would have to be equipped with a powerful CPU. But the major issue (aside from the limited selection of compatible apps) is with running the apps in windows.

LG Optimus G Pro BackWhen any of the apps are shrunken into windows, they don’t stick to the edges of the screen, which seems like a significant oversight to us. Also detrimental to organizing is the fact that there’s no option to automatically and equally split the screen between two windows, much like what is possible on Samsung’s line of Galaxy Note products. In fact, the windows have to be resized manually and kept in a certain proportion, which just so happens to prevent them from being sized at half of the screen exactly. So it’s not even possible manually adjust the window sizes and then arrange them in an even split of the screen yourself.

The LG Optimus G Pro is certainly a powerhouse and will make for a good flagship phone for the company. The display looks great, the build is sleek, and the hardware is powerful, but the software — which is essentially LG’s only chance to set its phone apart from the competition — could use some work, especially Q Slide 2.0. With some tweaks to the multitasking software and maybe an update to the list of compatible apps, the device can really shine, especially considering how well it runs on the hardware.

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