If you're a close follower of tech, you're probably familiar with the LG Intuition, or at least its European brother, the Optimus Vu. The major selling point: a 5", 1024x768 (4:3) display. Sure, the other specs are noteworthy in that they match other high-end phones, with a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU, 1GB RAM, Android 4.0, and LTE. But that massively wide screen is undoubtedly going to be the talking point.
And talk people will. It's hard not to remark on just how ridiculous it looks and feels. At first, anyway. After using it for a few minutes, though, it suddenly seems somehow normal that it's so absurdly large. That you have no choice but to use two hands. LG's take on the phablet is certainly unique, but it's surprisingly easy to get accustomed to.
- Price: $199 (Verizon), $149 (Wirefly)
- Screen: 5.0" 1024x768 (4:3 aspect ratio) display with Gorilla Glass
- CPU: 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 32GB (no microSD slot)
- Cameras: 8MP rear, 1.3MP front, both with voice-activated picture taking
- Battery: 2080mAh (non-removable)
- Rubberdium™ pen
- Connectivity: MicroUSB, CDMA, LTE, Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11 b/g/n, NFC
- Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
- Surprisingly light and great weight distribution, so it feels great in-hand.
- Awkward size aside, it looks great in terms of design. Simple, but with subtle details; just my style.
- The build quality is very, very good. I'd expect some give or flex on a phone of this size, but there's none whatsoever. There's even a sliding metal cover for the microUSB port.
- 4:3 can occasionally be nice, though I'm more against it than for (see below). To be fair, some tasks are better at this ratio.
- Having a proper pen with a digitizer is awesome, and if I'm honest, it's better at 4:3 than at 16:9. There's more space across to write on.
- Abysmally bad radio performance. And I mean abysmal. Call quality was terrible, and data speeds were anywhere from 50% to 3% of what they were on a Verizon Samsung Galaxy S III. To clarify, that's 3% as fast as the SGSIII, not 3% slower. More below.
- There's a Quick Note button on the top left of the phone that turns on the screen. Which is fine in theory, except once you unlock the screen, it brings up a screenshot that you can write on. Let me ask you something: how often have you had your phone in your pocket and thought to yourself "I NEED TO WRITE NOTES ABOUT WHAT WAS ON MY SCREEN IMMEDIATELY BEFORE I LOCKED IT"? Probably never. On its own, though, having a stupid feature that you won't use isn't actually bothersome. It becomes bothersome when you quickly realize that you now effectively have two unlock buttons on your phone - one on the top left, and one on the top right. Long story short, if you enjoy accidentally turning your screen on, this is the phone for you.
- Oh, wait, did I say both there were two screen-on buttons? My mistake, I meant four. Because both volume rocker buttons turn the screen on as well. Excellent!
- There's no notification LED. There is an LED, because the power button is ringed by one that lights up for a second when you turn the screen on. Which is good, because when you power the screen on, clearly you need the power key to be lit up so that you can see it to... turn the screen on. I guess. What you apparently don't need is that LED to do anything useful, like flash when you have a message or email. LG just decided to stick it in there without adding any functionality whatsoever.
- Having a gigantic 5", 4:3 screen can be cool. Until you realize that it has fewer pixels than smaller 720p phones, so you end up with a bigger screen that shows less information - and that information is blown up.
- It's really, really difficult to write with a tiny pen on a huge screen without bumping it with your palm, so palm rejection is essential here. The Intuition does not have palm rejection. (To be fair, neither does the Samsung Galaxy Note. The difference is, the Intuition is wider, so you're more apt to try to rest your hand.)
- I'm not sure if it's because of the (terrible) stock keyboard or the (mediocre) UI, but both the keyboard and text boxes lag whenever you type. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that they keyboard's autocorrect is too hyperactive, and you don't notice it until you stop typing because the screen is probably 8 characters behind in displaying what you've typed.
- Battery life is pretty abysmal. With light to moderate use, expect about 16-20 hours. Otherwise, If you're planning on streaming any content, watching any videos, or playing any games, I'd bring a charger.
Looking at the good and bad above, you probably think I'm not a big fan of the Intuition. In fact, I rather like it in theory, and we had our moments together. But it's really annoying that LG took a quirky, potentially fun form factor, and sold it way short with stupid software decisions. Even worse, this is a cell phone that functions half as well as it should in that capacity. In the end, a potentially quirky, unique device is utterly ruined by an absolute boatload of cut corners and bad decisions.
Design & Build
See that LED that rings the power button? It only lights up after you hit the power button. There is no notification LED.
The Intuition is very well-designed and well-built. It's essentially comprised of three parts: the back is a single piece of finely-dimpled, slightly rubberized black plastic that curves around the sides. The sides (including the top and bottom) are a single piece of hard, shiny, grippy metallic grey plastic. The third piece is the Gorilla Glass that covers the front. All three pieces come together well, and the detailing only adds to the looks. For example, there are two silver screws exposed at the bottom, and the Quick Note and microUSB slot doors are both silver as well. Oddly, the volume and power buttons are matte gray plastic. The camera, on the back left, is a small silver cutout, and there are two small slots for the speakers on the bottom left. The theme feels unified and is genuinely attractive, odd form factor aside.
It's also surprisingly nice to hold. Because of the size, you would expect it to be heavier than smaller phones, such as the (still quite large) HTC One X. Yet the Intuition is only just over 1 ounce heavier, and because the weight is well-distributed, it actually feels lighter. The plastic isn't so rubberized that it feels sticky, but it's grippy enough that you won't drop it. And the Gorilla Glass on the front means the screen is nice to touch yet hard to scratch.
Notice how much more hand space the Intuition takes up.
Now, on to the pink elephant in the room: the size (specifically, the width). While it doesn't look much larger than normal phones on paper and in press photos, let me tell you - the Intuition is a monster to hold. I'm nearly 6' 1" with hands to match, and while I can certainly hold it comfortably for extended periods, it just feels a bit more clunky to handle. It becomes more of a problem when it's in your pocket, especially when coupled with the relatively dinky pen. The phone is cumbersome to carry, and even the most careful people are likely to lose the pen, if only temporarily.
The One X (right) and SGSIII (left) are 4.7" and 4.8" respectively, and the Intuition still looks huge by comparison.
In a nutshell, the display is good, not great. It's about average for a smartphone display, though the latest high-end offerings from Samsung and HTC are far better in terms of colors and overall quality. Specifically, viewing angles on the Intuition are really, really bad. Tilt the phone even a few degrees and you'll notice some gamma distortion. Pixel density is mediocre, and as a result, the display fits a lot less information on it than smaller displays, so I hope you like cartoonishly large fonts and having to scroll.
Larger display, less displayed.
But what about the aspect ratio? Well, it's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I have a widescreen TV, widescreen monitors, widescreen tablets, and widescreen phones.... and then here comes the nearly square Intuition. My point is that the vast majority of content has moved away from the CRT-era 4:3 aspect ratio and is now optimized for widescreen 16:9 or 16:10 devices. Which means that if you watch movies, TV, YouTube, or anything similar, on the Intuition, you'll end up with big black bars on the side. As literally every app is designed with widescreen in mind, you'll also end up with black borders on apps, or a half-assed stretch that only sort of works, and always degrades image quality. You've got a huge device with a huge screen, but only half of it will be functional. It's also practically impossible to use one-handed.
Black bars all around -> Enable Aspect Ratio Correction -> Still have black bars on the sides, now with the added bonus of stretched images.
There are a few upsides, though. First, desktop versions of sites fit better. The on-screen keyboard is so freaking enormous that you'll very rarely typo (though the hyperactive autocorrect might make it seem like you do). Apps like the calendar fit better on a 4:3 screen. In the end, though, I have a hard time justifying the awkward resolution; the costs outweigh the benefits.
Software & Stylus
LG's custom UI (Optimus UI) is, and always has been, some sort of weird rip-off of iOS/TouchWiz. If you like either of those UIs, then you'll probably enjoy the aesthetics (though I much prefer AOSP, Sense, and those offered by many tablet manufacturers).
For anyone who hasn't spent time with other phablet devices that ship with a proper digitizer and stylus, it's hard to explain just how awesome it is. Sometimes it seems more gimmick than anything, but the truth is, it goes both ways. Using a stylus is just fun, even when it's a little less efficient. And note-taking abilities are absolutely fantastic, whether you're talking about writing on a piece of digital paper or marking up images. The ability to sketch out a casual doodle on a whim is fantastically awesome, as well. It's all very cool and can be quite handy.
To complement the Rubberdium pen that the Intuition ships with, LG included a few customizations to take advantage of the capability. And by "a few," I mainly mean the aforementioned "quick note" feature, and the Notepad. Quick Note is the button on the top left that takes a screenshot, then allows you to mark it up. Again, that's nice in theory, but realistically you're unlikely to use it much beyond, say, writing on photos you snap with the camera. Because while they saw fit to include some code to let you take a screenshot and write on it, there's no way to directly write on images. The second customization is the Notepad, which is exactly what it sounds like: blank pages that you can write or draw on. You can insert images and write on them in Notepad, but they actually show as photos laid on top of notebook paper.
I have other smaller complaints about the UX, too. For example, the dock can sport up to seven icons, and comfortably. However, the home screen only accommodates four. Keep in mind, this is a 5", 4:3 screen. You could park a cruise ship in the empty space between the icons. The app drawer is also inexplicably weird in that it doesn't fill up each page. The first page has one empty slot, the second has two, and the third is barely half full. One might presume they perhaps split it alphabetically. One would be wrong. There is no discernable pattern for why each page of the app drawer isn't full. Does that genuinely affect user experience? Not really. But it speaks to how weird some of the design choices are, and frankly, it's just kind of annoying.
So, a visually mediocre UI, and few innovative uses for the digitizer and pen. Although there are numerous annoying quirks with it, there are some nice touches, as well. In sum, I'd rank the UX dead-center of the Android world - though lower when compared directly to other high-end devices.
Battery Life & Performance
Screens are almost always the biggest drain of power on Android phones (unless you've got the Amazon Appstore installed! *rimshot*), and the Intuition is no different. Unfortunately for the Intuition, it has a lot more screen to light up than most other Android smartphones, so it really burns through the juice. My first full day with the Intuition saw battery life drop from a full charge to 38% in just the first 12 hours of moderate use with Wi-Fi on. Battery life drops like a rock every time you power on the screen, and gaming and streaming videos absolutely demolished it. Heavy users and road warriors, beware.
Impressively, the Intuition - which runs a very speedy 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU and Android 4.0 - exhibits a fair bit of lag. While it's not constant, any time a widget is updating or animating, you will experience what is a good bit of stutter, by 2012 standards. When even budget phones offer a smoother experience, you may be doing something wrong, LG. Stutter aside, performance is, for the most part, snappy-ish. Never particularly slow, but most other devices are just a smidge faster to respond.
Where the Intuition truly falls short is radio performance. Placing a call from a known rough spot in my neighborhood with both an iPhone and Galaxy S III still produced clear calls (albeit terrible data speeds). Using the Intuition, though, we both had to repeat what we were trying to say three times, without success. We ultimately resorted to texting, instead.
Data speeds were embarrassingly bad, too: when Speedtest.net was run on the Verizon SGSIII and Intuition side-by-side in my house, the SGSIII pulled 13.3M down and 3.5M up. The Intuition: 0.4M down, .3M up. While the SGSIII had a strong LTE signal, the Intuition couldn't catch the signal at all, and was relegated to Verizon's locally awful 3G. About twenty minutes later, the Intuition finally connected to LTE. Even then, speeds never broke 7M down and 1M up.
LG has included a pretty nifty "Say Cheese!" feature in the camera software. As you'd expect, if you have it enabled, you can take pictures just by saying "Cheese" while in the camera app. It works as expected, and I experienced no voice recognition problems. And that's about all the good I have to say about the camera.
Let's say you want to take a normal, around-the-house shot in a well-lit (but not bright) setting. Here we go:
That's an un-cropped, un-touched photo, mind you. The focus is awful, the quality is atrocious even when zoomed out, the colors are terrible, and the exposure is way off. Let's try a few more:
No need to worry about the Midwestern drought - LG has plenty of grain to go around.
The image quality itself remains just plain bad, and the exposure is still way off. Truth be told, the only respectable shot is the macro flower photo - and even then, the colors are oversaturated (specifically, the greens). The macro shot of the Rubberdium pen sucks, because try as I might, the Intuition just refused to focus on it.
It took me about five minutes to get used to the massive width of the Intuition. Once I adjusted, I thought it was a neat, albeit slightly flawed, little device - for about an hour. But the more time I spent with it, the more appalling flaws I found. When I started writing this review a few days ago, I thought the quirky device could make some buyers happy, despite some poorly thought out decisions. By today, though... well, I hope it finds no buyers at all.