LG Intuition 4G LTE
11th Oct 2012 | 20:10
LG jumps into the 'phablet' game
Introduction and Design
LG's much-maligned Intuition "phablet" has been taking a beating over its design and form factor. Granted, it's hard to ignore that contribution to this device, because when you whip it out of your pocket, it literally does become the 800-pound gorilla in the room. While not particularly bulky in thickness, the sheer width and length of this nearly 6-inch by 4-inch device had people asking "Is that the iPad Mini?," which hasn't even been announced or confirmed by Apple yet.
So yes, it's a big boy. But it fits just fine in our pants and jacket pockets, and once you get over the comical "I'm a tiny person!" feeling when you hold it up to your head for the first few phone calls, the size argument shrinks away, pun intended.
In fact, once you pair the device with your car or a headset via Bluetooth, you won't even have to hold it up to your ear, saving you from ridicule. We didn't find it too unwieldy, but users with smaller digits might grapple with using it one-handed.
The device itself is sleek and not busy looking with multiple tones and colors. There's an even black glossy finish around the screen which contains the capacitive-touch Back, Home, Recent App, and Menu keys, with a textured plastic back and aluminum tops and bottoms. The left edge is completely bare except for the pop off sim card cover, with the right side only containing a volume rocker switch.
The bottom has a single pinhole microphone, and the top is the most active, with a headphone port, another microphone pinhole, a QuickMemo button, a miniUSB port with a slider cover, and a power button. Corning's Gorilla Glass tops everything off, providing some protection against scratches and scrapes.
The Intuition sports the LG Optimus Skin on top of Android's 4.0.4: Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, which feels much less intrusive than the similar offerings from other manufacturers, like the HTC Sense interface. As such, it also offers less functionality on top of Ice Cream Sandwich, but we're not lamenting the loss of features we rarely use. The Optimus Skin adds some new widgets, functions, and 3D animations while you're in the home screens.
Unfortunately, the system won't let you turn the device horizontally during home screen functions, which is peculiar given the tablet-esque design. It might be considered a minor nitpick by some, but when you're touting the usage of your device to replace a tablet, it seems like you'd want to emulate that experience as closely as possible.
Otherwise, there are a lot of personalization options presented here, both in the Optimus Skin and in the standard ICS package. It won't take you long before you customize it to your liking. In a nifty addition, the phone supports Near Field Communication, and comes with two stickers containing embedded NFC chips that you can place at home or at work. You can set the phone to read these tags, and instantly set your phone to the state you want: a completely different home screen layout, different sound settings, and so on. While not a necessity, it's a nifty "Gee whiz!" feature.
The design of the device is large enough to have required the inclusion of a "One-handed keyboard" feature, which is supposed to allow you to swipe the keyboard to the left or to the right, allowing you to type with one handed, or one thumb. But what proved to be more frustrating than actually typing with one hand / thumb was swiping the keyboard in the first place. It took nearly a dozen swipes for us to get the keyboard to move, as it kept thinking we were trying to type something.
Oddly, the phone comes with a "Rubberdium" stylus that matches the design of the device. Nice, but there's absolutely nowhere to put it. It'll be the very first thing you lose within moments of opening the box. It's not necessary for input, so it's puzzling as to why LG even included it in the first place.
Contacts and Calling
The Intuition's Contacts app is fairly robust, and syncs with several services, including Facebook and Gmail so you can instantly import your existing contacts straight into the phone. The list of entries includes a photo on the left, and buttons on the right that allow you to call or message the person without having to drill down into their actually page. If they have more than one number, a separate menu pops up asking which one you'd like. This is a nice touch, especially for one-handed operation.
More than one person commented that the phone resembles one of the pushbutton phones for the elderly with the enormous buttons. That's true when you're in the keypad, and you can't slide it left or right for one-handed dialing or if you're having to press buttons while on the phone. Also, it doesn't appear that the phone has a sensor like the iPhone that shuts the screen off when you hold it near your cheek, meaning plenty of accidental hangups and screen changes. Otherwise, calls sounded just fine, even in loud environments, and as mentioned before, the whole experience is improved greatly by adding a Bluetooth headset.
Sending and receiving SMS messages on the device is very easy, and there are options to attach pictures, video, recorded audio, a location, a slideshow, and contacts. Unlike dialing, you can actually turn the device horizontally here and use the keyboard with both thumbs, which will be a boon to serial texters. You'll have to dive into the Menu surface button often if you want to do anything other than send messages, which can be annoying in landscape mode.
As far as connectivity goes, the phone has plenty of options to keep you connected. There's the built in Wi-Fi, which is obviously the connection method of choice if you're near a network, but the real star here is the 4G LTE over Verizon's network. We used this connection extensively, averaging 8700kbps down and 700kbps down. The real test was downloading a large file while simultaneously streaming Netflix, and it performed just fine. But when you're using the 4G a lot, it really chews up your battery. Ours was nearly dead after the movie finished.
You'll really notice a difference when the phone has to drop down to 3G when 4G network isn't available, and it really seems to chug. It's like going 75 miles per hour and suddenly dropping to below 20. It's jarring and noticeable. But we were surprised at the coverage we got out of 4G, and rarely had to drop down to slower speeds. Even while inside office buildings or deep in the middle of a hotel.
App-wise, the phone comes pre-installed with all the standard apps you'd need for internet connectivity. We eschewed the LG-provided Email and Browser apps for the already-installed Gmail app and we quickly downloaded and added Chrome to the mix, but during our tests LG's apps performed just fine. The home screens have a transparent Google search bar embedded at the top, and as far as we could tell that isn't removable.
So, as with most Android devices, if you're already plugged into the Google ecosphere, you'll see an instant benefit as your emails, videos, photos, contacts and more appear after entering your account information. Which of course doesn't mean you need to use any of Google's products to use the Intuition, but that's probably one of the reasons for going Android.
Camera and Video
The Intuition has an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with an LED flash that performs just fine as long as it has enough light. It comes equipped with several different modes, and even a "Say Cheese" feature that takes a photo when you say cheese. Or something that rhymes with cheese. If you have decent light, the photos will turn out crisp and with admirable color, but items in motion even just a bit will tend to blur.
The front-mounted camera is only 1.3 megapixels, and you won't want to use it for photos if you can help it. It's best if you use it only for video chat, which worked well with our Skype calls. With the pre-installed Color app, you can send photos directly to Facebook from the camera. This could be a benefit or a danger, depending on both your photographic ability, and if you have access to the device after you've been drinking.
Again, the rear-facing camera shines here, doing the heavy lifting at 1080p, while the front camera is best just for video conferencing. While the front camera promises full HD 1920x1080 recording, the default is set to 1440x1080. It supports numerous video formats, ranging from MP4 to DivX, WMV, and more, and also features Dolby Mobile. In our test videos, the video looked great from the rear camera, although just like the camera mode it needs sufficient light.
Color also works with the video camera, allowing you to broadcast live video to Facebook. We didn't experiment with this, but it would be a nifty feature for covering events you're attending. We just hope it doesn't accidentally switch on at inopportune moments. There is an included advanced image editor for still photos, and a Video Wiz app for editing video. It's not Final Cut in your pocket, but does have styles and simple editing features.
Music and Movies
There are multiple options for music and video on the LG Intuition, several of which come pre-installed. There's an entire tab of pre-loaded software for Amazon users, allowing you to plug directly into music you've purchased, although there's no app for Amazon Instant Video. Google's Play Movies & TV and Play Music are also pre-loaded, and you can easily add apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus.
Video is where the Intuition has taken the hardest hits, as due to the 4:3 screen, apps have to use black bars to preserve the aspect ratio. The phone will prompt you in some cases, asking if you want to correct the aspect ratio feature, but it isn't smart enough to know if it needs it for not. For instance, on Netflix, when watching "Freaks and Geeks," which is in 4:3, the phone will crop it to be letterboxed, even though it doesn't need it. Although once you've made the adjustment, the video looks fantastic. It's just that you'll constantly be juggling back and forth as you have to exit Netflix to adjust the ratio.
While the video looks crisp and sharp, it's puzzling the LG has chosen to go with a 4:3 screen in an age of widescreen. With many television shows and movies shot in 16:9, it's frustrating when you can't use the entire screen of your device to play back your media. It would actually be fine if the device switched aspects on the fly, and once you're in a letterboxed 16:9 video, things aren't that bad.
Unfortunately, the LG Intuition also comes with an anemic little speaker on the back of the device, which sounds tinny and weak. You'll definitely want to use headphones or speakers whether you're listening to music or watching videos. Not that you'd expect big performance in the audio department from a phone/tablet, but certainly you'd want something better than this.
Battery Life and Connectivity
The Intuition comes with a non-removable 2080 mAh Li-Polymer battery, which promises 15 hours of usage time. That must either be just making phone calls or listening to music you've already downloaded, because we didn't get nearly close to 15 hours during our time with the device. Watching two hours of Netflix over 4G nearly killed the battery, and a few hours of browsing the web and using Google's Navigation extensively also took the bar into the red.
With Wi-Fi and 4G off, you can stretch the battery life considerably, probably enough to make a coast-to-coast flight while watching video or playing games, but since you can't pop open the back and slip in a fresh one, it's hard to bank on it. Charging time was fairly fast using the include charging cable and adapter, although charging over USB through a computer was much slower.
The Intuition is a Swiss-Army knife of connectivity options, serving up just about everything current technology has to offer. The Wi-Fi flavors are 802.11 b/g/n, and LTE, and EVDO for over the air data. There's also built-in GPS, Bluetooth, and NFC options, as well as Android Beam and SmartShare DLNA options for data transfer. You can also tether the device to share the 4G connection, or turn the device into a 4G data hotspot that supports up to 10 connected devices.
Plugging the phone into a computer will bring up the Android File Transfer application, if you have it installed, and you can easily drag and drop content to the device, using the generous 32GB of onboard memory. Although the Intuition doesn't support any sort of removable memory, so keep an eye on what you have available before you fill it to the brim accidentally.
Maps and Apps
While Verizon VZ Navigator app here, it can't compare to the double whammy of Google's Maps and Navigation apps. We used both of them extensively, and the Intuition actually makes a terrific GPS unit when you're driving, especially if you have a car mount. After several trips to addresses throughout California's Orange County, Navigation performed admirably throughout u-turns, destination revisions, and wrong turns. The screen size allows you to see where you're going, and performed better than GPS-only devices like Garmin and TomTom.
While you can't justify only using this as a GPS device, especially given the $599.99 retail price, it was easily the best usage of the device we experienced. Combine that with the voice search feature, which was prevalent throughout the unit, and this makes a nearly perfect hands-free device for automobiles. Sadly, that's just not what it was designed to be.
The Intuition comes with a ton of pre-installed applications, including:
- Preloaded Apps: Gmail, Google+, Latitude, Maps, Messenger, Navigation, Local, Play Books, Play Movies & TV, Play Music, Play Store, Search, Talk, YouTube
- Preloaded Verizon Apps: Verizon Apps, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, V CAST Tones, Viewdini, Color, Visual Voicemail, and VZ Navigator
- Amazon Apps Suite: Kindle, Shop, Music, IMDb, Audible, and Zappos
- Preloaded Games: Real Racing 2 and Shark Dash
- Polaris Office – edit and create Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents
While we used the Amazon and Google apps frequently, we rarely played around with Verizon's pre-loaded apps, other than the Visual Voicemail. Polaris Office is a nice inclusion, and it works well with standard office documents, especially if you're just viewing them. We quickly abandoned the included Browser for Chrome, and added apps like Facebook, Yelp, Pandora, and other social media must-haves. While you can find everything you need on Google's Play Store, the fact that you have Shark Dash preloaded here and not Facebook is strange.
Speaking of the Play Store, we couldn't find an "Update All" option when our apps needed updates. This was a bit frustrating when we had several apps that needed to be updated right out of the box. You would have to go in and activate each update manually, which can be a pain when you have 12 apps needed upgrades.
What was a nifty app combined with some hardware was the QuickMemo feature, which allows you to take a screenshot of anything on the device and mark it up with your own doodles, John Madden-style. We didn't use it often, but using the QuickMemo button on the top of the device to snap a pic inside Netflix and then draw on it was a nice feature, and something that graphic and web designers would totally geek out on.
While many people knock the LG Intuition over a size that seems akin to the monolith in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," we didn't mind the size so much. It fits just fine in a pair of jeans (not the back pocket!) or a jacket, and it wasn't as obtrusive as you would think. You'll want to use a headset so you don't have to hold this up to your face for phone calls, but that's more out of fear of being labeled a fool than out of actual usage.
As mentioned above, the GPS / Google Navigation combo, especially over 4G LTE was a killer combo, providing an excellent in-car navigation service that would be perfect while on a road trip. We streamed Pandora music, Netflix, and YouTube constantly in the car, and were happy to know that the Navigation cuts in above anything to let you know when a turn or route change is approaching.
We also liked the fact that it could replace several devices at once. We tend to travel with a laptop, a tablet, an e-reader, and a camera, and the LG Intuition can easily replace all of those, albeit with some loss of function in each department. Obviously a cell phone camera won't be a robust as a dedicated camera, an e-ink based e-reader is easier on the eyes than an LCD screen and so on. But with the Intuition, you can toss it in your pocket for an extended weekend and not worry about your other devices. Particularly if you pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and headset, and make sure you have plenty of power nearby.
There's a lot to dislike about the Intuition, and although many of them are fairly minor gripes, they all add up to a large warning flag: the tinny speaker, the difficult onscreen keyboard, a non-removable battery, no additional storage, and so on. While we couldn't really fault the size, because a phablet is simply going to be bigger than a phone by definition, it was difficult to manage via one-handed operation at times.
We also didn't like the fact that many times the text entry fields on webpages were completely off the screen. We're not sure if that's the fault of the browser or the websites we visited, but it happened on enough to make us suspect that it's actually a phone issue, and not App-based. When you're trying to type something, and the field isn't even on screen, that becomes an exercise in patience and guesswork, often yielding to sheer frustration.
Additionally, we really hated the included "Rubberdium" stylus. Not only does it have a strange name, but there isn't anywhere to secure it on the device, making it feel like a superfluous extra. Sure, it's nice to have, especially when entering text, but it really should clip onto the device or affix to it somehow.
Size isn't everything, although the LG Intuition certainly wants you to think it is. At first glance, this looks like a sleek minitablet, although the first time you hold it up to your ear to make a call, you'll feel a bit goofy. It would actually be easy enough to get beyond the size issue if LG made it easier to deal with once you were actually using the device. But with wonky aspect ratios, a tinny speaker, and an at-times frustrating interface, it gets very hard to recommend the Intuition.
But it does represent a step in the right direction, and while the Intuition will probably take a beating from the Samsung Note II, we're hoping the LG's next phablet offering gets it right. LG's own press release touts the Intuition as having a 4:3 Display Ratio that is "ideal for reading and writing" when it needs to have a 16:9 display that is perfect for watching and typing. As a result, it feels like the Intuition is just a prototype for what is still yet to come.