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With G Pro 2 Phablet, LG Knocks on Samsung's Door

Bigger and better, LG makes some strides in the phablet market.

Phablets are getting bigger — both literally and figuratively. Cellphone manufacturers continue to churn out these smartphone-tablet hybrids at a regular pace, and they’re pushing the limits by making the screens even bigger.

LG is the latest to do so, with its G Pro 2. As the follow-up to last year’s Optimus G Pro, the company has increased the Android smartphone’s screen size from 5.7 inches to 5.9 inches, and added a better camera and faster processor. It’s also running Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system.

But many of the G Pro 2’s more interesting points come in the way of new software additions. A feature called KnockCode lets you wake and unlock your phone by tapping a unique pattern on the screen. Another function, called Mini View, is designed to help you more easily use the phone one-handed — something that’s difficult to do with phablets. LG has even found a way to take better selfies with the front-facing camera.

With these types of software tricks, there’s always a danger that they might feel more gimmicky than helpful, but I didn’t find that to be the case here. I thought most features were useful, and overall I found the G Pro 2 to be a solid phablet. It fits in the same-sized screen as the HTC One Max, in a smaller and lighter design, and competes well with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. That said, the latter also includes stylus support, if that’s important to you.

The deciding factor may come down to price. LG just began selling the G Pro 2 in Asia, but the company hopes to bring the smartphone to North America, though there haven’t been any carrier announcements yet.

During my week with the G Pro 2, I enjoyed the benefits of the smartphone’s 5.9-inch full-HD screen. It’s vibrant and sharp, and the larger display made it easy to read Web articles and emails. I didn’t experience the same kind of eye fatigue that I do with my iPhone 5 after long periods of reading, watching a video, or playing games.

Of course, the trade-off that comes with having a larger screen is a bigger phone. The G Pro 2 measures 6.2 inches tall by 3.2 inches wide by 0.3-inch thick, and weighs 6.07 ounces. That makes the G Pro 2 a little bigger and heavier than the Galaxy Note 3, though the Galaxy Note has a slightly smaller 5.7-inch screen.

I didn’t find the G Pro 2 any more difficult to hold than other phablets I’ve tested, but I did miss the faux-leather back cover of the Galaxy Note 3. LG has a textured mesh finish on back, which is fine. It’s just not as comfortable as Samsung’s.

Like the LG G2, which I reviewed a few months ago, the power and volume buttons are located on the back, just below the camera. LG said it did this to make it easier for people to access these buttons on a larger device, but I’m still not a fan of this placement.

Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on the power button to wake the phone. Instead, you can use KnockCode.

KnockCode is an evolution of the KnockOn feature that was first introduced on the G2, which lets you wake the phone from standby mode by double-tapping the screen. KnockCode builds on that by letting you unlock the phone by tapping a pattern on the display.

During initial setup, you’ll be asked to enter a unique combination of taps. You can enter anywhere between two and eight taps, and once you have that set, you can unlock your phone by tapping your combination on any part of the screen. (If you press the power button first, you’ll have to enter your code in the specified area.)

The company claims that with more than 80,000 possible combinations and no fingerprint streaks (like those left if you use a drawing pattern to unlock your phone), it’s more secure than other lock methods.

In my tests, the feature worked pretty well. On a few occasions, I had to enter my KnockCode twice, but most times, the phone recognized it on the first try. Whether it’s safer than other methods remains to be seen, but for added protection, G Pro 2 now has a feature where you can lock different kinds of content, like photos and documents, with a PIN code or pattern.

What I found more useful was Mini View. With a swipe left to right or vice versa on the navigation bar below the display, the G Pro 2 will minimize whatever screen you’re on, so you can more easily use the phone one-handed. While not the perfect solution (you still have to use two hands to initiate Mini View, for example), I found it helpful for navigating through menus and launching applications.

One other software feature worth mentioning is the Dual Browser function. By holding down the back button, you’ll get a screen showing your most recently used apps. You can then drag one to the top half of the screen, and another to the bottom half, allowing you to view and work in two apps at once. This certainly isn’t new. Samsung has offered a similar feature on its smartphones and tablets. But it’s an improvement over the G2’s Q Slide function, which was cluttered and practically useless.

On the hardware side, the G Pro 2 has the same 13-megapixel camera, but it can now shoot 4K video, which offers four times the detail of full-HD clips. Sounds impressive, but it’s important to note that the number of devices on which you can watch 4K video is limited (and expensive) at this time.

Still, the camera took nice photos and video. In addition, the front-facing 2.1-megapixel camera has a flash function that provides better lighting for self-portraits. It’s not an actual flash, but when turned on, it displays a large white border around the viewfinder to provide better lighting. I took a couple of selfies in a dimly lit room in my apartment, and it helped produce better pictures.

Compared to its predecessor, the G Pro 2 features a faster quad-core processor from Qualcomm and a larger battery. The smartphone performed smoothly, without any crippling lags or crashes. I didn’t run a formal battery test, but with moderate to heavy usage, I was able to go about a day and a half before needing to recharge the phone.

I also made several phone calls using the G Pro 2 with T-Mobile service, and call quality was clear on both ends of the conversation. But, as with many phablets I’ve tested, I had to adjust the position of the phone a couple of times in order to get the earpiece in the right place to hear my friends.

LG has made some nice improvements to the G Pro 2 to make it a better smartphone. With competitive pricing, it can be a nice alternative to the Galaxy Note 3.

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