Review: The LG Intuition proves size does matter

The LG Intuition is big. Some (myself included) would call it too big—ungracefully straddling the line between phone and tablet and doing a poor job of satisfying either niche. But the phone-tablet ("phablet") phenomenon marches on, particularly in light of the success Samsung has seen with its Galaxy Note device. The Intuition hits all of the right notes, offering a speedy processor, high-resolution display, 4G LTE speeds, and some NFC capabilities, but unfortunate design decisions make this a tough device to recommend.

Design

Nate Ralph
The Intuition's large size makes it difficult to hold.

The Intuition is built around a 5-inch IPS display, which offers a 1024 by 768 pixel resolution. It’s actually a fairly nice screen; text is crisp, and reading through long articles I’ve saved on Pocket was a generally pleasant experience. That said, the 4:3 aspect ratio can prove problematic—I’ll circle back on this point while drilling down on the phone’s apps and the entertainment experience, but there’s a reason most devices strive for widescreen resolutions. The boxy chassis isn’t doing the Intuition any favors. In fact, it looks a bit comical—a conversation starter in all the wrong ways. It’s also rather uncomfortable to hold: I needed to grip it with both hands to get most things done, and while this made for an excellent typing experience, walking around and trying to dial phone numbers or navigate around apps proved annoying.

Nate Ralph

Four capacitive navigation buttons run along the bottom edge of the Intuition’s glass front, and they light up when the display is on, or in use. Using them can take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to physical buttons or smaller devices. I occasionally found myself missing the buttons I meant to hit, or tapping the display to get them to light up. I found it especially problematic when I was out at night, but that largely boils down to unfamiliarity with the dimensions of the handset. The volume rocker sits on the right side of the phone, and the buttons feel overly sensitive—I occasionally found myself inadvertently tweaking audio levels when my hand brushed alongside my pocket. The power button and headphone jack sit on the top of the phone, accompanied by a sliding door that hides the USB port, and the QuickMemo button—more on that in a bit.

The Intuition ships with a 5-inch Rubberdium stylus; it’s lightweight and thin, but otherwise unremarkable. Truth be told it feels like an afterthought: the S-Pen included with the Samsung Galaxy Note offers quick access to note-taking apps, and that device also includes handwriting recognition. The Intuition’s accouterment, by contrast, is just a plain old stylus. In practice, it wasn’t any more comfortable or precise than simply using my finger. Worse still, there’s no place to put it (the Galaxy Note includes a slot to store the pen), so I generally forgot all about it.

Performance

Performance is excellent, care of the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM. Swiping about the the Android interface was a smooth, pleasant experience, and I didn’t run into any major hangups. The Intuition tackled games with aplomb, and even hardware intensive apps like Dead Trigger chugged along without missing a beat. The phone lacks expandable storage options, but it does offer 32GB of space—25GB after you account for the OS.

Call quality was adequate, barring the awkwardness inherent in holding a 5-inch device up to your face. The folks I spoke to reported that I sounded a bit dull and distant, as if the microphone were muffling my voice. Verizon LTE service was fairly zippy: the FCC-approved Ookla Speed Test app reported download speeds of about 8-megabits per second in my hole-in-the-wall apartment, but closer to 10-megabits per second as I roamed through the rest of San Francisco.

The 2100mAH battery isn’t removable, but generally kept on chugging without issue over normal phone use—making a few calls, navigating around the city with the GPS-enabled and Google Maps, lots of reading and doodling, and playing the occasional game. After a more intensive workout, including a few hours of video over Wi-Fi and streaming music over Spotify, the phone made it for about 6 hours before I found myself looking for an outlet. Manage your usage appropriately, and you’ll be fine.

Software

Nate Ralph
The Intuition features a custom overlay with an extra long dock.

The Intuition sports Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and a custom LG overlay that makes cosmetic changes to just about all of the operating system’s icons. It’s otherwise unobtrusive, and includes a customizable row of icons that serve as shortcuts for apps. Swiping down from the top of the phone’s display reveals the notification pane, which also contains a customizable bar for toggling features like the GPS and Bluetooth connectivity. The phone’s 4:3 aspect ratio tends to stretch some apps a bit, which can be problematic with image-heavy software. The Intuition attempts to automatically correct this, but holding down the Home button for a few seconds will let you manually toggle the aspect ratio. It’s not perfect, as it inserts black bars along the sides of an app, but if you’re a stickler about appearances it can make the overall experience a little less bothersome.

The QuickMemo button on top of the phone takes a snapshot of the screen, and allows you to make quick notes or doodles on a copy of the screen you were looking at—handy for annotating maps or "improving" a friend’s Facebook photo. You can also switch to a sketchpad, if you’d just like to get some doodling done. The bundled Notebook app serves as a more structured approach to note-taking, but a limited toolset and clunky navigation leaves it largely suited for even more sketching.

Of particular note is the LG Tag+ app, which communicates with NFC-enabled stickers to automatically toggle phone settings. The functionality is completely customizable, but can be used to launch specific applications or toggle device settings. LG includes a pair of NFC-enabled stickers labelled “Office” and “Car” with the Intuition, but they can be reprogrammed on the fly. There isn’t any especially egregious bloatware bundled with the phone; LG’s apps are accompanied by a few productivity tools like Polaris Office, Verizon’s navigation app, and a Verizon branded app store.

Entertainment

Sound is pumped out of a tiny mono speaker on the rear of the phone. It isn’t especially loud—enough for speakerphone conversations or music in a pinch—and the tinny dreck that pours out of it will leave you diving for headphones. The speaker’s placement on the rear doesn’t help matters either, as it’s easily muffled when you’re holding the phone or lying it on a flat surface. Video is hit or miss. While the Intuition’s 4:3 aspect ratio is great for getting around web pages, widescreen movies and video lose a bit of screen real estate to black letterboxes. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but the reduced video size can make having a 5-inch screen a bit superfluous.

Camera

A sample photo taken with the LG Intuition.

The Intuition is equipped with two cameras: a 1.3-megapixel camera up front, and an 8-megapixel shooter on the rear. Like most smartphones on the market, the front-facing camera is a bit worthless: images are dull and grainy, and the phone’s size makes video chatting an awkward process anyway. The front-facing camera also offers an interesting “beauty shot” slider, which attempts to hide blemishes and the like by dynamically softening minor details. At its strongest settings I looked a bit doughy, but it completely masked the patchy stubble I try to pass for facial hair—I’m calling it a win, but your mileage may vary. The rear camera is noticeably better (as befitting the larger sensor), but still suffers from dull colors and a general lack of crispness. The Intuition does offer one feature I found a bit neat: turn on the voice activation mode, and the camera will snap a photo when it hears "Cheese." There’s a bit of delay as it attempts to focus, but I found I could prop it up on a ledge or piece of furniture and shout from a considerable distance — much handier than setting a timer and sprinting to get in frame.

Video recording on the rear camera works well enough—the phone had a bit of trouble maintaining focus as I moved around, but it shoots in 1080p and the quality was otherwise fine. Voices were captured clearly and accurately (a step up from the LG Optimus Vu), and while there are plenty of devices on the market that will offer a better recording experience, the Intuition falls firmly into the “good enough” camp.

The phone’s size remains an issue, whether you’re shooting video or snapping pics. It isn’t quite as ridiculous as hefting an iPad aloft, but you will need both hands to hold the phone steady and tap to focus—I’m cursed with oversized mitts so it wasn’t ever too much of an issue, but I can’t imagine normal folk finding it a pleasant experience.

Bottom Line

The phablet phenomenon may seem to be a weird niche, but devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note prove that it can be done, and done well, with careful design considerations. The Intuition, by contrast, feels half baked: LG nailed “big” and threw in a stylus, but disappointing ergonomics coupled with an ugly design make the Intuition a tough sell. And I have large hands—for the average human being, I can’t imagine daily use on this device being anything more than the punchline to some elaborate joke. Performance is great, and the cameras will do in a pinch, but when it comes to day to day usage, the Intuition simply falls flat due to bad design.

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