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Hands-on with Verizon’s LG Intuition ‘phablet’

There’s nothing like some friendly competition to get the mobile wars going. Whether we love it or hate it, “phablets” — devices that are larger than most smartphones and smaller than tablets — are here to stay. Samsung’s (005930) 10 million-strong Galaxy Note and upcoming Note II are proof enough that people want and are willing to accept smartphones with oversized displays. LG (06657011) has officially joined the ‘phablet’ fray with its own stylus-packing, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Intuition on Verizon (VZ). Unlike most run-of-the-mill 16:9 aspect ratio smartphones with 720p HD displays, the Intuition stands on its own legs with a radical 5.0-inch 4:3 aspect ratio display that makes it wider than any smartphone I’ve ever held. Read on for my first-impressions of Verizon’s new 4G LTE-equipped phablet.

It’s clear from the get-go after I unboxed the Intuition that LG knows how to build a smartphone that doesn’t look shoddy. The Intuition’s glossy faux metal sides are complemented nicely by a delicately textured matte back, giving it a hint of premium credibility. On the front is a big honking Verizon logo. Why can’t carriers keep their logos on the rear? I found the Intuition to be surprisingly light despite its gigantic size and was happy to discover that it’s pocketable in my rear jeans pocket. My only issue is that, although it does fit in my pants pockets, attempting to carry it there will result in some rather unwanted pocket puffing as the phablet’s design is boxy with four harsh corners.

Beneath its exterior is a skinned version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash capable of 1080p HD recording, 1.3-megapixel front camera capable of 720p HD recording, 32GB of internal storage and of course, Verizon’s speedy 4G LTE. It sounds impressive, but how does it perform?

Unfortunately, this is where things take a sour turn for the Intuition. With LG’s Ice Cream Sandwich skin, all of the bells and whistles of stock Android seems to have been stripped out.

The OS has some noticeable lag when opening and switching between multiple apps, Android apps designed for 16:9 devices look weird when stretched out in 4:3 aspect ratio (although, you can have the apps display in regular 16:9 with pillar boxing) and the RAM just fizzes out at times causing unknown freezes and memory leaks.

Several times, I thought the touch-sensitive buttons on the front had just flat-out failed, but alas, it seems it’s just buggy software (rebooting seemed to fix the issues). The rear speaker is also only moderately loud and suffers from being severely undersized.

Where the Intuition shines is its 1024 x 768-pixel screen. Because it’s got a 4:3 aspect ratio display, seven apps can be pinned to the main dock (but strangely enough, home screens can only support four apps in a row and five apps in a row when in the Apps menu).

Reading on the Intuition is also an absolute pleasure and feels very close to reading on a Kindle in terms of size, if a Kindle e-reader screen was an inch smaller and could do color. I noticed the display’s color temperature is a little warmer than on most devices, but it’s nothing most people will lose sleep over. Typing with two thumbs in landscape and portrait mode is one of the best experiences I’ve had on any smartphone, thanks again to its generous width, and the camera is more than adequate for Facebook and Instagram addicts (yes, even the “Cheese” shutter feature that listens for the word “Cheese” to activate the shutter works as advertised).

This being a device that is going up against the Galaxy Note, it’s only natural to talk about the stylus and its sensitivity. In a completely unscientific comparison, I feel the Intuition is more precise and has less lag, but in terms of implementation, the Note’s S Memo app is lightyears ahead of LG’s generically named Notebook app when it comes to deciphering all of the strange menu icons. My only gripe is that the Intuition doesn’t have a slot to store the awfully named and trademarked “Rubberdium pen.”

LG made it very evident during a press briefing introducing the Intuition that its phablet is being marketed at a specific demographic that has come to terms with devices that have a larger size and display. That’s fine because most people would pull their hair out, seeing as it’s virtually impossible to use the Intuition with one hand. But is the Intuition better than the Galaxy Note? Sadly, my gut feeling is no. If not for a seriously disfigured build of Android 4.0, the Intuition could have given the Note a serious run for its money instead of playing second fiddle. Its epic size and unique proportions do have advantages, though: lots and lots of stares from strangers in public wondering what that thing is.

Raymond Wong

Raymond Wong is a technology reporter with a passion for cutting-edge gadgets and clean design. His writing has appeared on DVICE, Ubergizmo, G4TV, Yahoo News, NBC blogs. You might even have seen his videos on Xbox LIVE.