Samsung has created a product niche that it has managed to occupy all on its own for some time, and has filled it with two products. I’m talking about the Galaxy Note and Note 2 of course, which both have screens larger than five inches and so are too large to be a phone and too small to be a tablet. Some people call the Note a ‘phablet’ (a terrible term if you ask me).
It has taken LG a while, but the company has come up with a 'phablet' of its own in the shape of the Vu. On paper the Vu might seem like great buy. It’s a lot cheaper than the Note 2 and has some impressive specifications. With the Note 2 costing £516 inc VAT as I write this and the original Note coming in at £402 inc VAT, a price of £350 inc VAT for the Vu from Expansys, which supplied my review sample, seems like a snip.
The first and most obvious thing about the Vu, and one of two that may be a deal-breaker for many, is its weird screen size. It's a 5in display with a 1,024 x 768 resolution, which compares with 5.5in and 1,280 x 720 pixels on the Note 2, and 5.3in and 1,280 x 800 pixels on the Note. What the screen dimensions do for the Vu is deliver a 4:3 aspect ratio that can help usability in some respects and hinder it in others.
On the plus side, the relatively wide screen makes typing on the touch keyboard a breeze. Even writing this review on the phone was a fairly comfortable experience. For the most part, websites are easy to read in the portrait orientation and I found that the need to hold the Vu horizontally was less frequent than usual. I even used the Kindle app a fair bit and found it comfortable.
All my favourite apps ran fine in the wider aspect ratio, but if you do encounter a problem you can long press the touch-sensitive home button under the screen to push an app into the standard aspect ratio. This does leave black bands down the sides of apps, but it’s great that LG has thought of offering it. The IPS screen is bright and sharp too.
On the minus side, the LG Vu is excessively wide at 90mm. That’s almost a full centimetre wider than the 80.5mm of the Note 2. Yet it is shorter, with its 139.6mm sitting against the Note 2’s 151mm. Interestingly it is also a fair bit thinner with its 8.5mm playing against the Note 2’s 9.4mm, and a tad lighter at 168g vs the Note 2’s 180g.
Those last two positive comparators do nothing to mitigate the fact that I found the LG Vu a very tricky device to manipulate. It’s OK to hold to the ear to make calls, but I could barely get one hand around it to grab it for everyday use, and even the simplest of screen-based activities such as pressing an app link required two hands. Many people will even find it impossible to sweep the unlock icon with one hand. In fact, only someone with abnormally large hands will be able to make any practical use of this device one-handed and you are probably better off thinking of the LG Vu as a small tablet rather than as a large phone when it comes to the ergonomics of use.
The LG Vu is light in the hand, and the build is solid. I’m not a huge fan of the stippled faux leather look back, or the very blocky overall design. The Galaxy Note 2 is visually a lot more appealing. Nor am I happy about the non-removable backplate, which makes it impossible to get to the battery.
The on/off switch is on the top edge of the chassis, where it isn’t all that easy to reach one-handed. A side location might have been better. The micro-USB connector is also on the top edge, and this is protected by a sliding cover similar to those I’ve seen before on LG handsets. It is a touch I like, not only because it protects the slot from dust but also because when it is closed the overall appearance keeps the device's lines clean.
The fact that you can’t augment the internal memory is a real irritation. The LG Vu ships with 32GB of internal storage, which ought to be enough for many people, but there’s still no excuse for not allowing memory expansion.
You’ll probably need to upgrade your SIM too, as the LG Vu accommodates a microSIM. The slot is on the left edge of the chassis and you pop the SIM caddy out using a provided tool, or the end of a paper clip.
The Vu’s stylus is rather limited. You can use it to move around the home screens, run apps, prod at icons within apps, and enter data into an app called Quick Memo, which can be started by pressing a button on the top of the screen. You can write on app screens too, drawing on a Google map or annotating a photo for example, and then save your work either as an image or in a notebook, accessed by an app rather appropriately called Notebook, which is available from every home screen. This is all potentially useful, but nowhere near as feature-rich as the capabilities of the Note or Note 2.
LG has equipped the Vu with Android 4.0 and its own TouchWiz skin. The 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor is supported by 1GB of RAM and didn’t stumble during testing. There’s an 8-megapixel main camera and 1.3-megapixel front camera, and NFC is built in. LG provides three tags along with its LG Tag+ app so you can set up some functions and try NFC out for yourself.
There will be two schools of thought about the LG Vu. One will say it offers excellent value for money and that its large 4:3 aspect ratio screen delivers great visuals. These two things are true, but the easily misplaced stylus has minimal value and pales into insignificance when compared to that of the Galaxy Note 2, and overall the size makes this an unwieldy device to carry around. I want to like it, but I’d rather have a Note 2.
Manufacturer and model
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 900/2100
1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3
5in, 1,024 x 768 pixels
139.6 x 90.4 x 8.5 mm