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LG’s Intuition Off the Mark

Confession: When Samsung first released its Galaxy Note smartphone last February, I thought the company was crazy.

Part smartphone, part tablet — or “phablet,” as some like to call it — the Galaxy Note is ginormous, and I just couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to use such a big device as their phone. But a sequel is on the way, and competitors are following suit.

One of those competitors is the LG Intuition, which is available now from Verizon Wireless for $200 with a two-year contract. I spent the past week with this phablet, and though it offers a spacious five-inch display and speedy performance, I would not buy this device. It has an unwieldy design, and the screen’s odd aspect ratio has trouble displaying some apps. And use of 4G takes a big toll on battery life. Also, the included stylus and note-taking apps should be highlights of this device, but feel like afterthoughts.

One thing’s for sure: The Intuition will turn some heads. It almost makes the Galaxy Note look svelte, even though the Note is a quarter of an inch taller.

What makes this thing so cumbersome? It’s super-wide. The device measures 3.56 inches across, and I had a really hard time wrapping my hand around it. When Apple unveiled the iPhone 5, the company noted that a phone should fit beautifully in your hand, and I agree. I don’t mind a slightly larger phone, but if I can’t even comfortably hold it, then there’s a problem.

Admittedly, I have small hands, but even when I passed it around to friends, they also mentioned how awkward it was to hold. You can pretty much forget about one-handed operation.

When I used it to make voice calls, I almost felt like I was part of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. It felt ridiculous holding such a huge phone up to my ear; I kept waiting for Will Ferrell to show up with an equally comical prop, but, sadly, he never did.

And the large design wasn’t just cosmetic; it also led to difficulties with phone calls. I initially thought the handset’s volume was too low when I couldn’t hear my friends on the other line, but I later realized that the problem was that the earpiece wasn’t lined up directly with my ear because the Intuition is so wide. Once I lined the phone up the right way, I enjoyed clear audio.

The Intuition’s colossal design isn’t all for naught, as it allows for a five-inch touchscreen. Most smartphones today have displays that range between 3.5 inches and 4.3 inches, so the extra real estate made it easier to read emails, Web articles and e-books. Text and images looked crisp and sharp, and the display’s 4:3 aspect ratio allows for an extra column of icons in the Apps menu.

Unfortunately, it also creates some problems with third-party apps and videos, since a majority of them are designed to work with today’s 16:9 devices. When I was watching videos using the Netflix or Google Play Music and TV apps, there were black bars above and below the picture, so I didn’t think it offered a better viewing experience than a regular-size smartphone.

Most major apps, like Facebook, OpenTable and the Weather Channel, worked fine with the display, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. For example, I downloaded Fitness Buddy, and the exercise descriptions didn’t fit properly in the window, and there was a lot of extraneous white space. You can change the aspect ratio of any app to 16:9 by holding down the Home button, but you shouldn’t have to do that.

Like the Samsung Galaxy Note, the Intuition comes with a stylus — which LG calls the Rubberdium pen — so you can jot down notes and draw sketches. I still take handwritten notes during meetings, so this part of the phablet revolution really appeals to me.

The device, which runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, comes preloaded with a note-taking app called Notebook, which includes options to add pictures, voice memos and stickers to notes. There’s also a dedicated QuickMemo button on top of the device that will capture an image of your current screen so you can mark it up with comments.

I found this easy to use, but it is rather limited in functionality compared to Samsung’s S Note app, which comes on the Galaxy Note. For example, S Note converts handwriting into text, smooths drawn-out shapes and even solves handwritten math problems using the Wolfram Alpha search engine.

With the Galaxy Note II, Samsung’s S Pen even gains more features. It’s pressure-sensitive, so you can draw fine and thick lines, and it adds the ability to hover the stylus over the display to preview email and video frames. Meanwhile, LG’s Rubberdium pen is a one-trick pony, and to make things worse, there’s nowhere to store the stylus on the device itself.

One cool feature of the Intuition is its near field communication (NFC) technology, which allows you to wirelessly exchange data between two NFC-enabled devices simply by tapping them together.

The Intuition comes with two programmable NFC stickers that you can use to switch to office or car mode simply by touching the back of the phone to the sticker. Office and car mode turns certain features of your phone on or off, such as Wi-Fi or Navigation, depending on whether you’re working or driving, so you don’t have to fumble through the settings menu. Setup for using NFC was a breeze, and I found it to be quite useful.

LG has an estimated talk-time battery life of 15 hours, and in my battery tests, I got 10 hours of continuous talk time. With moderate use, during which I checked email and Facebook, visited some Web sites and watched a couple of YouTube videos, the Intuition lasted almost a full day.

But with heavier usage of Verizon’s 4G LTE network, the battery drained about 50 percent by mid-morning, and there’s no way to toggle between 4G and 3G. The smartphone’s general performance was smooth with little lag.

Sadly, the highlights of the LG Intuition are few and far between. For those looking for a smartphone-tablet hybrid, I’d recommend waiting for the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Or, if you’re on a budget, T-Mobile and AT&T have both cut the contract price on the original Galaxy Note to $200.

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