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LG Enters ‘Phablet’ Market With Optimus Vu

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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LG has introduced its Optimus Vu five-inch phone/tablet device, competing with Samsung’s own ‘phablet’ device, the Galaxy Note

LG Electronics officially launched its Optimus Vu “phablet” in Korea on 19 February, surprising those who expected the half-phone, half-tablet to debut at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona later this month.

Early in February, LG released a teaser of the device, and many of the suspected specs hold true: The Vu features a 5-inch display with a resolution of 1,024 by 768 and an aspect ratio of 4:3. It weighs 0.37 pounds and measures 139.6 by 90.4mm. The iPad, by contrast, measures 241 by 186mm.

Stylus included

One surprise: Like the Samsung Galaxy Note – another five-incher, or phablet – the Vu Optimus also works with a stylus. Or, in the Google-translated press release, a “common pen”, which it seems can collect data from a screen, for sharing, with a single click.

The Optimus Vu runs Android 2.3, known as “Gingerbread”, but within three months of its release will be upgraded to Android 4.0, or “Ice Cream Sandwich”, LG said in a statement. Also on board are a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 1.3-megapixel front camera, 32GB of internal memory, a 2,080 mAh battery, and Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity.

It also has DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) support, so can connect and share media with other DLNA devices.

The Optimus Vu will be available from South Korean carriers SK Telecom and LG+, though pricing – and wider distribution – details weren’t shared.

The Samsung Galaxy Note, for now the Vu’s main competition, as form factors go, went on sale on 19 February in the US. Will its headstart hurt LG? Perhaps not. While tablet-savvy consumers are said to be more ready for phablets than they were when Dell premiered its unsuccessful 5-inch Slate, there is still the matter of talking on these devices, which by most accounts requires a headset – at least to not feel silly.

An eWEEK reporter testing out the device felt like a not-funny Maxwell Smart, talking into his shoe phone. The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg complained that it’s like “talking into a piece of toast”, and The Boy Genius Report’s Jonathan Geller noted, “You will look stupid talking on it, people will laugh at you, and you’ll be unhappy if you buy it.”

iPad 3 competition

Not what Samsung was going for, surely, in re-blazing that trail. Perhaps, in addition to a stylus, it should come with a trusty headset to remove all embarrassment, not to mention potential health concerns.

If Research in Motion recommends keeping the BlackBerry Bold at least 0.98 inches from one’s head or body when in use, for reasons of radiation, users may feel uneasy about holding a 5.5- by 3.5-inch tech slab to their heads.

As a tablet, however, the Note is said to be “blazingly fast”, and the its S Pen stylus to really feel and look and behave like a pen.

Still, an even bigger wrench in the works of the budding phablet market could be the introduction of the iPad 3, which is now expected to arrive on 7 March and feature a super-duper 2048 by 1536 display, being called a “Retina Display”, and less certainly a quad-core processor and 4G LTE connectivity.

Even more worrisome for LG and Samsung: Apple may this time even release a smaller version of its tablet, not going so far as 5 inches, but instead debuting a 7-inch model.