As a general rule, we tend to recoil at the very sight of Android wearing a skin of any kind. While manufacturer customizations and carrier bloatware have improved in recent years, Android 4.1: Jelly Bean tends to be so good at what it does, we hate to see it littered with these unwelcome "improvements."
We were pleasantly surprised with the LG Optimus G Pro's user interface, although it rivala Samsung's TouchWiz for sheer number of features. That said, we definitely prefer what LG has done here to Samsung's skin or even the latest version of HTC Sense.
Touch and drag anywhere on the home screen to unlock, which by default makes a water droplet effect. If "Dewdrop" doesn't strike your fancy, five others are available via the Screen Effect setting. Unfortunately, while Google Now is included as part of Android 4.1.2, it can't be accessed by swiping up from the bottom as it can on other handsets.
LG has divvied up Settings into four tabs: Networks, Sound, Display and General. While it's a departure from the Jelly Bean way, we found it easier to get around with a minimum of scrolling this way. These improvements also make their way into the notifications area, which adds one-tap buttons for Sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS; a second group with NFC, Airplane, Rotation and QuickRemote can be found by swiping left. If you don't like those choices, the Edit button makes it a snap to add or rearrange quick settings.
LG's QuickMemo takes up the first spot, and it's also the default feature launched by the left-hand QuickButton. For those who prefer to scribble out a quick note by hand, QuickMemo does just that, in a variety of colors and pen sizes. Unlike Samsung's phablets, there's no actual physical stylus included, but the screen size makes it plenty easy to write with just your index finger.
And if finger scribbling doesn't appeal to you, the QuickButton can be programmed via settings to launch any app, third-party or stock. This mean a one-touch camera launch, email access or Google Now. It's a great customization option.
Sandwiched between Quick Settings and Brightness control are QSlide apps, essentially resizable widgets for Video, Note Pad, Calendar or Calculator that can be placed anywhere on the screen with adjustable size and opacity. The gear icon jumps straight to settings, which includes such dubious wonders as "Smart Screen" for keeping the display active anytime the front-facing camera detects the user is looking at the device.
Finally, we have to offer up props to the LG Optimus G Pro keyboard. Prior to using this handset, stock Jelly Bean tied with third-party SwiftKey as our personal favorite, but LG actually improved on Google's own by adding a row of number keys across the top. Users also have the option of drawing a path across letters, LG's version of the popular Swype.