Everyone is looking for that new look to stand out from the crowd. We’ve had the brushed metal, the shiny chrome and every colour under the sun. What we haven’t had, at least since the 1980s, is a transparent phone. Back in the 1980s, it was fashionable to produce things with clear plastic to show off the resistors, chips and capacitors – supposedly to make it look futuristic, and not tacky. Oh no, definitely not tacky.
The LG, thankfully, hasn’t gone for the see-through casing but rather a slide-out keypad that is totally clear, with a rear battery cover that’s also transparent. The end result is a normal(ish) looking phone, which is pretty much the LG Arena with a numeric keypad – putting it in direct competition with Samsung’s Tocco Ultra Edition.
The keypad isn’t just a bit of plastic with painted on buttons that allow you to enter numbers, or letters, as it operates in the same way as the capacitive touchscreen. Capacitive touchscreens allow for multi-touch operation, including pinch/pull to zoom in and out of a web page or photograph. When added to the keypad, it brings extra features that sets this apart from the competition in more than just its look.
With a simple finger motion while you’re in the web browser, you can move the virtual mouse pointer around. It’s more effective than using the screen directly, and you also have a larger area (more akin to a laptop glidepad) than the optical sensor that might replace the traditional D-pad or rollerball.
You can also enter characters and gestures, with the phone allowing you to draw various squiggles to open up the browser, email client and other commonly used applications. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do you’ll be nipping around the menus in seconds.
The S-Class 3D interface, with an obvious attempt to copy Apple, works particularly well in portrait mode, but the main menu looks cluttered in landscape mode, with an excessive number of icons (32) all on one page. Well, I did say the phone was basically an LG Arena. This also means that LG has retained the touch-sensitive buttons for call and end, the latter being used to return to the standby screen.
If you’re in the web browser and accidentally touch the end key (and you will), you are given a warning. In other places on the phone, you’ll lose your place and jump back to the home screen. Please, LG, make the buttons on your next model use keys that need to be pressed in!
But, back to the phone. Compared to Samsung’s recent update to its TouchWiz UI, the LG is definitely the sleeker design. Perhaps that’s because of the similarities to the iPhone, or the fact that things are quite well thought out. There’s a pleasing level of conformity to the various applications, and the phone benefits greatly from the multitouch support.
Pixels to the max
On the rear of the phone is another 8-megapixel camera, which seems to be the norm on handsets coming out of South Korea lately. Tucked to the side is a small LED lamp that serves as a flash, or fill-in lamp. Like the Viewty Smart, the lamp is rather disappointing and is also positioned rather too close to the image sensor – so in dusty or smoky environments, you can even get some of the flash reflecting back into the camera image.
But, the camera interface is very simple to use. There might not be all of the trick-features of the Viewty Smart, like the beauty mode or intelligent shot, but the pictures are still pretty respectable and easily managed via Bluetooth or USB. You can also upload pictures to your Google blogger site, but not to others such as Facebook or Flickr (at least not on the generic SIM-free model we reviewed).
This is something where Samsung has the edge, although if you are happy to send your photos to a PC and upload them from there, which is probably easier if you don’t need the image online at that exact moment, you’re not going to be too disappointed.
Best in class
Like the web browser, the ability to scroll around the image and zoom in and out using either the screen or the keypad makes it all the nicer to use than the Tocco Ultra Edition. Like the Samsung, there’s no clear button, meaning you have to jump up to the touchscreen to make corrections, but it’s still more usable than an on-screen keypad for entering text or dialling numbers.
Battery life is aided by a 1,000mAh power pack (cleverly branded with the LG logo to finish off the look through the transparent casing from the rear) that ensures you can enjoy the features and not have to rush to charge it after a few hours, but like any multimedia focused device, you can’t expect it to last for days between top ups.
LG has taken on the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition and, in my opinion, won with ease. The overly sensitive end-key is the main bugbear, just like the Arena, but this is not only the better choice, it’s arguably more impressive to look at.
‘World’s first transparent keypad’ sounds like a totally pointless gimmick and if that’s all it was, we’d be the first to agree. Besides having touch-sensitive buttons, the other feature of the Crystal’s numeric keypad is the ability to enter characters and make gestures that can open applications, move the virtual mouse pointer around a web page or zoom in and out of images. It makes using the phone easy, and the S-Class user interface is excellent for a non-smartphone. Although more expensive than other LG models, it’s clearly (sorry!) one of the the best looking.