LG KM900 Arena
30th Mar 2009 | 23:00
Is LG's latest touchscreen phone worthy of the flagship tag? We put it through its paces
Sometimes a mobile phone comes along that hits you straight between the eyes, knocking you off your feet and out of your socks (not literally, or course).
And sometimes a phone makes you so angry that you want to find a few windows arranged in a line so you can throw it through all of them.
The LG KM900 Arena falls somewhere in between both categories, sometimes hitting the heights of mobile perfection and other times making you wonder if human beings really can spew steam out of their ears.
Right out of the box the Arena looks special, with the dark grey polished metal exterior giving the phone a luxurious air, despite the presence of a simple black battery cover.
However the handset is barely 10mm thin, and feels a little lightweight in the hand... like it doesn't quite balance in the 'weighty feel = more expensive phone' equation.
Turning it on and you instantly see what WVGA means... lots of pixels packed into a tiny screen for super high resolution, and widescreen to boot - 480 x 800 pixels stuffed in a three inch touchscreen is beautiful.
The S-Class interface is also something to get excited about, on paper at least. Two chipsets in the handset (one running the UI, the other dealing with the internal workings) promise a slick touchscreen experience, and the chance to have four homescreens and a spinning cube to let you quickly choose the one you want is a real plus.
However, in practice, it felt a little bit like overkill. The chance to have four homescreens (for contacts, multimedia, widgets and bookmarked icons), as well as a drop down menu from the top with access to turn Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on, was a neat touch but ultimately made us feel like the spinning cube, which was accessible by pressing the middle touch sensitive button, was a bit useless.
You can set different views on each of the homescreens, for instance on the media and contacts options you can have your favourites listed in a grid or in a 'wheel', allowing you to scroll through thumbnails of your tracks or friends, which worked well although it was a it laborious when you had a lot of files to scroll through.
The 5MP camera onboard was solid if unspectacular; with pictures shown in high detail although it struggled somewhat in lower light, with graining becoming quickly apparent.
The macro mode performed well when we took a close up of a vase (all there was to hand at the time in our defence) but indoor shots were given a very 'artificial' feel with the single LED flash.
For a flagship model, especially one with LG's photography calibre, you'd have at least expected a dual LED flash, if not xenon, but for general photo taking, it was more than adequate with the Schneider-Kreuznach lens.
Disappointment of text
However, one of the real problems with this device came when trying to compose a text message. The landscape QWERTY keyboard was simply too cramped to text accurately... typing at full speed led to around one letter in five being hit correctly, making it necessary to type painfully slow in order to get any sort of accuracy.
Switching to portrait mode barely helped either, with the on screen number pad far too cramped as it was surrounded by other texting 'tools', like turning on the T9 predictive text and switching between number and letter modes.
And one key button missing was the ability to scroll through word options in predictive text - instead you had to click on a drop down menu and scroll down that way, which added far too much time to the whole process and was often missed, meaning the word was accepted by the handset and you had to go back and delete.
While anyone picking up a touchscreen phone cannot expect to have the same texting experience they might have on a handset with physical buttons, this fell woefully short of the experience other handsets have offered.
The browser on this high resolution screen was predictably smooth, with the HSDPA 7.2mbps connection and Wi-Fi both performing very well.
This phone is also the first from LG to feature multi-touch web zooming, meaning you can manipulate sites in the same manner as the iPhone.
However, the initial zoom view when the browser is first used is as far out as possible, meaning you have to zoom in to see anything. And then same needs to be done for each subsequent web page, in order to read text at the appropriate size, which quickly got annoying.
Web pages were rendered in very high resolution, as you'd expect on this handset, although slightly confusingly given the phone's excellent touchscreen accuracy, many links were almost un-clickable, even with 205 per cent zoom enabled, which was more than frustrating when trying to read multi-page articles, and also meant that pressing the wrong link was common as you stabbed at the screen to access the link.
The built in applications were good enough, with the pre-requisite Google stable of Blogger, Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube all available through the Google widget, or as separate icons on the home screen.
However, the Gmail application was not available on the handset, rather linking to the web-based version, and when the Java application was downloaded, it wasn't able to refresh the mail on a regular basis, although this could be a simple firmware issue.
The other applications on board, such as voice recorder, calculator, stop watch and FM radio were all nicely put together, with the radio in particular, with a scrollable tuner dial making good use of the touchscreen, a particularly pleasant touch.
Made for media
The phone really comes into its own in multimedia mode, more than helped by the presence of Dolby Mobile, which turns a normal-sounding video or music clip into a real rich audio experience.
There's also an FM transmitter included to send your music files over the airwaves to a radio - music sounded loud and clear (too loud in some cases, which gives a lot of room for preference) and was a cinch to set up.
The WVGA screen showed off movies in astonishing detail, and as mentioned, the Dolby Mobile made the whole experience feel like it wasn't just on a normal mobile phone.
For instance, in the House of Flying Daggers, the scene where Xiao Mei is hitting drums with her ribbon is spectacular, both visually and aurally, well above the performance of most other handsets, and the 8GB of onboard storage was a good amount for popping video and music on, especially when it can be expanded up to 40 GB with a microSD card.
However, the 3-inch screen size is just a little bit too small for this to be your main PMP - were it hitting somewhere around the 5-inch mark, then it would truly be a world beater.
Call quality on this device was adequate, a little muffled at times though the number dialler was nice and large (which you can't help wishing had been ported over to the texting application.)
Battery life was difficult to assess as we were only given the phone for a short amount of time, but it managed to last over 30 hours despite it being given a real hammering through texting, movie watching, internet browsing (over Wi-Fi and 3G) and FM transmission.
We assume LG's claim of over 300 hours on standby is going to be pretty close to true on this performance.
Overall, this is a handset that hits some pretty heady heights but is let down badly in other areas. While the multimedia performance and homepage customisation are a real plus, the inability to text or browse the web accurately is a possible deal breaker.
While some of the tiny-fingered among you might not have a problem with this phone, it clearly needs a stylus to operate to its full potential, and that's just not what people are looking for in touchscreens these days.