LG Viewty Smart (GC900) £370
26th Jun 2009 | 10:08
The next-generation of LG camera phone, not an iPhone-wannabe.
LG Viewty Smart - overview
The LG Viewty Smart (CG900) carries on the heritage of the first LG Viewty (KU990), which sold over 6.5 million units. Not too shabby. Especially when you consider that Viewty Mark 1 found itself fighting an almost impossible popularity battle against the first iPhone.
Credit then to LG, who didn't pitch the original Viewty as a rival to Apple's revolutionary mobile. Instead, LG focused on what the Viewty did best – taking great photos using its 5 Megapixel digital camera.
Two years on and the LG Viewty Smart updates the specification. This time around, there's a stunning 8 Megapixel camera, WVGA (800x480 pixel) touch screen and the S-class interface that we first glimpsed on the LG Arena. The Viewty Smart also sidesteps a brawl with the iPhone 3GS.
The new handset certainly has some iPhone-beating features – the 8MP camera, for starters, the higher resolution screen, plus haptic feedback, an FM radio and expandable storage. Nevertheless, LG is pitching the Viewty Smart as a high-calibre camera phone. "Take smarter pictures" is the slogan that's splashed across its website.
Available on Vodafone, O2 and Orange in the UK, the LG Viewty Smart is a bit of a looker. With a black and silver livery, the design is dominated by the 3-inch touchscreen. A long, bronzed 'home' button rounds off the front face.
Measuring 18.9 x 56.1 x 12.4mm, the LG Viewty Smart is slightly more compact than the iPhone, but Apple's handset does have a 3.5-inch display, compared to the new Viewty's 3-inch LCD. It's only a smidgeon fatter too (0.1mm in technical terms compared to the iPhone 3GS) and at 102g, it's a good 33g lighter.
Of course, all this counts for precisely zip if the Viewty Smart doesn't have the technology to match. The mobile phone market is fierce.
VOLUME: The volume controls on the edge of the LG Viewty Smart also control the 4x digital zoom.
Flip the LG Viewty Smart sideways and, on its right-hand edge, you'll find a camera shutter button and volume controls. The volume buttons also control the digital zoom when the phone is being used as a camera.
Disappointingly, there's a proprietary slot for power/USB/headphone connections. So you can only use the supplied headphones and you can only use the supplied USB cable. Much like the original iPhone, in fact.
EXPANSION: Equipped with only 1.5GB of internal storage, you'll need a microSD card to boost the storage capacity.
On the other side, the left-hand edge as you look at it, there's a microSD slot (supporting memory cards up to 32GB) and a 'multi-tasking' button, which enables you to view all of the currently active applications. The power button (and phone lock) can be found on the top edge.
LG Viewty Smart - Interface
Like the KM900 Arena, the Viewty Smart features LG's cubist S-Class interface. Touch the top bar and a handy drop-down menu gives you simple, one-press access to the phone's key settings, including: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, voicemail and the Music player application.
INTERFACE: The LG Viewty Smart features the S-Class UI, which first made an appearance on the LG Arena.
MENU: Four quick-launch icons (at the bottom of the screen) give you access to the core phone functions.
Along the bottom, there are four quick-launch icons for the phone's dialler, Contacts, SMS Inbox and the 'Top menu', which allows you to delve deeper into the phone's various applications. Haptic feedback responds to each button press with a soft vibration. You push the LG Viewty Smart, it pushes you back.
If you're not familiar with the S-Class UI, the main home screen is essentially one face of a cube. Swipe your finger left or right and this cube smoothly rotates with a 3D effect, giving you access to three extra screens – Widgets, Contacts and Multimedia.
WIDGETS: Flip the S-Class 'cube' once and you'll find the Widgets screen, which can be littered with useful mini-apps like a calculator and memo pad.
There's a growing trend for personalisation on mobile phones and so these extra home screens can be customised. Small applications and application shortcuts (I.e. a Calculator, Memo and Weather app) can be spread across the Widgets screen. While your closest contacts, favourite music and digital photos can be arrayed across the remaining two.
It sounds powerful. But it doesn't have the flexibility of the multiple screens on current Apple and Android phones and the personalisation is actually fairly limited. The animated 3D cube is really just a gimmick.
CONTACTS: The Contacts screen can be configured to display your favourite people. With just one touch, you can call or message them.
Nevertheless, the S-Class UI is easy to use. You press and hold to unlock the phone (compared to the iPhone's 'slide to unlock') and the touchscreen is reassuringly responsive as you swipe between the four home screens. On the Contacts and Multimedia screens, content can either be arranged in a no-nonsense grid or a pretty, scrollable wheel.
MEDIA: The Multimedia screen can be used as a shortcut to your favourite music tracks and digital photos.
MENU: The 'Top men' displays an iPhone-esque grid of all the options and applications on the LG Viewty Smart.
Delve into the deeper menu and the applications are split into four categories – Communication, Multimedia, Utilities and Settings. This is the real guts of the phone – you can do anything from this iPhone-esque menu, from launching the web browser to adjusting the screen settings.
As you play around, transitioning between the various applications can be sluggish, almost as if the Viewty Smart goes 'umm...' before it launches the app or opens another menu. It's noticeable, but it's hardly a deal breaker.
LG Viewty Smart - messaging & calls
Typing in information can be a chore. Holding the phone upright, the Viewty Smart provides you with an onscreen numerical keypad and familiar T9 assistance.
SCREEN TYPE: In the normal portrait mode, you type using a virtual numeric keypad (with a little help from T9 predictive text.)
Turn the handset sideways and the Viewty Smart's built-in accelerometer detects the change of orientation. It subsequently flips the screen into a landscape view, replacing the keypad with a roomier virtual QWERTY keyboard.
This isn't as good as the iPhone's equivalent keyboard. But it's still better for typing out long text messages and emails. And the text entry system includes cut, copy and paste functionality as standard. No OS update required.
With so much going on, it's easy to forget this the LG Viewty Smart is a mobile phone first, 8MP digital camera, video recorder, music player, web tablet and FM radio later.
CALLING: Calls can either be made manually via the virtual keypad or by tapping on one of your contacts.
All of the calls we made and received were suitably clear, but this will ultimately depend on what network you're on and what the coverage is like where you're using it. There's also an option for making video calls (but does anybody really bother?). A small, front-facing VGA camera is hidden away at the top right of the 3-inch display.
LG Viewty Smart - camera
The highlight is undoubtedly the camera on the back – over half of the phone's short manual is devoted to talking about photos and video.
But you won't buy the LG Viewty Smart for its video conferencing abilities. Like the Nokia N86, LG Renoir and Samsung Pixon, the Viewty Smart packs a high-quality 8.0 Megapixel lens. At its simplest, you just turn the phone sideways and hold down the shutter button to launch the camera application.
The Schneider-Kreuznach auto-focus lens, LED flash and LG's sophisticated Intelligent Shot technology can take care of the rest. All you need to do is point-and-shoot.
FOCUS: The 8 Megapixel Schneider-Kreuznach lens and built-in auto focus can deliver excellent results, both close-up and at distance.
The Intelligent Shot mode analyses the subject of your picture, the background and the ambient lighting conditions, then automatically picks the best settings by comparing the data to seven pre-programmed scenarios.
The results are excellent using this mode, clear, blur-free and crisp, especially when you retain the Super fine image quality and the maximum 3254 x 2448 image size. The presence of a 4x digital zoom enables you to tighten your focus, although it's a poor substitute for the optical zoom on a dedicated camera.
AUTO: The clever Intelligent Shot mode included on the Viewty Smart automatically selects the best settings for the perfect photo.
ZOOM: The LG Viewty Smart is equipped with a 4x digital zoom, which (as this photo shows) works surprisingly well.
Camera phones typically have limited manual options. But should you feel the need to fiddle, the LG Viewty also offers continuous shooting, face-tracking, smile detection and image stabilization. In addition, there are a number of alternative shooting modes, including a night mode, plus Art and Panoramic shots.
You can also manually tweak the camera's ISO settings (up to 1600) and the white balance. In short: if you're a casual photographer, the LG Viewty Smart could easily replace your existing digital compact. Can the average digital camera geo-tag your photos using GPS? Didn't think so.
ART SHOTS: The Art mode applies a monochromatic effect that is like viewing the scene through a spyhole in a front door.
PANORAMA: As its name suggests, the Panorama mode enables you to take three photos in succession and stitch them together.
It's also worth mentioning the onboard photo editing options. You might never use them, but the LG Viewty Smart includes functionality to let you crop an image, draw on it and add text.
Then, with a flick of a virtual switch, you can flip the camera into video mode. By default the LG Viewty Smart captures footage in its 720x480 D1 setting, saved to the phone as a 3GPP file. The D1 video is surprisingly decent too, at least in terms of clarity.
When you start to move the camera around, you'll notice that the video becomes slightly juddery. But it's hardly surprising – in this resolution, the phone's processor is going like the clappers just to keep up.
To compensate, there are three other video options – VGA (640x480), QVGA (320x240) and a classic 176x144 mobile resolution. You can also record video clips using the front-facing camera.
And just as you can edit photos on the phone, the LG Viewty Smart includes some rudimentary video editing options.
You can trim a video, merge two videos together, overlay text, even add a photo to the beginning or end of a video clip. The only catch? You can't edit D1-quality video. Probably because the phone will explode.
LG Viewty Smart - internet
As far as Internet connectivity is concerned, the LG Viewty Smart combines 3G and Wi-Fi for speedy web browsing. That's the good part. Because while the web browser is certainly capable of displaying full HTML web pages, like many phones it struggles with animation.
For example, the carousel on the TechRadar website doesn't cycle; YouTube defaults to the mobile version (the videos themselves play perfectly); as does the BBC News site.
INTERNET: The web browser is one of the weakest elements of the LG Viewty Smart and struggles with some websites.
Rather than invent a new way to zoom, the LG Viewty Smart uses the multi-touch 'pinch' approach pioneered by the iPhone. But it all feels like a bad copy of Apple's intuitive online experience. Navigating web pages is functional, but it's also slow and frustratingly fiddly.
To say it's disappointing is an understatement. It's more effective to tether the LG Viewty Smart to your laptop to provide bigger-screen mobile Internet access.
RSS: Simplify your web browsing by using the RSS Reader. It's strange that there's no integrated Google application.
Elsewhere, there's a simple RSS reader and a suite of Google Apps, which includes quick links to Google Maps (which works with the built-in GPS), Google Search, Google Mail, YouTube and Blogger. The email client is minimalist to say the least.
But it's easy to set up and LG has provided support for Microsoft Exchange and POP3/IMAP accounts.
LG Viewty Smart - media
Media playback is far more impressive. For starters, there's a dedicated Music player application, which will happily embrace any AAC, MP3, WAV or WMA tracks you can throw at it. Again, it's a bare bones app, but you can construct playlists, filter by genre, artist or album, and define favourites that will appear on the Multimedia home screen.
TUNES: The Music player application is rudimentary but it can play back AAC, MP3, WAV or WMA files
Hook up the LG Viewty Smart via USB or Bluetooth and you can copy music files over manually. Or there's a Music Sync option, which lets you drag-and-drop tracks from inside Windows Media Player. To be honest, keeping things simple and treating the phone like an external drive is easier.
RADIO: The built-in FM radio is easy to use and, if you stand still and don't walk about too much, maintains good reception.
Thanks to Dolby Mobile technology, the audio has a real kick to it, easily eclipsing the iPhone in terms of sound quality. Pressing the power button gives you instant access to the Music player to skip tracks or stop playback. The music will also automatically pause when a call comes in; starting up again when you hang up.
Dig further into the menus and you'll also find that LG has squeezed in an FM radio. This will give you around six years of local radio listening if the government follows up the Digital Britain report and ditches FM transmissions by 2015.
CODECS: Not only can the LG Viewty Smart play back its own 3GPP files, but it'll happily accept DivX and XviD without complaint.
PLAYBACK: We tested the DivX playback with Ashes to Ashes. It wasn't specifically encoded for the Viewty but played perfectly.
The LG Viewty Smart is also a capable video player. Beyond its ability to play back its own 3GPP video clips, it features built-in DivX support. LG supplies DivX Converter software on the CD that ships with the phone, so you can spend hours converting your favourite TV shows to watch on the move.
We dragged-and-dropped a 683MB episode of Ashes to Ashes across and, when we could eventually find the file, the LG Viewty Smart coped admirably with playback (in both portrait and landscape modes). The only niggle? It doesn't remember how far you've watched if you close down the player and restart it.
LG Viewty Smart - battery life, apps and misc
Of course, video playback will seriously deplete the battery life. As will excessive use of the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G radios. That said, the LG Viewty Smart has a degree of staying power. It relies on a replaceable and rechargeable 1000mAh cell, which will give you around five hours of talk time; 350 hours of standby.
Considering the storage demands of digital photos, music and videos, the 1.5GB of internal memory on the LG Viewty Smart will quickly get swallowed up. Other core applications will also be chasing a slice, such as: voice recordings, memos, calendar entries, email attachments and games.
APPS: LG has included a number of small productivity apps, including: a calendar, stopwatch, calculator, world clock and stopwatch
GAMES: The LG Viewty Smart also features several games, such as Wheel Mania. You spin the wheel by shaking the phone...
The LG Viewty Smart can also store and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, not to mention PDFs.
Even an 8GB microSD card will boost the overall storage capacity dramatically, giving you enough space for all manner of multimedia content and any extra apps, widgets or games should they appear. (But I wouldn't hold your breath).
As previously mentioned, the LG Viewty Smart builds on the success of the original Viewty, boosting the specification to match the best that 2009 has to offer.
While it looks like a smartphone, and has definite smartphone functions, the new Viewty GC900 is primarily a camera phone – a potential digital camera-killer.
The 8 Megapixel Schneider-Kreuznach lens is the dominant feature and it makes it obvious that less attention has been lavished on some of the phone's other features.
So rather than compare the LG Viewty Smart to the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre and the HTC Magic, it slots into a segment of the market where the Samsung Pixon, Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot C905 and Nokia N86 do battle.
These handsets aren't designed specifically to rival the iPhone. Yes, they've been inspired by it, and yes, they often blatantly ape some of the iPhone's better features.
But, without the core iTunes integration and without an App Store that can deliver hundreds of new games, widgets, applications and utilities over-the-air, the Viewty Smart and handsets like it are second class smartphones.
If building phones was purely about who's got the best technical specification, then the iPhone wouldn't be the worldwide success that it is today.
The LG Viewty has a better camera, superior video recording, an FM radio, expandable storage and a battery that you can actually remove... But when it comes to the 'experience', something about the new Viewty can leave you cold. Nothing truly hangs together. S
Don't make the mistake of thinking that the LG Viewty Smart is a cutting-edge smartphone and iPhone alternative. It isn't. LG doesn't pretend that it's anything else but an 8 Megapixel camera phone. And once you get that into your head, it's easy to appreciate what the LG Viewty is best at (and where it cuts small technical corners). For example...
We liked: There's much to like about the LG Viewty Smart. Obviously, it can take high-quality pictures with its 8MP camera and the Intelligent Shot technology makes it easier to get the perfect photo first time around. It's also a capable music/video player; connects easily to a PC or Mac; and can boost its storage above 32GB with a microSD card.
We disliked: The web browser is fairly poor, barely coping with some HTML pages whilst defaulting to WAP-based mobile versions where possible. Online connectivity is one feature you can't afford to get wrong. Where's the Facebook and Twitter integration? Why bother with a proprietary RSS reader when you could use Google's software? The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack is also annoying.
A cracking camera phone that could easily replace a mid-range digital compact camera. But as a smartphone... the LG Viewty Smart isn't as smart as it hopes to be and certainly not versatile enough to threaten the big boys.
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