The phrase “touch screen phone” is synonymous with “iPhone” in some people’s minds. That’s tough on the other phone manufacturers, but indicates the extent to which Apple has managed to dominate the market – if not in sales, at least in marketing.
But the Apple way of making a touchscreen phone, which focuses on the software above everything else, isn’t the only way. With the Arena, LG has concentrated on making a phone which offers excellent audio alongside high-quality pictures and a compact, easy-to-use phone. It’s not fair to compare it to the iPhone – it’s a very different kind of touch-screen.
Look and feel
It’s small, silver, and fits nicely in the hand. Although on paper it’s only a little bit smaller than the iPhone 3G, the Arena pulls off the TARDIS-like trick of feeling smaller on the outside than the measurements say it should. And it looks very nice too. The 3in screen, which boasts 480×800 pixels, is bright, clear and easy to read. it’s as good as anything we’ve seen.
Unlike its bigger sibling the LG Viewty, the Arena doesn’t sport an 8 megapixel camera. but the one that it does have – 5 megapixels, autofocus, and an LED flash – takes very good quality pictures. And, as you’d expect, it can record video too, and while it doesn’t match the kind of quality you’d get from a dedicated camera, it’s more than good enough for a phone.
Where the Arena really shines, though, is with audio. It includes Dolby Mobile, a set of audience enhancements features which, to my ears at least, significantly improve the quality of the audio. compared to any other phone I’ve used. The sound was clearer, with added “sparkle” and more depth to the bass. Even fairly low-quality MP3 files sounds better than before.
The Arena uses LG’s novel “S-Class” interface, which uses gestures to navigate elements based on rotating cubes. Reading that back, it sounds much more complicated than it actually is – the gestures are easy to work out even without the manual, and while it doesn’t have the kind of instant response you get with an iPhone 3G, it’s good enough so that anyone not used to using an iPhone won’t be unhappy.
FIrst of all the bad news: Unlike iPhone, Android, and the BlackBerry, you aren’t going to be installing third-party applications on this phone. That means you’re stuck with the built-in apps.
And they are a mixed bag. I found the contacts application feel a bit basic (and the lack of sync with my Mac didn’t help). The camera application suffered from the poor interface design that’s endemic not just in phones, but in digital cameras too. And the web browser was decidedly average: better than many, but nowhere near the quality of the iPhone’s Mobile Safari.
“Please don’t call this an iPhone killer”
Having said at the start of this post that I didn’t think you should really compare the Arena to the iPhone, I’ve spent plenty of time holding it up against Apple’s phone – and in many cases finding it wanting. As with its predecessor the Viewty, if I compared it side by side to the iPhone, I found myself picking up the iPhone at the end.
But within the parameters that LG has set itself, the Arena is a very nice little phone. The overall look and feel of it is an improvement over previous LGs, it offers very good multimedia features, including audio, video and a camera which the iPhone just can’t beat.
If those things are important to you, and you want something that’s small, looks good, and won’t make too much of a bulge in your pocket, then you should seriously consider the Arena. I won’t be trading in my iPhone for it, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what LG produces in the future. They’re getting closer to something that might make me change my mind.
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