Monday, 22 January 2007

LG Shine phone: pre-launch mini-review

Note: on how to connect your Shine KE 970 to your computer to download tunes, ringtones, music MP3s, sync your contacts, transfer pictures and photos to and from your phone etc, see this post.

LG's droolworthy new Shine multimedia slider mobile phone (model KE970 for the UK version) will launch in the UK on 7 February 2007 (LG press release) (UPDATE: here are some launch party photos plus lots more pics of this phone). The rest of the world ought to be able to get their mitts on it by the middle of the year. (It was released first in South Korea in late 2006.)

It's the second in LG's premium Black Label series and while the first Black Label cellphone, the iconic Chocolate phone, is a tough act to follow, the Shine doesn't disappoint. Indeed, it beats the Chocolate hands down and makes it run off wailing to cower in the corner. With this phone I think LG firmly cements its lead over other manufacturers in the physical handset design stakes.

A full review will follow. For now, I wanted to give you a short preview with my first impressions based on the pre-launch phone which Gaylene Ravenscroft of Hill & Knowlton, LG's PR people, kindly lent me under their blogger relations programme. There was no manual and no CD of software. I don't know what will be in the final package. But here are my first impressions.

Looks and form factor

Real designer looks, classier and better looking than the Chocolate, if that were possible - if you think it looks good in the photo, well it looks even better in real life; and it's only a tad taller than the Chocolate, and about the same width. Any case for the Chocolate ought to be able to fit this phone.

To be frank, this is the most elegant phone I've seen since, well, the Chocolate (as long as you can keep it smudge-free, see below!). The Chocolate's black and red combo was great, and the Shine's silver and blue works equally well, if not better. Yes, the numbers/letters on the keys are backlit a tasteful blue when the phone is on.

UPDATE: For more pics of the Shine KE 970 phone, see this post.

Innovative features

Rightly trumpeted by LG, as you can see from the photo above (from the LG website):
  • robust stainless steel body (so it's not as light as the Chocolate, but not too heavy either - just reassuringly solid)
  • mirror screen (when it's off or on standby, the screen acts as a mirror)
  • clever "scroll key" for navigation (more like a scroll bar).
UPDATED 29 Jan: here's a demo of the mirror, pic taken using a Shine, and yes showing the Chocolate in the reflection!

Functionality and usability

Much better than the Chocolate. The bright crisp colour screen is sheer delight. You have to see it to believe it, it is so beautifully clear, the best I've seen on a phone.

The scroll key (which also clicks in the middle, and on the left and right) and non-heat sensitive buttons either side of the scroll key are a vast improvement over the Chocolate's temperamental heat sensitive "soft keys", and the scroll bar is so quick and easy to use it beats non-LG phones too. Other handset manufacturers ought to adopt a scroll bar like that.

A lot of the niggles and many not so niggly usability points with the Chocolate have been fixed on this phone, e.g. the location of the End key is now where it is on most other phones so you don't accidentally cut yourself off when holding the phone up to your ear. Texting's a lot quicker and easier, which was my main beef with the Chocolate (the T9 implementation wasn't very good on the Chocolate).

This mobile phone is much more intuitive in use generally: menus and displays are much more sensibly organised than on the Chocolate. Clearly the Shine's user interface has been well thought through.

Chocolate owners will be relieved to know that it's a lot easier to associate someone's pic with their phone number in Contacts (it was too particular and took too much work with the Chocolate).

Multimedia and memory

Plays MP3s, with good sound quality though it's a little tinny at higher volumes.

You still can't organise your MP3s into subfolders, but as with the Chocolate you can have your own MP3 ringtones. Though you still can't use MP3s for text alerts.

It has an excellent 2MB camera with Schneider-Kreuznach lens, and also records voice and video. A very cool feature is that you can close the slider and then hold up the phone and use it just like a compact digital camera. Much easier to take photos/videos that way too (your thumb can get in the way of the lens if the slider is open and you're righthanded).

The image viewer handles Flash files; and you can even view Powerpoint, Word, Excel, PDF documents (if not too big/complex - it restarted trying to view a Word doc, froze or died with a PDF - ironically, the Chocolate user manual!).


UPDATED 29 Jan: The model to be released on 7 February will be a 2G model with 50MB internal memory. I think that will be the KE970, which is the version I have on loan. Apparently it will be available on several networks.

Later this year (not sure exactly when, but I suspect relatively soon) a 3G model will be released which will have a nice big 560MB of internal memory, yes that's 10 times more than the 2G model. I don't know what its model number will be yet.

But there isn't going to be a 1 GB model. Apparently the rumours about a 1GB version are because the 3G version has a 1GB chip - but much of this is taken up with software, preloaded content and network settings, leaving 560MB for the user.

However, I am told that both 2G and 3G models of the Shine will accept 2GB microSD memory expansion cards. I've not tested the KE 970 with a memory card yet, but I'll do so once I've had the chance to get one.

This is good for multimedia fans, obviously - the internal memory of the KE970 seems to fill up all too quickly if you load a few MP3s and shoot just a couple of videos.

Other things

A major point is - how easy will it be to transfer your music and photos between phone and computer and use your own ringtones and wallpaper, as well as sync with Outlook etc? That is a bit of a nightmare with the Chocolate.

The Shine does get recognised as an external drive when connected to my Windows XP PC via the supplied USB cable, and you can transfer files e.g. MP3s between the computer and certain folders on the Shine (accessible from the My Stuff menu).

But I don't know yet how well it will work with the LG Contents Bank software, and to what extent you'll be able to transfer Java games and other Java apps from computer to phone. I'll report back once I've been able to test that.

UPDATE: you can now download the PDF manual and the software (but I haven't had the time to try it out yet).

UPDATE: want to access your Gmail on your Shine phone? Here's how to do it (and how not to do it!).

Any minuses?

Sadly the Shine won't stay shiny for long. It gets all smeary and smudgy all too soon. Luckily the Chocolate came with an effective cleaning tool at the end of the carry strap. I hope there'll be one for the Shine - I think LG really ought to supply one, and then you can let your friends greasily paw it as much as you like and not worry.

Don't bite your nails if you want a Shine - the numeric keys are flat, so you do have to use your nail, but very usable. Unlike on the Chocolate, where it was very hard to press the equally flat alphanumeric keys one-handed. Not sure why, it could be because the weight is better distributed on the Shine.

Oh, also I think the Shine's muggability factor is going to be higher than the iPod's!

How much, where?

I haven't got details yet but I notice from Froogle that it's already being advertised and may even be free on contract. UPDATED 29 January: There will be a 2G and, later, 3G version. Of course the latter is bound to be more expensive but who knows what deals the networks will be offering. I'd probably wait for the 3G version, personally, but some people may not want to wait!

I think a lot of people are going to want this phone. It combines absolutely fabulous looks with great build quality, and decent functions and features. There are a few minor things that could be improved on the usability front, but it's so much more intuitive than the Chocolate (and people were more than willing to live with the issues with the Chocolate because of its gorgeous hardware design, so I can't imagine most people will have many complaints about the Shine).

If LG sort out the software/PC connectivity problems that plagued the Chocolate, and if they could just improve a tiny bit more on the usability and features of the phone, I think the Shine would be well nigh unbeatable as a multimedia phone.


Anonymous said...

Note to self: Clean mitts thoroughly before pawing Imp's LG Shine.

I like the looks of the Shine (at least from the photos) better than the Chocolate. Nice mini-review as per your usual.

Anonymous said...

I can't help thinking you are looking at it through rose-tinted specacles because they sent you a free handset and you don't want to piss them off.

Improbulus said...

Kirk, thanks! I'm sure your mitts are perfectly clean. I have post-pawing cleaning stuff, anyway. :D

Anon, and I can't help thinking you are taking that view because you haven't bothered to read my blog as a whole. I always test things fully (or make it clear if I haven't had a chance to), and I always say what I think - e.g. about the LG Chocolate phone (also lent to me by Hill & Knowlton), which looks great but falls down on the user-friendliness front, particularly connectivity. You can't have read my post properly either, or you'd have noticed my statement that this is only a "first impressions" review, my notes about some of the minuses and my reservations about the software which I think may be their Achilles heel, but which I haven't had the chance to test because it's not out yet. Come back when you've actually seen the Shine in person, tried it out and have something concrete to say, and when you've the guts to at least give your pseudonym instead of hiding behind a cloak of total anonymity in order to cast baseless aspersions on my integrity and neutrality.

Anonymous said...

Good review. I've just received a Shine as an upgrade and have to say that I dont agree with your comments about the scroll bar being a good thing!

The bar feels too "loose", it turns too easily, so when you want to press it as a button, you end up scrolling down to the next menu idem without knowing it - very annoying!

Another thing - the battery life is REALLY bad! I charged mine fully on Monday, probably sent 30 texts and made about 10 calls and the battery is now flat (Wednesday)

One last moan ... when sending a text, there are too many steps in order to select a number from the contacts list: Options - Send to - Options - Contacts - Insert - Send. This may sound picky, but my last phone (W800i) took half the time.

Other than that, it's a class phone, looks the b*llocks!

Eddy (Derby, UK)

acca said...

Sory if this is not apropriate place for this, but I just wished to welcome you to post links to your reviews on site.

Improbulus said...

Thanks for the comments.

Eddy, from longer use of the Shine I agree with you about the scroll bar. I think the concept of a scroll bar is excellent, but the action needs to be more definite, like e.g. the Blackberry's scroll wheel. I've so often scrolled on when I meant to click to select etc, too. I've ended up using the OK "soft button" on the left or a number key to select stuff - it's more accurate and less frustrating.

The battery life isn't proving great either, I agree.

You're right about the texting too. I find it quicker to use the Favorites key (I have "New text message" at the top of that list) than to text from Contacts.

As you say, it looks the business - LG have got it right there, I think it's equally appealing to men and women both and that's quite an achievement. But as with the LG Chocolate phone people put up with the defects in functionality because they like the look so much. If only they got the whole package right!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Eddy ... but ever since I've put Mp3 files onto my Shine ive ran outta memory ... Where does the transdlash cards (microSD) cards go exactly 'cause its a little frustrating.


Improbulus said...

Jodie, thanks for your comment. Yes I think the consensus is looks great, usability could be a lot better!

The location of the miniSD card slot isn't obvious. Open the back of your phone. look just underneath the SIM card slot, on the side - that's where it is. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Hi Improbulus ,

Do you have details on how to use the phone as a modem to provide internet to my computer?

Also, can you use the phone and the camera/video recorder function simultaneously? If so, in the case of video recording, does it make a beeping sound that would be audible to the person on the other line?