I’ve had just over a week to test out LG’s latest flagship phone – the LG Arena KM900 – a device that I first set eyes on at last month’s The Gadget Show Live. The touch screen phone has a lot going for it, but like many post-iPhone offerings, doesn’t quite live up to the promise based on technical specs alone and at times has the potential to frustrate.
The LG Arena offers plenty of connectivity options: HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS, an indication that despite not being a true ‘smart phone’ (i.e. third-party apps are limited to Java only) the device isn’t held back in terms of data options. The User Interface also looks the business – it borrows heavily from Apple’s iPhone as well adding its own pseudo 3D rotating home screens – and the use of a finger-friendly capacitive touch screen means that on the whole the phone is just as responsive, with a few notable exceptions (see below). However, in terms of intuitiveness, the UI had me stumped on a few occasions, although not enough that won’t be overcome by a moderate learning curve.
The phone’s music player produces very good sound, obviously helped by the Arena’s use of Dolby Mobile, and the 8GB of built-in storage means that you can carry around a fairly large music collection without inserting a microSD card. Doing so, however, can up the memory to 40GB in total via a 32GB card. Obviously a decent pair of headphones helps; the loan unit I was given didn’t come with the included retail ear buds but we tried out a range of cans, from very cheap to our favorite Sennheiser CX500 noise canceling earphones, and were duly impressed. One area where the music player does disappointment is the lack of a user editable graphic equalizer (presets only).
There is also an FM tuner and transmitter, although we couldn’t get the latter to work properly even when tested in a stationary car. Unlike Nokia’s N85, the signal transmitted by the Arena just didn’t seem powerful enough.
Videos look sharp on the Arena’s 3 inch WVGA (480 x 800) screen, although I failed in my attempts to get a DivX movie to play – DivX support is one of the phone’s flagship features – a problem that other reviewers don’t seem to have encountered. It might be because of the way I transferred my test clips via Bluetooth or their file type (.AVI) but none of the videos were recognized by the phone. I also couldn’t find any documentation on LG’s website explaining the Arena’s specific DivX support.
The phone’s 5 megapixel camera takes very nice pictures – good light permitting – although like many camera phones there can be a long delay before taking a shot while the phone autofocuses etc. The camera can also shoot so-called ‘DVD quality’ (30 fps) video at a resolution of up t0 720 x 480. Again, in good light the video camera performs well (in low light the single LED flash doesn’t help much).
The Arena’s on-screen keyboard operates in two different modes. A number pad / T9 keyboard in portrait mode and a full QWERTY in landscape. Both are responsive, although the QWERTY can be prone to typing errors as, unlike the iPhone, there’s no auto-correction.
The single biggest let down of the LG Arena KM900, however, is the included web browser. It comes so close to being really usable if it wasn’t for being so slow. Web pages – if you’re willing to wait – do render really well (all of the sites that I tested loaded fully aside from Flash content, which isn’t supported) it just doesn’t feel like you’re always in control. There’s a very notable lag between, for example, flicking a page to scroll and the action being performed. The same goes for zooming in an out of a page, which is invoked using a familiar iPhone-esque pinch. It’s like the phone’s browser engine or processor has to constantly catch up. This is one area where handset makers, LG included, need to pay a lot more attention.