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19 June 2009

ARENA (KM900)

The groundbreaking iPhone has spawned dozens of imitators and it seems like not a week goes by without a competitor releasing their own version of it. Here’s another.

THE LG Arena boasts the new S-class user interface (UI) that promises more fluid transitions, which results in better responsiveness that would ­certainly remind users of the iPhone. But the Arena doesn’t stop there.

It has also thrown in more firepower into the arena (pun intended) in a bid to topple the king of touchscreen mobile phones.

What you get is a breathtaking 3in screen, quality housing and a massive array of features that include a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, music player with Dolby Mobile, A-GPS, FM radio and even the not-so-standard FM transmitter.

The phone also boasts myriad of wireless connectivity options including, quad-band GSM, EDGE, HSDPA, Bluetooth with A2DP profile and WiFi 802.11b/g. So, how does this all translate into performance compared to the king? Read on.

The look

Right out of the box the Arena looks trendy, with the dark grey polished metal exterior giving the phone a luxurious feel. Measuring 105.9 x 55.3 x 12mm, the phone is slightly smaller than the iPhone and feels solid when held.

It sports a 3in colour TFT capacitive-based touchscreen that provides a sharp and lively viewing experience.

Unfortunately, like most touchscreen models, this one also suffers under bright sunlight — rendering the screen almost unreadable in this condition.

To complement the touchscreen, the phone has three touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom to accept and reject calls as well as to access the user interface.

The Arena’s touchscreen is quite sensitive — a mere touch is all that is needed to register a click — and coupled with the haptic feedback you get a nice feeling when using the device.

For typing you can use either the ­multi-tap alphanumeric keyboard or you can rotate the Arena and go for the landscape Qwerty keyboard, which switches ­automatically thanks to the built-in ­accelerometer.

Note however, the screen doesn’t work with a stylus — hence, none was included.

This is a shame really because the Arena’s finger-only touch input doesn’t work as smoothly when it comes to typing text messages. I tended to press the backspace key a lot when texting in order to correct mistyped letters as the individual virtual keys were a little too small for my index finger.

On the left side of phone is the two-in-one proprietary data and charger port. It is neatly hidden and protected by a sliding lid, which is a good idea because the usual rubber cap used can break easily and go missing after a while.

I was actually hoping for a standard microUSB or miniUSB type because the problem with a proprietary port is that users must carry the data cable and charger ­whenever they are away from home for a long period of time.

Touch to access

No one can deny it, the iPhone’s amazing success is due to two factors: the ­well-designed and smooth UI; and the Apple App Store with abundant content downloads.

For now, most phone manufacturers wouldn’t be able to compete with the App Store but when it comes to the touchscreen technology, LG’s S-Class UI is clearly heading in the right direction.

Everything from the four homescreens to the drop down menus roll, sweep in, unfold and revolve smoothly thanks to the built-in hardware graphics acceleration.

Navigating the list of contacts, images and videos is easy with a rolodex-style rotating menu but it can get laggy when you have many of those to scroll.

Yes, like the iPhone, users can scroll, pan and even pinch to zoom in or out of a still image or Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files.

However, unlike the iPhone, it wasn’t all smooth sailing with the S-Class UI — scrolling and panning was a bit jerky and not really that fluid while there was still an annoying lag when you first try to pinch to zoom in on an image.

Other than those complaints, the UI does an admirable job.

Multimedia galore

Despite the fact that Arena has a 800 x 480-pixel display, the DivX playback is limited to 320 x 240-pixels. That means it will only play videos that strictly conform to the DivX Mobile profile.

Instead of playing these videos in their native DivX formats, users are advised to use the included convertor software to get better results.

The music player offers tons of ­equaliser presets and individual music tracks are displayed on a rotating reel for easy ­selection. With Dolby Mobile, the sound is richer and offers a more spacious audio experience.

The built-in FM transmitter allows users to stream music wirelessly to any standard FM radio receiver either in the car or home multimedia system.

The Arena has a 5-megapixel camera that can capture still images at up to 2,592 x 1,944-pixels. It’s also capable of shooting video at 720 x 480-pixel ­resolution at 30 frames per second.

Since it does not have any built-in image stabiliser, users need to hold the phone very still when taking a shot.

Fortunately, the on-screen button does come in handy in this situation as users can simply press it and then concentrate on holding the phone still while it shoots the picture three seconds later, similar to a timer.

Besides the aggressive noise reduction traces in the shadows or the clear blue sky, the phone produces images that are at the very least on par with other camera phones in the market.

However take note that since the lens is not covered, users can expect dust, grime and even scratches in the long run.

The phone comes with a whopping 8GB of internal memory — that’s a lot of space to store your data but in case that is not enough users can add up to 32GB more via the ­microSD card slot.

No crown in sight but...

The LG Arena’s touch-optimised features can be very useful and time saving but there were times where I thought the effects were just there for the sake of cosmetics rather than serving any practical purpose.

It is not as smooth as an iPhone yet but it does come pretty close — at least until we see Apple’s latest iPhone that is.

However, when it comes to screen resolution, memory expansion, camera, tons of cool features and even a removable battery, the Arena trumps the iPhone.

Plus it is also much cheaper to own and you don’t have to be tied to any telco contract.

Pros: S-Class Touch UI; has everything except the kitchen sink; 8GB built-in ­storage; DivX and XviD support; FM ­transmitter.

Cons: The virtual Qwerty keypad is slow; screen is unreadable in bright sunlight; proprietary charger and data port.

ARENA (KM900)

(LG)

Touchscreen phone

Camera: 5-megapixels, Schneider-Kreuznach optics, autofocus, LED flash

Display (internal): 3in (16 million colours, 400 x 800-pixels)

Messaging: MMS, SMS, E-mail

Connectivity: Bluetooth with A2DP, WiFi, EDGE, HSDPA, USB

Phone memory: 8GB

Expansion slot: microSD, supports up to 16GB

Battery type: 1,000 mAh lithium-ion

Standby/talk time: 300/4 hours

Other features: Geo-tagging, FM radio, FM transmitter, TV-out, multimedia player, Java applications

Weight: 105g

Dimensions (W x D x H): 105.9 x 55.3 x 12 mm

Price: RM1,899

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