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LG KU990 Viewty first impressions

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The LG KU990 Viewty – let’s not dwell on the name – is LG’s follow-up to its touch-screen Prada and is the company’s first phone to take the iPhone head-on.

On paper it matches many of the iPhone’s specs and in many cases exceeds them. The Viewty has a large touch screen fascia with a 262,000 colour, 240 by 400 pixel display. It has full 3G And HSDPA connectivity which allows downloads of up to 3.6 Mbit/s – if your operator supports it. It also has a 5.0 megapixel camera with a Xenon flash and image stabilizer.

The 3G/HSDPA connectivity and high spec camera are both features where the iPhone – with its sluggish EDGE connection and flashless 2.0 megapixel camera – is widely criticized.

To rub salt in the iPhone’s wounds the Viewty can also brag about being able to capture video at 120 frames per second while the iPhone’s camera can’t grab video at all. The suspicion – confirmed by actual use – is that this feature is simply point-scoring overkill. Video taken back at this speed plays back in mind-numbing slow motion and is murky and under-exposed. In other words totally useless unless you’re in perfect sun-drenched conditions and want to pretend you’re the Six Million Dollar Man.

But moving back to the phone itself, the Viewty is a definite step up from the Prada not just in terms of its feature set but also its build quality. The phone packs a bit of heft with its dimensions of 104mm by 55mm by 17mm and its 112 gramme weight. But it’s a nice, solid and expensive-feeling heft even though the Viewty’s plastic exterior lacks the brushed metal and glass sheen of the iPhone.

It does, however, share some iPhone design touches such as the stainless steel trim on the edge and the very Apple-esque reflections on the digits of the standby screen’s time and date display. Shame on you LG!

The touchscreen interface is pretty responsive but nothing like as awe-inspiring as that on the iPhone. It generally works well with simple actions such as pointing on icons or numbers but it falls down sharply when you need to scroll through contact lists or move around a web page. Sometimes when moving your finger up or down it just doesn’t ‘catch’ with the underlying interface and your’re left rubbing your digits back and forth like you’re trying to get a genie out of a lamp.

As Apple has patented most of its gesture-based multi-touch interface, the Viewty has to combine its touch screen with a jog wheel located around the camera lens on the rear of the case. This reversal makes the wheel somewhat confusing – like driving a car backwards you have to move the wheel left to ‘turn’ right and vice versa. Steve Jobs would have a heart attack if a designer had come up with this ‘solution’ on one of his products. But no doubt in time Viewty users will get accustomed to the compromise.

On a more positive note – and a feature that Apple would do well to copy – is the subtle tactile feedback the Viewty gives to the user when it acknowledges a touch-screen input – a gentle but immediately obvious vibration. This simple but brilliant reuse of a pre-existing feature – all phones have a vibrate mode – helps make up for much of the Viewty’s touchscreen shortcomings at a stroke.

So to recap, our first impressions of the LG Viewty are that it seems like an excellent mobile phone that has been saddled with user interface that is potentially superb but still has some bugs to be ironed out.

On paper it should be a bona fide iPhone killer – and early sales figures indicated that a lot of UK punters have preferred this to Apple’s more expensive device – but in your hands it lacks the wow factor that the iPhone has in spades. Close, it seems, but no cigar. Yet.

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