Column published on Saturday November 3rd 2007 in The Guardian “Dork Talk” – The Guardian headline
Last year LG Electronics surprised the world by coming out with a touchscreen mobile phone that pre-empted Apple’s long-awaited iPhone launch by nearly six months. It was called the Prada, and as the name hinted, the device was more chic handbag accessory for the girl or boy about town than digital device for the dork. Nothing like a serious contender for the longed-for title “iPhone Killer”, the Prada was sleek and charming in its way, but footling and frustrating too.
Welcome now the LG KU990 Viewty. Yes, you read me right: Viewty. Someone probably got paid for that name. In real money. Shudder. Anyway, name aside, this is a more serious mobile, packed with features that are (for the most part) elegantly incorporated into a slim and stylish piano-black oblong. The phone is 3G (actually 3.5G, using the HSDPA or High Speed Downlink Packet Access protocol) and therefore capable of close-to broadband speeds on the go; a very fine browser takes advantage of this unfussily and pleasantly. Like its bratty little sister, the Viewty has a touch screen; unlike the Prada, it also has a proper camera and photo software to go with it. I should guess that the sector of the market LG is aiming for is the one currently bestridden by the Nokia N95. Unlike the N95, however, the Viewty doesn’t offer Wi-Fi or GPS (for satnav functionality) which some may find a deal-breaker. There is a slot for a MicroSD card of up to 2Gb; an excellent 5MP camera with xenon flash; surprisingly impressive photo and video software (including a nifty 120 frames-a-second option that allows half-speed playback for really excellent quality slow-mo – what’s called overcranking in the biz); and even an option that allows direct uploading to YouTube, a feature you will soon see as standard everywhere, or so this observer believes, and he is never wrong. A damnably stupid rocker on the lens ring serves as volume and multi-function switch, but it’s silly, inconvenient and more or less a waste of time and plastic.
That said, you might argue this device scores over the iPhone when it comes to formats. It allows MP3, AAC, AMR, WMA and WMV for sound as well as the usual picture and video formats, plus – and this is rare – DivX, the preferred codec of rippers and toasters everywhere. Smart as it is, the Viewty falls down when it comes to text entry. You tap at a touch-screen version of a phone keypad or use a badly implemented and fiddly handwriting recognition system. This is what stops the device leaking into the realm of the smart phones. To qualify as such, you really need to be able to text, email and type at some length and at some speed. You’ll never rise above the lvl of txt lk ths w Viewty.
One neat feature: the screen can vibrate when touched, offering a kind of fingertip feedback that, once you’re used to it, improves the whole relationship. In the end, I suspect this phone will attract more females than males, but what’s wrong with that?
I came expecting to scoff, but sent it back (reluctantly) to the PR company that let me play with it rather impressed. This is no iPhone killer any more than the Prada was, but if you want a neat, cute, fun phone that leans in favour of photos and general media larkiness, you could do a lot worse.
Faint praise? Well, the Viewty has a gosh factor, but in such a big marketplace you need to turn goshes into wows.
© Stephen Fry 2007