So, as mentioned before, the people at Hill and Knowlton (who are handling the blogosphere PR duties for LG’s new Shine phone) decided that yours truly was the sort of person who should be sent a demo model to take a look at – I’ll reproduce the terms and conditions at the bottom of this post in the interests of full disclosure. Having finally found a bit of time to try it out, here are my thoughts; you can see the opinions of other bloggers aggregated at the official LG Shine blog.
AestheticsFirst things first; LG have aimed squarely for style and looks with this device, which seems to fit with their previous output. I’ve noticed a definite trend with gadgets recently, namely that of making the boxes as sexy as the contents – I was most impressed with the packaging of my iRiver Clix, for example. The Shine KE970 also comes in a rather funky container, so here’s some unboxing pr0n for those who like that sort of thing – click through to Flickr for full size images:
Not sure how recyclable that little lot is, but it sure looks pretty. And there’s no getting around the fact that the phone itself is pretty sexy too. Please forgive the poor quality photos; I’m a very amateur shutterbug at best, and the lighting in my flat isn’t very conducive to great images either. Add that to the fact that the Shine’s, er, shininess, completely foxes the autofocus on my camera, and you have three excuses for the blur and fuzz of the following:
The KE970 is a very eye-catching piece of hardware indeed. Hoisting it out in company always elicits questions, even from those who “aren’t that bothered” about phones. If the buzz about it manages to match that which surrounded the Chocolate, the visual appeal won’t do it any harm in the ‘stuff to be seen with’ leagues – for those who care about such things, of course.ErgonomicsAll that glitters is not gold, as the truism goes – and in the world of mobiles, that means that a handset may not be quite as lush in the hand as in the box.
Thankfully the KE970 boasts a build quality to match its looks. Much as reported, that mirrored screen is surprisingly hard to smudge with fingerprints (the rear face somewhat less so). The handset feels solid, deceptively light, and the slide mechanism is a joy to use, with a feeling of sturdiness that bodes well for long-term heavy use – although it must be noted that the proof would be in the pudding, and a few hours of playing around is never going to allow a decent assessment of lifetime wear and tear. So, sturdy but light – a rare combination, but almost a selling point in itself.
It’s dead skinny too: compared against my Nokia N80, the length and breadth are close enough to be considered the same by the casual observer, but the difference in thickness (not pictured, sorry) is the real distinction – the Shine is roughly half as thick, and feels much more rugged in the hand.
The N80′s slide mechanism feels five years too late by comparison, also.
Functionality I’m not going to wax too lyrical about functions – the Shine doesn’t do much that any other non-3G phone of its category can’t do. Voice calls, texts, all the usual stuff. The camera is satisfactory for a mobile accessory, but low light and/or fast motion are going to be the same obstacles they are with all the others. You’ve also got your customisable wallpapers, tones and menus, so on and so forth – the screen is lush and very high contrast, but that’s ultimately just bling in a phone that can’t do true internet rendering.
I would note that the speaker seems to have a very good response for its size – much less tinny than some competitors, though still rather ungratifying for listening to music or podcasts compared to headphones or a decent stereo. But hey – it’s a phone, not a boombox. Likewise, the actual in-call speaker is nice and crispy clear, and the folk I called reported a good clear voice at their end too. Other than the boost in general quality you’d expect (or at least hope for) from a premium piece of hardware, there’s not much that functionally sets the Shine above other devices as far as its functionality as a phone is concerned – but I don’t think that was the point of its design anyway.
The user interface is the real stand-out feature, with the rolling selection key front-and-centre. Innovative, yes; distinctive, certainly; a pain to get the hang of? Well, yes – but to be fair, most new interfaces usually are. I imagine that the number of false selections would decrease after a week or so of regular use, but it can be quite annoying at first unless you go very slowly and deliberately through the menus.
The battery takes a while to charge fully, but in compensation seems to last for a fairly decent period. This is preferable to the ‘hour to charge, day to die’ batteries that come with some other phones (I’m looking at you, Nokia). Not being a great telephonic chatterbox, I can’t make a realistic assessment of how much talk time a full charge will provide, but I think you’re looking at a good few hours without any worries.
The KE970 works as an MP3 player also. LG score points from me for making the device function as a detachable drive in Windows – no fancy software interface required, which is fortunate, seeing as the demo device didn’t ship with any! Playback is good quality, the headphones have a nice response, and the remote control is a nice touch – though see a note later on proprietary connectors. As with most phones, MP3 playback chews merry hell out of your battery charge, but anyone who doesn’t expect and plan for that sort of thing probably hasn’t even heard of the Shine, let alone been considering buying one.
Essentially, the Shine KE970 is a very well built luxury phone that does all the things the cognoscenti expect from a modern handset. For me personally, the lack of 3G is a deal-breaker (as it provides productivity features that I find extremely convenient, if not essential), but for a lot of users that’s not going to be an issue.
Connectors – a rant to the industry
I hope you’ll excuse me this opportunity to rail against phone designers in general, as LG have done a few things that are far from unique to them. Proprietary connectors – why? OK, this is almost forgivable for power supplies (though not really, when you consider it’s only done to make the sale of replacements more lucrative – the sooner we get global legislation on generic power supply regulations, the better off we’ll all be, financially and ecologically). Also, for plug-in headsets, you’ll obviously require some sort of fancy connector so that you can route the microphone as well as the speakers.
But if you’re selling a phone on its merits as an MP3 player, surely it wouldn’t be too much effort to include a standard miniature jack socket so the user could plug in their favourite headphones instead of the bundled ones? OK, so you’d lose remote control functionality, but being given an either/or option would be a marked improvement, for me at least. This self-same problem is what prevented me from using my N80 as an MP3 player – it’s just too inconvenient, and the bundled headphones are never as good as your favourite pair – and the bundled ones with the Shine look distinctly cheap when held up against the phone itself. One little jack socket, guys – it’s not like they cost a lot or consume a lot of space, and your users would thank you for it. Seriously.
To be brutally honest, I think the LG Shine is quite expressly designed to be a phone you’re proud to be seen with, rather than one that is an all-singing all-dancing connectivity toolkit. This handset is going to be in thousands of tabloid shots before the summer arrives – anyone who regards their phone as being a fashion accessory is going to have a serious hankering for such a visually appealing piece of kit. The build quality suggests that it will survive a goodly lifetime of heavy use without needing a trip to the service centre for a broken slider spring.
However, this isn’t a cheap device, and when you consider that it doesn’t have 3G functionality (which will probably see increased roll-out this year), you’re either going to be locked into a damn long contract or paying a fair lump of cash for the sake of having the coolest looking phone in your favourite bar. The 3G issue will keep the tech-heads away, too – once you’re used to them, there’s so much that a smartphone can do beyond phone calls and crude WAP browsing that a ‘regular’ mobile seems like a step backwards – albeit an exceptionally stylish and beautifully made step backwards.
In my opinion, LG has pitched for the private boxes and the dress-circle seats; to the users out there who have the sort of income (or access to credit) that means they can treat themselves to gadgets that look as good as they feel and operate. If this is the case, the KE970 will be a definite success. It’s like the Lexus of phones, I guess, and will appeal to the same sort of demographic as pimped rides and Prada bags – and it’s no discredit to LG that I just happen to be more of a Land Rover and T-shirts kind of guy!
Terms and conditions of review device, as sent by Hill and Knowlton, pasted here verbatim from email:
• The phone is provided to you on a long-term loan. You can keep it for as long as you use it. If you stop using it, please return it to us.
• Let us know if you have any conflicts of interest in accepting the phone. This includes, but is not limited to, being employed in the mobile telecommunications industry and having other mobile phone companies as clients.
• The phone remains the property of LG Mobile, who can request its return at any time. You cannot sell or loan the phone to others.
• Please keep all the original packaging.
• We will link to your blog from The Shine Blog (http://Shine.lgbloggers.com).
• Please check the Shine Blog regularly (and ideally subscribe to the RSS feed) to keep up to date with any announcements about the programme.
• If you encounter any problems with the operation of the phone, please contact us first.
• There is absolutely no obligation to mention the phone or this programme on your blog. However if you do, we recommend that you disclose your relationship with LG Mobile.