LG Arena KM990

The KM990 Arena is LG’s latest multi-functioning touchscreen mobile phone to hit the UK market. As we’re all aware, the iPhone 3G is the market leader for touchscreen mobiles, but for those who don’t want an iPhone, but finds a touchscreen multimedia device appealing, then the Arena might be the alternative you’ve been waiting for.

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Using titanium metals in the construction of its body, the Arena weighs in at 105g. When held in the hand, there’s no creaky plastic feel to it. LG has done a good job with the build quality and design of the Arena. The chrome accents and brushed metal back adds to the solid look and feel of the hardware.

A standard 3.5mm headphone jack can be found along the top for plugging in your favourite headphones. A front-facing camera is also integrated right next to the speakerphone for 3G video calls. Apart from the volume and power buttons, there aren’t any other physical features on this mobile. Three touch-sensitive buttons are located just below the screen for answering or ending a call, and a middle button for accessing the 3D menu system.

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Featuring 8GB of internal flash memory and a 5 megapixel camera, the LG Arena offers a tempting alternative to the iPhone, especially if you want a decent camera that has a flash, two things that the iPhone doesn’t have. There’s also a slot for SDHC-compatible microSD cards for expanding the phone with a further 32GB.

The last time I reviewed an LG handset was the original Viewty, which was one of LG’s first all-screen touch mobiles a couple of years ago. It was an impressive handset, however the response time when tapping a message out on the onscreen keyboard was a little slow. This time round, the Arena is a massive improvement with response times as expected. You can select from a keypad in portrait mode or a full QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode.

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With a 3-inch widescreen display, packing an impressive 800 x 480 resolution, you get incredibly sharp visuals from the menu icons to your photos and videos. An ambient light sensor can be activated in the settings to allow the phone to modify the brightness of the screen automatically. In outdoor daylight conditions, the screen does lose some of its visibility but is bright enough to be usable.

Throw in WiFi, A-GPS, Bluetooth and an FM transmitter, and you’ve got the complete collection of wireless connectivity. I really liked having the FM transmitter onboard because it meant that I don’t have to use an external adapter to pass my music through the car stereo. A genius move to position this phone as the be-all music device.

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It took a few attempts to get the wireless to connect to my router, but once I had the settings saved it was a case of just turning it on when I needed it. The Arena’s web browsing experience is nowhere near where it needs to be if it’s to compete with the iPhone. Having become used to the way my iPod Touch works for browsing the web, the experience on the Arena lacks the effective user interaction needed to make it as usable.

One thing you’ll notice when you open up the system menu and turn the phone on its side is that it’s feature-heavy. A wall of mini icons appear when you have the phone on its side, thanks to its accelerometer. The accelerometer is used throughout the various applications such as the camera and messaging apps. The applications you get with the handset include Google search, Calendar, Stopwatch, Calculator, Timer, Camera, Videocamera, Gallery, Web browser, Alarm clock, world clock and more.

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I get the feeling that LG have really gone all out to try and trump the iPhone in as many areas as it can. The result of that is an impressive feature list with everything that you need built-in. However, there are a few questionable additions to the Arena that feel a bit gimmicky. I didn’t find the 3D menu interface useful in the slightest. The camera performs admirably with sharp and accurate colour reproduction in photo shots and decent quality video. The keyboard feedback you get when tapping out a message is a nice touch that helps provide feedback when you hit a button. With the ability to have as much as 40GB of storage, you’ll find the 720 x 480 resolution video recording capability great for snapping videos on the go. The wide-aspect ratio video is also shot at 30 frames per second for smooth video playback. These are just some of the nice additions you get that aren’t available from the competition.

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One of the biggest gripes that I have with so many mobile devices out there is slow response time when you press a button or open a menu. The Arena is quite snappy in that respect and messaging works very well in portrait mode thanks to years of using T9 predictive text. In landscape view using the keyboard, it was nearly impossible to tap out a message with any kind of speed, and definitely a no-go area if you’re on the move. Without the clever auto-correct feature that you find on the iPhone, you’ll need to really concentrate hard on hitting the right keys.

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The LG Arena is an exceptional phone with an extraordinary list of features. What it lacks is a certain amount of polish to some of the applications and its usability. However, given its shortcomings, there are some killer features that I definitely would love to have in my phone. One of them is the ability to record widescreen videos – great for snapping those YouTube moments when you’re out and about. And the FM transmitter. Never seen that included on a phone before and it’s the one thing that I use with my music player whenever I’m in the car.

Review note: The LG Arena handset that I used for the purpose of this review was a pre-production engineering sample. The final shipping product may differ from what is described and shown in this review.

2009-05-15 Onwah Tsang

1 comment - why not add yours

  • Roberta says:

    I own both the Viewty and this. The Viewty had a better, more responsive touch-screen. This camera is awful, probably due to being an LED flash instead of Xenon like the Viewty. Had I not needed a quad-band, the Renoir would have been my choice.(Actually it was, but was falsely advertised as a quad band so it had to be returned).
    I do applaud the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the presence (although unresponsive) of a qwerty keyboard. The FM radio plays fine through my Bose portable speakers.
    At some point hopefully LG will combine the good points of all their smartphones into one product.

    Posted on 10th September 2009

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