One of the most notable fallouts of the Apple iPhone launch last year is the ever-growing trend of touch-screen phones. LG was one of the first manufacturers out of the gate with phones such as the LG Voyager and the LG Vu dazzling us with features that we couldn't get on the iPhone, like live mobile TV and 3G connectivity. Samsung then came blazing out with the Instinct, a phone that directly targets the iPhone with visual voice mail, integrated GPS, and corporate e-mail support. Yet, many of these phones still walked on familiar ground with its design and features.
LG's latest handset, however, dares to take things in a different direction. The appropriately named LG Dare presents a few tricks we haven't seen before in the touch-screen phone genre. For example, you can drag and drop icons to make your own customized shortcuts on the home screen, or you can use a drawing pad to sketch ideas or draw a map, which can then be sent via MMS to a friend. The Dare also has one of the most advanced cameras we've seen on a touch-screen phone--its 3.2-megapixel camera has settings like face detection, noise reduction, panorama photo stitching, and a SmartPic technology designed for taking photos in low light. The built-in camcorder can even record high-speed video and play it back in slow-motion, which is a first for U.S. camera phones. We certainly wouldn't want to call this an iPhone killer since it doesn't have features such as Wi-Fi, and its Web browser and media player aren't as good. However, the Dare is a very appealing alternative for Verizon customers who want a touch-screen phone with a difference. The LG Dare is priced competitively at $199 after a $50 mail-in rebate and a two-year service agreement.
Like all touch-screen phones, the LG Dare's design is dominated by a large display covering almost the entirety of the phone's front surface. Indeed, the only visible keys on the front are the Call, Clear/Voice command, and End/Power keys at the very bottom. The Dare is quite a bit smaller than both the iPhone and the Samsung Instinct, measuring only 4.1 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. It has a stainless steel border along its sides, and a black soft touch surface on the back that gives it a nice grip in the hand. It weighs about 3.76 ounces, which gives it a light yet solid feel.
The smaller size of the Dare also results in a smaller space for the 3-inch-wide display (compared with the 4-plus-inch displays on the other two phones). Though we were fine with it for most applications, we'll admit that it deters us from enjoying the full HTML browser (which we'll get to in the Features section), since it means we have to do more scrolling than usual. The display supports 262,000 colors and a 240x400-pixel resolution, which results in a stunning and colorful screen with vibrant graphics and clean text. You can adjust the backlight time, the menu fonts, the dial fonts, the display theme, and even the image of the charging screen. You can also choose animated wallpaper if you like.
Along the bottom row of the display's home screen are five shortcut icons to the messaging in-box, the phone interface, the main menu, the phonebook, and a favorites menu (which is a customizable graphical layout of up to nine favorite contacts). There's also a small arrow icon on the far right of the display (about a third of the way down), which leads to a list of 11 shortcuts that you can select from 51 possible applications. You can drag and drop these shortcut icons to change the order in which they appear. However, the coolest thing is that you can also drag and drop them directly to the home screen. Simply tap on an icon and drag it toward the home screen, and let go. You can then arrange the icons anywhere on your home screen as well.
Going back to the Favorites menu, not only do you have a graphical layout of your favorite contacts, but you can also drag and drop them around the screen. After selecting a contact, you can either have instant access to a new text message or an immediate phone call. You can also edit that contact information on the spot.
Another innovative aspect of the Dare's touch screen is the option for a "scattered" menu interface layout. You can then drag and drop the scattered icons to new positions in the menu. We found this to be quite fun and intuitive, but can't help but think it's rather unnecessary. We would have been just as happy with the traditional grid menu layout (which is a menu style option as well). Throughout the menu interface, you will see a back arrow on the upper left, which will lead you back to the previous screen, and a Home button, which will lead you back to the home screen.
Like the Instinct, the Dare offers haptic tactile feedback, which gives tiny vibrations when tapping on the screen. It's very helpful when selecting menu options, since it provides a physical confirmation of the selection. You can go through a calibration wizard to adjust to the screen's sensitivity, and you can adjust the vibrate type (short, double, or long) and vibrate level (low, medium, high, or off altogether). You can also turn on "vibration when scrolling," which sets off tiny vibrations when scrolling up and down lists. We actually recommend this, so you know you're scrolling through a list and not accidentally selecting something.
This brings us to the touch interface itself. While we largely enjoyed the touch interface experience, we have to admit there is still a slight learning curve. Often we would select something without meaning to, especially when scrolling up and down lists or dragging icons around. The touch interface is certainly more sensitive than we thought it would be, even after going through the calibration wizard. After a day or two of fiddling around with it though, we learned to adjust.
We found dialing and texting to be quite easy, even with the touch-screen interface. The phone interface consists of the standard numeric keypad, a voice command button, a handwriting button that will let you "write" the numbers instead of using the keypad, plus two shortcuts to the recent calls list and the contacts list. The keypad features nice big numbers, and after you're done dialing, you can hit either the green Call button, or the physical Talk button on the lower left. There's also a Save key for storing new phone numbers. During a call, a few shortcut icons appear to activate the speakerphone, call mute, send a text message, add a note, connect to a Bluetooth headset, and even voice record.
There are several input options for texting. You can either use the virtual T9 keypad, or you can twist the phone 90 degrees in the counterclockwise direction and a QWERTY keyboard will automatically appear. We're then able to tap on each key with our thumbs. Tapping each key will magnify that key momentarily, just like on the iPhone. The keyboard has a dedicated space bar, return button, period, and alias (@) keys, plus a Shift button to switch between capital letters and other symbols. Unlike the iPhone, you can indeed copy and paste text, simply by highlighting with your fingers and hitting a Copy button. However, the Dare doesn't correct your spelling.
Another method for entering text would be via handwriting, or a graffiti method. The handwriting recognition works quite well, but we did have some problems with it. For one thing, we had to keep switching modes between capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols--it wasn't smart enough to figure out the characters on its own. Also, it's a lot easier to handwrite with a stylus, or if you have long fingernails--using just our fingertips resulted in more mistakes.