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LG Viewty Smart review: LG Viewty Smart

It's called the Viewty Smart, but it's definitely not a smartphone. Aside from the decent camera, there's very little to recommend this high-priced mobile.

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Damian Koh , Joseph Hanlon

Damian Koh

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Joseph Hanlon

Special to CNET News

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.

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6 min read

If you saw someone walking down the street wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Smart", what would be your first impression? Would you assume this person was indeed of higher than average intelligence or would you assume exactly the opposite? LG calls its latest camera phone the Viewty Smart, suggesting an upgrade from the original Viewty with the inclusion of extra smarts, but just because the company says it doesn't make it so.

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6.0

LG Viewty Smart

The Good

Decent 8-megapixel camera. Good basic functionality. Strong battery life.

The Bad

S-Class UI is not easy to use. Limited automated set-up. Poor online experience.

The Bottom Line

It's called the Viewty Smart, but it's definitely not a smartphone. Aside from the decent camera, there's very little to recommend this high-priced mobile.

Design

We may find fault in certain areas of LG mobile range, but we can't deny this Korean company knows how to design attractive handsets. The Viewty Smart looks like a cross between the original Viewty and the uber-sexy LG Secret; its rectangular shape is broken by gentle curves at the top and bottom of the screen with a gold-plated home key button elevating its glossy black finish. We don't love the matte silver coloured plastic battery cover, it's one of the few textures that cheapens the appearance of the Viewty Smart, but it's something we'd be willing to live with.

The Viewty Smart is a touchscreen handset sporting a 3-inch WVGA colour display, which is sufficient in size despite being a half-inch smaller than the iPhone's screen. The screen combines capacitive touchscreen technology with haptic feedback (vibrating response to touch) making sure you're always aware of when you have, or haven't, successfully made contact with an item for selection on the display. Test videos we played looked good, though LG's decision not to include a 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone itself is irksome — instead an adapter at the end of a long cable is bundled with the phone. Though the quality of the headphones included with the Viewty Smart are a cut-above those we tend to find with phones, so you may not mind forgoing the standard headphones socket.

S-Class UI

We voiced similar concerns after reviewing the LG Arena, the first LG handset to feature its recent release S-Class user interface, but we feel we need to reiterate the point. It's obvious this system has been developed in response to the successful platforms available on other popular smartphones, and while the S-Class UI is similar aesthetically, LG fails to address what is central to the success of any new system on a mobile — the S-Class UI is just such a pain to use.

Basic tasks are easy enough, making phone calls and composing SMS messages won't confuse anyone, but more complex tasks had us pulling our hair out. Our first task was to set up a new internet profile so that the phone could access the web. Not only did we have to enter these details manually, we had to do it three times, and then go into each web-active application separately and manually direct the application to use the newly created profile. This is something most people won't have to do if they buy the Viewty Smart from one of the major mobile carriers, but still, it's a task most new phones automate. Setting up email was just as difficult and time-consuming. We used a personal Gmail account to test and after we established a connection it proceeded to download all mail from the account starting with messages from 2005 and giving up somewhere early in 2006, with no option to only pull messages from the last week or last few days only.

On top of these complaints, there are so many shortcuts missing and loads of strange little bugs that give the S-Class UI a sluggish, cumbersome feeling. In the browser you have to type full web addresses, including http:// and www, the handset regularly disconnects from a Wi-Fi access point forcing you to reconnect before you continue browsing, if you're in the music player and then hit the home key it stops the music rather than playing it in the background; however, if you select back to exit the music player the music will continue. These are just some of the niggling issues we've stumbled across, but there are many more.

Features

The Viewty Smart may not actually be a smartphone, but it does have an impressive-sounding camera on its rear. This camera sports an 8-megapixel maximum image resolution shot through Schneider-Kreuznach optics. It features auto-focus, numerous settings and options, and an LED photo light to assist in low-light. In practice this is an above average camera for a mobile phone, but far from the best we've seen, even from LG. We tested the camera in a variety of common-use situations and it took very passable images, but on close inspection we saw that these images were loaded with graininess and unnatural colour reproduction. It's important not to expect too much from camera phones and to remember that most pictures taken will probably end up highly compressed on the web or a friend's phone, so there's little need to scrutinise these images too closely. Still, if you want a good 8-megapixel camera phone we'd recommend the LG Renoir, or the Samsung INNOV8 before the Viewty Smart.

After the trials of setting up internet access points we described earlier, web browsing itself was disappointing on the Viewty Smart. The browser is a technically capable HTML browser, but using it is slow and clunky. The Viewty Smart features a multi-touch browser, with zooming in and out performed by moving fingers on the screen — spreading them zooms in, bringing them together zooms out. This is a nice touch, but using it is painstakingly inaccurate. Big zooms in and out are fine, but trying to bring the font size up just a couple of points is next to impossible without going too far, thanks to a sluggish one second response between fingers moving and screen zooming.

Performance

Adding to our woes about the layout and operation of the S-Class UI, the system is also a big, fat lag-fest. If you watch our video review, you'll see the different areas of the system in action, especially the impressive-looking home screen cube: four shortcut windows are accessible via a spinning cube. This is a nice way of displaying shortcuts, but the processor in the Viewty Smart isn't up to the task of rendering these graphics in a smooth, seamless manner. Changing, for example, from the widgets menu to the media shortcuts will take a second or two for the new screen to load before it is usable. Add these seconds up as you navigate around the menus and it becomes tedious enough for us to try and avoid using these menus altogether.

On the plus side, all basic phone functionality is pretty much flawless. We experienced excellent call quality during our tests and battery life is stellar; lasting between three to four days with standard usage. This figure would no doubt have been considerably lower had the terrible web browser been better, but we predict most owners of the Viewty Smart will dodge the browser as we did and enjoy this longer battery life.

Overall

The Viewty Smart epitomises the growing chasm between smartphones and standard mobiles, two categories of phones recognisable by how they handle the online experience. The LG Viewty Smart is the latter; it handles the basics well and the 8-megapixel camera is decent, but it fails miserably at offering access to online services. Though it includes HSDPA and Wi-Fi hardware, the browser is dreadful to use, the email client is simplistic, there's no Facebook or Twitter apps and no easy way to install them, plus it's all so difficult to set up. The camera is fine for most off-the-hip impromptu photography, but then, so are loads of 3- and 5-megapixel camera phones, and most of these won't cost you AU$979 outright. For this sort of money we want a rich online experience, an experience the LG Viewty Smart isn't capable of offering.