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Flippable LG Wine Smart Android clamshell looks cooler than it sounds (hands-on)

All the power of Android condensed into a 3.5-inch screen may be the best of both worlds for people who really love their flip phones.

The LG Wine Smart brings Android to a tried-and-true clamshell shape. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. For a certain portion of the population, one look at the clamshell LG Wine Smart will wash them in a wave of the stuff -- until they flip it open to reveal Android 4.4 KitKat on a 3.5-inch display.

Made in black or white with a sexy gold racing stripe, the smartphone version of the LG Wine family is big on large buttons on the keypad and tactile directional controls on the navigation array. You won't be typing long texts and email missives with that alphanumeric keyboard, but the touchscreen does offer basic functionality for opening apps such as the camera, and for sorting through menu options.

LG created the Wine Smart after conducting tests with older folks to see which typical smartphone elements intimidate them most. Small buttons and type, and confusing features were the results of this market research.

Especially for people transitioning from a non-touch feature phone, the familiar 3 x 3 icon grid includes apps like a TV and radio to go along with the typical calendar and camera. In addition to the touch capability, five dedicated hardware keys map top functions like drafting a message and opening the camera.

A customizable convenience key lets you reprogram one of the buttons for your own use, and the tactile buttons that rise from the surface are easy to press. The 1 watt speaker promises loud ringing.

Up above, a heavily skinned version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat and simple settings make the functionality seemed toned down, but the Wine Smart is fully compatible with the Google Play store. Despite that, gameplay satisfaction will be very limited.

Design and hardware specs

I really love the Wine Smart's unabashedly tactile look and feel, especially the black version with tis textured cross-hatch black cover (the white model has a smooth backing). The phone folds down to a size compact enough to stick into a pocket and carry around. The flipping motion takes a strong thumb at first if you're doing it one-handed, but the hinge is sturdy.

A loophole on the side of the phone lets you attach a charm, wristband, or a neck strap, the latter of which LG told CNET is especially popular among Japanese customers.

It may be geared toward buyers in their later years, but the LG Wine Smart has cool golden racing stripe. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In terms of specs, you're looking at that 3.5 HVGA IPS screen (480x320-pixel resolution), and a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. An 8-megapixel rear-facing camera will still let phone owners take solid shots, though there's no emphasis on the VGA front-facing camera for selfies and video chats.

You'll also find an FM radio and Bluetooth 4.0 for pairing with other devices. The Wine Smart's 1,700mAh battery is about the right capacity for a screen of this size. Storage space is on the lower end with 4GB internal storage, but you'll be able to expand with an after-market microSD card slot (there's 1GB RAM). The phone's LTE radio supports VoLTE.

Tying it all together

LG knows that the audience for its Wine Smart flip phone is limited, but has done a good job making the phone visually appealing for buyers. (As an aside, LG says that some students have shown interest in the phone as well as older adults.) I like the Wine Smart's cool look and pocketability, and the fact that it enhances a simple calling experience with practical helpmeets, like sharing photos online and turning on navigation.

The phone will sell in Korea for 399,000 won, which converts to about $370, £230 or AU$430, but expect final prices to vary significantly.

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