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LG U990 Viewty

back of Viewtyfront of Viewty

I have just got a LG U990 “Viewty” mobile phone [1]. It’s a 3G phone and came free on the $29 monthly cap plan from “Three” (minimum monthly spend is $29 – but this is free if you use $29 per month). My previous plan was the $29 cap but had a minimum spend of $20 per month, as I never happened to use less than $29 per month I am not paying more.

For a modern mobile phone the actual phone functionality is a sideline. If a device was strictly designed to be a phone then I think it would be very similar to the Nokia phones that were available 5+ years ago – the Nokia I had in 1999 performed every phone function that I desired of it.

Like most modern phones the LG U990 “Viewty” suffers in it’s phone functionality from the desire to make it do non-phone tasks and from the desire to cripple it to meet the desires of the carriers (not the desires of the users). For example the “home” screen will always have at least two buttons for paid Three services and I have no configuration option to remove them. Replacing them with speed dial options for a couple of numbers that I regularly call would be handy. As the main screen is a touch-screen there is no excuse for this, they should allow the software to be reconfigured with more useful options. Eventually the Android will kill most of the other phones and this problem of phones being designed to suit the telephone companies instead of the users will be solved.

One of the most annoying mis-features of the phone is that it doesn’t properly handle address book entries with multiple phone numbers. One of my friends turns his mobile off when he is at home, so I regularly call his mobile and then immediately call his home number if the mobile is unavailable. With my previous two mobile phones I could press the “dial” button to bring up the list of previous calls and then use the arrow buttons to select from the other numbers that are attached to the same address-book entry, so with three button presses I would be dialing his other number. With the Viewty I have to go back to the address book.

The compelling feature of the Viewty is the camera and display. It has a 5MP camera which makes it the second highest resolution camera-phone offered by Three – the LG Renoir (KC910) has 8MP but needs a $99 plan for it to be free. It also has a 240*320 resolution touch-screen display (in a quick search in January when I bought my phone the best resolution display I could find on a phone is 240*400 in the LG Renoir).

While the camera is documented as being 5mp there are no specs available about the resolution of the CCD. I want to use the native resolution of the CCD for pictures (I think interpolation is a waste of space). The CCD might actually be 5mp, a picture of the 1400*1050 resolution screen on my Thinkpad allows me to read all the text even when small fonts are in use, so the CCD resolution must be significantly greater than 1400*1050. This is a really important feature as the Viewty will work well for making screen-shots for bug reports about crashed computers (several of my clients have expressed interest in getting one after seeing such a demonstration). One annoying problem is that the camera software takes a while to load, my trusty Sony digital camera starts a lot faster and the LG U890 phone I used for the past two years is also a lot faster and more convenient. This won’t work well for photographing unexpected events. When I am traveling by public transport I will photograph the relevant pages of my street directory as I can zoom in to photos of the maps and read the street names, it saves some weight when traveling. The 2G micro-SD card (which incidentally cost $10 from OfficeWorks) will allow me to store a lot of maps.

One interesting feature is the video recording capabilities. It can do 640*480 resolution at 30fps (which is pretty good) and 320*240 resolution at 120fps (they claim that you can film a balloon popping). In my quick tests the standard 640*480*30fps mode works well, but the 120fps mode requires much brighter light than most of my test environments, so I have not yet got it working properly.

The phone has a reasonable voice recording function, it can record considerably more than 34 hours of audio and the quality is reasonably good if you use an external microphone. It is however quite poor if you use the built-in microphone for a dictaphone function, it seems that quality is poor at any distance. I had wanted to record my LCA mini-conf talks with my phone but unfortunately forgot to bring the adapter for the external microphone. It’s a pity that the phone doesn’t have a standard microphone socket as I have misplaced my Viewty microphone, when designing the phone they should assume that misplacing attachments is a common occurrence and design it to use common parts.

I recently spoke to a journalist who uses his mobile phone to record interviews. He said that his phone supported phone calls, voice recording, and taking pictures – all the essential tasks for his work. It seems that the Viewty would be better than most phones for journalistic work apart from the issue of low quality voice recording when you have misplaced your external microphone.

The text editor is unfriendly in the keyboard mode (I have not tried hand-writing recognition), one thing I don’t like is the fact that the letters jump when you press them. This does allow changing a letter by moving the stylus before releasing the press (some people consider this a great feature). There are no cursor control keys (which is a serious omission), and the keyboard doesn’t resemble a real keyboard. My iPaQ is far better for writing (I once wrote a full-length magazine article on an iPaQ).

The stylus is quite strange and interesting. In the picture of the front of the phone the stylus is compacted with it’s lid on. In the picture of the back of the phone the stylus is extended with the lid off. The end of the stylus clips in to the lid so that removing the lid drags the central part out of the body. It’s an interesting design and with the string on the lid allows the stylus to be attached to the phone when it’s not being used. But I have never used it. Even with an iPaQ (which had a proper stylus that attached firmly inside the body of the device) I often used a fingernail on the touch screen. I have not felt the need to ever use a stylus with my Viewty.

One final noteworthy thing is the support for Google services. It seems to have client support for YouTube, Google Maps, GMail, and Blogger. This seems to be a major win for Google, the Viewty is one of the most popular phones at the moment and I expect that lots of people who buy them will now have an incentive to use the Google services. Between these sorts of deals and the Android I think that it will be necessary to have some sort of anti-trust action against Google. Google are generally doing good things for the users. I have been quite satisfied to use Google search, Google advertising on my blog, and Gmail. Also I have been moderately happy with Blogger (it was good when I started blogging) and Google Maps is useful on occasion. So generally I am happy with Google, but monopolies are bad for the users so I think that if things continue on their current trend then Google may have to be split into several little Googlets some time in the next few years.

4 comments to LG U990 Viewty

  • If the carriers mangle Android like they do other OS’s, presumably they’ll make similar restrictive modifications to the OS. I don’t see that problem going away on subsidized phones, Android or not.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. Android already does support carrier restrictions, and the carriers use them, unless you buy the developer edition. Then you only have to live with *Google’s* restrictions.

    Sigh. My kingdom for an OpenMoko phone that Just Works.

  • What’s the UI response time like? A colleague has one of these and isn’t awfully impressed.

    Also I thought you’d know better than to think megapixels really matter much when the lens is barely bigger than a pin. Fit for your purpose, I guess, but then so would a 3MP sensor be

  • etbe

    Michael and Anonymous: Fair points, but cracking a platform that is open for most people is going to be a lot easier than cracking a closed platform. Also there should be good options for outright purchase of an Android phone, currently it’s becoming increasingly difficult to clearly purchase a regular mobile phone.

    John: The UI response seems good for everything other than starting the camera, video camera, or video/picture viewer.

    As for the lens size, the Viewty appears to have a larger lens than all the other phones that Three has on offer.