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LG Optimus 3D adds new perspective

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Android cellphones are being pumped out by various manufactures, often with no features that distinguish one from another. SEAN BACHER finds one that really does separate itself from the rest ‚ but will a 3D phone fly?

Last year LG stole a march on the industry when it introduced the Optimus Prime, the first smartphone to come pre-installed with the Android 2.2, or Froyo, operating system. It was also one of the cheapest smartphones on the market at the time.

It then went on to announce the Optimus Black, a phone packing better specifications and functionality in a much slimmer form factor, and still well below the price of other Android smartphones available in South Africa.

Since then, it has released a range of elegant smartphones, each one offering something that puts it a step ahead of its competitors. The LG Optimus 3D smartphone is one of the first that offers a 3D experience without the hassle of having to don glasses before the images start jumping out at you.

But does a 3D phone have any place in the mobile market or is it merely a gimmick that will keep users entertained for a few days?

We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test to find out.

1. Is it ready to use?

Aside from the standard requirement to insert a SIM card and charge the battery, you need to go through the Android set-up routine. It is very simple, since it only requires your Google user name and password, time zone and location.

Then it’s a single click to access the Android Market and begin downloading applications. However, it’s always a good idea to check what comes pre-installed. The Optimus 3D includes, for example, Twitter, Accuweather, a mail client, and Polaris Office ‚ an equivalent of the Office suite, designed for phones and tablets.

The applications need to be individually customised and set up. The AccuWeather app needs a location before it will show weather forecasts and the LG World and LG Advisor applications have to be updated before they will let you access them.

2. Is it easy to use?

The LG Optimus 3D uses Android version 2.2.2, which is intuitive even for first-time Android users, and provides a sense of familiarity if you have used any other Android phone. But LG has taken it a step further as well, introducing gesture control. Previous experience with gestures on mobile phones has been nothing but frustrating. However, the LG’s gestures worked exactly as I wanted. For example a quick flip of the phone onto its face automatically mutes the ring ‚ really handy when you are in a business meeting and forget to put your phone on silent. Also, the same gesture mutes the phone’s alarm ‚ a major benefit to all.

The LG has seven home screens that can be customised with widgets, application shortcuts, mail feeds, Facebook feeds and Twitter feeds. When you first start up the phone, you are not bombarded with widgets already put in place, compliments of LG. You can place them where and when you wish, enabling you to customise and tweak as you use the phone.

At the bottom of each home screen, four virtual buttons take you to your most used applications. LG has pre-set these to a Phone button that launches the dial pad, Contacts, Messaging and Applications. These can be customised, but leaving them as they are does come in handy.

LG has also fine-tuned the arrangement of the applications. It has a tab to switch directly to your downloaded applications: all the applications can be viewed on one screen: and it offers the option of separating the 3D applications and games from the rest. It also offers a pinch-zoom option that condenses all the applications for easy viewing on one screen without the need to scroll.

Physical buttons for Menu, Home, Back and Search are positioned on the front of the phone, below the 4.3‚ capacitive 480X800 pixel display, for use in any application. The only one that changes with the application is the Menu button. Many other manufacturers, especially in the tablet market, have done away with physical control buttons, forcing you to rely completely on the application and OS’s state to control the phone. The disadvantage of that approach is that, if the application freezes and there are no physical buttons to force it to close, you have to take the battery out of the phone or perform a hard reset to regain control. Not so with LG.

Of course the standard buttons are also located on the sides of the phone: Power and Volume Control, but ‚ surprisingly and disappointingly ‚ no Camera control. On the other hand, they are joined by a button that launches the 3D applications menu if held down, or switches between 2D and 3D mode when taking pictures or videos. A mini USB and HDMI port enable connectivity to a television or computer.

The LG Optimus 3D is a rather bulky phone, measuring just under 12mm thick and weighing 168 grams. But there is a very good reason for this. At the back of the phone, it has two 5Mp cameras. It is these two cameras that deliver 3D photos and videos.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

The LG offers the standard smartphone offering. It makes calls, sends text messages, receives and sends e-mail, browses the Internet, allows customisation and downloads, and keeps up with social feeds with ease and, in some cases, even elegance.

Its screen is stunningly bright and sharp, which does suggest the phone would run short on battery life, and unfortunately this is true. The screen, combined with the phone’s dual-core Cortex processor, means that it should also come with dual-batteries!

The Li-Ion 1 540 mAh battery barely made it through a full workday, which consisted of a few phone calls, reading some e-mail, checking the Twitter world and, of course, playing 3D games. It’s obviously the 3D games that put the biggest strain on the battery. Without playing any games, the battery lasted a lot longer, giving a few hours of playtime at the end of the day.

The big question, though, is how are the 3D capabilities?

In one word: awesome.

The phone comes standard with four 3D games, ranging from sports to racing cars, each one presented in 3D graphics. Additional games can be downloaded from the LG World.

At first, your eyes need to adjust. A ‚3D intensity‚ slider on the left of the screen, similar to the innovative feature on the Nintendo 3DS handheld console, lets you adjusts just how intensively 3D the game is. As your eyes adjust, you can bump the game up to full 3D mode. And as you feel the strain, you can slide it down again.

Because the games are in 3D, your viewing range is limited. The 3D guide that comes up when the first game is launched advises that you should hold the phone about 20-30cm from your face for optimal 3D viewing. You also need to be looking at the phone dead on. This means that the 3D games do not take advantage of the built in accelerometers, and can only be controlled by screen taps. For example, to steer left, you would have to tap the left-hand side of the screen.

The games are impressive, but the 3D video recorder and 3D camera are even more impressive. The dual 5MP cameras deliver vivid, sharp 3D images that will blow your eyes and mind away ‚ if you get it right. 3D adds an entirely new aspect to your everyday old photos, making your garden look so much better in a 3D photo than it does in 2D. Videos are equally impressive, almost making them feel interactive in playback mode.

Unfortunately, and understandably, you cannot share the pictures and videos with users who use standard 2D phones. However, you can watch the 3D videos on a 3D television and, thanks to the included software, LG lets you upload the 3D videos directly to YouTube, which is able to identify that you are uploading a 3D video and therefore keeps it in its original 3D format.

4. Is it innovative?

The device’s glasses-free 3D capabilities put it in a league of its own.

For the first time in quite some time we have a phone that has a truly innovative feature.

5. Is it value for money?

The LG Optimus 3D retails for around R6 000, which is quite fair when compared to BlackBerry and iPhone prices. That is still a little expensive for an Android handset, but is justified by its 3D capabilities. However, the bulk of the phone must be balanced against the utility of the 3D functionality that creates that bulk. If the 3D is a mere aside, you’d be better served by equivalent phones with a slimmer form factor.

The real question is: Are the 3D capabilities a gimmick that will soon be forgotten? Or are they something that will continue to keep you entertained until your next upgrade? Only if you can answer Yes to the second question, this phone would make sense.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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