First look: LG's Arena mobile phone

LG's flagship multimedia mobile phone for 2009 is supposed to be "fast, fun and intuitive". It uses a new S-Class 3D user interface.

LG's Arena

LG's Arena

LG yesterday launched its 2009 flagship multimedia mobile phone in Australia, the LG Arena.

Boasting a new 3D "S-Class" user interface, LG Australia said the touch screen–equipped Arena mobile phone is "all about making a connection between intuitive and fun". According to LG, the Arena's cube-based interface is the result of more than two years of extensive consumer research into what mobile phone users are looking for when purchasing a new handset.

"Following extensive research, LG found consumers' needs were not being met with the current offering of mobile interfaces", said Nathan Dunn of LG Australia. "By addressing the need for a simple, fast and fun way to engage with multimedia on Arena, we have ensured it offers stylish design with smart technology that will fit consumers' lives."

The handset will be available through Vodafone retail stores this week. Optus and Telstra will be offering the mobile phone at some point in the future. We attended a hands-on media demonstration with the LG Arena and were pretty impressed overall.

The cube interface provides four customisable home screens for access to features including music, movies and pictures, and it utilises touch-based 3D menus. Most of the menus require just a quick finger swipe to activate, and the cube system makes it easy to access standard phone functions.

Comparisons will obviously be drawn with the Apple's iPhone 3G. The LG Arena doesn't feel as smooth as the iPhone, but its 3D graphics are appealing and the touch screen's sensitivity is excellent. Importantly, like the iPhone 3G the Arena uses a capacitive touch screen rather than a resistive one, so it won't register fingernail taps — nor will it work with a stylus — but the result is a more intuitive user experience.

We liked how the rotatable cube is broken up into categories, making it easy to access music or images, for example. The gallery is particularly impressive, making full use of the LG Arena's built-in accelerometer — turn the phone sideways and an impressive animation occurs. You then simply swipe though your images left to right.

The contacts menu is visually appealing; it's inspired by a Rolodex. Contacts are displayed in a rotating format and when an image is attached to a contact, it looks similar to scrolling through images on the phone. We found this method a little sluggish and preferred to access the phonebook in a regular list fashion. This offers one-touch access to all contact details, including being able to text message and e-mail contacts directly from the phonebook.

We were most impressed by the multimedia abilities of the LG Arena. The phone can play DivX and Xvid video files, and the screen is crystal clear and large enough to comfortably watch movies. There is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and it's the first mobile phone to offer Dolby Mobile, a new sound-enhancing technology from Dolby Laboratories. We weren't able to completely evaluate this feature in the limited time we had with the handset, but the test videos and music did sound quite impressive.

Memory is also impressive, with 8GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot that theoretically supports cards of up to 32GB. The Arena also features Wi-Fi, built-in GPS, a 5-megapixel camera and HSDPA 7.2Mbps connectivity.

Somewhat disappointing is the lack of an application store similar to the iPhone's App Store, Google's Android Market or BlackBerry's App World. When quizzed on why the Arena doesn't offer downloadable applications, an LG spokesperson said that "that’s the way the trends are heading but there are no plans in place at this stage".

The LG Arena will be initially available from Vodafone for $0 upfront on a $69 or $79 plan over 24 months. It can also be purchased outright for $799.

Be sure to check back soon for a full review of the LG Arena!

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Ross Catanzariti

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