LG has fashioned some striking phones over the years. Handsets like the Chocolate, Prada, Shine and the Secret all dined out on their unique looks and the manufacturer’s latest touch slider, the Crystal, sports another eye-catching design flourish – a translucent keypad.
A strong whiff of gimmickry certainly surrounds this see-through design and we can’t see any functional reason for its transparency other than to attract onlookers. However, while it may provoke curious stares, the touch-sensitive keypad actually has a more important role to play than just pure eye-candy.
The keypad doubles as a second touch interface, alongside the 3in touchscreen, letting you swipe through the four homescreen while acting as a mouse pad for web browsing, a surface to scrawl when using handwriting recognition or gesture shortcuts or for prompting the camera zoom.
The idea behind this intriguing move is to keep the main screen free of probing fingers that might obscure the view. It certainly rings true when web browsing and using it as a track pad to guide the mouse cursor around web pages feels surprisingly natural.
The same goes for the camera zoom; a circular clockwise motion kicks the zoom into action and is quick to move in and out. It’s a shame LG couldn’t apply this action for zooming on web pages but you do get multi-touch a la the iPhone. It’s very responsive but lacks the finesse of its rival from Cupertino.
Gesture shortcuts feel like LG over-egging the touch pudding. You can assign 12 finger patterns or squiggles to nine functions. It works fine but the fact you can customise the same shortcuts in the homescreen means gesture control becomes utterly laborious and unnecessary.
Similarly, learning the handwriting recognition strokes feels like too much hard work when the traditional phone touch keypad and an onscreen QWERTY are more efficient. That said, like the Arena and Viewty Smart, the cramped full keyboard takes time to tame.
While it may be a design talking point and built from robust plastic and reinforced metal edges, the keypad still feels a little to dime-store. And because it’s very lightweight, it also makes the phone feel top heavy when texting one handed.
LG’s highly customisable S-Class interface, as seen on the Arena and Viewty Smart, is great to use. However, we’re not sure if we got ourselves a rogue sample but the interface seemed a little sluggish at times compared to its stablemates.
The camera set up and menu arrangement is similar to the Viewty Smart but without the Intelligent Auto Shot mode and the quality Schneider Kreuznach endorsed lens. The flash is tolerable but like all LEDs is prone to blow out in white areas.
An ISO 1600 setting does help out in low-light conditions although the auto focus struggled in this mode and the results proved a little too grainy for our liking.
General picture quality produced good strong colours but close-up blighted with noise and inconsistent definition. That said, it should be good enough for most point and shooters.
Like the Arena and Viewty Smart, the built-in D1 camcorder delivers footage in a smooth 720x480 pixel resolution at 30fps. You also get the now obligatory slow-mo setting and support for the DivX format with playback proving very slick and sharp.
The Dolby Mobile setting on the intuitive music player brilliantly buffs up your tunes but with no integrated 3.5mm headphone jack, you’re at the mercy of an adapter.
Of course, the tunes sound better through you own headphones but the Crystal still managed to sound a bit muddy, even with Dolby Mobile mode activated.
Web browsing skips along at brisk HSDPA speeds with faster Wi-Fi taking up the slack if you find a wireless hotspot. Perhaps our biggest frustration with the Crystal is the lack of onboard GPS; it’s something we expected on a handset of this calibre.
LG’s rep for fanciful design lives on with the Crystal and its see-through keypad definitely possesses that initial wow factor.
Unfortunately, the novelty wears off quicker than a fake tattoo and you’re left with a decent but disjointed phone that overcooks the touch techniques. In the clamour to standout, LG has overlooked the simple things.