The LG Viewty Smart GC900 packs an 8-megapixel camera into a slim package, but, like most camera phones, it can't overcome its tiny lens and CCD, so its photos are a mixed bag. Its interface is equally two-sided, offering a quick phone dialling pad but a nightmarishly slow soft keyboard that requires a steady hand and nerves of steel to type a coherent message.
You can pick up the Viewty Smart from free on a £35-per-month contract or for £320 on pay as you go, both with O2.
Noisy as a herd of
The Viewty Smart rocks an 8-megapixel camera, but it's plasticky proof that megapixels aren't everything. Like all camera phones, you shouldn't expect to see the same quality pics that you would get from even a cheap compact camera with the same number of megapixels -- the tiny lens and small CCD just can't produce a great image, especially in low light.
We took a range of photos in bright and dim light to test the Viewty Smart's photographic chops, and the results were a mixed bag. We appreciated the fairly accurate colour reproduction, good contrast and exposure levels, and true skin tones, but darker areas of the image were streaked with bands of coloured noise. The camera's LED photo light does a good job of illuminating large areas, but is very harsh against closer objects.
We tested both of the Viewty Smart's automatic modes -- 'auto' and 'intelligent shot' (IS) -- but we didn't find an appreciable difference in the quality of the photos. One feature of IS that we particularly like is the ability to choose what to focus on by touching the screen. But it takes more than a tap -- you have to hold the screen until the focus box goes green, then the photo fires off when you remove your finger. It's more fun that using the shutter button, although our finger blocked the part of the image that we were most interested in, which could be an issue when waiting for someone to smile, for example.
There is, however, smile-detection capability, and the Viewty Smart had no trouble detecting our gleaming gnashers. Irritatingly, though, whatever setting we chose, everything got reset to default once we exited the camera. The camera's user interface is clean-looking and pleasant to use, but that doesn't mean we want to tap through the same options every time we turn it on.
A camera phone is perfect for capturing unexpected events and spontaneous pub shenanigans, when shutter lag can be a real pain. But, with the Viewty Smart, the 2-second lag using the auto mode in bright light, and 3-second lag in low light, will definitely put a damper on your paparazzi dreams.
Editing in the slow
Once you've taken your snaps, there are heaps of image-editing options. One of the quirkiest is 'fog drawing', which lets you create a grey haze over your image by blowing into the microphone, and then wiping away areas with your fingertip to reveal parts of the image underneath. It's like a cheesy iPhone app, without being nearly as fun or elegant. Like many of the editing options we tried, it's sluggish to use. Long delays between our eager taps, and the phone's languid response, left us frustrated.
Syncing killed the
The Viewty Smart also shoots video, and includes slow-motion and fast-motion options. The video quality didn't impress us, though. It looks blocky and compressed even though the Viewty Smart's screen is bright and clear.
We had no trouble transferring video to our YouTube account using the built-in uploader, but syncing to our PC over USB was a different story -- and one with an unhappy ending. LG's PC Suite III is confusing to use, due to poorly-translated messages, and it's inflexible, too -- it wouldn't let us define where we wanted videos to be put on our PC, for example.
We could only sync our media in one direction at a time, and we had to change our settings to go the other way. Our test videos made it onto the phone with no trouble, but the files didn't get converted automatically, so we ended up with an MP4 file on the phone that we couldn't watch. But we were happy to see that the Viewty Smart supports the DivX and Xvid file formats, which are popular among downloaders.
The Viewty Smart also has Dolby Mobile, a set of digital audio-processing features that aims to make your phone's audio output sound less like a distant nest of hornets. Dolby says the feature adds 'surround sound' and 'spaciousness' when you're using headphones. But there's no standard headphone jack on this mid-range phone, so you'll have to use the included headphone adaptor to get the most out of it.
The Viewty Smart features LG's S-Class user interface. This phone wisely does away with the pointless spinning cube, with its own dedicated button, that we saw on the LG Arena KM900. Instead, there's just one long button across the bottom that kicks you out onto the home screen. From there, you can swipe your finger across the display to access the four home screens and their shortcuts for things like your favourite contacts. You can also tap the menu icon to see all of the options laid out in rows, iPhone-style.
The user interface isn't as fast as the iPhone's, but it's quick enough to avoid being frustrating. One gigantic exception is the on-screen keyboard, which is far too slow. When you only have a soft keypad to make a call or write a text, any delay between tapping the letter and it appearing on the screen can be frustrating and lead to errors galore.
As we found with the Arena, there's a slight delay between pressing the keys and the letters appearing, both with the alphanumeric keypad in portrait orientation, and the Qwerty keypad in landscape mode. Also, any keys that we tapped during the lag didn't register, so we frequently missed letters out, rendering our messages nonsensical. The T9 predictive text didn't help us when we hit a nearby letter accidentally, unlike with the HTC Magic, and we didn't find an easy way to reject its over-complicated suggestions.
We found typing on the Viewty Smart irritating, and had to turn off the predictive text and rely on standard tapping. We wouldn't recommend the Viewty Smart to experienced texters with lightning-fast thumbs.
Smooth surfing but
The Viewty Smart's Web browser does a good job of rendering complex Web pages like those of our favourite site, CNET UK. Although the 76mm (3-inch) screen feels slightly smaller than the display of some other phones because of its big bezel, tiny text is still readable thanks to the WVGA (480x800-pixel) resolution.
The Viewty Smart has multitouch zoom capability, so you can zoom into a page by pinching your fingers together, but we found it sluggish. There's a delay of about a second between the pinch and the response. As a result, we couldn't see our zooming in real-time, making it hard to be accurate.
Despite its 8 megapixels, the LG Viewty Smart GC900 won't be replacing your compact camera anytime soon. Photo positives like good colour reproduction and a pleasant camera user interface are outweighed by shutter lag and noisy dark areas, and the video didn't impress us much either. Making calls is painless thanks to a snappy dialling pad, but we struggled to send text messages and emails because of the unresponsive on-screen keyboard and poor predictive text.
Touchscreens have evolved a great deal since the much-loved LG Viewty KU990 -- look at the Samsung Tocco Lite, for example, which manages to make a resistive touchscreen feel fun, and is free on a £12-per-month contract -- so the Viewty Smart has plenty of competition. It's not without its strengths, but we can't help feeling it languishes in the land of mediocrity.
Edited by Charles Kloet