On Monday, I covered the external hardware aspects of the LG Shine I've been loaned. For the time being, I'm going to skip the actual phone features, and play with the sound effects, ringtones and music features it offers instead.
First thing to do is get some music onto the phone. My track of choice for this test is "Indra" by Thievery Corporation. While this particular model only includes about 45MB of usable space for music, photos and other stuff, it does include a microSD slot for adding more memory. An extra 2GB will set you back about £30 right now.
Transferring by Bluetooth wasn't such a great idea: probably thanks to my wimpy little Bluetooth 1.1 dongle, it was taking far too long to transfer the 9MB MP3 file. So, I hoiked out the USB cable that came with the phone. When connected, the phone shuts off its GSM functions, thereby ceasing to be a functioning mobile phone. It then appears as a removable drive on my Mac, presenting a list of folders, such as "Documents", "Images", "Videos" and "Sounds".
Over USB, the transfer is significantly quicker, although still not instant. If I was using a microSD card rather than the phone's built-in memory, I'd probably want to use a proper USB card reader, rather than connecting to the phone itself. This isn't particularly unusual for flash-based peripherals: my big, expensive dSLR camera takes hours to transfer files over USB.
The file played just fine. It sounds exactly how you'd expect for a mobile phone loudspeaker... a little bit tinny. My recent Nokia phones have slightly better loudspeaker sound, but it's a close call. Regardless, it's still a small mono speaker designed for playing ringtones, so I wouldn't expect audio excellence. It's not clear if it's the same speaker that's used for the in-call earpiece, but I don't think so.
What really matters when it comes to music playback is how it sounds on earphones. Like the majority of MP3 phones, the Shine doesn't have a headphone stereo jack socket. Instead, you have to plug the headset/remote into the side port. This means you can't charge the phone and listen to music at the same time, as you may want to do at work, for example.
For the purposes of this test, I'm going to compare the Shine against my iPod, using both the included earphones and my Shure E2Cs. The included earphones that came with this pre-release Shine are branded "Cyon", which I understand is the brand name LG use to sell the phone in Korea. I'd be surprised if they kept that branding in Europe, but whether they just rebadge the same earphones or include new ones is anyone's guess.
The earphones are sturdier than average freebie earphones, with long metal stalks, thin cables, and a gold-plated jack. As with all standard earbuds, they fall out of my ears at the slightest provocation. I'm starting to think my ears are Teflon-coated. As far as the sound's concerned, they're about the same as the white ones that came with my iPod, so easily good enough for most people. I must point out that while my hearing's not bad, I'm not a discerning audiophile. However, I can tell the difference between the Shine earphones and my E2Cs, which is why I spent 50 quid on the E2Cs: freebie earphones can only be so good.
So, for a fair test of the phone itself, I'm using the E2Cs, jammed deep into my ear canals. Comparing the quality between the Shine and my iPod 60GB, I just can't tell the difference. It's too close for me to distinguish between them. The sound quality is fine.
Of course, the Shine isn't a dedicated music player, so the iPod beats it on a number of other counts: for a start, the user interface is basic. You select a track, and you click to play it. It's got shuffle, repeat, and a load of equaliser presets, but there's no artist/album categorisation, or even any form of hierarchical organisation, and you can forget about playlists, album art, and ratings, too. It's a phone, damnit!
Using the headset for calls
Next thing to try is using this headset to talk to people... you know... like as a phone. For no particular reason, I'm leaving all the principal capabilities of this gadget, such as its capacity as a telecommunications device, until the end.
Anyway, here I am, listening to music, and my friend Steve calls. Rather than pausing the music, it just takes it off the headset, and plays is quietly through the phone's normal earpiece. (Note, it's not as loud as just listening to music on speakerphone, which is what makes me think there are two loudspeakers in there: one for ringtones and speakerphone, and one for normal phone-like use.)
I accept the call by pressing the "SEND/END" button on the remote. The music is pauses, and Hey presto, Steve says "Hello". The wonders of modern technology. I yabber on with Steve for a minute, while he complains about just waking up and the lack of coffee in his system. The call ends, and I press "SEND/END" again. I was hoping the music would automatically resume, but no such luck. It is, however, only one click to get it going again, though.
Steve says that the call quality is fine, and I can hear him perfectly well too. No problems with the headset at all.
The Shine likes to make noise. By default, every button press yields a different "bip", "bop", "prang", "click" or "kachunk". On occasion, you even get a musical gurgle of some description. My favourite, as I've mentioned before, is the "dum-dum-dum-dum-DAAH" you get when sliding the phone open and closed. It can be replaced by a "water drippy click", or switched off entirely.
I've recorded the slide-open sound, dialling a number and then a slide-close: SlideAndDiallingANumber.mp3.
There isn't a wide range of choice when it comes to these effects, though. I would like to see some sort of "audio theme" functionality, where a sound effect scheme can be set up. I can guarantee that the sound of Kirk opening his communicator on Star Trek would be a bestseller.
Another neat little feature is the musical sound of the keypad. Rather than using the standard DTMF effects typical of dialling a phone, all the keypad buttons have a different note. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you... The Star-Spangled Banner:
You think that's ridiculous? Wait until you hear some of the tunes that came with this thing.
On the good side, most of the tracks here aren't too bad as ringtones go. "Above the Sky" is pleasant, and there are some pretty basic sound effects like "Vintage Telephone", if you don't feel like torturing your colleagues, friends and family. All ringtones are stored as MP3s, rather than MIDI-style polyphonics.
It's when you come to "Acappella Beatbox" that things start to get silly. The very name fills me with dread, and it sounds like this: AcappellaBeatbox.mp3. Oh, the humanity.
Further down the list is "Good Morning": GoodMorning.mp3. While being woken up by this every morning would quickly lead to the Shine being embedded in a Shine-shaped cavity in my bedroom wall one morning, this insipid song is not actually intended as a sound effect for the phone's alarm clock. For that, you have to choose from a separate collection of MIDI-style tunes, featuring instrumental versions of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and "Fly Me To The Moon".
"Life is Good" (LifeIsGood.mp3) is a true masterpiece. The lyrics are just insane:
Life is good!
Life is good in the neighbourhood!
It's anything you wish, anything you desire.
Life is good and it's understood
If you're smart, you can start by listening to your heart,
Take part in a journey, exploring a dream,
where Liyee-liyee-life is good!
Some of LG's efforts are more successful. While Pop rock isn't really my taste, the track "This Time" is far less cheesy, and is a good effort: ThisTime.mp3.
Regardless, I'm going to stick with my normal idiosyncratic ringtone: old-school modem tones. There are a few reasons I use this ringtone, other than geek bravado. Firstly, no-one else seems to use it so it's recognisable to me, and secondly, it's specifically designed to test the accoustic properties of the medium by testing different frequencies and patterns. This means that it's the most universally audible ringtone I've ever found. It goes through walls; it cuts through background noise; and it goes "pertwang-pertwang" in a funny way.
It also makes it a good test of the Shine and how well it can be heard from around the house. The result? Not great, at the moment. From the kitchen, I only noticed it was going at all when it started twanging. The reason is that the Shine starts off quiet and increases the volume slowly, by which time, voicemail kicks in. I've been told by LG that this has been fixed for the release version.
The range of text message alert tones is a little disappointing. On my Nokia, I use my own track: a full recording of Tárrega's Gran Vals, made famous the world over by the thirteen-note section now known as "Nokia Tune". On the Shine, you're limited to four short preset tones, including another opus, "Tone 4". You can hear them all here: MessageTones.mp3.
The LG Shine sounds nice in many ways, but it does have some limitations which could (and in some cases, will) be fixed with a firmware upgrade. In particular, I'm afraid the message tone limitation could turn out to be a major flaw. Even with my loud and configurable Nokia, I sometimes miss text messages when they arrive, especially when I'm on headphones. That's going to happen a lot more unless that problem's solved.
As a music player, it's good enough for casual use. Better than an iPod Shuffle, but not as good as an iPod Nano. The lack of a standard headphone socket means that to use it you'll have to carry the headset/remote too, but since you'll be carrying the earphones anyway, that's no big deal.
While this phone has all the main features it should, its main design goal has obviously not been features and capabilities, but aesthetics and physical desirability. As I mentioned in my earlier post, it's a beautiful piece of kit and a pleasure to hold. When it comes down to it, the music and sound-effect capabilities aren't outstanding, but they're good enough. LG have chosen a fairly lighthearted and fun set of sounds to put on this thing, even if some of the tones are unintentionally hilarious.
I like this phone, and I still haven't found anything with this phone that would put me off buying it. True, there are a few quirks and bugs, and being the irascible pedant that I am, I mention them all. Considering this is a pre-release unit though, I'm very impressed by the overall software quality. No phone is perfect, and this one has better than the release software quality of most phones I've used, and in most cases better than the most recent firmware upgrades available.
Follow-up: The Great Outdoors
In Monday's post, I admitted that I hadn't tried this phone outside yet. In Portishead this morning, it was sunny and freezing cold, so I spent some time shivering in the garden for you. The answer to the big question of whether that gorgeous mirror-like screen works in the sunshine... is a resounding "NO!" As expected. Very few mobiles with colour backlit screens are legible in the daylight anyway, but can sometimes be viewed by shading the screen with your hand. That technique doesn't seem to work quite as well for the Shine. You still end up looking at a reflection of yourself.
Continue on to the final part of my review: "LG Shine KE970: Everything Else".
(To reiterate: The phone is on loan to me by LG’s representatives at the LG Shine Blog. However, I have absolutely no obligation to write anything nice about their product, or even write anything at all. This review is solely my remarkably uninformed opinion, and you shouldn't bet your life on its veracity. In particular, this thing's pre-release and stuff could change, especially once the money-grubbing networks get their hands on the firmware and wreck it.)