I've been eager to have a play with the 3G Shine since I received the 2G one six months ago. As luck wouldn't have it, I had just switched from Orange to the 3G-only Three network a month or so before. So, I couldn't use the Shine I received as my primary phone. Instead, it's had an Orange PAYG SIM installed which I must admit I've mainly used for getting cheap cinema tickets.
As I said in my previous review, the Shine is -- for the most part -- a great phone. It's physically attractive and pleasant to use; the software is clean and well-designed; and overall it's an unassuming little unit.
Receiving the Shine coincided with my growing realisation that, gadget freak as I am, I'm actually happier with a "dumbphone" than a smartphone. Writing blog entries and playing Texas Hold-Em while walking across a tightrope over the river Amazon might sound appealing, but making and receiving calls is far more important to me. In my experience, smartphones tend to be slow and more prone to crashes, while also being large and unwieldly. I started to miss the old days of the tiny little Nokia 8310, and firmware that actually responds to keypresses instantly. For a while it seems that the more advanced (esp. Symbian-based) phones I've had are completely incapable of reacting to the red button when you've accidentally conferenced your ex-girlfriend with 999, for example.
So, the 2G Shine was a breath of fresh air.
Here comes the 3G version
To be honest, there's very little I can say about the 3G Shine. Physically, it's almost identical. There's the addition of the secondary video-call camera, neatly done. Inside the back case, there's a small reconfiguration of the layout, including the removal of the external memory slot, replacing it with hardwired memory instead. A few manufacturing tweaks and a little bit of subtle network partner branding, but otherwise it's the same. Same size, same shape, and from what I can tell, same weight. This is not a bad thing... the Shine was a neat enough package as it was, so the fact that they've managed to cram the 3G kit into the same form factor is impressive, and a testament to how close 2G and 3G technology are finally coming.
So, what about the other differences? This is where I drop the clanger: I don't know. This is solely down to one thing... the firmware. The 2G Shine I received in January was a pre-release unit with generic firmware. Nice, simple and clean. The 3G Shine I received seems to be a release unit, utterly crudded up with Vodafone customisations.
(It's externally branded with the "Proximus" logo, so I'm assuming this one's got Benelux firmware, but knowing Vodafone, it's probably the case everywhere. I don't know for a fact what the release firmware is or will be like on other networks in other countries, but I'm just going on what I've got here)
I'm always disliked vendor's custom firmware. I've never used custom firmware that's any better than the generic, and it's usually slower, crashier and far more limiting.
While I've bitched about Orange screwing with the firmware before, I've always appreciated that it's nowhere near as bad as the massacre Vodafone regularly perpetrates on everything they get near. They tend to rip out handy features, mess with the UI, and then scatter a liberal helping of "Vodafone Live!" nonsense everywhere. On some phones, they even go to the extent of excluding the "Live!" button from the keylock, which is just plain stupid, and at worst, a machiavellian way of ramping up bills through accidental data usage.
So, in my opinion, the Vodafone customisations on this Shine have destroyed any usability plus-points I've mentioned before. They've cut out the nice, clean anti-aliased fonts in favour of a hideous jagged console font. They've added a tonne of crap to the main menu, making it harder to navigate quickly. They've reassigned action buttons to illogical places. They've removed a lot of the customisation functions. Least importantly, but perhaps most disappointingly: they've removed all the ludicrous but fun tunes and other nonsense. And with all that, it seems that the only thing they've added to the mix is the excretable forementioned "Live!".
This has annoyed me to the point that I just don't want to use this thing. I was fully intending to use it as my primary phone for a week or so, but I just couldn't do it. It's too damn disappointing. I actually prefer my Nokia 6280, which is truly surprising.
I'm sure that if I was comparing the two units with generic firmware, I'd be raving about the 3G Shine, while still bemoaning the lack of Apple iSync and a couple of the other points I mentioned last time.
Instead, I'm putting this thing back in the box. It may be harsh, but it's what I would be doing if I'd bought it for real.
Shame on you, yet again, Vodafone. SHAME!!! With your heavy-handed alterations, you've ruined a lovely product.
(This total overreaction was made possible by the support of LG’s representatives at the LG Shine Blog. I've got no obligation to write anything nice about their product, or even write anything at all. Gladly, I also have no obligation to use the thing either. Regardless of what I think of the phone, I'd like to applaud LG for this blogger outreach programme, which I think has been well-executed and seemingly worthwhile for everyone involved)