Although it promises a top-quality imaging performance with its 8-megapixel camera, the LG Renoir KC910 is a mobile that offers much more than picture perfect snapping.
The successor to LG's popular Viewty, the Renoir is another touchscreen-controlled device that combines high-class imaging with top-end phone features.
Alongside its 8-million pixel sensor, Schneider-Kreuznach certified lens and standalone camera-like gadgetry the LG KC910 has Wi-Fi support, high-speed HSDPA 3G mobile connectivity, A-GPS positioning technology - and some punchy multimedia functionality.
Dolby music support
The onboard music player is bolstered by Dolby Mobile audio processing – a first for a UK mobile phone - while LG is supplying an 8GB MicroSD memory card in with the phone for a hefty amount of out-of-the-box storage.
Like the Viewty, the Renoir has decent video capture facilities too, with VGA quality shooting, plus slow-motion and time-lapse capture options. In addition DivX and Xvid video playback is supported.
There's a decent spread of additional gadgetry included – although unlike some high-end phones the Renoir doesn't enjoy the flexibility of a smartphone operating system, limiting its application customisation compared to, say, the iPhone 3G or T-Mobile G1 'Google Phone'.
Naturally for any touchscreen device, there'll be iPhone comparisons made, and the Renoir's minimalist black-fronted design doesn't go out of its way to avoid them. At a fraction under 14mm thin, it's a slim pocketful of high-tech phone gadgetry.
Its overall dimensions – 107.8(h) x 55.9(w) x 13.95(d) mm - and 110g mean it has a bigger footprint than the Viewty, but is slimmer, despite its upgraded camera. It's smaller and lighter than the iPhone, though that superior camera makes it a shade thicker.
The Renoir has a 3-inch WQVGA (240x400 pixel) 262K-colour touchscreen display, smaller and less detailed than Apple's device, but it's still a good size for viewing snapshots, browsing the web and checking out videos.
It has a built in accelerometer, which flips the screen automatically between landscape and portrait in certain functions – multimedia viewing, messaging, and browsing, for example - to optimise your screen view.
Importantly, though, the large screen size also provides ample room for finger-tapping control. It's spacious enough to avoid the frustrating mis-pressing or cramped feeling you get from some tiny-screened touch-operated efforts.
The tidy front fascia has three low-key buttons in a row under the display (Call, End and a central Multitasking button), plus a discreet low-resolution video call camera above.
The plastic panel covering the front is the usual sort of smudge-attractor, though it's perfectly fine when using the handset.
Around the back, a slick graphite finish accentuates the camera look and feel. The lens pokes out a bare few millimetres.
It has a slider-operated cover to protect the optics; unlike the Viewty, there's no zoom control ring around it, relying instead on a more conventional zoom rocker on the side/top of the phone/camera that doubles up as the volume control – and a touchscreen zoom option.
LG's done a good usability job on the touchscreen control system. It's an evolution of the user interface used on previous models such as the KF700, but feels smoother and more responsive.
LG has made improvements to the set-up – scrolling through lists feels more fluid, for example, and controls react swiftly to finger action.
Haptic feedback is present, letting you know when buttons are pressed, and the strength can be adjusted if you prefer. LG has also upgraded the quality and quantity of widgets users can pull up on to the home screen.
The user interface is based around four main onscreen buttons at the bottom of the display; tapping these brings up options for dialling (a virtual onscreen numberpad), contacts, messaging and main menu selection.
Pleasant user experience
Pressing the menu button pulls up a vertical tool bar of sub menu categories – communicate, entertainment, utilities and settings. As you tap these, the main part of the screen changes to show application icons for these specific categories.
It's all nicely arranged, clear to understand and easy to navigate. When you tap an app, you either open it up or get a conventional list of options you can scroll through with a swipe of the finger.
Although it may not be as smooth and effortless as the iPhone's interface, LG has made a very usable system that has the virtue of not being overcomplicated whilst still being sophisticated enough.
For example, in applications where text input is required, such as messaging or memo writing, the Renoir can switch automatically between a regular phone numberpad layout when it's held upright to a virtual Qwerty keyboard when the phone's held sideways. No fiddly menu selection is required.
The Qwerty keyboard works very effectivelty too – the keys are small, but are responsive and operate responsively to tapping, even for large-fingered folk. We were pleasantly surprised.
LG has also brought more sophisticated onscreen widgets to the Renoir. These can be added to the home screen from a pre-loaded selection.
Tapping a small 'W' button onscreen brings up a tool bar along the bottom, with smoothly flick-browsable widget icons for applications such as music player, FM radio, image gallery, an online weather forecast app, world clock, calendar, notes and speed dialling.
These can be dragged and dropped onto the home screen for immediate access to certain apps. It's a system much like that used on Samsung's TouchWiz touchscreen phones such as the Tocco and Pixon.
We'd have liked to have seen some more flexibility for cutomising it by adding different apps – in a smartphone kind of way – but it works well within its limitations.
High quality camera
The headline-grabbing 8-megapixel camera also relies on touchscreen control for its extensive settings control adjustments and picture snapping gadgetry. Its imaging performance can be excellent with that sensor enabling an enormous amount of detail to be processed.
Image detail is impressive and colour reproduction looks great on outdoors shots. The camera copes very well with varying lighting conditions too, producing some fine pictures. And with a xenon flash, indoors and low-light shooting are better than you get on most cameraphones.
The only issue we had was with auto white balance for indoors shots, which sometimes benefited from manual settings adjustment.
The responsive autofocus system gets a boost from a fine selection of digital camera-like software. A great Touch Shot option enables you to focus on part of an image simply by touching the subject on the screen you want in focus and taking your finger off to take the snap.
A Smile Shot option using clever processing technology to capture an image only when it detects a smile, and a Blink Detection option does something similar to avoid capturing closed eyes. Beauty Shot actually touches up shots as you're taking them to eliminate spots and blemishes – a kind of automatic air-brushing.
Other camera gadgetry includes red-eye reduction and anti-shake image stabiliser, while there's a top range of settings adjustments you can make for ISO levels, white balance, exposure and so on.
The touchscreen user interface is again sophisticated but manageable, and not off-puttingly complicated. And there's a huge variety of post-shooting editing options to play with too.
Following the Viewty tradition, video capture quality is a notch or two above most other mobiles. It can shoot in maximum VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution at up to 30 frames per second, so footage plays back clear and smoothly.
Alternatively, you can shoot in slow motion mode (120 fps, QVGA resolution) for a neat slo-mo playback effect, or on another setting capture slow moving images (5fps) for time-lapse style playback. Footage can be easily uploaded to YouTube too, courtesy of an option in the recorder software.
Thanks to the large display, video playback looks good onscreen. That 8GB card can be used to store video as well as music, and it's easy enough to view videos copied from a PC or downloaded over the air via Wi-Fi or mobile connectivity.
DivX and Xvid are both supported on the Renoir, and there's a TV-out option to plug and play back video on a bigger screen.
Enhanced music player
The music player on the Renoir benefits from the addition of Dolby Mobile audio processing technology, which has been developed to enhance mobile phone music playback quality.
Here it works very well, boosting certain frequencies - including thumping bass - and creating a wider soundscape, giving a very pleasing audio experience. Again, the music player works efficiently with a decent, intuitive user interface.
While not as sophisticated as Apple's iPhone, the tune-player does a capable job for playback quality.
LG hasn't though included a standard headphone 3.5mm jack socket on the phone body – something that we like seeing on any phone serious about music. Instead, it boxes a 2-piece headset which has an in-line 3.5mm adapter socket.
This isn't the most elegant solution, but it means you can add your own better quality headphones to maximise the phone's audio performance; the in-box LG earphones are fine, but nothing special, so you can make a real difference with a decent set of ear-wear.
The lack of a separate 3.5mm headphone socket means you can't use the LG USB/charger/earphone connector for charging while listening to music or video content or using TV-out, which can be a pain if you don't want to run your battery down.
Alternatively, you could invest in a set of Bluetooth headphones. The earphones still need to be plugged in, however to listen in to the phone's FM radio.
Although the phone only has 70MB of internal memory, the 8GB MicroSD card supplied gives ample out-of-the-box room for music, video, high res images and other content.
Location-based services are becoming de-rigeur on high-end mobiles now, and the Renoir has its own A-GPS technology packed inside.
A suite of Google software can come pre-loaded on the phone (though not every mobile network operator version of the Renoir carries it), which includes the useful Google Maps application.
Google Maps can be used for spot-on location finding, mapping, route-finding and searches. It's not full-blown Sat Nav voice guided software, however, and there was no other Sat Nav mapping onboard our review sample – just a Jogging Buddy A-GPS assisted application for monitoring and recording running performances.. While that worked well enough, and the A-GPS was zippy enough getting a fix, we felt LG could have made more of this feature.
The absence of a smartphone operating system means the sort of sophisticated Sat Nav software packages available for Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile devices can't be added.
As it is, GPS can be used for geo-tagging photos – adding location details which can be used to display on a Google map or other mapping service the exact position where snaps have been taken.
Online phone services
With Wi-Fi and HSDPA, the phone's well geared up for online activity. As well as fast upload options for image to Blogger accounts, and video clips to YouTube, there's a full web browser that works well.
Pages appear fast, and it's easy to zoom in and out, and you can tab and switch between two sites at the tap of the screen. It does a decent job for a mobile – although it's not as slick and easy as the iPhone's browser. Downloading stuff, or viewing streamed content is suitably efficient too.
Among the other apps LG has included on the Renoir are a couple of motion-sensitive M-Toy games, although these are a bit weak compared to others we've seen on the LG Secret. A selection of other regular Java games is included too.
Naturally, the Renoir is set up for more serious stuff. A Picsel document viewer is included for viewing files sent as email attachments or loaded onto the phone, while the phone ticks the usual list of organiser functionality with calendar, to do lists, voice recorder, memo function, various clock options, calculator and a convertor.
On basic voice calls, the LG Renoir KC910 works fine with clear and reliable connections. The virtual numberpad arrangement is no hassle to use either.
In terms of battery life, LG estimates that the Renoir can run for up to 350 hours on standby or 220 minutes of talktime. Real world performance is going to depend on exactly how much the more power-hungry gadgetry onboard is being used – a potential issue for any feature-packed phone like this.
With our average levels of usage we got a couple of days between charges, but other Renoir users who use its features more intensely may find more frequent charging is necessary.
Fine LG phone
As a successor to the Viewty, LG has certainly raised the bar with the Renoir KC910. It's packed with a heck of a lot more gadgetry for your bucks – with that feature-packed 8-megapixel shooter making it one of the most impressive cameraphones we've yet seen.
The A-GPS system on our review sample didn't appear to be as well-exploited as it could have been on our, but features like Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity, a fine music player and top-class mobile video options give the Renoir more than just hot-shot camera appeal.
Network availability: Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Vodafone
Ease of use: 4/5
Call quality: 4.5/5