LG has made so many different 3G phones for 3, that the evolution of this ever-popular clamshell range has been particularly subtle, with slight changes marking one model from another. But the most recent U880,was something different. Out of the blue, the flip-open slimmed right down to be transformed into a real stunner. It added tons of street cred at the same time with a really usable MP3 player, that had external controls and an expandable memory.
With the next stage in the evolutionary path, it is back to playing spot the difference. At first glance of both the phone and the specification the U890 is near identical to its predecessor. Small though they might seem, a couple of the changes that have been made are significant. With 3 and the other 3G networks beginning to sell Mobile TV hard, this becomes the first phone that we have seen that has been specifically designed for its use.
With a single button you can get yourself to the channel selection screen - there's none of the usual menu hunting and button frenzy that you usually have to go through to switch on this soon-to-be must-have feature. And with another single button, you can expand the picture to fill the whole screen area.
For the music lovers out there, the more significant change to the handset is that it becomes one of the first handsets to support stereo Bluetooth. Although Bluetooth has become a near-essential feature for swapping files and for handsfree headsets, the wireless technology in nearly all phones is capable only of transmitting a single audio channel. That's fine for beaming across voice calls - but not so great for listening to music.
Stereo Bluetooth is coming to lots of new handsets in the coming months. But at present can only be found on a small selection of models. LG and 3 have therefore stolen the march on many other manufacturers by adding the necessary A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) compatibility with this upgrade - and makes the handset particularly enticing to those who want an MP3 mobile.
It doesn't look it, but the U-phone has also slimmed out some more in the intervening months. According to our measurements, the U890 is about 2mm thinner - and has lost about 4g on the scales - when compared to the U880.
The phone uses two colour LCD screens, and the one on the outside is not just for telling the time and for warning who is ringing you. The square external panel is also enables you to use either the camera or the MP3 player without having to open up the flip.
Open up the lid, however, and you get a good-sized 176x220-pixel screen that is well suited to the task of video conferencing or for movie watching. As with the LG U880, every pixel of the display can be used when watching downloaded clips or streamed TV broadcasts; a simple softkey allows you to flip the picture through 90° and expand it to fill the available area.
Holding the flip-phone sideways to take advantage of this feels kind of awkward. But the advantage that this affords in terms of viewing experience makes it worth getting used to. The external speaker is sensibly positioned at the side of the screen to help the cinematic effect.
LG has tried hard with the styling of the U890. The lowprofile effect is just the start. There's also a RAZResque etched keypad and electric blue detailing to consider. Pink and grey versions are also being made.
While you can spend £100 on a set of stereo Bluetooth ear-hugging headphones, most people will undoubtedly make do with the no-expense option of using the earbuds that come with the phone. These are not particularly comfortable to wear, but they do the job of providing a nice audio experience well enough. Sound is rich and detailed, and certainly gives better tonality than many so-called music phones.
Don't make the mistake, however, of pulling out the proprietary plug and using the speakerphone for your MP3 tracks. The tinny sound it produces may be fine for podcasts but won't do justice to your favourite music.
One feature that LG still has not updated is the camera. You still have to make do with a 1.3- megapixel affair - no bad thing, but other 3G phones are now starting to push up the megapixel count. What's more, it is a fixed focus camera so macro closeups are out of the question. Despite all this, the images that the camera turns in are rather good.
There's a lot more detail in close-ups than the tech specs might suggest, and colours and exposure are close enough to the mark to be able to deliver presentable 4x6in prints. You get a reasonable amount of creative control over the image, too - although the rotating lens is rather awkward to use.
A flash has now been added but as this is fixed in position, you have to ensure that it's pointing the same way as the lens. As the flash has such a negligible effect, it is not really worth switching on in the first place. The phone comes with a pretty hefty amount of onboard memory - some 80MB in fact. But this can be boosted by the addition of miniature microSD cards.
As has become the norm with 3's handsets, you don't get given much in terms of preloaded games. You'll find that copies of Zuma and Jumbo Rumbo are listed in the menu - but to play these you need to cough up 50p for a 72-hour pass. The phone does not have a full web browser, however users can sign up for 3's own web service, which provides access to certain compatible sites for £2.50 a month.
One of the unwelcome changes between the U880 and U890 is that the latest model has a less impressive battery standby time. But although the quoted running time has decreased, the U890 managed to put in a creditable performance (by 3G standards) when it came to our field test.
The power pack kept the handset running for 74 hours, during which we did our fair share of watching TV, playing MP3s, and beaming picture files we had shot via Bluetooth.
What we like about this mobile is the way in which it is so ready to help you get the most out of your 3G experience. Its full-screen display, its memory, its controls - all are constructed so that you can get enjoyment and value out of downloads and add-ons. Chris George
MP3 PLAYER CONTROLS: The U890 has music player controls under the external display, so you can use it closed
TV BUTTON: The U890 is the first phone we've seen in the UK with a dedicated button for tuning in to Mobile TV
ROTATING CAMERA: The U890's camera lens sits on a rotating hinge mechanism
DISPLAY: When viewing video content, press a softkey option to go landscape or watch full screen