Reviewed July 22, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Verizon's and LG's newest touch screen phone is the latest that dares compete with the iPhone. LG's new big-screen slate phone is a pleasure to use, though of course it's no iPhone. First, it would be hard to replicate the iPhone's particular feature set and ease of use, second a phone need not be an iPhone clone to be good.
Sure you can't download a 3 piece band program to make your own music or use it as a WiFi remote to control iTunes, nor does it play feature length movies and rentals downloaded from the brain-dead easy Apple iTunes store. But it does have Rhapsody support for a wide selection of newly DRM-free downloadable music, a really fun and easy to use touch interface and the usual slew of standard features found on nearly every phone except the iPhone: Bluetooth DUN for tethering, video recording, MMS and a removable battery.
The LG Dare VX9700 is offered by Verizon in the US and it's an EVDO Rev-A phone (that's the fastest data technology available on Verizon) with a 3" touch screen, 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, GPS and Bluetooth. It supports the full gamut of V Cast services-- downloadable music, video, games and other applications though Media Center (Get it Now's new name) and has ~148 megs of internal memory and an SDHC microSD card slot to store larger music and video libraries.
We like the Dare best among Verizon's touch screen phones. It's smaller and easier to operate than last year's flagship LG Voyager, and worlds better than the Samsung Glyde in most every respect. The touch screen is responsive and has haptic feedback (you'll feel a little vibration when you touch the screen). The only disappointment is that the haptics vibrate when you touch anywhere on the screen-- even if you miss tapping an icon or link. So far, localized haptics (where the phone vibrates only when you touch a valid target) are rare, so the Dare isn't alone. This is a resistive touch screen, which means you can use an object like a stylus or a fingernail.
Though the Dare has a proprietary operating system and the usual closed to all but Verizon's selection of BREW apps, the interface is more flexible that we've seen on other Verizon handsets, and other feature phones for that matter. There are 5 tabs at the bottom of the home screen, not unlike the LG Vu touch screen phone for AT&T. Tap the applications tab (the one with 4 dots in a grid) and you'll see a 3 x 3 grid of icons, slightly askew. You can drag these around to rearrange the icon layout, though you can't remove or add anything here. However, there's also a quick launch icon palette that tucks away on the right side of the home screen (the LG has something similar but it remains open in the center of the home screen at all times). You can add and remove apps on the quick launcher, and you can drag them from there to the home screen itself. Cool. To remove one, just drag it back to the quick launch "handle".
The quick launcher.
Here's a walkthrough of the Dare's user interface along with GPS and gaming:
Since the Dare lacks a hardware keypad or keyboard, it has on-screen alternatives. The number pad is large and easy to use, though it obviously lacks the tactile feedback of a hardware keypad. We really like the on-screen QWERTY keyboard with large keys and extra keys relating to the task at hand: there's an @ symbol on the messaging keyboard and a .com button when in the web browser. Unlike the LG Vu, you don't have to hit the enter or done key and extra time after switching to the QWERTY keyboard to enter text. There's also handwriting recognition, which is unusual for a non-smartphone. It works OK but we're betting that most folks will opt for the on-screen keyboards. T9 aficionados can use the number pad to compose text using predictive text on the number pad (there's also a multi-press option).
Phone and Data
Touch screens are cool and all, but a phone must do a good job of making calls or what's the point? The Dare has very good reception on both 1x and EVDO, and likewise very good call quality. Incoming and outgoing voice are both loud and clear, and call recipients had no idea we were calling from a cell phone, even when the phone dropped down to 2 bars of 1x (1x is used for voice, EVDO is for data). At 1 bar call quality diminished but was still decent. There's speaker independent voice dialing on board, and a dedicated key (press and hold for a second) to start voice command. The rear-firing speaker phone is plenty loud and doesn't distort at higher volumes. EVDO rev. A is on board for fast data and the Dare supports DUN (dialup networking) for those who wish to use the phone as a high speed wireless modem (you must has the appropriate data plan to use this feature).
iPhone, LG Dare and LG Vu.
The phone book can hold up to 1,000 records with fields for several phone numbers, 2 email addresses, group assignment, ringtone and a photo. There's also a calendar and an alarm clock, but no desktop Outlook syncing for Windows (and no syncing for Mac OS X either). The Dare is firmly in feature phone territory here and there's no smartphone-style syncing with desktops for PIM data and email. For corporate uses, there's the $9.99/month RemoSync that offers push email, contacts and calendar sync to MS Exchange servers. RemoSync is available in Media Center on the phone under the "Browse and Download" link. The phone has a messaging program for text and MMS messages, and for those who want to use "regular" email sans Exchange sync, there's Verizon's Mobile Email application ($5/month) that handles most common web-based email services along with POP and IMAP accounts.
The Telca web browser is excellent by feature phone standards. It makes good use of the accelerometer and rotates fairly quickly when the phone is turned, and the touch enhancements worked fairly well. We won't call it a home run like Safari on the iPhone, but it's better than the browser on the LG Vu when it comes to finger-navigation. Scrolling is intuitive-- just grab the page and move it around with your finger, there aren't tiny scroll bars to bother with and waste screen real estate. The browser has 3 view options: text-only, screen optimized and standard (desktop) view. Standard view does a very good job of rendering sites compared to other feature phones and the browser supports, SSL, cookies, caching and basic HTML. There's a full-screen option, though the on-screen controls don't waste much screen real estate.
Entertain Me, a Rhapsody of Sound
The Dare is a good multimedia phone, and the music player (My Music on the apps screen) can handle the usual WMA, MP3 and unprotected AAC formats. As with most Verizon phones, you can purchase music from Verizon's service but the good news is that content is beefed up with Rhapsody's millions of DRM-free MP3s. You can download songs from Rhapsody using your PC for 99 cents each or $9.99/album and transfer them to the phone (or more likely a microSD card), or you can download them directly to the phone, but that will cost twice as much ($1.99 per tune). To make matters more confusing, tunes downloaded directly to the phone aren't DRM-free MP3s but rather WMA files with Windows Media DRM. But if you use your Windows PC and the V Cast enhanced Rhapsody Manager to download the "master" copy, you'll get the DRM-free MP3 version of the song.
The music player can play music in the background and the phone supports A2DP for Bluetooth wireless stereo headsets. Volume though the speaker is loud and clear, and there's a 2.5mm headset jack for those who prefer wired listening. The phone has 148 megs of internal memory, but you'll want a microSD card for a serious music library. The phone supports SHDC high capacity cards and the card slot is hot-swappable and is located under a plastic door on the phone's left side.
For video mavens, there's V Cast video for free on-demand short content along with pay-for content such as music videos. The video player works in portrait as well as landscape mode (turn the phone to switch views) and the video fills most of the screen in landscape mode. Though stretched large on the LG Dare's 3" display, videos look quite good by V Cast standards.
The large touch screen is ripe with gaming potential. We tested a wide variety of games, all of which used the touch screen (there really aren't appropriate hardware gaming controls on the Dare). Unlike the LG Vu, whose games provided an on-screen d-pad that made playing traditional phone games easier, the Dare forgoes this and you'll actually tap on the game screen to accomplish tasks. For example, in Castlevania you'll tap in front of your protagonist to move him forward, and tap above him to attack. While we love the customized games that attempt to use the screen to its full potential, it was sometimes harder and less intuitive at times to accomplish tasks in action and adventure games. Overall, our experience with Castlevania, Assassin's Creed, Frogger Launch and Asphalt 3G were fun, and only sometimes frustrating thanks to the touch approach.
Where am I?
The Dare VX9700 has an internal aGPS that works with Verizon's $9.99/month VZ Navigator service. Our phone ran version 4.1.2; that's new version of Verizon's service that offers real time traffic, local search, movies and events along with the usual maps and turn-by-turn spoken navigation. As per usual, the service worked well with clear and on-target directions. The speakerphone is loud enough to easily be heard in a car and the GPS locates and tracks locations well. The Dare's relatively large screen and high resolution means maps are easier to read and you see more on screen without scrolling.
Nice camera. The Dare has a 3.2 megapixel camera that's the best we've seen from Verizon or any US carrier. The Schneider-Kreuznach autofocus lens makes for sharp photos and fast focus times by camera phone standards. The camera can shoot photos at 2048 x 1536 max resolution and there are several lower resolution settings suitable for MMS, photo caller ID and the like.
Max video recording resolution is an impressive 640 x 480 VGA at a less impressive 15 fps. Videos are clear and colorful, though video interpolation makes things looks a bit painterly rather than natural, and at 15fps, motion isn't as smooth a TV or the Nokia N95's 30 fps VGA video. Still it's very good and head and shoulders above any current US carrier offering. The audio track is 8kHz mono and sounds somewhat muted. Files are .3G2 format and there are lesser resolutions suitable for MMS.
Click on a photo to see the full size image.
We expected the worst given the Dare's large touch screen with vibration feedback, EVDO and GPS. But battery life turned out to be good for a high end EVDO feature phone, and standby is excellent at a claimed 15 days that matched our results. Verizon claims up to 4 hours and 40 minutes of talk time, but a multimedia phone with GPS does a lot more than keep you blabbing to your friends. Even with moderate use of V Cast video, playing games for 30 minutes/day, talking for an hour total, downloading 10 MP3s from the music store along with 6 games, surfing the web for 40 minutes and checking email manually, the phone lasted us over 2 days on a charge.
Yes, it's no iPhone, but the Dare is a very good phone with strong reception, pleasing voice quality and a great collection of multimedia features. We love the 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, and Rhapsody's large selection of DRM-free music competes strongly with iTunes (if you use the more frugal desktop download option). The Dare makes a good MP3 player replacement thanks to good audio quality and its background playback capability. Though the touch screen lacks the iPhone's multi-touch gesture support, it's one of the best among the touch screen feature phones that have come out in the last year. Haptics make it easier to use and the screen is responsive to touch. Scrolling through lists can sometimes be difficult (it's too easy to accidentally select a list item while scrolling), but otherwise it's smooth sailing.
Price: $199 with a year year contract after rebates
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with 1X and EVDO Rev. A.
GPS: aGPS that works with Verizon's VZ Navigator service.
Camera:3.2MP with autofocus lens and flash. Schneider-Kreuznach lens. Camera Resolutions: 2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 640x480, 320x240. Video Resolutions: 640x480, 320x240, 176x144.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone
jack. Verizon V Cast music player, V Cast video player. Has flight mode for music playback with phone radio off.
Networking:Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR. Profiles: headset, hands-free, DUN (dial-up networking), A2DP stereo, phone book access, basic printing, object push, file transfer, basic imaging and HID.
Software:Touch user interface running on top of a proprietary operating system. V Cast music and video player, supporting downloadable music, videos, games and applications. VZ Navigator (requires monthly fee), address book (1,000 contacts), calendar, text and picture messaging client, mobile email and IM, sped dial (996 entries), camera application, calculator, voice command alarm clock, stopwatch, world clock, drawing pad and notepad.
microSD card slot supporting SDHC high capacity cards.
In the box:Phone, charger, USB cable and software CD.