The LG Mini (model number BD880) is LG's new iconic touch-screen phone for 2010. This isn't a smartphone with a standard app platform like Android. Rather, the software is technically proprietary LG, but it attempts to include many smartphone features. Last year's equivalent model was the Arena, which we've heard will finally come to the US soon (a full year after it was announced here in Barcelona.) With luck, some version of the Mini will reach the US before 2011. We hope that's the case, because we really like the Mini.
The best thing about the Mini is the hardware. It's small, thin and sexy in a very minimalist, refined way. It feels great, like a precision piece of very small machinery. It's small and stylish enough to be an out-on-the town "evening phone", yet just powerful enough to handle a day of business. The features include 3G data, WiFi, GPS, 5-megapixel camera and a 3.5mm audio jack.
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The Arena had LG's much-touted S-Class interface. To us, S-Class seemed like a little much. It had a lot of flashy graphics - like a 3D cube and a "rolodex" media browser - that looked neat, but weren't very practical. Fortunately, LG seems to have listened to feedback; the new touch interface on the Mini is much more streamlined and straighforward.
There's a widget home screen, naturally. The main menu is arranged as pages of icons, just like the iPhone. Going into various apps, there's usually a Menu or OK key at the top-left of the screen, and a Back button at the top-right. That seems backward to us, but it doesn't take long to get used to. For the most part, the interface is easy to use.
Certain apps like the gallery and music player look downright ugly unless you know the trick of turning the phone sideways to activate the pretty interface (like CoverFlow on the iPhone.) For text entry, you can choose a 12-key keypad with T9 for one-handed use, or turn the phone sideways for a virtual QWERTY layout. The browser works in landscape mode as well.
The Mini's smartphone-like features include support for Microsoft Exchange, as well as a unique sync feature that keeps your desktop PC synced with your phone, including browser history, photos, contacts, and schedule.
There are also Twitter and Facebook clients. The Facebook client is more robust than one might expect. You'll have no problem keeping up with your friends using it. The Twitter client is impressive in some ways, but seems to lack some key features. For example, we couldn't figure out how to reply to a specific tweet, much less retweet something. Still, both apps offer much more than most feature phone Facebook and Twitter clients.
The Mini technically supports multi-touch actions like pinch-to-zoom, although we had trouble getting it to work reliably. It's not a great implementation of multi-touch. The touch screen in general proved finicky. For me, it worked great for five minutes, then started to become less reliable. Others reported that was unreliable for them. This may be a prototype issue that will be addressed by LG in coming months.
Here's a quick video tour of the Mini:
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