The LG Dare is the first candy bar–style touchscreen phone to hit Verizon Wireless’ shelves, and while it looks strikingly similar to AT&T’s LG Vu, Verizon’s version forgoes live mobile TV for a higher resolution 3.2-megapixel camera, handwriting recognition, GPS, and a revamped user interface. At $199 (with $50 mail-in rebate and two-year contract), the LG Dare is inferior to the iPhone, but it’s a far more compelling alternative to the LG Voyager and Samsung Glyde for multimedia-savvy VZW subscribers.
LG Dare Design
The LG Dare is almost exactly the same size as the LG Vu. It measures in at 4.1 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches, making it 0.2 inches shorter than the Vu. Even though it’s slimmer, the Dare packs on 0.6 ounces more than the Vu. Still, at 3.8 ounces the Dare feels relatively light.
The Dare’s 3-inch haptic touchscreen display is the same size as the one found on the LG Vu, and it has the same 400 x 240-pixel resolution. It sports silver accents along the bottom and around its border, and three large silver buttons frame the bottom of the display: one for placing calls, one for ending calls that doubles as the power button, and one for backtracking through menus that doubles as a voice-recorder button.
The right side of the Dare has a camera quick-launch button and volume controls, and the left side has a microSD slot, a speakerphone button, and a hardware lock key. We appreciate that LG included a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone, an infinite improvement over the LG Vu’s proprietary headphone jack.
Movable Touchscreen User Interface
We enjoyed watching the animated backgrounds on the Dare’s UI, but like the Samsung Glyde, the fun wears off quickly and we ended up switching to a static image. Along the bottom of the display are five icons similar to the icon sets on the LG Voyager and Vu: Messages, Calls, Main Menu (represented by four dots), Phone book, and Favorites. The Favorites tab is fun to use: We created thumbnail pictures of our contacts, and when we wanted to call them, simply dragged the image over to the phone icon. You can do the same for messaging or for viewing contact information as well.
While the LG Dare’s UI is fluid and fun to use overall, it’s much more confusing than the simplistic UI found on the LG Vu, due to two menus that are very similar to each other: the Main Menu and another menu that pops out from a triangular tab on the right-hand side of the screen. Both have similar icons for GPS, the browser, and messaging, but the Main Menu has some apps missing from the second menu, and vice versa. This setup continually had us fumbling between the two menus looking for the right program. There is one way to avoid some of this confusion: drag items from the second tabbed menu out on to the desktop. When you’re done using the applications, or are tired of a cluttered desktop, you can simply drag them away again. We also liked being able to move the icons around inside the menus.
We found that the Dare wasn’t as good as the LG Vu at recognizing our screen touches; sometimes it wouldn’t react at all. Against the competition, the Dare is better than the Samsung Glyde but inferior to the Samsung Instinct and the LG Vu. The phone also has a hardware accelerometer which lets you view Web pages or the music player in landscape or portrait mode. The Vu switches modes depending on what application is open but doesn’t have an accelerometer.
Keyboard and Handwriting Recognition
We prefer the LG Dare’s more spacious on-screen QWERTY keypad over the one on the LG Vu; the letters are larger in size and the selected letter pops out with each key press so you know which one you’ve selected, similar to the iPhone’s input system. The Shift key lets you quickly add in a question mark, apostrophe, or @ symbol without having to visit another menu. This came in handy while typing e-mail and Web addresses. Overall, the keyboard is easy to learn and users will not be disappointed with it once they get past the brief learning curve.
Like the Vu, the Dare has a standard telephone keypad for touch-typing, but the keyboard isn’t alphanumeric, so you’ll need to use the full QWERTY in order to enter numbers. One unique but useless feature is the handwriting recognition support: Since the phone lets you draw on photos (which we’ll touch on later), we imagine it wasn’t hard for LG to throw in this feature as well. When you click the pencil icon, a blank space appears where you can draw letters and numbers, as well as a separate area for writing full phrases. The software will then turn your writing into text. Since scribbling takes longer than touch-typing, whether you’re used to the keyboard or not, we doubt many will use it.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The LG Dare’s Message menu lets you send off text, picture, video, and voice messages. Support is included for Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, AOL Mail, AIM Mail, Verizon.net and “Other” for adding your own IMAP or POP account. We set up our Gmail account in two minutes. The software is the same as on other phones like the LG Glyde and Voyager, so if you’ve used either of these before, you’ll breeze through the setup.
The e-mail software itself needs some improvement. A few times it was unable to recognize our finger presses, and when it did, it lagged until deciding (on its own) that it was time to register our touch command. You can set the software to notify you of new messages always, never, or in intervals. We liked that we could turn off e-mail notifications between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid waking up to our phone buzzing.
The $129 Samsung Instinct’s e-mail program is far superior, mainly because it has an easier to use and cleaner interface. We preferred the Dare’s software over the LG Vu, which didn’t allow us to set up our own accounts and didn’t notify us of new messages.
The LG Dare offers voice-guided GPS directions through Verizon Wireless’ VZ Navigator software Version 3.1.6. The GPS accurately pinpointed our location in New York City, even while we were indoors. Those used to VZ Navigator ($9.99 per month or $2.99 per day) will appreciate that the software remains the same as other Verizon Wireless handsets, and new users will find it very easy to learn.
VZ Navigator takes one-way streets into consideration; we were able to find accurate directions back to our office from around town. We also loved that the GPS would rotate automatically into landscape mode when the unit was flipped—perfect for using inside a car with a holster.
The Dare isn’t as good at local search as the Samsung Instinct is, though. The Instinct can search by voice and was able to pinpoint a sushi restaurant across the street from us. The Dare couldn’t find that same restaurant but was able to return plenty of results for “food” in general. The Dare supports VZ Navigator 4.1.2, which includes live traffic updates and 3D maps.
Thanks to its 3.5mm headphone jack, the LG Dare doubles quite well as a music player. Audio sounded excellent on the device over our set of iPod headphones, which we had to use because the Dare doesn’t come with a set of its own. We appreciated the loud volume and bass/treble balance while using the Dare as our primary MP3 player during several hour-long train rides.
A new agreement between Verizon Wireless and Rhapsody gives users a DRM-free copy of each song downloaded on the phone for their primary computer. With a $15 monthly subscription, too, you can sideload as much content from Rhapsody to your phone via the microSD Card. We downloaded Coldplay’s “Lost” in 1:09, which is on a par with most V CAST Music phones.
While you can play clips from V CAST Videos, the clips are short, ranging from a minute to a few minutes, and the blocky quality of the video is less than desirable.
The LG Dare uses a proprietary Brew-based browser, which has easy-to-use controls that run along the bottom of the page. We appreciate that the browser takes advantage of the Dare’s accelerometer; you can turn the phone to landscape mode to get a wider view of pages.
We loved that we could load mobile pages such as CNN.com in just 4 seconds over Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO Rev. A network. NYTimes.com loaded in 5 seconds. You can use the touchscreen to pull the page down or push it back up, which makes scrolling easy.
However, clicking links can be awfully annoying; sometimes our clicks didn’t register, or the page shifted but nothing happened, or worse, the link actually lights up, indicating you’ve selected it, but again, nothing happens. This happened about 30 percent of the time while we were using the browser.
Even more frustrating, if you click an input field, such as your e-mail address at mail.google.com, the keyboard doesn’t automatically pop up; you need to keep pressing the input area with your finger until it appears.
We loaded a 56-second YouTube video inside the browser in 11 seconds and appreciated the full-screen view for watching the videos in landscape mode. Ajax sites such as iGoogle.com load correctly, but you can’t take full advantage of its functionality and move your custom widgets around. The browser does not support Flash Web sites.
The Dare can also be tethered to your laptop as a phone-as-modem device for broadband EV-DO Rev. A speeds on the go.
Camera and Video
The 3.2-MP autofocus Schneider-Kreuznach camera is one of the stand-out features on the LG Dare. Not only because the Glyde, Instinct, Vu, and Voyager are limited to 2-MP cameras, but also because LG added a flash, face recognition, standard and slow-motion video, and a host of editing tools that make the camera fun to use on the go.
It’s not good enough to replace your standard digital camera, but it certainly makes MMS messages to friends more fun. The autofocus took about 2 seconds to focus, but you can opt to turn it off for quicker shots.
Overall, the camera took pretty-good pictures, but its flash is more of a bright LED than anything else, so it’s best to use with close subjects. You can also turn on SmartPic before taking your shot, which automatically helps adjust the light, compensate for skin tones, and reduce noise. While the Dare also comes with automatic face detection, we didn’t notice a difference with the feature turned on, and it didn’t pick out faces inside boxes like other cameras typically do.
We took shots out in the streets of New York City and compared the photos the Dare snapped with those captured on the Nokia N78 (with Carl Zeiss optics). Then we printed 5 x 7-inch prints on photo paper and compared the two. The Nokia N78, which is a $500 unlocked camera phone, produced sharper images and deeper color tones. Five out of six people in our office preferred the prints produced by the N78. However, for nearly $300 less, the LG Dare’s camera takes better pictures than most camera phones.
Once a picture is snapped, you can opt to edit it directly on the display. Teens will likely appreciate the ability to draw on pictures with a pen, adding mustaches of various colors to friends’ faces. You can also crop pictures, add small clip-art stamps like hearts, Band-Aids, flowers, and borders. You can also adjust the contrast, sharpness, blur, and brightness of each photo.
The video camera isn’t stellar, but its 640 x 480-pixel resolution is good enough for YouTube. We especially liked recording in the high-speed 120 frames-per-second mode, a stark contrast to the standard 15 frames per second. It was fun to watch objects move in slow motion; to test this feature, we dropped a sponge into a full glass of water.
The video looked great on the phone itself but was washed out and blocky on our computer when we blew it up. Viewers will still appreciate the entertainment aspect of this fun feature. Videos can only be shared via MMS, and you’re limited to sending 20-second snippets. Fortunately, you can edit longer videos and select which parts you’d like to send off inside the video camera’s editor. You can play back videos on your computer if they’ve been transferred over via an SD Card.
The LG Dare’s call quality was good. Our callers were able to hear us just fine and we didn’t experience any dropped calls, pops, or dead spots during our testing in New York City and its surrounding suburbs. Our callers had no complaints with call quality and neither did we.
Verizon Wireless rates the LG Dare with a usage time of 4.6 hours. We used the phone heavily over a two-day period making phone calls, listening to music on the train, and using the GPS. The phone was dead by the evening of the second day after streaming music over Bluetooth for 30 minutes, so you’ll want to bring your charger with you on weekend getaways. The battery life was reasonable , but snapping pictures with the flash on and streaming music will drain the battery quickly.
The Dare is certainly one of the more feature-packed of the resistive touchscreen phones that have begun to flood the market. Its 3.2-MP camera and slow-motion video recording help it stand out, and we like the interface, multimedia playback, and 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the other hand, navigating Web sites on this touchscreen is annoying, despite the fact that the Dare’s browser formats pages better than the Instinct. If Verizon Wireless is your carrier of choice, we suggest grabbing the LG Dare over the Samsung Glyde, but we still recommend the Voyager for messaging addicts. If you’re looking to leave your carrier, we suggest considering the $129 Samsung Instinct simply because of its lower price and similar feature set, or picking up the $199 iPhone 3G.