As the Kyocera Echo's dual display proved, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many screens. Now comes the LG DoublePlay, which pairs a 3.5-inch primary display with a 2-inch secondary screen and throws in a slide-out keyboard for good measure. In theory, this unique design would be great for typists who like having their email inbox on one screen while they surf the web on another. In practice, an awkward split keyboard layout and a low-res main LCD make the DoublePlay anything but a home run.
At 6.9 ounces and 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches, the LG DoublePlay is one of the heaviest phones on the market, even though it only has a 3.5-inch primary display. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S II has a 4.5-inch display, but weighs only 4.8 ounces while maintaining a svelte 0.4-inch chassis. The T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide, which also has a slide-out keyboard, weighs only 5 ounces and is just 0.4 inches thick.
Unfortunately, the LG DoublePlay's chassis isn't as attractive as it is thick, sporting a rounded dark-gray design with a matte chrome-colored stripe on the side. The back is a matching dark gray with a silver stripe running down the middle. The only ports are a microUSB connection and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The DoublePlay slides open to reveal a silver QWERTY keyboard with a 2-inch touch screen located in the middle. The matte silver keyboard and its Tron-blue backlighting are undoubtedly the most exciting design elements on the entire phone, but there's a huge difference between attractiveness and functionality.
As interesting as it looks, the LG DoublePlay's QWERTY keyboard proved frustrating to use. The rounded and raised keys provided solid tactile feedback, but we had to hunt and peck at the keys because it was difficult to remember which keys were on which side of the secondary screen. Targeting either of two tiny space bars--one on each side of the screen--seemed really unnatural to us as well.
If you get frustrated with the physical keyboard, you can take advantage of the DoublePlay's virtual keyboards. By default, the system comes pre-loaded with Swype, which lets you either type by tapping keys or by tracing letters between them. Some users love this text-input method, but it has a heavy-handed autocorrect. For example, when we tried trace-typing "Avram" it kept substituting "Abram," no matter how many times we refined our gesture.
Both the Swype keyboard and the stock Android keyboard support haptic feedback. With this feature enabled, the virtual keys had a pleasant tactile feel.
Display and Audio
Considering that most budget Android smartphones have resolutions of at least 800 x 480 and high-end handsets have qHD or HD displays, the LG's 480 x 320, 3.5-inch screen looks like a relic. Though the screen measured a strong 436 lux with our brightness meter, its colors were washed out. The Samsung Galaxy S II's screen only measured 249 lux, but thanks to its Super AMOLED+ technology it provided infinitely more vibrant colors.
When we streamed a high-quality version of the Avengers trailer from YouTube, motion was smooth, but images were a bit blocky. Dark colors such as the black of the night sky were exceptionally dull, while bright colors such as the red of Thor's cape seemed less vibrant on the DoublePlay's screen than on most other screens we've tested.
The phone's back-facing speaker produced sound that was a bit tinny, but loud enough to fill a small room. Synthesizer-heavy music, such as the opening segment of "The Final Countdown," sounded accurate but flat. However, percussion sections, such as the beginning of "Take Your Time Do it Right," sounded harsh and distorted. The audio was loud enough for us to make out the dialog in videos.
UI and Software
On the DoublePlay, LG has added just a few customizations to Google's Stock Android 2.3 Gingerbread UI. The phone has seven customizable home screens and, though it has no widgets present by default, LG has included an optional Social widget that shows your Facebook and/or Twitter feeds. There's also a battery widget, which shows the exact percentage of juice remaining, and a running apps widget that shows you how many programs are open.
The bottom of every home screen has a quick shortcut bar with icons for the dialer, contacts menu, SMS messages, and apps menu. Within the apps menu, the same bar appears, but the right-hand button returns to the home screen.
In another slight change from default Android, the apps menu separates user-installed apps from those that came with the phone. The notifications menu provides quick toggle buttons for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Sound, as well as a Recent Apps button that pops up a menu with the eight most recently accessed shortcuts.
The DoublePlay's most unique feature--and the inspiration for its baseball-themed moniker--is the tiny 2-inch screen that sits in the middle of the slide-out keyboard. This low-resolution display offers limited functionality, but it comes in handy for some tasks.
In its default state, the second screen contains eight shortcut icons: Browser, Calendar, Email (not Gmail), Group Text, photo gallery, Richnote, SMS messaging, and your choice of either the Social or Music app. The SMS messaging app opens on the small screen and lets you compose and send messages completely on that screen.
Group Text allows you to create and manage SMS distribution lists. The gallery app simply shows a list of thumbnails from your gallery, but when you tap on a photo, it goes to a sharing menu rather than opening that picture on the main screen. The browser app shows a turning cylinder of thumbnail images that represent your bookmarks; tapping one launches that site on the main screen.
Calendar shows a list of upcoming events in the small window and opens them in the main window. Email shows your non-Gmail inbox and lets you tap messages to open them in the main window. Richnote allows you to compose and save notes in the small screen. Social shows a feed of your Facebook and Twitter updates. Music opens a list of locally saved MP3 files.
While all of the second-screen apps are useful and aid in multitasking, we wish the DoublePlay would allow users to put any shortcuts they want on the second screen and to use those applications in that environment, no matter how small it is. We much prefer Kyocera's dual-screen approach on the Echo, where users could run the full browser on one screen while composing an email in the other. Only being able to see a list of email messages, bookmarks, or social media feeds on the second screen feels limiting.
LG and T-Mobile have bundled the DoublePlay with a modest selection of utilities, services, and games. Application Manager allows you to kill tasks in order to save memory. DriveSmart offers a key safety feature: the ability to route calls directly to voicemail and auto-reply to text messages while driving so you don't get distracted.
SmartShare allows you to share media files over the local network via DLNA. CloudText lets you send SMS messages from your T-Mobile account on other devices such as your PC or tablet.
T-Mobile TV enables users to watch live or on-demand television from a number of channels directly on the phone. A variety of subscriptions are available for different kinds of content, with some packages as cheap as $6.99 a month. Wi-Fi calling lets you use your local Internet connection to make calls, but on most T-Mobile plans these count against your minutes. T-Mobile Name ID is a $3.99-a-month service that identifies the name, city, and state of unknown callers.
The DoublePlay also comes with trial versions of Bejeweled 2, SimCity Deluxe, and Tetris. Blio and Google books both provide eReading capability, while Zinio enables magazine subscriptions. Locate allows you to remote-wipe your device if it is stolen. DoubleTwist lets you sync your iTunes content with the phone.
The DoublePlay's 4G promises up to 14.4 Mbps of theoretical download speeds on T-Mobiles HSPA+ network. In testing, performance varied greatly depending on where we tested. In our New York City office and throughout the entire Flatiron district of Manhattan, speeds were worse than 3G. Over the course of several days and 16 tests in numerous locations up and down Fifth avenue in Manhattan, in the East Village, and even right in front of a T-Mobile store, we recorded glacial speeds as low as 37 kbps down, with only one outlying result above 300 kbps, for a pitiful average of 222.2 Kbps down and 652.4 Kbps up. Loading websites at these locations was an exercise in futility, as they either took forever or timed out.
However, when we moved further uptown, we started to see much faster results. Near Penn Station, the DoublePlay 4G managed a more reasonable 1.3 Mbps down and 1.1 Mbps up. In our East Side apartment, we saw rates of 4.3 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up, which was the only place we experienced true 4G speeds. In our apartment, CNN loaded in an average of 2.4 seconds, and MSN in 7.3 seconds. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com loaded in a reasonable 12.6 seconds.
In all but its best location, the DoublePlay was significantly slower than the myTouch 4G Slide, which averaged 2.7 Mbps down and 1.2 Mbps up in Manhattan. And the Samsung Galaxy S II, with its 42 Mbps HSPA+ data, was able to achieve speeds of 12.6 Mbps and 1.6 Mbps near our office.
Like other T-Mobile phones, the DoublePlay offers mobile hotspot capability for $19.95 a month. Considering the slow speeds we encountered, we wouldn't recommend paying for this service.
The 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor inside the DoublePlay proved powerful enough to stream videos and play fast-paced games such as the 3D racing app Raging Thunder. However, the single-core CPU did worse on synthetic benchmarks than dual-core competitors such as the myTouch 4G Slide and the T-Mobile G2x.
On Linpack, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall CPU performance, the DoublePlay scored a modest 28 on the multi-threaded test and 38.4 with a single thread. Those numbers compare unfavorably to the 1.2-GHz dual core Snapdragon-powered myTouch 4G Slide's scores of 57.6 and 44.7, though the Tegra 2-enabled T-Mobile G2x's single-threaded score of 34.9 was in the same ballpark.
The DoublePlay returned a reasonable score of 2,141 on the Benchmark CPU test, more than double the 931.2 smartphone category average. However, the T-Mobile G2x scored a much higher 2,422 and the myTouch 4G Slide was just slightly ahead at 2,255.3.
On the graphics benchmark An3DBench, the DoublePlay scored a decent 6,872, a bit better than the 6,266 smartphone category average, but much slower than the G2x's 11,074 and a bit behind the myTouch 4G Slide's score of 7,098.
The LG DoublePlay provides very good endurance. When running the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over 4G, the device lasted an epic 7 hours and 55 minutes, more than 2 hours longer than the smartphone category average (5:30) and the HTC Amaze 4G (5:40), and far better than the T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide (6:09). However, the Samsung Galaxy S II (7:31) was close.
The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera on the DoublePlay produced images that were reasonably sharp and colorful. When we shot photos of flowers and a cityscape on a cloudy day, hues were relatively bright considering the dim conditions. However, indoor flash photos we shot of a cat and of our desk were extremely dark. For a mid-range smartphone, the shutter delay on this phone--a little under a second--was tolerable.
The DoublePlay lacks a front-facing camera, so you can forget about making any video calls.
A 720p video of a street corner was relatively colorful, but the camera took a moment to refocus as we moved from one object to another.
In our tests, the LG DoublePlay provided crystal-clear call quality. Callers sounded loud and they reported that we were easy to hear, too. The speakerphone function provided loud, accurate audio output, while the microphone captured our voice accurately.
The LG DoublePlay definitely stands out from the Android crowd, but not for all the right reasons. The phone's second screen can save you time, but the split keyboard is awkward to use as a result. Our biggest beef with this handset is its low-resolution main display; 480 x 320 pixels is borderline laughable for a $99 device. If you want a keyboard slider on T-Mobile, we recommend the myTouch 4G Slide ($199 from T-Mobile, $99 from Wirefly), which has a better screen, a more powerful CPU, and a superior keyboard. If low price is your primary concern, the T-Mobile G2x has a much faster dual-core CPU and a sharper display.