LG must have known it was on to something when it launched its VX8500 Chocolate cell phone last year. By the time the pretty phone with the touch controls made its formal debut with Verizon Wireless in August, it had become one of the most anticipated handsets of 2007. And though the reality didn't live up to the hype completely--the controls were frustrating and its multimedia performance was below par--it still gathered a crowd of fans and almost made Verizon cool again. And now after launching a GSM version of the phone and a selection of colored Chocolates, LG takes the concept in a new direction with the LG Shine KE970. Like the Chocolate, the Shine comes with a lot of hype and glowing first impressions (from CNET included), but like the Chocolate, beauty isn't everything. The features are pretty average, and the keypad is downright terrible. The Shine isn't offered by a U.S. carrier, so you'll have to buy it unlocked. As such, you can expect to pay around $575.
We'll warn you off the bat that much of our review of the Shine is in this section. The Shine is without a doubt a design-first phone, and LG has no qualms about pushing its beauty. In all seriousness, it really is quite lovely. The slider phone's polished-metal exterior gives it a sophisticated, posh look, and the stainless steel case gives it a sturdy, solid feel in the hand. At 3.9 inches by 2 inches by 0.54 inch, it's a little wide for our tastes, but it slips easily into a pocket. And though it's a tad heavy, at 4.4 ounces, it won't weight you down.
Of course it's obvious why they call such a glossy phone the Shine. But it does more than just shine; it positively sparkles when the mirrored face catches the light just so. (Note: this is not a phone for the understated.) The mirror is also handy for checking your teeth before a big date, provided you can see your choppers through the fingerprints and smudges that the mirror holds so easily.
At first glance you may wonder where the heck the display is on the Shine, but a quick press of a button will cause the large 2.25-inch (240x320 pixels) screen to appear underneath the mirrored face. Like the phone itself, the display is quite brilliant with an eye-popping 262,000 colors and richly detailed graphics. You can change the dialing font style, the brightness, and the backlight time, but be advised the changes apply when the phone is open. The menu interface is simple and easy to understand, and it's available in two styles.
Just below the display is the Shine's thoroughly unique navigation array. Instead of a toggle or a joystick, the KE970 features a scroll bar set between two buttons. The scroll bar is used for up and down navigation, and the buttons move you side to side. It goes without saying that the arrangement takes some getting used to, but we found it much more comfortable to use than the Chocolate's touch-sensitive controls. The scroll bar is a little less than an inch wide, so it should be large enough for must users, but the two buttons on either side of the bar are much too small.
You also use the scroll bar to select a menu item by pressing down. Unfortunately this action wasn't as intuitive as simple scrolling. If you don't press the bar exactly in the center your finger may just slide off the bar completely, thus moving your cursor around the menu. It took us a while to get the hang of it so you might want to try it out first. Finishing off the front of the phone are two soft keys that sit on either side off the scroll bar. They're marked only by small LEDs--indeed we didn't realize they were buttons at first--but they're large and have a nice tactile feel.
After the debacle of the Chocolate's side-mounted End/power key we were a little apprehensive about what we might find on the Shine. Though it's back in its rightful place on the front of the phone, LG decided to cram both it and the Talk key behind the sliding face, just above the keypad. As a result you have to slide open the phone to accept or end a call. Though we get that LG was trying to minimize clutter on the shiny exterior, having to open the phone to manage calls just seems like an extra step to us. Of course that means you have to open the phone to turn it on as well. In addition, this top row of keys is much too close the bottom of the slider.
Speaking of which, the slider mechanism is quite sturdy and has little of the slippery effect we've seen on other slider phones. You can open and close it easily with one hand, but it still requires a bit of effort. Our only complaint was that there's not a good thumb grip on the bottom of the slider. On a few occasions our finger slipped up to the scroll bar instead.
Sliding up the Shine also reveals the keypad that, to be frank, is pretty awful. The keypad look like something from the first generation of Razrs, only worse. Besides being rather cramped, the keys have absolutely no texture or clear separation from each other. Dialing by feel is impossible even though the keys do have a downward "push" effect when pressed. The backlighting is also rather dim, though the numbers on the keys are a good size. A dedicated clear key sits between the Talk and End/power buttons.
Curiously, all the Shine's external controls are crammed onto the left spine. It's not a bad thing but it's worth noting that even volume rocker has been moved from its traditional resting place on the right spine. From top to bottom, there's a headset/charger jack (you can use only one at a time), the aforementioned volume rocker, a music player shortcut, and a camera shutter release button. The microSD card slot is accessible from the right spine, though you have to remove the battery cover to access it. Finally, the camera lens, the flash, and the self-portrait mirror sit on the rear face.