LG Renoir eight-megapixel cameraphone
Serious alternative to the you-know-what
Review LG’s successor to its Viewty  focuses on imaging capabilities with a centrepiece eight-megapixel camera.
The KC910 - or Renoir, as it's artistically labelled - doesn’t only have an eyebrow-raising cameraphone resolution, though. The device, built around a large, 3in touchscreen, is packed with a roll-call of the latest must-have mobile features. It‘s an HSDPA-enabled 3G device, supports Wi-Fi and has A-GPS location-finding technology on board.
LG's Renoir KC910: packed with the latest must-have features
LG is also claiming a first for mobile audio, with Dolby Mobile sound-enhancement technology built in too. And as the phone arrives with an 8GB memory card in-box, LG is clearly hoping Renoir's multimedia credentials will be attractive too.
What the phone doesn’t have, however, is the flexibility for customisation that a smartphone operating system offers. LG has stuck with its own touchscreen user interface.
Nonetheless, that 8m-pixel camera is the real attention-grabber. At launch, LG hailed the Renoir as the thinnest eight-megapixel handset around - the phone's a sliver under 14mm. While these things change, it’s undeniably slim for the imaging technology it packs.
It doesn’t skimp on the photo features. It has Schneider-Kreuznach endorsed optics, and is boosted by the inclusion of a xenon flash. It includes a stack of tweaking and shot-enhancing options, including touch-to-aim autofocusing. On the video front, LG has reprised the slow-motion video capture capability, and DivX video playback support introduced on its successful Viewty.
OK, so the Renoir looks a bit like the you know what. It has a smaller footprint and is lighter than the iPhone, at 107.8 x 55.9 x 13.95mm and weighing 110g, but it's a slightly bigger proposition (though slimmer) than its Viewty predecessor.
The smooth black front is dominated by the 3in display, a 240 x 400, 262,000-colour touchscreen that’s smaller and less detailed than the Apple one.
Round the back, the camera lens protrudes just a few millimetres from smooth graphite-grey surface. LG has ditched the Viewty’s round-the-lens zoom control for a more conventional rocker key. Around the lens is a sliding cover.
Pressing the main menu button pulls up a side bar of four sub menu category icons
The smart-looking front and back panels are covered by sheets of glossy plastic which are typically smudge-attracting. A small low-res video-call camera sits anonymously above the Renoir’s screen, while three control buttons are arranged below the display – regular Call and End buttons, plus a key for calling up a list of currently running applications.
The LG Renoir is built around a UI to that's like the one used on previous LG touchscreen phones. There have been improvements and enhancements along the way, and the new one feels a more responsive. Scrolling is smoother, for instance, and flicking through lists more fluid.
Haptic feedback lets you know when buttons have been properly pressed - levels for this vibrating feedback can be adjusted. The Renoir’s UI doesn't deliver quite the easy user-friendliness and slickness of the iPhone, but it does the job.
The home screen has a row of four icons along the bottom for phone dialing, the contacts book, messaging and the main menu. Above and to the right of them, there’s a small ‘W’ that pulls up a toolbar of widgets at the bottom of the screen, representing a limited selection of applications you can have on your home screen: music player, FM radio, photo gallery, clocks, calendar, notes, speed dialing and an Accuweather online weather forecast.
You can simply flick through these with your finger, and drag and drop as many of them as you like onto the main part of the screen, moving them around as you like. Close the widgets function, and they remain on screen until you choose to drag them off again.
Pressing the main menu button calls u a side bar of four sub-menu category icons: communication, entertainment, utilities and settings. Tap these and you get a grid of related function icons to select from.
Buttons are well-space to avoid mis-presses
You’ll find the screen lock automatically kicks in to prevent accidental pressing, or you can lock it by pressing a button on the side of the phone. Press and hold an on-screen lock icon, or the side button, and it unlocks easily enough.
Usefully, you can tap the top of the screen in most menu screens to get an status summary which, as well as various connectivity and battery read-outs, also provides switches for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the music player.
When you're composing messages and emails, or typing notes or memos, hold the phone in portrait mode to use the virtual phone numberpad for normal texting input. Alternatively, turn the phone sideways, and a motion sensor automatically flips the screen sideways and pops up a Qwerty keyboard.
Its keys are small, but it is surprisingly usable - we found it perfectly fine for tapping in messages. And if you want to see a full message you’re composing, a virtual button press hides the keyboard or numbered to view full text on screen, giving plenty more reading room.
Camerawork is where the LG Renoir really breaks new ground for a touchscreen phone. Its eight-megapixel camera has a dazzling array of shooting options for a mobile phone.
The autofocus system is enhanced by touch-controlled focusing – you simply tap the part of the picture you want to focus on, take your finger off and the shot is taken. It's simple, but very effective.
The camera is enhanced by touch-controlled focusing
Other aids for improving shots include automatic face tracking, smile detection, a "beauty shot" option which auto-airbrushes away spots and other blemishes in portraits, and blink detection. These all work surprisingly well, if you need them.
Flip open the lens cover, and you’re away. Although the touch interface is extensive, it’s not particularly difficult to us. Some day-to-day features – including flash, shot mode and exposure control - are lined up on one side of the screen, while more detailed settings options are accessible by tapping another settings button. You can use the digital zoom by dragging an on-screen slider, though in practice it’s easier to use the zoom rocker.
Serious photographers will appreciate controls like ISO adjustment, from 100 to 1600. There’s the usual white balance control, plus an (excellent) macro mode for close-ups, and a useful backlight compensation option. A variety of colour effects and frames are included, plus a panorama shot mode and a neat continuous-shot option that takes seven consecutive snaps as high-res images and presents them as thumbnails so you can select the best.
Image quality is excellent by phone standards. The resolution means images are extremely detailed, and in decent lighting conditions you can get some great shots. Colour is naturally portrayed and well balanced. It’s possible to blow pics up and maintain high quality beyond regular standard photo size, but even on a PC screen you can zoom in for very precise detailing. The autofocus system works crisply, locking on to tight focus areas speedily.
In dark condition, indoors or out, even with the xenon flash, results are less impressive. The flash does provide extra illumination, but pics can be a touch grainy, and the flash tends to overwhelm close-ups. Auto white balance didn’t adjust well to low artificial light, so you may want to set the white balance appropriately before shooting to avoid slight colour casts. Post-shooting, there’s a remarkable selection of editing options to touch up and correct images in-phone – plus the facility to upload images straight to blogs.
The Renoir’s upmarket imaging capabilities extend to video capture. The phone can shoot at up to 640 x 480 (VGA) at 30f/s for smooth-playing, good quality mobile footage. Like the Viewty, it can shoot in slow-mo, capturing at 120f/s, but only at 320 x 240.
Time-lapse video can be taken too, with a 5f/s setting for capturing slow-moving subjects or scenes - like sunsets. You can edit videos or upload them straight to YouTube from the handset.
Serious snappers will appreciate ISO adjustment
With such decent-sized screen, video is very watchable. You can transfer video content from a PC or memory card, or download content over the air using HSDPA or Wi-Fi.
The music player is well set up for good quality tune playing. Its user interface is intuitive and easy to operate. Tracks are listed in familiar music player categories, and cover art is supported – though not in any way as slickly as it is on the iPhone . Using Dolby Mobile audio processing technology for the first time – you tap onscreen to engage it – the music player sounds top class. You get a decent hefty bass presence and a rich depth of sound that’s very satisfying to the ears.
LG hasn’t quite sealed the deal - the supplied earphones are fine, if not exceptional but, although the two-piece set has a standard 3.5mm headphone socket mid-way to fit your own ear-gear, it uses a side-mounted proprietary charger/USB/earphone connector which is just awkward. The connector arrangement also means you can’t listen while charging. You can also use stereo Bluetooth earphones, or the loudspeaker option – though the earphone lead has to be connected if you’re tuning into the nifty FM radio.
The Renoir boasts A-GPS, though our review sample didn’t have any dedicated satnav software on board. The phone does come with Google Maps which provides a way to find your precise location, do local searches for places of interest and other amenities, and plan routes. You can also view satellite images.
The A-GPS on our sample was quick to get a satellite fix, taking less than a minute, and held on well when moving. The A-GPS technology can also be used to geotag your camera shots with location data, so where they were shot can be shown on a map, either on the phone or when uploaded to a suitable online service.
Interestingly, LG has been thinking about using GPS for fitness too. A Jogging Buddy app uses satellite co-ordinates and your movement to log and monitor running performances, keeping a record of workouts to browse through and compare. It works well, though not everyone will want to jog with a Renoir in their pocket.
Smaller and lighter than you-know-what
The Renoir delivers an efficient web browsing experience. It’s not as slick as the iPhone’s Safari browser, but pages usually render well, and you can easily zoom in and smoothly browse through pages using fingertip scrolling control. You can also keep two tabs open and switch between them, while the accelerometer will flip the screen to widescreen view if you want a better overview of a page.
RSS feeds are supported too, and LG has the usual organiser functions loaded up: calendar, to-do lists, memo function, voice recorder, calculator, convertor, world clock and stopwatch, plus Picsel’s document reader, which can be used with email attachments or copied-over files. It also includes a couple of unremarkable motion controlled games along with a trio of standard Java games.
The Renoir makes and takes calls without fuss - calls are clear and trouble free. As for battery life, with any touchscreen device that has so many power-sapping functions on board, how much you’ll get out of this phone between charges will depend on how and what you’re using. To minimise drain, it’s definitely worth keeping a check on whether apps have been left working unnecessarily in the background - press the Multitasking key to see what’s active.
In ideal conditions, LG reckons the Renoir can keep you switched on for up to 350 hours' standby or 220 minutes of talktime. With average use, we managed a couple of days, but this is one those devices where individual usage and therefore battery performance can vary considerably.
LG has gone to town on the imaging capabilities of the Renoir. The eight-megapixel camera is complemented by a mass of snapping aids and clever photo enhancing gadgetry. The overall result is excellent cameraphone performance that hits almost all of the right buttons.