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11/10/2011
04:21 PM
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LG DoublePlay: Twice Your Android Smartphone Fun?

This new T-Mobile-powered Windows Phone has a great price and some eye-popping features, such as dual screens.

Android smartphones come in all shapes and sizes. But in most other ways they're very similar. Therefore bigger screens, higher-resolution cameras, and faster processors tend to be the hardware tweaks that manufacturers use to try to differentiate their newest model from both their competitors' and their own smartphones. LG's Android-powered DoublePlay takes another tack. Its unique hardware signature is dual touch displays.


The T-Mobile LG DoublePlay has a unique dual-screen design.

The LG DoublePlay ships with Android 2.3.4 (a.k.a. Gingerbread). It is not clear if an upgrade path to Android’s latest OS, 4.0--dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich--will be available. T-Mobile’s official response is a vague "we are actively working with OEM partners to ensure that a number of eligible T-Mobile devices are upgraded to Android 4.0 in the coming months." Upgraded OS or not, the LG DoublePlay's modest screen size, display resolution, and single-core 1-GHz processor should not deter you from considering it as a combination work and play smartphone. The device combines several features, including a few unique ones, to make it an appealing choice for just about anyone.

The DoublePlay is a quad-band GSM world phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) with dual-band 4G UMTS/HSPA+ (Bands I and IV). Its 1500mAh lithium-ion battery is rated for 3.3 hours of talk time and 11 days of standby time. The pull-out physical keyboard makes the phone a bit thicker (0.63 inches) and heaver (6.7 ounces) than other phones. However, it is comfortable to hold. The DoublePlay has 1GB of system memory and ships with a surprisingly small 2GB microSD card, though it supports microSD cards up to 32GB.


Slide out the DoublePlay's keyboard and you get context-relevant shortcuts on the secondary screen.

The DoublePlay gets its name for its unique dual screens. The main display is a relatively small 3.5-inch screen with low resolution (480 pixels by 320 pixels) by today’s standards. The second display is a 2-inch screen (320 pixels by 240 pixels) that sits in the middle of a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The second screen displays shortcuts to the Web browser, Calendar, and other apps. However, not all apps get a shortcut on the second display. (Gmail, for example.) Launching the Web browser from the second screen shows a rotating list of bookmarks. Tapping a bookmark launches the Web browser in the main screen or, if the browser is already running, creates a new tabbed window for the bookmarked site. It would be better if selecting a bookmark simply pointed the current browser tab to the new site. Some apps run a subset of their functions in the smaller screen. The Calendar app, for example, displays an agenda view in the second screen. Tapping an event brings it up in the main screen.


The secondary screen allows direct access to functions outside an app while the app makes full use of the main screen.

Split keyboard? No problem.
An interesting design side-effect of the DoublePlay’s second screen is that the QWERTY keyboard is split in two. My first thought is that this would create thumb-typing problems, but I found the opposite to be true. Two reasons: First, the compressed key layout on each side of the second screen reduces thumb travel while typing. Second, the distance between the two sides of the keyboard punishes bad thumb keyboard typing habits by making it difficult to throw a thumb to the side closest to the other hand. The keys themselves are not perfect but are acceptable given the small form factor. The keys light up in the dark. The Swype gesture typing app is provided for users who prefer to use the on-screen keyboard at least some of the time.

Good photos
The LG DoublePlay’s camera can shoot 5MP still photos and 720p HD video and is equipped with a flash. Both distance and macro photos I took looked good.


The macro setting makes it possible to capture good close-ups.

You can tell it's 4G
Though you can debate what constitutes 4G wireless broadband speeds, I can say that T-Mobile's 4G service in my area is significantly faster than its 3G service. 3G service tends to deliver between 500Kbps and 1Mbps download speeds in my area. The DoublePlay's 4G service provided between 2.2 Mbps and 4.4 Mbps download speeds. Upload speed ranged between 1.2 Mbps and 1.7 Mbps.

The DoublePlay comes equipped with Bluetooth, USB, and Wi-Fi 4G hotspot capabilities. Wi-Fi worked without any surprises or problems. You can choose between open (no security) and WPA2 PSK encryption with a minimum eight-character password.

Wi-Fi calling
Another unique feature is the ability to route voice calls to and from the DoublePlay through a Wi-Fi network. Voice calls made via Wi-Fi calling do not count against the monthly voice call minutes quota. This is a great feature for T-Mobile subscribers in, for example, large buildings or basements. I did not see any indicator that my calls were being routed via Wi-Fi when making calls, and voice quality did not sound any different from a conventional GSM voice call.

What you don't get
The LG DoublePlay has a few notable missing features. Most notably, it lacks a front-facing camera for video chats using free services such as Skype and Google+ Hangout. It also lacks Near Field Communications (NFC) hardware to enable wireless eCommerce, currently being promoted by Google and PayPal.

But the LG DoublePlay is a solid choice for most people nonetheless. The low contract price and its unique-feature combo of dual-touch screen displays, physical QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi calling, and 4G tethering via USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are hard to resist.

Pros: Great price, unique dual touchscreens, Wi-fi calling, physical QWERTY keyboard
Cons: Small main screen, relatively basic processor and memory.
Conclusion: What the LG DoublePlay lacks in screen size it makes up for in interesting hardware extras combined with Android’s ability to work with nearly any email system, including Microsoft Exchange. Combined, these features make it a viable contender for personal and business use.

Details:
Price:
$99.99 with two-year contract, after mail-in rebate.
Product home page

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