One of the hot launches of Mobile World Congress was the LG KM900 Arena, the dinky full-touch device. As we spent a fair amount of time with this handset whilst on the ground at the show, we thought it only fair to share these experiences. Can it truly be an iPhone rival?

Sporting a 3-inch 480 x 800 resolution WVGA screen, the first thing that strikes about the Arena is the quality of the build, from the brushed metal front and tempered glass screen, to the soft curves around the edges. LG have had some good quality phones in the past, but we’ve been unsure about some of their choices when it comes to combining keys and touch in an indistinct hybrid mash-up. Thankfully the Arena doesn’t suffer this problem.

The Arena is light (105g) in the hand and sits nicely; its compact size (105.9 x 55.6 x 11.95mm) will appeal to those who don’t want to hold a huge slab of screen to their face like the iPhone or Samsung Omnia HD. But a compact format is a double-edged sword. The downside, of course is that you have less real estate for browsing the Internet or watching movies.

The real star here is the new S-Class user interface. It’s impossible to look at it without thinking iPhone, with a main menu featuring neat icons. But this is only the surface, as the S-Class interface really works as a 3D cube, allowing you to swipe you way through four customisable main menu screens, rather like the HTC TouchFLO interface.

Your main menu option, however, does give you a little more flexibility than some rivals. With the icons divided into logical groupings, you can scroll the lines horizontally (LG calls this Elastic Lists), so you can have icons for less frequently used applications off the side of the screen and pull them back in, so despite the smallish screen, you don’t feel you are losing out. Flip the handset into a horizontal aspect and your menu will jump round too. In this mode you’ll notice the screen is just a little small for all those icons.

The way the media will scroll round as though it is on a Rolodex, and give you your favourite contacts, with pictures too, also appeals and takes the sort of CoverFlow experience that iTunes and iPod users have enjoyed for some time. As the touch phone market has matured, expectations have been raised to a bar set high by Apple. Only now, perhaps, can we see this being really being approached.

It is interesting too that LG felt they needed a proprietary platform to do it. The question here will be whether customisation beyond LG is possible - you will be able incorporate Google Mobile services, but perhaps you won’t get the same freedoms as you would with a platform like Android. Time will tell.

Elsewhere you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a blessing for media users who want to take advantage of their music, whilst combining them with their existing premium headphones. You also get an FM transmitter for sharing your tunes on any radio. The media offering is further boosted by the incorporation of Dolby Mobile.

Dolby Mobile really brings your media to life and if you are planning on watching movies, then you’ll enjoy the virtual surround sound through headphones. We had to chance to experience this both on the LG and Dolby stands at the show and it is really very good. Of course, it would be in this sort of show environment, but having experienced Dolby’s integration on notebooks, we’re sure this will follow through to the real world experience.

Movie fans will also appreciate DivX compatibility whilst a hot-swappable microSD card slot that hides under the back cover provides a realistic option for expandable storage, above the generous 8GB on-board storage.

The handset is as connected as you’d expect it to be, featuring HSDPA, AGPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You also get a 5-megapixel camera around the back, so you’ll have no problems shooting and sharing contents, whilst taking advantage of the fast data speeds for internet browsing and mail on the move.

Price when reviewed:
dependent on contract

First Impressions

Of course in our First Look we didn’t get to sample anything like the synchronisation of contacts or any of the messaging or calling functions, but our first impressions are really good. The interface is slick and fast, and you really feel like you are getting the response that you want from a touch device.

With a heap of features in a compact size, the LG Arena looks to offer something that has been missing from the touch sector and unlike some rival handsets, this little gem will be on the market in the next few months. Be sure to check back for a full review as we approach final release. In the meantime, it’s a thumbs-up for LG.