We’ve reviewed a flurry of Windows phones already, like the Optimus 7, the HTC Surround, and the Samsung Focus, but believe it or not there’s still a few we have yet to check out. One such example is the LG Quantum, which breaks the trend of pure touchscreen slates in the Windows Phone 7 launch lineup. It’s a major bonus to have some differentiation in a selection of samey Windows phones, but it also means there’s a lot of pressure on the Quantum to deliver a strong messaging experience.
This is my first experience with Windows phone, coming from a predominately BlackBerry lifestyle. I’ve dabbled in Android and webOS, but a whole new mobile platform from a computing giant with a long lineage in mobile is an exciting prospect. I’m the last of the IntoMobile editors who exclusively uses a Windows computer day-to-day, so I think I’ve got a bit more of a vested interest in how Windows phone pans out for Microsoft than the rest of the team.
So, does the LG Quantum stick out from the rest of the Windows phone crowd, and does it do a good job of selling the burgeoning mobile platform? Dive in to find out.
Available for $199 w/ 2-year contract from AT&T, $49.95 w/ 3-year contract from Bell
Specifications (Specs – sheet)
- 3.5-inch WVGA (480 x 800) display
- 1 GHz CPU, 512 MB of RAM, 16 GB storage
- 5 megapixel camera with autofocus, flash, 720p video capture, anti-shake, and panorama stitching
- 3G via HSPA, Wi-Fi b/g/n
- GPS, Bluetooth 2.1
- 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB slot
- Windows Phone 7 OS
- 7 hours talk time, 14 days standby
- 60.9 x 115.95 x 79.7 mm, and 160 g
- Excellent keyboard
- Exceptional battery life
- Solid weight and construction
- Limited app selection
- Sketchy camera quality
- No multitasking, cut and paste
The LG Quantum’s hardware was really fantastic, from a look and feel perspective. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a bit on the heavy side, but I see that as a good thing; it’s easy to find in a bag, and feels solid when you’re using it. The siding was a little bit rubbery for grip, and the battery door was smooth, solid metal that felt like it could stand the test of time. The spring action on the slide had a really good, solid kick to it.
The keyboard was particularly good – big keys, backlit, well-spaced, and had noticeable click to them. Some of my friends found the keyboard a little too big, and required too much moving around to hit all of the keys, but for folks with gigantic mitts like me, it was a perfect size. Even the virtual keyboard was nicely spaced and responsive for those times that you couldn’t be bothered to slide the Quantum open.
This was my first experience with Windows Phone, so there was certainly some getting used to. The software’s user interface does kind of punch you in the face the first time you use it; simple, but the transitions were smooth, and the monochromatic colour scheme was really quite unique. The core apps spanned the usual gamut, like e-mail that tied in with Exchange and IMAP, calendar with Google sync, contacts with with Facebook integration (but not Twitter), and a GPS app built on Bing maps. Contacts were actually a bit of a pain because though I could pick and chose which data to pull in from which networks, but I was stuck with absolutely everything from my Windows Live account, including all of those people I used to talk to on MSN ten years ago. Whee. Can’t say I’m surprised that Windows phone is pushing a Microsoft service a little more aggressively than the others, though.
There were also an interesting selection of apps included by LG, like Send To to stream media to Wi-Fi enabled TV and stereos using DLNA, a panorama app which stitched together multiple pictures, and a general-use augmented reality app. There were some obvious gaps that Microsoft has promised to address, like cut and paste, and others they won’t like multitasking. I could begrudgingly get through either for a little while, but Microsoft really better not dawdle on a firmware update with at least cut and paste; their wishy-washy stance on multitasking isn’t instilling a lot of confidence in me for the future.
The next thing I was struck by was the lack of official instant messaging clients. Google Talk is typically a mainstay for when I’m hopping between handsets, but I would think a Windows Phone would at least include a native Live Messenger app – yeah, there’s a third-party one, but I was expecting it to be a cornerstone property that Microsoft would leverage to make their new OS worthwhile. I was also missing Google Maps since Bing maps, as smooth as its zoom layer transitions were, couldn’t hold a candle to Google Maps. Still, there were plenty of third parties that I did recognize, like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Loopt, Poynt, Netflix, and others. They all did what they were supposed to, but I hadn’t found one that made use of any kind of notification system – there was no way to know if I had a new Twitter mention, friend check-in, or Facebook wall post unless I actually went into the app and poked around. Though it’s likely we’ll see more notifications through live tiles on the home screen in time, no LED light on the LG Quantum itself stunts a lot of potential. Landscape support on third-party apps was pretty hit and miss, which is pretty important for a phone with a side-sliding QWERTY keyboard.
Web browser, Multimedia, Camera
I was reasonably impressed with Internet Explorer, but until Flash 10.1 support comes along, no matter how much Microsoft promises it’s on the way, Android will have a leg-up. I found rendering was at times slow, but I have a feeling that might have more to do with Bell coverage than the device since pinch-to-zoom and panning were both super-smooth and responsive. I found the display rather crisp, which helped for reading text, and YouTube videos streamed just dandy, even in high-quality.
After getting acquainted with how everything moved around, I found using the desktop Zune software really great for shuffling tunes back and forth. I didn’t have a Zune pass, so couldn’t really sample the service on that end, but it would probably look there for a music service before any third parties. One major gripe I have with Live accounts on the whole is the inability to move between countries. Way back when I started my Hotmail account, I think it chose U.S. as my country automatically for some reason, and as soon as I linked in Zune and Xbox and all that other stuff, they’re locked-in as American accounts. That means that every time I try to log in to Zune, it gives me an error saying my IP address doesn’t match my country code, and that I have to start a new Canadian account if I want to use anything; same thing for Xbox. That’s not what you would call a palatable option for anyone who has accumulated friends, e-mails, and especially video game achievements on one account for awhile. I get that they want to maintain firm controls on geographic rights to particular content, but Microsoft is really turning away international customers with this policy. Just know that you would have to build any and all web profiles you’ve developed over time from scratch if you ever moved to another country with your Windows phone.
Music handling is really simple, subdued, and useful in that a little slide-in control menu appears at the top as soon as you hit the volume rocker. The LG Quantum comes with 16 GB on-board storage, which is enough for me, but serious music lovers will decry the lack of a microSD memory card slot. Even if there was a slot included, you wouldn’t be able to use that microSD card for anything else ever again. Slacker is available for streaming tunes if you find you’re too limited by memory, and Netflix can provide movies and TV shows on the go, but having something stored locally is sometimes essential for when you’re in a subway, or elsewhere with poor coverage.
The LG Quantum comes with a 5 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus, but damn was the flash terrible. Maybe it’s just a software thing that was timing it wrong, or the flash itself was just too bright, but if you’re in close quarters in low light, you will not get a good picture. You’ll need at least a couple of feet otherwise your shots will be utterly and completely washed out by an overenthusiastic flash. Here’s an example, which I was able to recreate many times over even after fiddling with settings.
In more standard conditions, the camera did well enough, though not quite up to snuff that I’ve seen with other 5 megapixel cameras on smartphones. The photostitching app that LG included was really easy to use – you don’t even have to hit the shutter key, just move the camera to land within the guidelines. It was just too bad that panorama pictures weren’t higher-res.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The battery life on the LG Quantum deserves a special shoutout. Even with a 1500 mAh battery, I wasn’t expecting a large touchscreen device to last a day and a half, but this one certainly did. Maybe the lack of multitasking is to thank for this, and seeing as how decently third-party apps handled pausing and resuming, it’s almost a sacrifice I’d be willing to make.
Call quality was up to snuff, and I didn’t experience any dropped calls on the Bell network in Ottawa. The calling app wasn’t especially fancy and did the job.
In the end, I think Microsoft has a good start with Windows phone, and their core concept is sound, so long as they continue to build on it with obvious stuff like multitasking and cut and paste. That being said, there were a lot of good things about webOS when it launched, and it failed to survive on its own without the help of HP. The difference here is that Microsoft has a hell of a lot more resources to pour into this platform than Palm did, and since they’ve already established the cooperation of app developers, carriers, and manufacturers, I think Windows phone has some hope, even if only a little bit for the next five years or so while things get up to speed.
When thinking about the future of the OS, all that comes to mind is Xbox. At first, the gaming console was a joke – titanically huge, inexperienced in the gaming world, and little more than a glorified computer with neon green stripes on it. But Microsoft kept plugging away, wooing developers, building a deep and profitable online service, and eventually overtook the Nintendo Wii as the top-sold console worldwide. By continuing to tightly integrate with Windows on computers and Xbox on the TV, I think in time Windows phone could similarly become the quintessential third screen and boast a lot of synergies that competing mobile platforms won’t. I wouldn’t think about comparing Windows phone’s market share to any of the big boys in the immediate future, but it wouldn’t be crazy to see it beat out Palm sometime within 2011.
Despite a good start, that day isn’t today. For now, I think Windows phone will be relegated to a few Windows enthusiasts, and the LG Quantum specifically will appeal to the heavy messagers within that subset. Enterprise users will be especially happy about how closely it works with Outlook, and small selection of high quality apps will give users a little something to cling to. Unfortunately, the lack of a decent notification system, multitasking, cut and paste, and a horrible flash on the camera will turn a lot of smartphone shoppers off of the LG Quantum.