LG Renoir KC910 Review

Doug Harman dials up LG's update of the Viewty mobile camera phone, the LG Renoir, which arrives for its full Best4Reviews test.

The LG Renoir is most easily described as iPhone-alike in that it takes the LG Viewty’s touchscreen concept and marries it to an 8-megapixel camera phone. Available now and free on some monthly contracts, the Renoir may sport a rather arty name, but can it live up to it and, is it LG's best touchscreen phone yet?

The Renoir is a definite improvement, design wise, over the LG Viewty a much-improved feel. The touchscreen is plonked behind a plastic case that lacks the quality of the iPhone's glass housing. On the up side, this allows for a lighter device so handling is good but as with an y touchscreen phone, be prepared to constantly deal with finger marks and smudges.

The Renoir's screen is perfectly suitable for viewing video and thankfully, it is a more responsive screen than the Viewty's, but not up to the standard set by the iPhone. The touchscreen is simple and easy to use; the addition of a hard shortcut key also helps bring apps into play quickly too.

Although it has a nice, finger-friendly interface, it can be a bit hit and miss if you don’t properly calibrate it and once that’s done it takes a little getting sued to. Once you have played for a while and got the hang of where everything is and how to use it, the Renoir becomes a much happier place to be.

A clever widgets bar provides another neat way to access apps from the screen, most used apps can be easily dragged to the home screen (similar to the Samsung Omnia or T-Mobile G1) so they are always quickly available without having to trawl the widgets bar. In case you were wondering, some of the widgets on offer give you fast access to the time (via analogue or digital clock interfaces), or a memo pad for quick note taking for example.

As a phone with an 8-megapixel camera, one of the top features you’re likely to use is of course that camera, which is housed on the back of the phone behind a lens cover; the lens protrudes rather, ruining the phone’s lines somewhat. To take a snap, you can hold the Renoir portrait fashion where a large shutter button is provided for use just like, well, a camera!

Boosting the feature set further LG makes big noise over the Renoir's music capabilities and the phone even boasts Dolby support and while Dolby Mobile software gives the music and sounds a little something extra during playback, the mysterious omission of a “normal” built-in 3.5mm headphone jack disappoints. Yes you can use a headphone jack adaptor, but that’s just even more spoiling of the Renoir’s fine lines, so the inclusion of a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack should be a must for future versions please LG.

In terms of picture quality, the 8-megapixel camera marks a big step up but having that many pixels on such a small sensor is asking for trouble with image noise and on that front, it does not disappoint. Images in low light are very noisy indeed. In brighter conditions and at low ISO settings, the Renoir's camera performed well providing reasonably sharp pictures and including an assortment of cool snapping modes.

There's a face-detection mode and smile detection too, the former being fairly common on most of today’s digital compact cameras while the latter will only take a snap when your subject gurns attractively at the lens. One mode too far in my opinion is the beauty mode, which (LG claims) will help smooth out imperfections in skin on portraits for example. But it’s not that successful as the amount of detail captured is questionable and this just removes even more. Use sparingly is my advice.

Finally a clever blink detection system helps to avoid taking pictures while your subject, erm, blinks and so has their eyes shut. It’s nice to report barring my caveats on the Beauty mode, all of these systems worked quite well.

Exposure and ISO can be adjusted, ISO up to 1600 but noise is so bad at that setting, well, let's just not go there, aye. However the Renoir is capable of recording video at up to 120 frames per second, so you have a built-in slow motion mode and this is great fun.

In low light, a xenon flash help s illuminate things… slightly. The flash provides a mere puff of illumination, so it’s okay as fill-in not much more though.

There's plenty more in store within the Renoir’s smooth casing. As with the similar Viewty, Renoir supports DivX and Xvid files letting you watch so converted films or video that can be stored on microSDHC cards of up to a top capacity of 8GB. Supplied software in the box lets you encode video files into DivX if it is not already in a compatible format, so that’s good.

A real benefit for the Renoir is HSDPA capability providing for fast mobile Internet access and you even get built-in GPS, which alongside Google Maps, is great for hand held for navigation or to “geo-tag” images the latter allowing you can plot the snaps on a map, for example. A clever jogging app can track how far and how long a run took you which is a nice tool to have handy if you’re the more active type.

Text on the Renoir's touchscreen while not perfect, is okay and whether it's an SMS or a Web page you're writing on, the Renoir provides up a traditional mobile keypad (it pops into view) that even comes with annoying predictive text or a full Qwerty keypad layout, all depending on which way you the phone.

In terms of overall performance, video looks good on the Renoir's 240x400 screen, which is just definitely large enough to comfortably sit through a movie, say on a train journey. Audio quality during music playback is good and certainly benefits from Monsieur Dolby’s acoustic tricks, giving improved tonal width and richer bass particularly for otherwise lacklustre tracks. And given the devices original purpose remember, it is actually a phone after all, call quality is both loud and clear, which is a relief.

A major omission in my view if the lack of a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack and although you can use the phone with an adapter it simply spoils the phone’s otherwise sleek lines and makes it less usable overall. Interestingly, LG rates the Renoir’s battery life at around 350 hours on standby or up to 220 minutes talk time and at the time of writing, the phone was still running from it’s first charge (and the LG needed the phone back) so on the face of it that looks around right as I used the it on and over two weeks.

And so, the Renoir needs a few tweaks to go from good to great; a more responsive and larger touchscreen, a 3.5mm headphone jack and (arguably) use of an open operating system, or platform, such as Android; then the LG Renoir could really take the market by storm.

Verdict: 
The Renoir’s interface is attractive to look at and usable, but it lacks the sparkle of other platforms, such as Android or Symbian. In terms of its capabilities, as a camera phone it performs best in bright daylight and at low ISOs, but in low light and at higher sensitivities, it all goes horribly wrong. The underpowered flash doesn’t help here either. In terms of a telephone, the Renoir is more than competent but the initial hit and miss of the touchscreen; the fact it sometimes does not react as quickly as we’d like, means this is certainly not LG's best touchscreen to date. Viewed as an upgrade from the Viewty it works, but it still struggles against stiff competition in the market – think iPhone.