LG ShineLG's KE970 "Shine" is one of the most gorgeous mobile phones - nay, one of the most gorgeous handheld objects - I've ever come across.  I drooled over it at CES in Vegas this past January, and again at CTIA in Orlando in March.  I tend to favor a combination of features and style in my gadgets, but from the moment I first saw Shine's TFT display emerge from beneath it's mirrored front panel, I was in love.  It almost didn't matter what Shine had under the hood - I wanted to be near its beauty. 

Thanks to Corey from MobilePlanet  www.mobileplanet.com , I got to be up close and personal with Shine for a few weeks.  I got the unlocked GSM KE970 version (LG recently introduced a 3G-enabled version, the KU970), which wasn't meant for North American soil but works just fine with a T-Mobile or Cingular SIM card, provided you're not in a 850 MHz only service area.   

From its mirrored front to brushed silver rear and side panels, and from its luxurious metal construction to solid sliding mechanism, Shine screams "quality."  But does it perform as well as it looks, or is Shine's beauty only skin-deep?  As with all things so powerfully alluring, the answer is a combination of good and bad.

Honestly, Shine might be the best looking cell phone I've ever seen, and it feels as good to hold as it does to gaze upon.  The all-metal housing is finished in brushed silver with mirror-finish accents and, of course, a mirrored front panel.  You've really got to see the phone's front panel to truly appreciate it - you can literally check your smile, fix your makeup, or just stare at yourself in it until you activate the phone.  The 2.2" TFT LCD display then appears like magic from beneath the mirrored lens.  The effect is super cool.

Measuring 99.8 x 50.6 x 13.8 mm, Shine is neither small nor large as far as current handsets go.  Combined with its 119g of weight and luxurious build, Shine's size gives it the feel of a luxury object.  It's small and thin enough to tuck away neatly inside a pocket or purse, but has the pleasant heft of quality construction.  The sliding mechanism adds to this feel, with a smooth movement and satisfying "click" in both directions.  Oddly, however, I felt a discernible creak when pressing either softkeys with the phone in the "open" position.  The top half of the slider seemed to rock back and forth a bit in its slider track.  Unfortunate to say, but this kind of thing detracts from a handset so clearly focused on look and feel.

A slider phone, Shine shows relatively few buttons when closed.  Beneath the display on the front panel resides a scroll wheel flanked by two cylinder-shaped buttons, and two subtly marked softkeys beyond those.  Sliding the phone open reveals a laser-etched dialing keypad on the bottom portion of the handset: the standard 12 dialing buttons plus an additional row of call, clear, and cancel keys. These buttons actually account for most of Shine's shortcomings. 

The three-way (up/down/select) scrollwheel is particularly difficult to manage, as it tends to be a bit slow to respond at first and then hyper-sensitive when you've finished scrolling and push it to make a selection.  I repeatedly wound up "choosing" the wrong menu item due to the scrollwheel jumping an extra spot up or down as I pushed down on it.  At first I thought maybe I'd gotten a defective handset, but reading other reviews and asking around confirmed that Shine has a wonky wheel, plain and simple. The adjacent buttons are also a bit tricky to deal with, due to their being both small and somewhat crammed in between the scrollwheel and raised metal ridges that seem to have been meant to add to the design aesthetic and/or tactile feedback of the navigation array.  While the phone isn't impossible to work, the controls do detract quite a bit from the overall experience of using it.  Shine is a beautiful device with quite an elegant user interface, but it can be a pain the neck to actually use.

Flipping the handset over, Shine looks more like a high-style digital camera than a phone.  The back panel is finished in sleek brushed metal with the camera sensor, self-portrait mirror, and flash assist light housed in a mirror-finished inset tucked into the upper right corner (when the phone is held the long way).  Subtle logos and rounded corners complete the chic camera effect, and almost the entirety of the rear panel detaches for access to the battery, memory card and SIM card slots. The entire left panel of the handset is blank save for a tether loop slot in the upper corner.  Along the right side we find four buttons - camera, mp3, and volume up/down - in addition to a rubber capped charger/headphone accessory port.  While the decision to mount so many controls on one side of the phone while leaving the other side blank is a bit odd, I didn't find that it made Shine any easier (or harder) to use than handsets that split the buttons between both side panels.

Display & Audio

I found the display - both its mirror front and its functionality - to be one of Shine's highlights.   A 2.2" TFT panel, the display renders 262,000 colors across a 240x320 (QVGA) resolution.  While this isn't the brightest screen you'll find on a mobile phone, and it does suffer somewhat in direct sunlight, I found Shine's display to be amongst the most pleasing I've laid my eyes upon in awhile.   

It could well be that I'm just charmed and mesmerized by the whole "disappearing mirror" thing, or that I happen to like LG's taste in default fonts.  Either way, I found Shine's screen to be equally easy on the eyes whether I was reading text, navigating icons, or looking at photos on it.  Wallpapers are customizable, as are caller ID photos.  Photos can be viewed in portrait or full-screen landscape orientations. 

Shine's screen is a fingerprint and smudge magnet.  This is to be expected by virtue of its glossy, mirrored finish.  Actually, the entire handset is pretty prone to showing fingerprints, dirt, and scratches.  But, hey, that's the price to be paid for high fashion.

I tested the tri-band GSM Shine on both T-Mobile and Cingular's network in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Voice quality through the internal earpiece was generally quite good.  With a few exceptions, I was able to hear people I was talking to, and they me.  Note that this is a tri-band phone lacking the US-specific 850-MHz band.  As such, check with your carrier to make sure that the 1900-MHz band is supported where you'll be using the phone; I generally had no problems using the handset save for a few local dead spots in which I can't ever get 1900-band reception. 

Shine's speaker is on the quiet side, which may pose a problem if you either rely on your mobile's speakerphone or tend to have problems hearing your ringtones.  I have pretty good hearing - or am just way too tuned in to phone ringtones - and didn't really mind the quiet speaker.  Listening to music through the speaker worked, but isn't really very useful. Bluetooth support includes stereo over Bluetooth via the A2DP profile.  I had no trouble pairing a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good.  Music played back through wireless stereo headphones also sounded good.   LG also included a 3.5mm headphone adapter in the retail packaging.  Paired with a pair of quality earbuds, the adapter worked well for music playback and handsfree calling via the in-line mic. 

Messaging, Internet, & Connectivity

Shine supports SMS and MMS messaging as well integrated POP3 and IMAP4 email.  Messaging support is more robust than usually found on a standard phone, but not quite as advanced as what smartphone users are used to.  I was able to send and receive text and photo messages with no problems, and also quickly configured the handset to access my personal email accounts over GPRS/EDGE data connections.  The style-conscious professional who needs to check messages on the go but wants a chic phone will appreciate Shine's email support. 

Messaging support also includes a good implementation of T9 predictive text, and a feature that automatically saves messages to the Drafts folder when they're abruptly cancelled mid-composition.  Additionally, the phone keeps a list of contacts to whom you've recently sent messages, a handy little feature which heavy texters will appreciate. 

Instant messaging is not supported out of the box.

Shine supports GRPS and EDGE data transfer for Internet connectivity.  I used the phone with both T-Mobile and 3G-compatible Cingular SIM cards and was able to access Email and Web services by configuring the phone according to settings available on the providers' websites.

The browser built into Shine actually handles HTML Web sites in addition to mobile-optimized Web sites.  While the browser isn't on par with best-in-class mobile browsers, I was pleasantly suprised to find HTML support.  I was able to load most Websites (provided they weren't too Javascript heavy), though more complex sites took awhile to render and navigate.  While you'll want to stick mainly to WAP sites for information retrieval on Shine, it is really nice to be able to access HTML-only sites in a pinch.

One of the advantages to an unlocked phone is that you can download and install whatever third party applications the phone can handle, regardless of whether or not your service provider is getting a cut of the action.  Opera mini is one of my favorite third party apps, and I was able to download and run this Java-based Web browser on Shine without any problems.

As mentioned, Shine is a tri-band GSM phone which supports the 900/1800/1900 bands and both GPRS and EDGE data transfer.  The phone is unlocked and will work on any compatible GSM network both stateside and abroad.  Note that while the handset will work with Cingular 3G SIM cards, data speeds will be limited to EDGE, not the faster HDSPA (3G) protocol.  A 3G version of Shine, the KU970, was recently released but not available for this review.

Bluetooth is supported on Shine, including object exchange and audio device support.  The phone paired easily with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and worked well for voice calling and stereo music playback.  Shine can also be tethered to a computer via USB or Bluetooth for use as a data modem. Shine features 50MB of built-in memory and a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards.  No card is included in the retail packaging, and cards up to 2GB in size are supported.

Conclusion

Sometimes it's fun to go for style over substance.  LG's KE970 Shine cell phone comes very close to flawlessly bridging the style/substance divide; close enough for most users who fall in love with its dashing good looks, but not close enough for some.  Shine's gorgeous brushed metal housing and mirror finish display are backed by a good feature set, 2 mp camera. and generally well designed user interface and applications.  The inclusion of email support, an MS Office-compatible document viewer, and HTML browser certainly add to the handset's appeal to the chic executive set. 

My main qualms with Shine have to do with its scrollwheel-based navigation system.  While the wheel comes off as clever and stylish upon first glance, in practice it's much less user friendly or accurate than a boring old D-Pad or joystick.  The scrollwheel isn't unusable, but its tendency to jump up or down when I pressed it (to select an item) made for many an annoying misstep.  I also experienced a little bit of creak on this otherwise solid handset when pressing certain buttons with the slider open. 

 If you can live with these imperfections, or just don't care, Shine is perhaps the ultimate choice in fashion-conscious handsets.  Verizon recently brought a variant to the brushed-metal design to their US lineup, but it pales in comparison to the original's beauty.  The KE970 is absolutely gorgeous, and it places and receives calls and then some.  That might be all you'll ever want in a cell phone. 

Special thanks once again to Corey at MobilePlanet www.mobileplanet.com for providing the loaner handset for this review.

LG Shine


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