The LG Dare is a high-end phone from Verizon whose large touchscreen, easy to use music player, and highly-functional camera give it an emphasis on multimedia.
This model does many things surprisingly well. If you're a consumer looking for an inexpensive, fully-featured mobile phone or a multimedia enthusiast, you should definitely take a closer look at the Dare. However, if you're a die-hard road warrior, you probably need a Blackberry or a Windows Mobile smartphone.
Design and Hardware
The Dare is a tablet-style phone; I specifically chose it because I prefer that style to the flip design. Because there are no moving parts, the entire phone feels quite solid in the hand.
The large touchscreen dominates the front of the device, with three small buttons at the bottom for call, context-sensitive clear/voice command, and disconnect.
Overall, the phone measures 4.1-inches high, 2.2-inches wide, and just 0.5-inches thick; it weighs 3.75 ounces. It is, for me, an ideal shape, size, and weight. When I hold it in my hand it feels both solid and comfortable -- not so thin and light that it feels flimsy, but not so heavy that it hurts to hold for a long period of time. It is only slightly longer and wider than my Motorola RAZR, though somewhat thicker.
The back of the case is finished in a soft touch plastic material that provides excellent grip and doesn't suffer from the smudgy fingerprint problem caused by a glossy finish.
I tend to carry the essentials in my pockets, and most days I can get by without a purse. With my keys and credit cards in one pocket and the LG Dare in the other I'm ready for just about anything. Some devices are too big and bulky to fit comfortably in a pocket, but this phone will fit nicely into any pocket -- cargo pants not required.
Most of the buttons are on the sides of the device, and while they're large enough to distinguish easily by touch, I haven't had a problem with the phone activating in my pocket due to accidental button presses.
A shortcut menu is located on the middle right side of the main screen; touch the arrow to activate it and have quick access to your nine most-used applications or functions. By default the menu includes Mobile Email, Bluetooth, text messaging, the calculator, alarm clock, and calendar, My Videos, My Pictures, My Music, VZ Navigator, and the web browser.
Because this phone doesn't have a hardware keyboard or numberpad, you enter text and phone numbers on the touchscreen. This works well, providing feedback for each press, but I wouldn't recommend it for a very heavy texter. The virtual keyboard is slightly less responsive than the one on the iPod Touch, but with a little practice it's fine.
In the beginning I got a bit frustrated trying to get used to the right pressure and "feel" for navigating the menus and editing text, but the experience is much smoother now. Perhaps I was just a bit too used to my old Motorola RAZR, where I navigated exclusively by the five-way navigator and keypad.
The virtual keyboard has several layout options, and you can change it based on your needs at any given moment. When you first create a new text message, the keyboard starts up in the T0 mode by default. You can tap the small Abc button at the bottom-right corner of the screen to switch between several different modes, such as all caps, numbers, and symbols, as well as a word predictor keyboard that works rather well.
Turn the device on its side to automatically activate the full-screen keyboard, which is very easy to use. I particularly like the judicious use of color for the Shift and Done keys, as well as the relatively large Space Bar. It isn't quite as perfect as the iPod Touch keyboard, but it works very well. You won't want to compose a novel, but you won't find yourself abbreviating so much your messages are hard to understand because you're trying to save yourself a few painful keystrokes on an impossible keyboard either.
As a Phone
The Dare can be used for much more than just phone calls, but that's still its primary function. I've had this device for several months now and it has always performed flawlessly as a phone. It hasn't restarted or spontaneously shut down for any reason, which is a welcome change from some of the other devices I've tested.
Call quality is excellent, though the speaker can sound a little distorted if I have the volume up too high. I certainly don't have any problem with hearing the party on the other end, whether I'm using the speakerphone or a Bluetooth headset.
There's an accelerometer built in, which comes in handy in many ways. If I have to enter a voice mail passcode, for example, the Dare automatically senses when I move it from my ear to look at the screen so that it can turn on the display and bring up the dial pad, ready for my entry.
While it may not replace your iPod, the LG Dare makes a decent music player. Its interface is easy to use and the sound quality is excellent when you use headphones -- the external speaker is adequate but not exceptional.
It supports MP3, WMA, and unprotected AAC music, and you can create your own playlists. If you don't want to get that fancy, you can choose to play your music by song, artist, genre, or album. You can turn the phone sideways to get a cover flow-like experience and browse through your music graphically.
When music is playing, a mini version of the music player appears on the main screen along with a drop-down arrow that allows you to quickly jump to another song without having to open up the full music player application. Little touches like these make the Dare a joy to use, and also make it quite obvious that the designers tried very hard to create an excellent user experience.
A microSD card slot allows you to store up to 8 GB -- about 2,000 MP3 music files.
While Dare is capable of showing VCast video broadcasts, and the picture is pretty good, this device wouldn't be a good choice for someone who intends to view a lot of video. I really don't think that's the fault of the Dare, but rather of Verizon's VCast service, because the choices are extremely limited and the video quality is somewhat poor. It's fine if you want to watch short clips or catch up on the news, but just about any smartphone would be a better choice for video, mainly because you would be able to watch full screen video and import your own content, instead of being limited to the carrier's offerings.
One of the main reasons I purchased the Dare is the camera; at 3.2 megapixels it has the highest resolution of any device offered by Verizon, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The photos it takes are very good, and while the Dare won't replace a dedicated digital camera it is nice option to have with me all the time.
Just press the camera button on the side of the phone to activate the photo function, and press it again to take the photo. That's all it takes.
However, a surprising number of options are available if you touch the screen to activate the settings menu; you can change the brightness, white balance, ISO speed, color options (sepia, black & white, negative, aqua), etc. The Dare also includes a flash for use in low light situations, and offers both face detection and Smart Pic, which automatically adjusts certain settings such as brightness in order to help you achieve great photos. A self timer is included as well, though without a tripod attachment point it's unlikely that you'll ever use it.
The built in LED flash allows you to take good quality photos even in completely dark conditions; if you turn it on and partially depress the camera button, it will dimly illuminate the area so that you can compose your shot and then fire fully when you hold down the camera button.
The Dare even has a panorama mode that automatically stitches a series of three shots together, or you can use the multi-shot mode at sporting events to rapidly take a series of pictures to make sure you don't miss any of the action.
Video mode is also included, and you can even capture up to five still photos from within a video, which is something that I wouldn't expect from a phone camera.
A rather robust photo editing feature has options ranging from a pen to write a message on the photo to rubber stamps, frames and borders, as well as the more standard zoom, crop, and rotate controls.
If you enjoy taking photos and sharing them with friends when you're on the go, especially if you're the creative type and like the idea of sprucing up your photos without a computer, the LG Dare is practically a dream come true.
The Dare's web browser isn't something that I expected to be all that useful, considering my previous featurephone experiences. I was however delightfully surprised -- it's fast and very useful.
Much of that can be attributed to Verizon, because the browser is heavily tweaked to provide fast access to the sort of content most users will want to access, such as news, the weather, sports scores and entertainment news, etc. And support for mobile broadband (EV-DO Rev. A) certainly doesn't hurt.
You can visit any web site you like, and it worked quite well with Google, Wikipedia, and other sites. You may not want to do any heavy-duty browsing with a device like the Dare, but if you ever need to, you'll probably get the information you need with a minimum of fuss, and you might even find that the browsing experience is just as if not more pleasant than with your typical smartphone, mainly because of the large screen and surprisingly good speed.
Since the Dare isn't a Windows Mobile or BlackBerry device, you aren't going to find a mobile word processor or spreadsheet, but the included PIM applications are certainly capable of keeping you organized. The Dare includes Contacts, of course, as well as a basic calendar, calculator, tip calculator, world clock, alarm clock, stopwatch, note pad, drawing pad, and voice recorder.
This phone can also double as a USB mass storage device, which can be very useful in a pinch if you need to transfer a few files and don't have a flash drive with you.
Battery life is actually better than I expected; I was able to go a full week on standby mode with fairly limited use. Someone who talks a great deal would likely need to charge every three to four days just to be on the safe side.
The phone ships with a relatively small and very light AC adapter that you use in conjunction with the supplied USB cable to charge the phone.
Since I use a Gomadic quad charger for all of my devices, I purchased the appropriate tip and tested it with the Dare. The phone "complained" the first time I plugged in the Gomadic charger, somehow sensing that I wasn't using the OEM charger, but it charged just fine and I've been using the Gomadic charger ever since.
Platform: Proprietary OS
Display: 3-inch Touchscreen 260K color TFT, 240 x 400 pixel with tactile feedback
1.9 GHz CDMA PCS, 800 MHz CDMA with EV-DO Rev. A
Expansion: Supports microSD cards up to 8GB
Camera: 3.2 Megapixel with LED flash; capable of capturing video at up to 120fps
Dimensions: 4.1-inch by 2.2 inch by 0.5-inch; 3.75 ounces
Battery Life: Up to 280 minutes of talk time and 360 hours of standby
Carrier Services: VCast video and VCast Music with Rhapsody, VZ Navigator, Mobile Email, and Media Center (game, ringtone, and application downloads)
USB AC Adapter and USB cable
Additional accessories are available for separate purchase, including a Bluetooth headset, a Bluetooth stereo headset, Bluetooth stereo speakers, a swivel holster, extended 1,500 mAh battery, and wired speakers.
I actually own the LG Dare. I chose it because I wanted a non-flip phone with an excellent camera, and I'm very happy with the purchase. The call quality is very good, text entry isn't too hard, the tools and user interface are well thought out, and everything just works.
I highly recommend this device to anyone who may not be ready for the potential complications of a smartphone but who wants a complete device in their pocket. The Dare is a jack of all trades with basic PIM applications, a superb camera, a capable music player, and a serviceable web browser.
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