LG Crystal offers two gallery modes depending on the handset's orientation. In portrait mode images and videos are displayed in a grid while in landscape mode one image is displayed in the center and two more by its side in an impressive 3D spatial view.
The Crystal also supports multi-touch, so you can zoom in on images with the pinching gesture well known from Apple's handset.
Using the hardware keypad is as easy as using the screen and the advantage here is that your fingers don't get in your way while scrolling/zooming. Multi-touch is also available and frankly we very much liked the whole idea of using an external sensor glass for exploring the gallery. You get the full touch experience, but you don't obstruct the view with your finger. When you add the transparent factor, the whole thing gets so sci-fi (geeks silently rejoice).
The LG Crystal music player is accessible from both the Cube interface and the main menu. The homescreen music player is rather basic but it does the job of quick access to your music.
The tracks are placed on a rotating reel and get displayed with their album artwork "printed" on virtual vinyl records.
The full-featured music player sits in the main menu. You can sort tracks by artist, album, genre and your rating. The current track's artwork, name, album and artist are displayed in the screen's center while the next and previous track are visible at the top and bottom of the screen.
There are tons of equalizer presets (all non-customizable, though). Dolby for Mobile sound enhancement is among them. With Dolby Mobile selected the sound gets more spacious and richer - but the effect is best perceived on headphones.
The LG Crystal comes with a relatively large touch screen (especially for a device of that size) measuring a good 3". That, along with the DivX/XviD video support turns it into a potentially excellent portable video player - especially considering the good track record. The LG Renoir, for instance, managed to play every desktop XViD/DivX video we threw at it.
Unfortunately, that's not the case with LG Arena or LG Viewty Smart or even the LG Crystal as it turned out. The only DivX videos we managed to play where those converted through the DivX converter on the supplied CD and they have a maximum resolution of 320 x 240 pixels (QVGA).
Unlike the LG Renoir, with the LG Crystal the Dolby for Mobile sound enhancement can be turned on during video playback as well.
The Arena and Viewty Smart browser needed some finishing, namely regarding the lag while moving down the page or zooming in/out on it. Luckily LG made some changes and even though the lag is still noticed, the web browser is much faster loading pages and smoother scrolling them.
The sensor keyboard is another huge advantage. Except for zooming you can use it as a trackpad. Sweeping a finger across it moves the mouse on the screen. This eliminates the continuous tapping on some hyperlink or a button, until the browser understands that you want to select it.
Unfortunately, and quite expectedly, there is no Flash support or Wi-Fi streaming. C'mon LG it can't be that hard! At least it can't be as hard as making a transparent touch-sensitive keypad if you get our drift.
The LG GD900 Crystal is in the 8 megapixel team, which is still considered quite hot in the cameraphone league. The maximum resolution isn't the decisive factor when it comes to image quality but it surely adds to the amount of resolved detail, bears tighter post-production cropping and of course, at least theoretically, allows bigger prints.
Much like the 8 megapixel Viewty Smart, the LG Crystal takes photos at a maximum resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels and video recording goes as high as 720 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second.
The unit we used for this preview is hardly a final version so we don't really set our requirements high for this article. In-camera image processing is bound to get a lot of further fine tuning.
Here are some downsampled shots to give you a general impression. We won't be pusblishing full-res ones as some of you tend to be quite harsh on those even though it's only a pre-production unit.
The LG Crystal viewfinder is identical to the one on the LG Viewty Smart, except for the lack of the high pitched Intelligent shot mode. You access all camera settings via the four buttons on the left of the viewfinder.
On the right hand-side of the screen is another bar with a virtual shutter key, exit and gallery buttons. It's actually not part of the viewfinder - that's the way to get around the wider aspect ratio of the LG Arena screen compared to the sensor's aspect ratio. The benefit of this is that the GD900 Crystal doesn't crop bits of the scene like the LG Renoir.
A nice improvement over the interface in the Arena, introduced in the Viewty Smart, is that the virtual on-screen shutter key can be used to switch between still and video camera - just by sliding it.
The second new thing is the manual focus that wasn't an option on the LG Arena. Much like on the LG Viewty Smart, it's operated by dragging a virtual slider on screen.
The advanced settings menu is a clever rotating dial with the available options for each setting displayed as a list. The interface is very handy, neat and usable, and geotagging and image stabilization are among the nice extras.
The LG GD900 Crystal is capable of capturing video of up to D1 (720x480) resolution at 30 fps, as well as VGA@30fps. Overall video recording quality is acceptable, the colors are reasonably accurate and the video is relatively smooth with just a few duplicated frames. Still image recording has a long way to go in order to reach the LG Arena quality wise.
Video clips are recorded in 3gp format with the usual mp4 codec for VGA clips, while recording D1 videos use the H.264 codec instead. Because of the different aspect ratios, D1 video in the viewfinder is padded with black bars on the top and bottom, while VGA has bars on the sides, but they are small and unobtrusive.
Video can be captured in slow-motion mode, at 120 frames per second, or conversely - the 'Fast' mode does time-lapse video recording.
These options are quite fun but, unfortunately, the output videos are still limited to QVGA resolution. The Samsung S8300 UltraTOUCH for example already shoots fast motion VGA videos of enviable quality. We can understand why slow-motion videos are limited to QVGA but fast-motion videos don't require more processing power than there is, in fact, they should use less.
The flash can be turned on to act as a video light. Quite naturally, you can also record sound with videos, except in the fast/slow-mo modes of course.
There you have it folks - the LG GD900 Crystal surely is a handset that cannot go unnoticed. The see-through keypad is a true novelty and deserves much credit. The fact that its practicality is barely up to scratch is hardly worth mentioning as long as looks are so impressive.
Kudos to LG R&D for thinking out of the box and stylishly denying our claim that there isn't much room for creativity in full-touch devices. We are also pretty glad that they chose such a well equipped phone for a base. The LG Crystal is a really attractive product with excellent value.
There's no GPS on board, but the scarce GPS navio software options and the variable success rate we had with those on the LG Arena and Viewty Smart makes us think that it's not a great loss. After all, Wi-Fi is there and for mission-critical applications, you can always get an external Bluetooth GPS receiver.
So from where we stand, the GD900 Crystal is a great step forward and now all it needs to succeed is to keep up the initial pace. A nice camera and a better job of those nice gesture shortcuts are topping our wish list, while the S-Class UI is just fine the way it is.