Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

"Dare to be different," the saying goes, but the LG Dare is really Verizon Wireless's attempt to fit in, to offer a phone that's more like the AT&T LG Vu and Sprint Samsung Instinct, not to mention Apple's similarly priced iPhone 3G. The truth is, the Dare may not be as glamorous or well-priced as the Instinct, but it has a better browser, a motion sensor and some cool software tricks that make it a fine phone for people who choose to remain in Verizon's walled garden. And it puts Verizon's previous iClone attempts, the LG Voyager and the Samsung Glyde, to lowdown dirty shame.

As I think we've firmly established, we call these iPhone clones because they are made superficially with the look and feel of the iPhone in mind. They are not direct competitors to the iPhone, as they don't run on a smart, open platform like iPhones-or Blackberry and Windows Mobile phones-do. The Dare, like the Instinct, is closed and proprietary, geared to customers who like much of what the carrier has to offer, and would just like a better way to make use of it. And after spending some time with the Dare, I can safely say that, much like the Instinct, it really does let you do that.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

Easier Access

For starters, Verizon has done away with its dependence on unchangeable, annoyingly deep menus. With the Dare, you can drag any app or function directly to the desktop for one-click access. You can add key people to the Favorites launcher, where you simply drag their face to the phone or message icons to call or launch a new SMS.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

Even those cryptic notification icons always seen at tops of phones are clickable on the Dare.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

E-mail and Web

Let me get this off my chest first: The Dare browser is WAY better than the Instinct's, both in rendering speed and page layout. You can navigate Gizmodo with very little trouble, especially if you're going read-only. My only complaint was that there was no way I could find to speed-scroll through so many blog posts without giving my thumb a callous.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

Verizon's E-mail app is basically the same as it's been for about six or eight months. I do not recommend it for business use, as it's not very full featured, but I was able to get the Dare to notify me whenever any mail from three different accounts came through, and the iPhone-like QWERTY keyboard with pop-up letters really helped when typing. The only trouble I had sending e-mail was due to a funky POP3 account with ambiguous recommended settings. (One negative: You can't edit POP settings once you've configured them, so I had to keep deleting and adding the same account over and over again.)

Premium Unlimited-Use Plans

The good news is, unlimited use of e-mail and web are included in Verizon's new premium price plans, along with unlimited text messaging, unlimited use of basic V Cast clips and ACTUALLY USEFUL stuff like the ESPN MVP sports and WeatherBug web apps. Though it seems at first glance that pricing is a tad higher that Sprint's, the difference is negligible:







$80/month - 450 primetime talk minutes

$100/month - 900 primetime talk minutes

$120/month - 1350 primetime talk minutes

$140/month - Unlimited talk minutes

And yes, there are family premium plans that give you these perks for multiple (compatible) phones. The phone itself is $200 after a mail-in rebate.

Lighter Features

In our introductory walkthrough video, we showed you some awesome traits. After a revisit during our review, here's how those features held up:

Slow-mo video cam - It's a bit grainy, but with decent light, it could make some interesting videos at 120 frames per second. The 3.2 megapixel camera is decent, but nothing to write home about.

Full photo editing - Speaking of camera, the editing feature is not as "full" as we first thought. There's no red-eye reduction or shadow/highlight or color adjustment. Most of the options are actually novelty, and even for being silly they are not very useable.

Music player - Good: Plays MP3s and even iTunes Plus DRM-free AACs that you drag to the "My Music" folder of the MicroSD card (up to 8GB); Bad: Still has issues with tags, and appears to count image metadata as additional song files, so browsing by Artist or Album is fine, but browsing "All Songs" is messy.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

In addition to that the video player reads standard MP4 (but not H.264), and pauses songs when you switch to video playback, only to pick up where it left off once you're done.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

Hardware

Like the Sprint Instinct, there's a 3.5mm jack for universal headphone fit, but unlike the Instinct, the Dare has a motion sensor inside that tells whether you're holding the phone horizontally or vertically. Videos, photos and the music browser all automatically adjust, as do keyboards and web pages. It's a nice touch, though I'll be honest, you don't really miss it on the Instinct.

The Dare's touchscreen leaves something to be desired. It's not as snappy as the Instinct's, and even after calibrating the screen, I found myself resorting to fingernail tapping to gain some precision.

The body of the Dare is a tad chunkier, but shorter too, with a slightly stubbier screen.

Verizon's LG Dare Full Review (Verdict: Best iClone Yet)

Dare vs. Instinct

The Instinct is, inside and out, a more elegant device. I preferred Instinct's e-mail app, and its included news, sports and weather web apps were great. Verizon is promising some unlimited-use apps like ESPN MVP and WeatherBug to compete with that, and while they're pretty nice programs, they were not ready to be used on the Dare at the time of this review.

The thing I can't stand about the Dare is VZ Navigator. I have tried to appreciate this, and since unlimited use of it comes with the premium plan, it can be considered a feature of the phone. Still, it's the worst GPS UI I've ever played around with, and Verizon would do much better to kill off their own licensed app and go with Telenav, which Sprint and AT&T both use.

Still, after playing with both, I have to say that the Instinct's aesthetic assets don't fully make up for the Dare's key advantages, one of which happens to be Verizon's network. In the northeast at least, there's no substitute.

Conclusion

Like the web apps, there are a few more wait-and-sees: Visual voicemail isn't in effect yet, and may or may not come via over-the-air update. Rhapsody is just launching today, and for $15/month extra you will be able to sideload the Dare with Rhapsody-to-Go tracks, though a Windows PC is required for that.

I am very content to say that this is Verizon's best attempt at a customizable, user-friendly touchscreen phone, and that, if you are into buttonless touch interfaces, you could do a lot worse across all the carriers. I think the $200 iPhone trumps the $200 Dare if you don't care which carrier you're on, but for those of you who are sticking with Verizon, you might, um, venture to pick up a Dare. [LG Dare at Verizon Wireless]