It has been some time since we’ve even seen a phone with two screens, let alone an Android phone. The LG DoublePlay is a T-Mobile 4G Android phone with a slide out QWERTY keyboard complete with dual touchscreens. Over the past few weeks we have put this dual-screen phone to the test in an effort to re-address the age old tech question: is two screens better than one? Read on for our full review.
The DoublePlay is a slider phone; the face of the phone has a 3.5″ multi-touch LCD screen with the four standard Android touch buttons (menu, home, back, and search). The face slides up to reveal a landscape QWERTY keyboard divided in half by a 2″ touchscreen LCD. In it’s closed state, the DoublePlay is completely smooth; all edges are rounded. It’s not a large phone so it feels just as nice in a small hand as it does a large hand. It’s 16mm thick, which is fine, but it’s a bit heavy weighing in at 6.79 ounces (.42lbs). The four touch buttons are backlit. There are volume buttons on the side and a lock button on top. There is no status LED light. The rear camera is 5 megapixels with a flash. The battery is removable. The micro-USB charging port has an attached plastic cover.
The DoublePlay is powered by a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and runs Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread). There is 512MB of RAM. It comes with 2GB of internal memory and a 2GB microSD card. The microSD slot supports cards up to 32GB. It’s running on T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ (1700/2100 MHz) network and has theoretical speed capabilities of 14.4MBps. It also supports a quad-band GSM frequencies (850/900/1800/1900 MHz). There is built-in 802.11N WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0.
The front screen is a 3.5″ capacitive multi-touch TFT LCD screen a resolution of 320×480. The second screen is a 2″ capacitive touch TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 240×320. The main screen does not look bad by any means, but it’s nothing to write home about. It’s certainly no retina display, but the colors are vivid, viewing angles are good, and the text is clear enough.
While the main screen is just as capable as any other Android screen, the mini-screen is limited in functionality. The mini-screen supports 9 built-in functions. There are 9 icons which can be placed in 8 slots: Messaging, Group Text, Photos, Browser, Social+, Calendar, Richnote, Email, and Music Player. The functionality is not entirely consistent. With the text app you can actually send text messages from the mini screen, but with photos you can’t view full sized photos, you can only use the thumbnails to share the shots with any social network. The browser icon doesn’t open a browser, but rather displays bookmarks that open in the mainscreen browser. The music app gives you full access to all of your music. Some of the mini-screen apps, like richnote and calendar, have the option to send the app to the main-screen. It’s neat that the mini-screen apps run independently from main-screen apps so you can text while you refer to a full-sized map or you can take a note as you’re reading a webpage.
There is a full-sized pullout QWERY keyboard which is separated down the middle by the mini-screen. Each letter has it’s own button which bubbles outward. All numbers and symbols are doubled up with use of the alt key. You can feel each backlit key register as it’s pressed down. Getting used to the split up keyboard doesn’t take much time and it’s pretty easy to type on. Since each key is its own bubble, typos will be infrequent with practice. Unfortunately, there is no autocorrect with the physical keyboard. Another viable option for typing is using the main screen’s on-screen keyboard. Android’s multitouch keyboard and the Swype keyboard both come preloaded and both options work well.
For a 4G Android phone the battery is actually pretty good, especially considering that there is a second screen being powered. With moderate use I was able to get over a full day’s use. The standby is also pretty impressive, the DoublePlay lasted me over a couple days with minimum use and 4G and syncing turned on. There’s a removable 1500 mAh battery. Standby time is supposed to be 280 hours. Surprisingly talk time is only rated for 3 hours, but we definitely got more than that. The DoublePlay uses a standard Micro-USB cable, which is included with a USB adapter.
The rear, and only, camera is a 5 megapixel with auto-focus and a flash. It’s capable of recording and playing 720p video. It’s equipped with face-tracking, location tagging, and fine tuning settings like brightness, scene settings, ISO, white balance, color effects, scene mode, and a timer. The available camera features are great, but the camera itself is just pretty good; not amazing. The shutter speed is quick and the quality is detailed however the colors are a bit washed out or dull. Also, with auto-focus you can never be sure how exactly the shot will look until the photo is taken. We were happy with the recording quality and it’s not a big deal that it doesn’t record 1080P.
My experience with phone calls was great. All of my callers came in quite clearly with no dropped calls. My callers all reported that I sounded just as good on their end. In New York City, and the outskirts of NYC, I was not too impressed with 4G data speeds. On average I was downloading between 200-300kB/s with an upload between 100-200kB/s. These speeds are on par with pretty good 3G speeds. The highest download speed I hit was 808kB/s and 218kB/s down, the majority of speed tests were not near this caliber. In various areas around NYC I did not receive 4G, only 2G.
We were pleased that the LG Doubleplay comes preloaded with WiFi calling and mobile hotspot. Like most other Gingerbread phones there is a large social emphasis integrated into the phone which allows you to communicate with everyone and anyone with ease. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all preinstalled. The T-Mobile Name ID app attempts to display a callers name even if they’re not in your address book. Lookout Security is included for sniffing out spyware and malware, a problem unknown to iPhone owners. Additional apps include Visual Voicemail, Car Home, DriveSmart, TeleNav GPS Navigator, T-Mobile TV and Blio, among the other standard Android and Google apps.
We are almost at a point where it sounds old school for a smartphone to not run a dual-core processor. Regardless, with just one processor the DoublePlay is a very capable phone. Animations and transitions can choppy at times, but it’s not a slow phone. The multi-tasking is good and there’s a built in task manager which makes it easy to kill background apps. The second screen seems to have next to no effect on performance. Our benchmark score was 1241, which is a bit mediocre, but not too shabby at all.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
It would be beneficial to preface my final thoughts by mentioning that the LG DoublePlay for T-Mobile is $99 with a two-year contract, unlike so many of it’s Android brethren which get much pricier. The DoublePlay looks nice and feels nice, even if it’s a bit heavy. The slider is sturdy with good spring, as is the rest of the phone; it’s pretty well built. The main-screen size is relatively small and it’s made worse by a mediocre resolution. The mini-screen is a bit gimmicky, and we feel it’s pretty useless. That’s not to say you can’t make the most of it. Some think the keyboard is awkward to use, but I personally enjoyed it and found it easier to use than other similar landscape keyboards. The backlight and bubbled keys were helpful. The solid battery life and standby time were great, especially for a 4G phone. Unfortunately, we weren’t amazed with 4G speeds, but hey at least we were still able to turn it into a wireless hotspot. Lastly, these days any new smartphone (especially Android) is a “social” phone so don’t be fooled by the marketing. All-in-all the LG DoublePlay was a fun phone to use, but it’s quirky design is not for everyone. But if you crave a physical keyboard and consider yourself a multi-tasker it could be right up your alley.
The Good: Nice Battery Life, Keyboard Works Well, Runs Latest Android Version, Solid Build Quality, Comes Installed with Task Manager, WiFi Hotspot, and WiFi Calling, Mini Screen Runs Independently of Main-Screen, Feels Nice In-Hand
The Bad: Only 2GB On-Board Storage and Only 2GB Micro-SD included, No Front Camera, Mini-Screen has Limited Functionality, Heavy, Mediocre 4G Speeds