When it comes to Android phones, there’s a constant rush to be the so-called iPhone killer. Either that, or the next “Google phone”. Neither title is accurate for each new device, because Android as an operating system still isn’t competitive enough with iOS (though with each passing day it gets a little closer). But what Android has that Apple never will is customization, and that enables companies like LG to build some really unique devices. The Doubleplay is one such device.

The LG Doubleplay is named after its dual displays, which unlike the Kyocera Echo doesn’t eliminate the QWERTY keyboard for a full-size secondary screen, but splits the keyboard in half and puts a small, wallet-picture sized screen smack in the middle. This design choice is intentionally made for the multitasking youth of today, who love to text, love to go online, and do most of it on their phones. The Doubleplay’s sole function is to do exactly that, enable users to do whatever they want with their smartphones on the large screen, and simultaneously read and receive texts in the smaller screen.

Hardware

As with any smartphone with a physical keyboard, the Doubleplay is a thick, fat device with rounded edges akin to the long-dead Helio Ocean. It slips in and out of the pocket with ease, but is bulky. The 320×480 display is only 3.5”, the same as what you get on an iPhone, and considered small by today’s standards with Android phones. That said, the screen is accurate and is just as easy to type on as the keyboard, if not easier.

Sliding out the keyboard reveals the small 1.5” square display, which has nine possible functions, which you can read about below in the software section. This smaller screen is also touchscreen and reads presses easily, though the small size makes it easy to accidentally miss the function you want to select.

The QWERTY keyboard is more compact than most slider phones thanks to the smaller overall phone size and the screen taking up real estate where keyboards usually are. Keys are too easy to press, and while I managed to type faster with the keyboard that with either SWYPE or Android’s standard virtual keyboard, it wasn’t by much. Using the physical keyboard also cuts short autocorrect, which for the practiced hand will make typing on the physical keyboard slower.

There isn’t anything spectacular about the Doubleplay from a hardware standpoint. It is a 4G device through T-Mobile decent 4G network. It has a 5MP camera capable of shooting 720p video, the bare minimum required by today’s smartphone standards. The single-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM are mediocre as well, though the phone does run on the latest (for now) Android OS.

Software and Use

Like the hardware, the software isn’t anything special, though the two go hand-in-hand. With limited processing power, there’s only so much the phone’s software could do, and a 1GHz single-core CPU is equivalent to last year’s top-of-the-line models. And don’t be fooled into believing this phone is as powerful as the iPhone 4, with very similar numbers; the iPhone is made for the hardware it has, Android phones are not.

The Doubleplay online while sending a text message

The only important thing to note concerning the Doubleplay in terms of software is the second screen. This smaller touchscreen has nine basic functions, from texting and writing notes to viewing pictures and quickly opening bookmarked websites. Most of these functions aren’t actually useful, and frankly it’s a shame that there isn’t more that can be done on this screen, even with the phone the way it is. It would have been tremendous to see all of the regular functions of Android available on the display in some regard. I would have settled for media playback commands, gesture controls for the top screen, and perhaps a zoom function for web browsers.

Unfortunately, the only useful functions are the note-taking application and texting. Everything else is extraneous. Viewing pictures on the tiny display is a joke when there’s a larger one available, and as old as I feel writing this, the last thing anyone needs is to stare at tiny pictures on a tiny screen when there’s a large, full screen just inches up. Like my grandmother always says, don’t sit so close to the TV, your eyes will go bad. With the Doubleplay, your kids will likely do exactly that. Unless their vision is 20/10.

Texting or writing notes on the screen while doing something else on the top screen, such as watching YouTube videos or, well, some sort of video (there really isn’t anything else you can do while texting except for watching videos on the top screen. Everything else requires your attention and fingers), is surprisingly useful. Imagine not having to leave your current application to send a text. With the Doubleplay, that is a reality. You can actually text a group of friends about that funny cat video while watching it. Heck, even text a friend how to beat that Angry Birds level while you’re in the level, and keep both apps open at the same time.

The Doubleplay side by side with the T-Mobile myTouch Q, a prototypical slider handset

The only problem with this is that in practice, the process is slow, especially if the application running on the main display is stressful on the phone. Because of the single-core processor, there’s only one major application that can run at a time, or else all running applications start to slow down. This occurred frequently during my testing. For small, 320p streaming YouTube clips, it’s no problem, but if you load up higher resolution video or play 3D-heavy games, then the second screen becomes useless. Then again, because the Doubleplay only has a 320×480 display, that should be fine, so long as you make sure to turn off HQ (high quality) on streaming videos.

In day-to-day use, I was impressed with the Doubleplay as a phone and handset. Calls come through clear, and T-Mobile’s network in Los Angeles seems to have improved because 4G now works in more areas locally. However, when hanging up the phone was slow to activate the screen and sometimes I’d wait for 3-5 seconds to actually hang up.

Thanks to T-Mobile’s improved network, email and data almost always streams quickly. Out of too many phones I’m currently testing, the Doubleplay regularly receives new emails before other devices, even higher-end smartphones.

Battery life on the Doubleplay is also phenomenal. I’ve had the phone last for three days of use on a single charge. It’s one of the first Android phones I’ve tested that can last a full day of heavy use with constant GPS tracking, bouncing between Wi-Fi and 4G networks, switching in between calls and reading emails, and having Google account sync on. As you’ll see in the benchmarks below, the Doubleplay performed excellently in the battery tests I ran.

Benchmarks

As expected, because of the relatively low-grade internal specs, the Doubleplay didn’t perform great in my benchmark suite. However, it did very well in battery life. On the one major downside, the Doubleplay could not stream a full 20-minute episode of streaming flash media, which really hurts the phone. If there’s anything that today’s smartphones must do, it is to be able to play 480p streaming video over Wi-Fi without a hitch. The Doubleplay couldn’t do that, and after just two minutes the video crashed the web browser.

Check out the benchmarks below.

The Doubleplay scored very highly in both the Browsermark and Sunspider tests, and in my use of the browser the Doubleplay is a fast phone when online. Then again, the lower-resolution display makes it easier to load pages, though for everyday browsing the Doubleplay performed pretty spectacularly, especially when compared to higher-end devices.

When it comes to native processing however, the Doubleplay is far lower down the totem pole. It fit in it’s category of phones, basically dumbphones with Android built-in, with the bare minimum in powerful processing hardware. It still beat out most of the phones in that category, all save for the T-Mobile myTouch Q. However, other benchmarks I tested on the Doubleplay regularly crashed or were just like the Quadrant Standard test, at the top of the bottom of the barrel.

That said, daily use with the Doubleplay is not a horrible experience by any means. Menu navigation is smooth, audio and video playback is fast, and in general the Doubleplay performs well. However, this is not a future-proof device, so don’t expect when the Android Marketplace starts getting more graphically intense games to be able to run them on the Doubleplay.

Camera

Photography with the Doubleplay is a mix between great outdoors shots with natural lighting and pixelated, blurry shots in low-light. I took a handful of shots on the beach, around the house and on the road, and the Doubleplay’s pictures look fine on its low-resolution display, but when blown up night shots and low-light photography comes out very pixelated, and often blurry. The flash does help remedy this, but the flash also is harsh and washes out colors.

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In general picture quality is mediocre, but not bad. Pictures look just fine on the Doubleplay’s screen, but blown up they are pixelated and often blurry, especially in lower-light conditions.

Video quality is decent at 720p, though adjusting to light takes a good 1-2 seconds. Colors are accurate, and in general the camcorder works fine except that it’s slow to adjust to new objects and different lighting conditions.

Conclusion

The LG Doubleplay doesn’t push the boundaries of what a phone can do, but it’s a focused, simple handset that meets the needs of a specific audience: kids who want to text. So LG did something no one else has really done, give them the opportunity to do just that without having to constantly toggle between what they are doing on their phone and texting their friends.

However, the phone doesn’t make good use of the secondary screen except for that single purpose. Music playback can be controlled, but only the built-in music player (who uses that?). It has some functions with the web browser, but highly limited. Besides for texting, the only actual use the screen has is to write notes down without switching apps, a barely passable application. There really should be a lot more that users can do with the display, but it just isn’t available.

What the Doubleplay does do right is work for hours on end. It’s a 2-day phone, where under normal use you don’t have to charge it more than once every other day. It lasted for nearly seven and a half hours in my benchmark with Wi-Fi and the 4G antenna on, which is no small feat. It’s been the more reliable device than my current iPhone, than higher-end Android devices like the HTC Evo 3D or Samsung Galaxy S II solely thanks to that excellent battery life. Because when it comes to a phone, it needs to last, and most smartphones these days barely make it through the day.

The low-end hardware in the Doubleplay, as well as minimal software to support functions for the secondary display and a mediocre physical keyboard, are all that hold the Doubleplay back from being a real contender with the big dogs, with the $200+ smartphones. But for the people who don’t need to handle heavy graphics or run complex applications, the Doubleplay is a good buy, one I absolutely recommend, though be sure that the keyboard works for you.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★½☆

Very Good

Bottom Line: The LG Doubleplay is a good, solid handset. As a phone, it works wonders with good 4G over T-Mobile’s network and everyday apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Pandora, etc. The secondary screen is also great for texting and web browsing simultaneously. However, a mediocre camera and poor benchmark performance hold it back from being a great smartphone.

Pros:

  • Very long battery life
  • It’s a stable device; all standard apps run well
  • For non-stop texters, the second screen is great because it let’s you multitask…
Cons:
  • …but only for texting
  • The camera is mediocre at best, though the camcorder produces decent video
  • Internal hardware isn’t going to win any awards



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.