Wednesday, February 8, 2017

LG makes a cool roll-up keyboard and a flexible cell phone



By Jim Bray
TechnoFile.com

Continuing a theme from a couple of weeks ago, I've been playing with - I mean reviewing seriously - a couple of products that might be good places to drop some of that after-holiday cash you may have left over or received as a gift.

This time, it's a pair of products from South Korea's LG, which is probably best known for TV's and appliances, but which is also a big player in the mobile device market. And these two products fit securely in that niche: a nifty Bluetooth keyboard and a fully featured cell phone that even offers virtual reality capability (for an extra cost, of course).

Rolly, but not obese…

First up is the slick little roll-up (hence the name) keyboard designed to work with your smart devices. The Rolly comes as a little pentagon-shaped rod that you unroll to form a complete, albeit small (but adequate) keyboard. It also has a built-in stand that folds out as a perch for your smart device, and it's compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices.

It's also compatible with some smart TV's and that's where I found it the most useful. I hate using a TV's remote control when I'm trying to search out content on YouTube or whatever, scrolling up and down and across incessantly, but I paired the Rolly with my smart TV and it worked very well in that application.

The Rolly is easy to pack, since it rolls up into a little rod-like thingy, and it's easy to pair as well. It also worked fine with my iPad and I can see it competing well with the flat Bluetooth keyboard/case I use normally when on the road. True, the Rolly doesn't fold over the tablet and protect it like the keyboard/case does, but it also doesn't require the device to be mounted inside it which, in the case of my iPad, is a bit of a pain when you want to take it out again.

In short, the Rolly isn't a case, so won't protect your device, but it's a darn good keyboard that offers a decent feel for typing for those who don't need or want (or already have) a dedicated case.

The Rolly works better on a hard, flat surface like a desk or table than it does when perched on your lap; oh, it sits there fine and is still easy to use, but in my case it meant I had to peer at it over my paunch, which is always depressing.

Alas, the Rolly is a tad dear: it currently lists at a Canadian MSRP of $129. That said, if you can justify the price, this is a darn nice little keyboard.

Getting hung up on LG…

I've also been reviewing what the company calls "a game-changing modular smartphone that allows you to connect a range of companion devices" that lets you "turn your smartphone into a camera, a Virtual Reality head set, and more!"

It's the G5 and it's a pretty neat phone. The virtual reality headset, which is optional and more expensive than it's worth, was quite interesting but pretty unconvincing as a way to get me hooked on the technology (fortunately, I experienced better VR elsewhere; watch for that column in the next weeks). It worked fine, but very low resolution - it seems as if VHS tape offered higher resolution!

And some of the VR's "benefit" was questionable: for example, the YouTube app made it appear that I was sitting in a movie theatre, with the YouTube video playing on a screen on the front wall, just like it would be in a real theatre. I could look around and see the theatre environment in which I was "sitting," but other than the "wow" factor of the VR it didn't really do anything for me. In fact, it made me miss watching YouTube videos full screen, without the theatre aspect around me.

But it was cool, indeed!

Fortunately, there's a lot more to VR than just that little gimmick - or at least there will be. Probably. Some day. Soon, maybe.

The phone itself is up to date and loaded with features. It comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Processor, a decent 32 gig of internal storage and you can add up to two terabytes via an SD card.

I put my 64 gig SD card, which contains my music files, into the G5 and learned once again the joys of uttering profanity (not that I'd forgotten!). That's because you have to remove a little door on the side of the phone to get at the slot, and the only way I eventually got it open was to use one of my wife's sewing tools to pry it out. This should be a one-time operation if you're keeping the phone, but I wasn't and so I had to learn a few new cuss words before sending it back, as I got the darn thing open again to retrieve my 64 gig SD card.

On the other hand, if they had offered to let me keep the phone I would have done so happily.

Naturally, you get cameras. On the back, there's a dual lens one (16 MP "normal view" and eight MP "wide angle"), and there's an eight MP "selfie camera" with facial detection (It knows if you've had a facial, I guess) on the front. 

The phone also does full 4K UHD (3840x2160) video and handles just about any audio codec you can throw at it, which came in handy with my dog's breakfast of music files.

The screen offers great pictures, too. It runs at a "Quad HD" resolution of 2560 x 1440 and looks really good. I wouldn't want to watch Ben-Hur on it, but for a smart phone screen it's very good.

The G5 is fast, too, it works and sounds fine as a phone, and of course it comes with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability built in. I did have issues pairing the Bluetooth to a couple of my review cars, but I think that was more the cars' fault than the LG, since certain carmakers seem incapable of facilitating such a seemingly simple thing.

One thing I haven't decided whether I like or not is the "always on" screen. I love the fact that you don't have to fire it up to check the time (not a big deal for me anyway, since I wear a watch - though my kids would probably appreciate it) but I wonder what effect, if any, that would have on the battery life.

Still, this is probably my favourite phone of the ones I've reviewed to date and I have a feeling LG will do very well with it.

Pricing for the phone is all over the map, because providers tend to use the hardware as a carrot to rope you into their plans. Koodo says you can get into it for as little as $50 (plus $21/month for two years on your "tab") with a full retail price of $704. Bell, for comparison, offers it for "free" depending on your two year contract, or $749.95 outright.



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