LG Shows off Arena Smartphone, Video Watch Phone

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LG Electronics CEO Skott Ahn had a little time on his hands before the company's news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday, so he called up his buddy Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, for a video chat on a prototype wristwatch phone.

The video call somewhat overshadowed the company's purpose in calling the conference: the launch of the glitzy 3D S-Class User Interface on new smartphones, including what LG said is the first phone to run the latest version of Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

The CEOs chatted for several minutes about their partnership, with a somewhat grainy Ballmer looming larger than life on a giant screen relaying the image that Ahn could see on the wristwatch's 1.43-inch display.

The LG-GD910 watch phone can make voice calls over GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and video calls over 3G (third-generation) networks, transferring data at up to 7.2M bps on HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) networks, according to LG. It contains a digital audio player that connects to Bluetooth stereo headsets, voice recognition and text-to-speech functions, a phonebook and a scheduler, the company said -- but there's no word on whether it tells the time.

This is not the first trade show at which LG has demonstrated the watch phone. It first appeared at CES in Las Vegas last year, and was there again this year. Now LG says it is "market ready" and will go on sale in Europe at the end of this year.

LG's 3D S-Class User Interface will appear somewhat sooner, with the LG-KM900 Arena going on sale in Europe in March and elsewhere later in the year.

Vice President of Marketing Strategy Chang Ma took the Arena for a spin to show off the 3D S-Class User Interface, which he described as "Fast, fun, intuitive."

On the 3-inch, 480 x 800 pixel touchscreen display he flipped through a Rolodex-inspired rotating display of contacts, and twisted the hands of an analog clock around and around -- and around -- to advance an alarm by three hours, although it would have been far quicker to simply type the time he wanted.

His favorite, he said, was the FM radio tuner. Rather than a button for each available station, allowing a fast and intuitive choice, the Arena offers a picture of an old-fashioned dial that must be stroked left or right to change the digital frequency display. Ma rubbed the screen rapidly several times but didn't find his station.

The Arena's photo album appeared more practical, laying out photos taken with its 5 megapixel camera along a virtual film: stroke left or right to view photos taken the same day, and up or down to see photos from the previous or next day.

The phone can play DVD-quality DivX and Xvid movies, storing them in its 8GB of internal memory or removable Micro SD cards holding up to 32GB. It's the first phone on the market to offer Dolby Mobile, a new sound-enhancing technology from Dolby Laboratories, LG said.

LG didn't say what software lies under the Arena's 3D S-Class interface, but the second phone to sport that look, the LG-GM730, will run Windows Mobile -- and not just any version: Thanks to the deal Ahn and Ballmer discussed in their video call, LG will be the first phone manufacturer with the new version of Windows Mobile. LG expects the phone to go on sale before the end of June.

The company also showed off the LG-GD900, a smartphone with a translucent keypad that will go on sale next quarter, and the LG-X120, a Netbook with a built-in 3G HSPA modem.

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