Touchscreen phone comparison Q3 - U.S. carriers

This article has been updated, expanded with more details per readers’ request. Thank you for your feedback.


There’s no denying it, touchscreens are the latest trend in the mobile world and with the iPhone on the forefront of technology and fashion they show no sign of going away anytime soon. The iPhone was not the first phone to feature a touchscreen- they have been around since last century in fact- and it wasn’t even the first fashion phone to ditch the keyboard; that distinction goes to the LG PRADA. The iPhone did, however, bring it into the collective conscious of the world, and since its launch a year ago manufacturers have scrambled to put out that ever-elusive iPhone-killer. There have been countless attempts, but there are a few that stick out in particular. Today we’ll take a look at three phones- the Dare and Vu from LG, as well as the Samsung Instinct- and see how they stack up to the new iPhone 3G. We will compare each phone in several categories, and give them a score of 1-5 with the top performer in each category being the standard.

If you are interested in GSM phones, check out the Touchscreen phone comparison Q3 - GSM phones


There are two main types of technology for touchscreen displays: capacitive and resistive. The more common resistive screen has several layers, one of which is electrically conductive and another which is resistive. When pressure is applied to the screen these two layers touch and the panel interprets the resulting current change. These displays work off the force exerted upon them, and any force such a stylus or gloved finger will work. A capacitive screen is coated with an electrically conducive material which sends a constant current across its sensor, giving it what is known as capacitance. When another object possessing capacitance, such as a bare finger, interacts with the display, the sensors interpret the change. Capacitive screens are more precise, but they cannot be used with objects that don’t exhibit capacitance which is why they do not work with a stylus or gloved finger. Not such a big deal in Miami, but a real concern in Minnesota.

The iPhone uses the more precise capacitive display, whereas the Vu, Dare and Instinct all utilize resistive screen technologies. The iPhone- at least the first time around- paired excellent software with this more precise input method, and the result was the best interface mobile users had ever experienced. This time around Apple is having issues, and the iPhone 3G at time exhibits lag and unresponsiveness that the original never did. It is not consistent, but there are times when we’ll press an item and the screen won’t respond, or other times when the button animation plays but it takes a second or two or five before finally performing the action. Given the performance of the original, however, we are inclined to chalk this up to software issues. The 3.5” display uses 16 million colors at a 320x480 pixel resolution, producing brilliantly vivid and detailed graphics. It is by far the best of the four units.

The Vu and Dare appear to have identical screens, as they have the exact same specifications (262k colors, 240x400px resolution, 3” in size,) come from the same manufacturer and most importantly perform the same. Both phones offer haptic feedback, meaning that the screen vibrates slightly when pressed. This is a very nice feature which supposedly lets the user know the press has been registered. While a good idea in theory, it does not translate to real world experience on these units. With both phones we’ve gotten haptic response, button animation and even audio confirmation…but nothing happened. This becomes especially frustrating when messaging, and typing with any speed and accuracy is impossible.

The Instinct also uses resistive touch with haptic feedback, but with a much better result than the LG phones. It is slightly larger at 3.1” and 240x432px, but still features 262k colors. We encountered slight lag every so often, but when we got haptic feedback our presses were always registered. When both are running properly the iPhone is noticeably smoother than the Instinct, but the gap between the two is narrow. As we’ll touch upon later we prefer the Instinct for messaging, and as of right now the Instinct is an overall better experience because of the iPhone’s software issues. Still, we know that when Apple gets them sorted out the iPhone will again be the best out there.

Rating: iPhone 5, Instinct 4.5, Dare 2.5, Vu 2.5


All four phones feature a large display at the expense of a physical keyboard, and as you might expect the designs are relatively similar. The iPhone is the largest overall, with the Instinct slightly taller but significantly narrower. The Vu and Dare are both considerably smaller than the other two.

In terms of in-hand feel the Vu and Dare are both remarkably light, almost to a fault. The Vu feels especially cheep; it’s constructed almost entirely of hard plastic, with only a chrome ring around the side to break up the monotony. The Dare at least has a soft-touch finish to give it a more reassuring feel, but even still its casing is harder than soft touch finishes we’ve seen on the Treo or Q, for instance. Their lightness and overall plasticy feel make the plastic screen more apparent, and on both there is more screen flex than we’d like, especially the Vu. Both phones could have done with some extra weight. We think the Dare would probably hold up better to everyday wear and tear, but wouldn’t feel comfortable dropping either one.

The iPhone 3G uses a glass display panel, making it the heaviest of the four units at 4.7oz. It is also tied for the thinnest unit at just 12.3 mm. Its edges are beveled, which lets the phone rest in the hand more naturally and makes it feel thinner than it really is. It’s construction is top notch; though we would never want to throw anything this beautiful around we feel the iPhone could stand up to it. Our only complaint is that the phone is a bit wide for the average person. Those with larger hands will probably appreciate the added width, but for most people, including the overwhelming majority of females, the phone is too wide to be comfortable holding for long periods of time.

The Instinct has the same plastic screen as the Dare and Vu, but there is less flex to it resulting in a more reassuring feel. Whether or not this has to do with the Instinct’s better touchscreen performance we’re not sure, but none-the-less it both feels and performs better. It’s taller than the other three units, especially the LG phones where it is 0.5” taller than the Dare. It has significantly more weight than the LG units, but is 0.3 oz lighter than the iPhone. It is the narrowest of the four phones however (tied with the Vu at 55mm) and just as thin as the iPhone. The solid weight, thinness and narrowness give it the best in-hand feel of the three phones. Like the iPhone, the Instinct’s build quality is top notch and we have no misgivings about its ability to withstand wear and tear.

Rating: Instinct 5, iPhone 4.5, Dare, 3.25, Vu 2.5

User Interface:

The iPhone set the standard for a mobile interface, and nothing has changed with the 3G; it is still the easiest phone on the market to use. With the introduction of the App Store it can get more cluttered than we’d like, since every application has its own icon and there are no organization options. However, it’s completely customizable and the user can arrange the icons in whatever desire they wish, including the four bottom icons that remain static when you change pages. The iPhone is the only one of the four that can directly interface with Outlook calendar and contacts (or Calendar and Address Book for Mac,) though the Instinct can indirectly sync with Outlook contacts via Sprint’s Mobile Sync web tool.

An important element to the iPhone’s success is the ground-up approach Apple took with the UI design. When it debuted it was unlike anything we had ever seen before; striking in both its simplicity and practicality. Samsung and Sprint set out with the same approach for the Instinct, and did an awfully good job. You are never more than three clicks away from any of the phone’s functions, and with a customizable favorites menu that can hold up to 12 shortcuts most users are only one click from what they use most. Like the iPhone, the Instinct UI is simple and intuitive. It lacks the polish of Apple’s OS, but we do like that Samsung has included a back button which the iPhone lacks.

The Vu also has an intuitive UI that lends itself to touch-friendliness. Unburdened by carrier requirements, the Vu runs the tabbed LG UI we’ve seen on phones such as the Glimmer, Viewty, KF700 and KS20 smartphone. It’s simple, easy to use and visually pleasing. Our main complaint is that there is no real customization to it, what you see is what you get. Another gripe we have is scrolling. It has become standard to grab a list or webpage from the bottom and flick upwards in order to scroll down (like you’re actually grabbing the list and moving it up) but this is reversed on the Vu. It is also the least smooth of the four, with lists sometimes moving slowly, other times taking off when you’re trying to move slowly and most annoyingly scrolling when you try and select something.

The Dare runs a mashup of the Vu and Verizon’s UI, with some new features. It has some advantages, but its fatal flaw is that Verizon is behind it. The shortcut bar on the home screen is the same style as the Vu, but underneath is a completely different UI, but still it’s the best UI Verizon has ever put out. The menu animations are visually pleasing, and there are some pretty nice customization options. There is an 11 item shortcut menu, and users can actually drag items directly to the home screen, which acts like a desktop. Unlike past Verizon UI’s, such as the Voyager, the Dare’s menu takes advantage of the touchscreen’s capabilities. Verizon has some work to do still, but at least is moving in the right direction.

The iPhone and Dare both have built-in accelerometers. While it is a nice feature to have, the Instinct and Vu aren’t necessarily missing out by not having them. You can only use them at certain times with both phones, and the only true advantage we see to having one is for its gaming.

Rating: iPhone 5, Instinct 4.5, Vu 3.5, Dare 3.5



The mobile industry has been struggling with merging cell phones and mp3 players for years. Carriers and manufactures alike have gone as far as to launch music stores, but nobody has ever gotten the player right. Along comes the iPhone, and not only do you have a revolutionary phone but also arguably the best music player ever, phone or not. To be quite blunt, no manufacturer has come close to replicating the multimedia experience of the iPhone, and this section will pretty much be a comparison between the other three phones. Video codec support is weak, but otherwise the iPhone’s media playback is perfect in every way.

The Instinct and Dare both run carrier media players, whereas the Vu runs a native LG player. All three have their shortcomings, most notably in file recognition. We loaded the same six albums on each device. All six were in .mp3 format, properly tagged with artist, album, track title and number information, and each had embedded album art. The iPhone read everything flawlessly.

The Sprint Music Store player performed the best of the three despite its overall sub-par performance. It recognized tags on three of the six albums, and album art for 1.5 albums. Art was not displayed properly however, the image was way larger than the allotted space and it appears that the file must be a certain resolution. It did recognize track numbers, so when you chose to play an album it plays in the proper track order.

The Vu was the next best, slightly ahead of the Dare. It only recognized two albums, and only one had album art. When the album is recognized it does play the tracks in the proper order, otherwise it plays the unrecognized tracks in alphabetic order. We did have an issue with one of the albums skipping, making it unlistenable, but the other five performed fine. Unfortunately the battery has to be removed to access the microSD card, and even then you’ll need a long nail or a paperclip to pop the card out.

Bringing up the rear is the Dare and its VCast Music player. It actually recognized four of the six albums, but no album art. Even though it read the album and artist info, it didn’t read the track number info though and plays in alphabetical order. Further adding to the frustration, the Dare does not recognize folders, which meals all the music has to be sideloaded loose. Unless your files are all named with the artist, album and track number it gets very messy. The player does make use of the accelerometer, and when rotated the orientation will follow suit in all four directions. While in landscape mode the album art of the previous and next track are displayed semi-transparent and in the background, like we first saw on the Venus. However, you cannot swipe between them like on the iPhone and it didn’t actually recognize any album art, so all we got were some grey music notes.

The iPhone ships with 8 or 16GB of internal memory, whereas the other three units all use microSD expansion. All three can handle up to 8GB cards, and should handle 16GB cards when they are released later this year, and any future microSDHC card above that. The Instinct comes with a 2GB card, but the Dare and Vu require a separate purchase.

Despite being multimedia oriented phones, none of the four feature stereo speakers. The iPhone appears to have a pair at the bottom, but in reality the right hole is the mic and only the left hole is a speaker. Despite this it is pretty loud, and without external speakers will get the job done. The Instinct’s single speaker emanates from the earpiece and is pretty good, though at the highest setting has some slight distortion. The Dare has a decent speaker, but it sits on the back which means it gets muffled when you set it down. The Vu is a bit quieter than and not as full as the others.

The iPhone, Instinct and Dare all feature a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Instinct, Dare and Vu have stereo Bluetooth. Sound quality was fine on all four, though the iPhone may have been slightly better. We’re sure an audiophile would have issues with that statement, but to our commoner ears all four devices sounded good enough.

Rating: iPhone 5, Instinct 2.5, Vu 2, Dare 1.5


Of the four devices the iPhone has the nicest video interface. Videos take up the entire screen, and with 16m colors in the display they look much clearer, richer and crisper due to the iPhone’s higher resolution. The Instinct has a similar interface, but not as clean as the iPhone. The Vu was very clean, though videos didn’t look nearly as good as on the Instinct. Videos looked worst on the Dare, which also has the worst interface.

We found some interesting results here. We tested several different MP4 videos in combinations of resolution, frame rate and codecs (either H.263 or the higher quality H.264). The Dare could handle 320x240 video with H.263 codec at 30fps. The Instinct and Vu were able to handle 320x240 in H.264 up to 60fps, the highest we test for. The iPhone was unable to handle any of them. It should be noted, however, that we use Videora to convert videos to iPod/iPhone compatible formats and they look flawless, though the process takes slightly longer than the video’s runtime.

The Vu and Instinct both have the ability to play live TV, but the Vu is much better at it. Supporting MediaFLO, the Vu has a dedicated network for high-quality TV whereas SprintTV runs over Sprint’s data connection at only 15fps. The Instinct can also get on-demand clips, as can the Dare via VCast Video. Both were of equally mediocre quality. The iPhone has no video services beyond side-loading.

Rating: Instinct 5, Vu 4.5, iPhone 3, Dare 1


The Dare leads the pack with a 3.2-megapixel, autofocus camera with Schneider-Kreuznach optics and an LED flash. The Vu has a 2MP sensor, also with autofocus, and the Instinct and iPhone have 2MP sensors without auto-focus. In a surprisingly close battle the Dare edged out the iPhone for overall image quality, though the iPhone outperformed it at times. Both produced crisp, clear images and the iPhone may have slightly better color saturation and representation. The Vu lagged behind the pack, with harsher images and the Instinct was the worst of the four.

The Dare wins points for its plethora of options and its very cool image editing mode. The Vu also has plenty of options, though no on-board editing software. The Instinct and iPhone both are option-less. The iPhone loses more points due to its inability to record video. The Dare bests the other two with its ability to record slow-motion video at 120fps.

Rating: Dare 5, iPhone 3.75, Vu 3.5, Instinct 2.5

Web Browsing:

Not only did the iPhone revolutionize mobile multimedia, it took mobile browsing to a whole new level. Mobile Safari set a new standard for browsing, and Apple’s implementation of multi-touch made it downright enjoyable. It’s as great as ever on the 3G, and only Opera Mobile 9.5 has given it true competition.

The Dare and Instinct both feature “full” HTML browsers, but neither can really compare to the iPhone experience. It’s true, they do render HTML pages just like you would see on your computer screen, but they are not nearly as smooth as the iPhone and lack of multi-touch makes it an unfair playing field. In terms of rendering the two are nearly identical. The Dare has a full-screen option the Instinct lacks, but the Instinct has easier to navigate controls and a better page overview feature (similar to Opera Mini.) Both run over EVDO Rev. A, but the Dare renders pages significantly quicker than the Instinct. Neither phone has a great browser, but they are both acceptable.

The Vu also has an HTML browser, but we got an error message when trying to load our homepage. After several attempts we were finally able to get it running, but it was slow, did not render properly and was generally unusable.

We ran several 1MB speed test on all four phones using All four phones were in 3G coverage, with strong signal. The iPhone recorded the highest single test speed, at 640 kbit/s, but its test average was 300 kbit/s. The Instinct was the fastest overall, averaging around 360 kbit/s with the Dare just behind it at 340. The Vu was the slowest, averaging around 220 kbit/s.
The iPhone of course supports Wi-Fi as well, which earns it some brownie points. Wi-Fi hotspots are rapidly growing, especially with AT&T and Starbuck’s agreement, but while it may work fine in your home or at the coffee shop, it does not afford you the true widespread high-speed data 3G does, especially on the CDMA providers.

Rating: iPhone 5, Dare 3.5, Instinct 3.5, Vu 2


With their large touchscreen displays all four phones offer a full QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode. In portrait mode the iPhone is also QWERTY, the Instinct has a stupid alphabetical keypad and the Dare and Vu have a much more logical traditional keypad layout, with the choice of either T9 predictive text or ABC multi-tap entry. The iPhone and Instinct both feature threaded text messaging, the Dare and Vu have the normal single-message-at-a-time view.

The iPhone and Instinct can interface with an Exchange server, which gives the user true push email. The iPhone also syncs with Apple’s MobileMe service, similar to Exchange. The Vu and Dare both have email clients, though the Vu is limited in which providers it can check.

The Vu and Dare both come with a preloaded IM client which provide access to AIM, Yahoo and Windows Live messaging. There is a free AIM client available via the App Store for the iPhone, though it is buggy and does not currently notify you of IMs when not running. The Instinct does not have an IM client available yet.

The Instinct’s QWERTY is well ahead of the other three phones. There is not much to say other than it’s very accurate and has auto-correction software for the few times you need it. We still for the life of us can’t figure out why the portrait keyboard is alphabetical instead of T9/ABC. We’re holding out hope that this will be corrected in the next software upgrade.

The iPhone’s landscape QWERTY is nearly as good as the Instinct’s and has excellent auto-correct software. However, it can only be used when browsing the web and for messages you have to use the decidedly worse portrait QWERTY. The auto-correct software does its best to help you, but in the end the keyboard is just too cramped, not accurate enough and the software couldn’t overcome our many mistakes. We’d hoped Apple would make the landscape available in messaging with the new iPhone, but given that there have been several software releases since its original launch we realistically don’t see it coming. The iPhone loses some points for not being able to send or receive MMS messages.

The Dare and Vu both have very similar, and fairly poor, keyboards. The 0.1” less screen real estate makes more of a difference than you’d imagine, as the Vu and Dare border on cramped when in QWERTY mode. Neither is particularly accurate, and compounding the problem is the responsiveness issues we mentioned earlier in the review. When typing it will simply miss key strokes, despite positive feedback (haptics, sound) being given. This issue is present both on the QWERTY and traditional keypads, making it slow to type with either. Typing with speed is impossible, unless you want to wade back through the message and correct several mistakes. There is no auto-correct feature present on either device.

Rating: Instinct 5, iPhone 3, Dare 1, Vu 1


More and more customers are turning to their phone for driving directions rather than a separate GPS unit. The Vu, unfortunately, is not compatible with AT&T’s navigator service. The iPhone currently only has Google Maps, though Telenav has announced they intend to bring their services to the iPhone. For now though, users cannot get voice-guided navigation on their device.

The Dare offers VZNavigator, perhaps the worst GPS navigation software you’ll ever use. The program isn’t particularly hard to use, it just isn’t good. The interface is clunky and ported from the red-bar UI, and we often had a scroll bar on the right side indicating that there were more options, but we couldn’t scroll either with the bar or via the normal grab and flick method. Users do get voice-guided turn-by-turn directions however, so it’s a major upgrade from the iPhone.

The Instinct is without a doubt the best mobile GPS experience we’ve had. Telenav is a wonderful program that goes well beyond simple driving directions by letting the user search for nearby businesses, gas prices, Wi-Fi hotspots, ATMs, and anything from tattoo parlors to dry cleaners. To say it was comprehensive is selling it short. While we wish it could go widescreen, the GPS directions look fantastic on the Instinct’s large screen. The coup de grâce is the Instinct’s Speech to Action function, which allows the user to open Live Search with their voice, speak to search for a nearby business and with one click be taken to a navigation session.

Rating: Instinct 5, Dare 4, iPhone 2, Vu 1


So it’s great that you can watch a movie and download music and get baseball updates on your device, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t perform as a phone than you just have a UMPC, and a rather poor one at that. So, how do the four stack up?

We realize reception will vary greatly around the country, but we live in top 15 metro area and tested the phones where all four phones had strong coverage. Using our seasoned test subject, we were told that the Instinct sounded the best, like a “landline” a “10 of 10.” The iPhone was close behind at a “9.5,” but sounded “a little more hollow.” The Dare was “7 or 6, a little distant and garbled at times.” Rounding out the four was the Vu, which sounded “a little hollow, the worst of the four. It sounds like a cell phone with lots of hum” in the background, especially during moments of silence.

On our end the results were similar. The caller sounded significantly better on the Instinct than any other phone, with the iPhone coming in a relatively close second. The caller sounded distant on both the Vu and Dare; on the former they sounded thin and they sounded hollow on the latter. The Vu was slightly better than the Dare, but both were well behind the sound quality of the Instinct and iPhone.

We had some reception issues with the iPhone. There were several times we were not able to place a call, and it would drop calls from time to time. The signal indicator on the Instinct fluctuated wildly, often jumping from one to six bars, but despite this we never had a problem making or holding a call, and call quality did not suffer.

The iPhone won the battery test at 8:40 of 2G talk time, though that fell short of its claimed 10 hours. The Dare was next, at 6:11 which represents a one third increase over its claimed 4:40. The Vu was third with 5:30 of talk time and the Instinct last at 3:30. However, the Instinct comes with two batteries and a battery only charger, so the phone really never needs to be plugged in.

Rating: Instinct 5, iPhone 4, Dare 3, Vu 2.5


Of course not every feature is going to fall neatly into our previous categories. While the devices aren’t exactly going head-to-head here, they are rated on what they bring to the table. If the phones were potential NFL draftees, these would be their intangibles.

First up is a very tangible number: price. The Instinct is the most affordable phone, at just $129. The 8GB iPhone and Dare are $199, and the Vu and 16GB iPhone ring in at $299. As far as value goes, the Instinct is pretty hard to beat.

Despite its low price, the Instinct includes the most accessories in the box. The user gets a 2GB microSD card, 2 batteries and a battery only charger, USB data cable, stereo headphones, leather pouch, stylus and of course the AC adapter. The iPhone includes stereo headphones and the USB cable, which doubles as the AC charger with the included adapter. The Vu gives the user stereo headphones and the AC adapter, and the Dare simply an AC adapter, though at launch Verizon ran a promotion where new activations set up online received a free 8GB microSD card.

The aforementioned Speech to Action on the Instinct is a logical extension of prior speech recognition programs. It is powered by VoiceSignal, which has long allowed you to open programs with your voice. Opening the camera, for instance, wasn’t all that useful though. Now the user can open relevant items, such as weather, news, sports, movies and most importantly Live Search, in addition to the standard voice dialing services. For those not familiar with Sprint phones, Live Search is a local business search application which allows the user to search via voice, and utilizes the phone’s GPS capabilities to deliver local results.

The Dare and Vu (we seem to be saying this a lot) both feature a more standard voice command program. The iPhone, however, comes up short and does not offer voice command of any sort.

The iPhone’s App Store means that developers can finally take advantage of the platform and bring to market games, applications and business tools for users. We wouldn’t exactly call it open, Sling will testify to that, but it represents a new direction for the iron-fisted Steve Jobs. The Instinct runs on an open Java/BREW platform, and Sprint has created a Developer Program for it, but we have yet to see anything come of it.

There are iPhone issues galore, and right now the software is quite frankly unstable. We’ve experienced everything from slight menu lag to temporary unresponsiveness to lock-ups and even had some unexpected restarts. On our demo unit the screen shrunk after the first week of use; no longer does the display take up the whole LCD, there are several rows of unused pixels on the left and top sides, a few on the bottom and one or two rows on the right. The view is the same however, it’s not like the pixels are dead, just the view is shrunk. There are countless reports of unstable App performance, MobileMe failures, SIM issues, lost data and more. When it’s working properly it’s great, but right now the iPhone 3G isn’t worth the headaches it is causing.

The Dare and Vu are much more clean-cut. As we covered in the interface section the Dare has some nice UI enhancements, but both phones are paper tigers to some degree. Their spec sheets and feature lists look impressive, and to an extent are, but they lack the experience that the iPhone and Instinct give. It’s cool to use those devices, and the LGs just don’t have “it.”

Rating: Instinct 5, Dare 3, Vu 3, iPhone 2.5


Not surprisingly the Instinct and the iPhone occupy the first two places in the overall scoring. It became apparent throughout the review that the Dare and Vu are really in a different league, and they clocked in with lower scores. Each phone has its strong points though; only the Vu did not finish first in at least one category, and its TV service is a strong selling point.

In the end it is the attention to detail that matters. Apple started with a blank slate, throwing convention out the window and creating the iPhone from the ground up with usability as priority number one. Samsung and Sprint took the same approach with the Instinct, and with well-documented list of iPhone 3G problems growing ever-longer the Instinct takes the cake for the time being. Sprint has said the Instinct’s OS will be used on future devices, so with some polishing and multimedia improvements it very well could give Apple a run for its money in the long term. LG, on the other hand, has some work to do in both the design and implementation departments.

We realize each reader values different things in a phone and not every category is important as the next one, so give these rankings your own weighting and find which phone is best for you! As always, we’ve tried to be as objective as possible and if you don’t agree with any of the ratings we’ve given, we guess this is just because of the different tastes and needs.

































































See also:

Apple iPhone Specifications | Review

Samsung Instinct Specifications | Review

LG Dare Specifications | Review

LG Vu Specifications |Review

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