Catwalk Cutie: What’s the LG Prada actually for?

You have to hand it to LG: the company decided to produce phones with a wow factor, and in pretty short succession it has come up with its third – the Prada phone follows the Chocolate and the Shine as the must-have must-fondle must-be-seen-with choice of anyone with half an eye for style.

Certainly the fashion press are drooling over it. So are the design pros; at this year’s red dot Design Awards, one of the prestigious industrial design awards in Europe, the ‘Best of the Best’ prize went to the Prada phone.

So is the buzz justified? LG’s PR people have been touring a handful of handsets around the press, allowing the favoured few as much as 48 hours with a phone before it was snatched back for the next lucky recipient. Curiously, that turns out to be long enough to get a real sense of what kind of phone this is.

First things first: it’s not the Prada phone, it’s the PRADA Phone by LG. Or the LG-KE850, if you want to be boring. The name sings the positioning, but it also indicates that both Prada (or rather PRADA) and LG (or Lg) are very keen to maintain the branding. PRADA is always capitalised, the “by LG” suggests the Koreans are doing the Italians an honour or maybe a favour, the whole branding thing implies the PRADA design values with LG’s technical competence. A triumph, and we haven’t even opened the box yet.

It’s a nice box, too – solid, square, very black, very minimal, very Prada. Inside goodies include a lens cloth (very necessary, as we’ll see) and a natty real-leather carry case.

And the phone itself, of course: a lovely piece of styling, glossy black plastic front and back with the screen flush on the front and a camera lens on the back. Also on the front is a thin metal bar of three buttons – call, cancel, return to previous function. The edge is shiny chromed metal with a few more nearly-flush controls: music player on, up/down volume and image control, keyboard lock, profile selector. There’s also a cover for the LG-proprietary power/USB socket.

Overall it sits very nicely in the hand. And of course there’s no keyboard; instead you get a proper touchscreen keyboard, and it’s perfectly usable – a light touch selects something on the display, but it’s not over-sensitive. Still, that keyboard lock is pretty essential to avoid accidentally ‘keypresses’ when it’s the pocket or the handbag. Texting does take some getting used to, given the lack of feedback.

Inside the spec is reasonable. There’s Bluetooth, which pairs easily and includes A2DP for stereo headsets. The camera has a Schneider-Kreuznach lens, as used by Kodak, and the photos it takes are pretty good for a 2mp snapper. There aren’t many camera functions – flash, some white-balance settings, a couple of simple filters; but no auto focus, for instance. The music player is even more basic: shuffle and repeat, but no playlists.

There’s also a document viewer that supports Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Acrobat files. Why? No idea, but it works well enough if you want to check out something – documents are reformatted automatically to fit the screen width. For longer reads it would be a real pain.

Outside, the home screen has a large retro analogue clock on it – you can drag it around the display to reposition it, tapping the clock face opens an alarm-setting screen – and there are four simple on-screen buttons for messages, contacts, dial pad and the main menu. The icons are quite understandable and work quickly; the submenu system is also easy to use, and the classy stripped-back typeface will appeal to any would-be designer.

And then there are the problem areas. Some are a function of the style-led design; the phone needs that lens cloth because it attracts smudges, and because the phone encourages you to touch it there will be a lot of smudges. Probably scratches too, in time. Similarly, it’s difficult to read what the keys around the side do because they’re so thin. But then, so is the phone.

Other issues are things you might have expected LG to pick up. Like the memory: there’s a paltry 8MB on board, and while there’s a microSD card slot (a) it’s hidden away under the battery, so hot-swapping is out of the question; and (b) we didn’t get a microSD card in it – though we hear that this might be remedied to the tune of 256MB when the thing actually starts shipping.

And that shiny chrome-style metal turns out to be a metallic coating on something more like plastic, at least on the battery cover release. It was starting to get chipped: too many heavy-handed journalists taking a peek inside. That possibly accounts for the less than airtight fit of the battery cover panel itself, too.

Other gripes? Well, it has EDGE but no 3G and certainly not HSDPA, so web browsing is a pain. The camera is distinctly average, the music player functions are poor, there no 3.5mm headphone jack. The large screen drains a lot of power if you use it on maximum brightness. The web browser is pretty poor, seemingly incapable of rendering text in the right position and graphics at the right size – a shame, the big screen should have been great for webbing.

So what do we have here? Well, it’s not a smartphone; still less is it an iPhone alternative. Instead it’s a great-looking middle-of-the-road mobile phone for doing the basic mobile phone things. Forget the camera and the music player, don’t spend too long fretting about the inclusion of a document reader, don’t even think about synching your contacts and diary or email and web functions. It’s a phone, dammit – a phone that wins design awards, and none the worse for that.

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