Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Reasonable features list, Display, Music player, 3.5mm headphone jack adapter
- Performance of scroll wheel, Battery life
The U400 offers a new control system but its performance isn't really up to scratch. The handset has a solid, if not outstanding list of features, but a poor battery life and chunky design don't do it any favours.
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
A mobile phone with an iPod like scroll wheel? No, it's not an Apple product, but rather LG's new 3G mobile handset. Exclusive to 3 Mobile, the U400 offers a scroll wheel control system, quality crystal clear display and comfortable keypad. It is a solid mid-range product, but the new control system is not as intuitive as it should be and the bulky design leaves a lot to be desired.
We've seen joysticks, navigational pads and even touch pads, but the U400 is the first phone we've reviewed with a scroll wheel. Unfortunately, while the idea is good in theory, LG's implementation of this could use a little work. For starters, the scroll wheel doesn't sit in the centre of the phone - it is pushed towards the left hand side and this places the selection buttons off centre. For example, the answer key is located where the right selection key usually is, so it takes a lot of time to get used to. After two days of use, we were still pressing the answer key to access the Planet 3 menu. We can't understand why LG just didn't position the scroll wheel in the centre of the handset as this would have made its operation much simpler.
Secondly, the scroll wheel is less than intuitive as it does not feel smooth or comfortable. Scrolling often has mixed results, with the wheel sometimes jumping two or three lines with one spin, yet other times not moving at all. This makes basic usage like navigating the menu a trial as you constantly wind up on the wrong item or icon.
The wheel is surrounded by two selection buttons, a menu key, answer and end call buttons (the latter doubling as a power button) as well as a clear/lock key. These keys were fairly responsive although they are quite small, so those with larger fingers may have some difficulties operating the U400. A volume key on the left hand side of the handset and a dedicated camera button and music key on the right round out the U400's controls.
The handset has a slide design and measuring 100mm x 50mm x 20mm it is quite chunky. In particular, the top half of the rear has enlarged corners and we feel this detracts from the overall look and feel of the unit. Despite this, the gloss black finish looks quite good, although it does have a habit of picking up finger prints. At 113g the phone is fairly lightweight so you shouldn't have to worry about being weighed down.
Perhaps one of the best features of the U400 is the display. A 2in QVGA (240 x 320 pixels) screen, the display is bright and clear and is especially good for viewing photographs taken by the phone's camera or for watching video clips. While it is let down by a poor viewing angle, its performance in direct sunlight was quite impressive. Also pleasing was the keypad. Comfortable, raised keys ensure SMS messaging at high speeds is not a problem and those with large fingers should be able to type with ease.
The U400 features a dedicated music player and it supports a range of file formats including AAC, AAC+, AMR, MP3, MIDI, MP4, WAV and WMA. Unfortunately there is no playlist support, but LG include a preset equaliser as well as an adapter that allows you to use any set of standard 3.5mm headphones with the U400. Furthermore, the adapter has a reasonably long cord and comes with a remote attached that allows you to answer and end calls, as well as adjust music volume and skip, stop, pause and play music tracks, all without removing the phone from your pocket. LG do include headphones of their own, but they are uncomfortable and suffer from poor sound quality, so we advise you use your own.
The U400 also comes equipped with a 2 megapixel camera that can snap photos up to a 1600 x 1200 resolution. Its performance is average for a camera phone, so it's certainly not good enough to replace a standalone digital camera, but the photos are suitable to use as phone wallpapers or sending via SMS messages. That said the U400 camera includes a number of excellent features such as the ability to adjust brightness levels, white balance settings, night mode, a three, five or 10 second timer and black and white and sepia effects. Unfortunately there is no flash though and the included light isn't really an adequate replacement.
There is also a VGA camera on the front of the handset for 3G video calling, although this can also be used for portrait photos by selecting it in the settings menu. You can save your photos using the fairly generous 52MB of internal memory, or alternatively, the U400 offers a microSD card slot on the left side of the handset. There is no included SD card in the sales package so you'll have to factor the purchase of this into your budget.
The U400 includes Bluetooth and USB connectivity (a USB cable is included in the sales package), but no infrared. There are also polyphonic ring tones, a hands-free speakerphone, SMS, MMS and e-mail messaging (with T9 predictive text input), WAP 2.0 and Java support. The hands free speakerphone is unconventionally activated by holding down the clear key and although it worked well for most part, the volume could have been louder at its highest setting.
Unfortunately, the U400 suffers from poor battery life. According to LG, the battery is rated at a disappointing 133 hours of standby time and approximately 148 minutes of talk time. During testing we found ourselves charging the handset about every two nights, which is slightly below average. If you use the features such as the camera and music player regularly, this figure will further decrease.
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