LG Prada II

LG Prada II

The LG Prada II (US$500 unlocked) improves on its predecessor in some important ways--such as by offering a physical QWERTY keyboard, 3G network capability, and Wi-Fi support. It's packed with impressive specs, but it doesn't have a vital (and increasingly common) feature: GPS.

With its piano-black case with a chrome finish, the Prada II has an attractively hip and minimalist look. A 3-inch touchscreen occupies most of the Prada II's face, with talk, menu, and end keys situated below the screen. The Prada II measures 4.1 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.7 inch, 0.2 inch thicker than the original. It is heftier, too, weighing 1.5 ounces more than the featherweight 3-ounce original. A lot of the added bulk can be chalked up to the QWERTY keyboard. And while the extra mass may detract from the Prada II's sexiness, I welcomed the physical keyboard. The original Prada lacked a physical or touch QWERTY keyboard, which made messaging quite difficult. The Prada II's sturdy slide-out keyboard echoes the case's chrome finish, and I found the backlit keys comfortable to type on. Initially I found the buttons a bit difficult to press, but I got used to them quickly.

Some touchscreen phones are sluggish and a hassle to navigate, but the Prada II's responsive touch interface its support for multitouch made it a pleasure to use. Like the Apple iPhone 3G, the Prada II lets you pinch to zoom in on a Web page. The multitouch capability is limited to the browser, the image gallery, and the document viewer, however. Another nice addition is an accelerometer, which helped produce prompt, smooth transitions.

The Prada II is haptic-enabled, too, meaning that it interacts with the user via the sense of touch. So when you press the phone's screen, you get light vibrating feedback.

The device's menu system is a little confusing to navigate at first because it incorporates three different home screens--a customizable screen with widgets, a blank one with just the Prada logo, and a shortcut launcher. You switch from one to another with a flick of your finger.

The widgets on the first home screen are similar to those on the Samsung Omnia. There are seven of these: an analog clock, a calendar, an FM radio, a music player, a world clock, Notes, and Image Slideshow. You can drag these widgets onto your home screen in any arrangement you like. I wish that there had also been a weather widget; and unfortunately, you can't supplement the preset seven with others of your own choosing. If you find the widget home screen too confusing or cluttered, you'll appreciate the shortcut launcher home screen, which you can customize and arrange for quick access to your favorite applications.

The main menu has four tabs that take you to subscreens where tools and apps are organized by category: Communicate, Entertainment, Utilities, and Settings.

Like the original Prada, the Prada II has a task manager; it allows you to run seven applications at once. You can run several native and Java apps simultaneously and switch among them by using a dedicated physical key on the handset's spine.

Setting up a POP3 or IMAP e-mail account is a breeze: You fill in an account and password field, and everything else happens automatically. Oddly, the size limit for e-mail on the Prada II is 1MB, so you won't be able to e-mail most of the pictures you take with its 5-megapixel camera--a big negative (those MMS fees can add up fast).

But the camera isn't all that impressive anyway, though it's a major upgrade from the 2-megapixel original. It has a flash, a Schneider-Kreuznach lens, an image stabilization feature, and three shooting modes (normal, burst shot, and panorama). Colors looked bright and accurate both indoors and out, but I was disappointed at how fuzzy some of my pictures looked--even with the image stabilizer activated.

The music player is fairly standard: As with other players, you can sort by artist, album, genre, and recently played selections. The player also supports album art, which looks great on the Prada II's display. One cool feature: You can use the dedicated widget to control the music player on the home screen. Audio quality overall was excellent, on a par with other multimedia phones such as Nokia's N-Series devices.

Browsing the Web is a pretty straightforward experience, albeit one that the Prada II's multitouch capabilities enhance somewhat. Nevertheless, I found myself pinching multiple times before the page would zoom in or out. Connectivity was slow at times, too, over both AT&T's 3G network and Wi-Fi. And in one instance, a page froze before it could load all the way.

As fashion phones go, the Prada II is a lot more than just a pretty face: It has a great feature set and a user-friendly interface. But its lack of integrated GPS disappointed me--especially in view of its high price. Integrated GPS is becoming standard on midrange phones, so it seems like a mistake not to have included it on this high-end model. People looking for a business-minded phone will probably get more out of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, which has a similar look but comes with additional features (such as the Microsoft Mobile Office Suite) and support for synchronization via Exchange.

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