As Orange enters the world of 3G voice calling, we look at one launch model, the LG U8150. Will the LG handset live up to previous models or will an Orange 3G interface ruin the experience?



The phone is solid and well built. However it does lack Bluetooth, which, while not important to some, will be paramount for those looking to use a Bluetooth headset or this as a fast and effective way to connect to their laptop when out on the road.

For your money you get two screens, and this had a heavy effect on the battery life of the unit, mainly because the main screen stays on when the flip is closed and despite fiddling with the Display settings we couldn’t turn this off.

Unlike other phones Orange are offering the LG U8150 with only a basic camera, instead of 1 mega pixel which would seem to be what’s expected on a 3G handset. Image settings were pretty comprehensive although the controls are slightly fiddly. The Zoom was very difficult to figure out how to operate and as for the “Flash”, it’s just a dim light that shines. Those looking for video might as well not bother either as the camcorder function offers a maximum of 1 minute of capture. Finally, the aerial is old fashioned but the signal was significantly better than one of Orange’s other 3G handsets - the Nokia 6630.

Even once you get past the build of the phone, the ringtones are seriously shocking. In fact we couldn’t actually find a tone that sounded like a phone and we loathe the idea that we should have to download a tone that isn’t going to get us lynched in the office from day one.

It’s strange therefore that while the ringtones were dire, the actual quality of the voice calls was excellent. No echo effect was apparent as you sometimes get with earlier flip phones.

When it comes to menus the LG gets mixed responses. Nokia users never can get used to other systems, and those used to the a Nokia interface will probably struggle with the menus here as they are very intuitive. You have several options down the left-hand side of the standby screen, and then you hit the Menu button and you get some of the same options, but this time they’ve also crammed everything into the menu’s nine folders. This means that quite a lot of stuff sits under slightly illogical headings.

For example, in Calendar, you select your date and then with other smartphones (like with Outlook on a PC) you can start typing and the phone creates a new entry. Not so here - you have to create an entry first and then fill in the blanks. Also, you can’t switch between applications. On a Nokia you can hit Menu at any time and open another application, with the LG you have to exit one to open another. Not helpful if you’re writing an email and then need to check a date or a contact for example.

With no Bluetooth, connecting to a PC is reliant on wires, however we couldn’t get PC sync to work. It couldn’t see the phone despite installing all software twice and connecting and reconnecting. The interface seems OK, although you’ve got four different applications to play with. To begin syncing you need to open up a Sync Manager, then the desktop software before you can proceed. You’re just left wondering why LG decided not put it all in one suite?

Setting up the email element was thankfully much easier. Using the 3G connection, email downloads were speedy - you’re getting 384Kbps after all. However there isn’t any way of checking data downloads and if you don’t have a set amount each month it would be nice to know if you’re about to go over your limit.

Probably the biggest drawback is that there is no expandable memory on the LG U8150, and one or two applications will put paid to the idea of storing large amounts of emails, contacts, images or MP3 tracks on this phone.

Verdict

It's still early days for 3G in the UK, and even earlier days for Orange 3G. On our tests around the country we are still not convinced with the supposed power of it all. The speed and connection integrity still lacks that nationwide coverage. On a trip to Birmingham from London signal strength was very patchy. The aim to 3G is information at your fingertips however it was quicker just to phone the hotel rather than use the location service from Orange.



It's a good solid phone that performs well in most areas. It is going to be Orange's answer to the V800 or the Motorola E1000? Unfortunately we very much doubt it.