LG GW520 review

3 out of 5
Dependent on contract

For

Great keyboard, good battery life

Against

Poor browser, limited connectivity, outdated user interface, can't be controlled from the keyboard alone

The LG GW520 takes the company's popular KS360 style, updates it and adds some hardware beef to the package. But in a time when mobile phones are moving so fast, is this enough of an evolution over the smaller 2G sibling?

The GW520 has distinctive LG looks, with a side-sliding QWERTY keyboard. This format is popular with message fiends, giving more space to the landscape keyboard than the more common horizontal keyboards you'll find on the likes of a BlackBerry.

In terms of build quality, the GW520 feels solid enough, but doesn't wow with its materials, as plastics are used throughout. The slide action is crisp enough in opening and closing, but as a result the phone is a little thicker than those slim touch rivals out there – it measures 106.5 x 53 x 15.9mm.

It features a full touch display and across the bottom of the display you have three buttons, giving you calling and a central "multi-tasking" button, which will allow you to switch between running applications, or access shortcuts.

Around the device you'll find a volume adjuster, screen lock and dedicated camera button. There is a microSD card slot on the side and a single Micro-USB port on the top which handles charging, syncing and your headphones. That does sort of let the side down a bit, as the bundled headphones are of the hard plastic variety and you'll have to have the plastic flap open whenever plugged in, so it will probably break off in your pocket.

Back to the screen and you have a 240 x 400 pixel, 2.8-inch display. It isn't the largest display out there, but given the overall dimensions, it does stop the phone getting too large. As a touchscreen phone you have a reasonable level of control. The menus consist of large icons, so touching your way around the GW520 is relatively simple, if not the speediest of affairs. Rather than give you the latest S-Class UI, you are left using a tired old menu system from LG's previous generation of devices.

The homepage is customizable with a range of widgets. These are limited in number, but do give you the chance to make the phone your own. For example, you can have a Facebook shortcut, access to "push" email via Good Mobile Email (which you must leave open to work), live weather, online searching and so on. It's a nice feature and fairly common to most touch phones these days. You do get the unique Live Square too, giving quick access to common contacts in a quirky style.

Dive into the menus and you get four main menu tabs, loosely broken down into calling and messaging, media, organizational, and settings. The browser finds itself in the "organizational" tab, along with the like of the memo pad, voice recorder and alarms, looking distinctly as though LG had no idea how to break things down here.

You could use touch for everything as the GW520 has an on-screen keyboard too. It takes the form of a standard T9 keyboard, although we were forever hitting the right-hand buttons which switch from text to digits, which can be a pain. The on-screen keyboard lives in portrait mode and sliding open the phone switches the screen to landscape.

The strong point of the GW520 is the QWERTY keyboard. It has a good positive action and the keys are well spaced so a two-thumbed action is easy and fast. The spacebar is a little small for a fleeting bash, especially sitting next to the Sym(bol) shortcut menu, which will pop-up with the briefest miss-hit. You get a dedicated SMS messaging button too, so you can flip it open, bash a message and be done with minimal fussing around.

Cursor keys are provided on the keyboard, but don't really come into their own. You can't use them to scroll menus, just as you can't use the return key to select menu options. We'd have also liked to use these keys to work the menus, so you had full control from the keyboard, rather than having to flip between keyboard and touch.

Around the back of the phone is a 3-megapixel camera, which works well enough. It has no flash of any description and is of the fixed focus variety. You do get some editing controls to change your pic after you've snapped it, and a night mode to compensate for the lack of flash, but LG are very much pushing you back to the Viewty Smart if you want an all-singing, all-dancing camera phone.

Video capture is rather basic too, with a maximum resolution of 320 x 240, a full step behind most other mobile phone handsets. As a result, the imaging offering here is ok for those sharing via phone, or perhaps online, but little else.

The LG GW520 comes with HSDPA, so it is a much faster data gobbler than the KS360 before it. The browser isn't great however. As an unfortunate side effect of the touch controls, when it comes to browsing you'll find that things get a little obscured by menu options. It doesn't handle content particularly well either, despite the rate at which it can be retrieved. It seems frighteningly unresponsive at times, needing more poking to get it to respond than we'd ever be really happy with.

With a focus on messaging, we were also surprised to find that the email offering wasn't as slick as you'll get elsewhere. Yes, the Good Mobile Email service purports to provide push email, but checking alongside a BlackBerry, we found about 3 hours of emails just simply didn't arrive. Whilst seemingly offering simple username and password setup, we had to plug in all the details manually for a POP Gmail account.

Some other missing specs keep this handset firmly separated from the smartphone crowd: there is no GPS or Wi-Fi, the latter of which could have enhanced the appeal for those wanting to make more of the connected features this phone offers. Bluetooth is present as you'd expect.

A bonus of the limited connectivity is the extended battery life. LG cite a 500hr standby time and we have found that the GW520 will last several days between charges.

Verdict

We were disappointed by the GW520 because we were expecting more: more freedom and more sophistication. The keyboard is the stand-out feature here, but the phone doesn't elevate itself much further than being a QWERTY messenger phone. It doesn’t deliver the new wave of connected social networking functions that you might be looking for.

There is another factor lurking around the corner in the form of the LG GW620, an Android evolution of this handset, which will potentially deliver all the connected apps and features that you might want. Sure, you could add some Java apps here, but it isn't the slick solution you'll find elsewhere.

When you look at everything on balance, there is too much stacked against the GW520. The poor browser performance undermines its connectivity. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack negates its performance as an entertainment handset.

If messaging is all you want, then the keyboard certainly delivers, but the package isn't as compelling as we hoped it would be.