LG and Prada have teamed up for the third time and their progeny is the best yet. That's an easy statement to make when predecessors have been feature phones and the latest is a fully-fledged Android darling.
But is this just a case of buying for the label, or is there something smarter going on with the Prada phone? And could this be one of LG's greatest Android smartphones as well, or is it a distraction from the serious business of innovation in technology?
Simply sticking the name of a fashion label on your phone isn't enough in this day and age. Fortunately, Prada's involvement in this smartphone has garnered praiseworthy results. The LG Prada is a good-looking handset. We're not bothered about the signature Saffiano pattern on the back of the phone, but we appreciate the skinny lines at 8.5mm.
The back is plastic, although it's securely held in place and it doesn't feel cheap - as some will label Samsung handsets. It's not the most grippy phone however, and given the overall size, we found ourselves juggling this designer wonderphone on a number of occasions as it danced from our fingers.
It's also very black. The Prada logo is rather subtle across the top, and without the backlighting on, there is no sign of the four capacitive controls beneath the screen.
The back may not be a metal plate, but there is a dash of metal on the ends, particularly on the buttons. There is the normal power button, ringed with a cool white LED notification light, as well as a camera button and Micro-USB port cover. All use small round buttons, which feel crisp and precise, but are decidedly Apple.
The Micro-USB port cover, particularly, is reminiscent of many of the toggle switches you'll find in iOS. On many devices we complain about a covered USB port, but the action on the neat little slider is so crisp, we find it difficult to complain here.
Overall the design gets it right where it matters. It's distinct enough from other large screened devices, without being brash or over-exuberant. Importantly it stands out in a line-up when set up against other large LG phones, like the Optimus 3D or the Optimus LTE.
In a world where beauty may only be skin deep, the third Prada phone also doesn't go too far wrong under the skin. A dual-core Texas Instruments 1GHz processor sits at its core, aided by 1GB dual-channel RAM. You get 8GB internal memory along with the microSD card slot to expand further.
Around the back is an 8-megapixel camera with flash and a front facing camera joins the party. You get all the normal connectivity options, including NFC.
The display measures 4.3-inches, with a rather standard 800 x 480 pixel resolution. It is one of LG's "Nova" displays, purporting to offer increased brightness over some rivals. It certainly seemed bright enough to use outdoors without any problem and although the viewing angles and colour rendition is generally good, if you lay it flat you might find the colours start to wash out.
In modern terms there are now several devices that will offer you more impressive display specs - an increased resolution for example - but living with the Prada phone we had little to complain about. Netflix movies look every bit as sharp as they needed to be and we didn't find ourselves wanting more from the display.
A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top of the device and connected to our Klipsch headphones, we found it very capable of producing some great sounding music. The speaker on rear of the Prada phone is nice and loud, although instantly muffled if you place it flat down on a desk.
It's all about Prada
Well, actually it isn't. Prada's design runs into the user interface, but this is just a skin on top of Android 2.3.7. Sure, it isn't the very latest version of Android and that may jar with some, but like the hardware we’ve detailed above, there isn't much you can complain about unless you're a spec junky demanding the absolute latest in smartphone technology.
The customised UI doesn't veer too far from LG's tried and test approach in its other 2011 devices, but the modified icons and dark colour scheme are unique to Prada. It gives the phone a small degree of differentiation, which is nice, but only goes so far. Preinstalled apps get modified icons, but the core suite of Google apps don't. Beyond that, any other apps you download and install will have their regular icons.
Where we'd normally hack apart the default layout to put our oft-used apps on the homescreen, we held off, preserving the Prada look. But this customisation is very much skin deep only. Open the weather app and you'll find it's the same AccuWeather app as elsewhere. It's only really the icons and widgets that have been changed, but that's also a good thing.
It means that the Android core hasn't been messed around with, so you know what you're getting here and the experience is rather pleasant. It isn't the most powerful Android phone on the market, but we found it to be perfectly capable, free from lag and able to do everything we asked of it.
LG's input extends further than just providing a stable platform. You'll find their SmartShare DLNA app is included, among others, meaning you can easily pick up content from a home server and you get the option to download files as well as stream. This integration runs into the music player too, meaning you can easily share music between compatible devices.
As a media device the Prada by LG 3.0 does rather well, although not all codecs are supported for video so you may need to explore third-party options from the Android Market. Unlike other LG devices there is no HDMI output, but you get the niceties of things like lockscreen music controls, which makes life simple.
The keyboard is LG's version, which is ok, but the prediction system, if you choose to use it, isn't as dynamic as some. We prefer the stock Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard or SwiftKey X, both of which can be found in Android Market for a quick change.
In the picture
The rear-mounted camera gives you 8-megapixels, arguably more than it needs, but keeps up with the Joneses if that's important to you. It isn't always as fast to capture as the latest HTC (which uses prefocusing to give "instant capture"), but the autofocus system is fast enough on the press of the button. You can also use touch to indicate the focal point, which garners nice results.
The additional camera button on the top of the device is something of an oddity. It launches into the front-facing camera by default and will take a shot instantly when pressed, forgoing focusing. The front-facing camera is fixed focus, so that's not a problem, but on the rear you'll have to focus independently of using this button.
The results are average. In good light you'll get good shots, but it suffers with noisy and soft low-light shots as all camera phones do. The flash does little to save you here, producing a nasty yellow cast.
Video comes in at 1920 x 1080, full HD, captured at 30fps. Again, top-draw specs, although the fixed focus nature means you can't get results quite as dramatic, or sharp, as you can elsewhere. Again, low light capture tends to be noisy. We also found that the mic placement means that a stray finger might cover it when shooting video - something to watch out for.
There is one oddity with the camera, which we've seen elsewhere from LG, and it's that the screen brightness within the camera is dictated by the display brightness slider, rather than the automatic setting. This means that if you've turned the display all the way down, perhaps to read in bed at night, then when you fire up the camera the next day, you can't see anything on the screen. You'll have to return to the display settings and bump the brightness back up if you plan on using the camera.
Closing the show
As a phone the LG Prada performs perfectly well and we had no problem hearing, or being heard by, callers. There is plenty of volume and signal reception appeared to be good.
The final points have to go to the battery. The battery life on the Prada Phone by LG 3.0 is not great. On a busy day you'll find the phone will run out of battery mid-afternoon, so if you're a heavy caller then you'll need to keep a charger handy. We found we needed to charge this phone every night to see us through the next day.
There is a lot to like about the Prada Phone by LG 3.0. It is one of the best LG phones that we've seen of late, combining a smart design with some of LG's best features and most importantly stability in the software so we could be confident everything would work as it should.
The Prada theme is only really skin deep and that's both good and bad. It's certainly a good-looking phone and it's nice to find that the application of a designer label doesn't divert this device from its true purpose. It's still a smartphone and a very capable one at that. It might not boast the latest and greatest figures, but when it comes to daily use, we were perfectly happy with what it offered.
This is a Prada phone you can buy, safe in the knowledge that you won't get laughed off the block by the Android crowd.
Thank you to Clove.co.uk for the loan of the Prada Phone by LG 3.0.