LG takes one step forward but two steps back with the L1200, its first GSM mobile with a built-in camera. The new Cingular handset looks sharp and takes above-average photos, but mobile professionals will bemoan the L1200's lack of a speakerphone and its poor standby battery life, while casual conversationalists will be disappointed by its skimpy customization options. At $249.99, it's fairly priced for a camera phone, but you should be able to find it for a more reasonable $99.99 with service. A study in sleek, two-tone gray, the LG L1200 features long, smooth lines that taper toward the bottom, making it look taller than it really is. Measuring 3.4 by 1.7 by 1 inches and weighing 3.3 ounces, the L1200 is relatively light for its size and fits nicely, if a bit snugly, in a jeans pocket. The phone also flips shut with a solid, satisfying clap.
Front and center is the monochrome, postage stamp-size external display, which shows the date, time, signal strength, battery life, and caller ID data (where available). Just below the display are the camera lens and a tiny mirror for self-portraits. Flip open the handset and you're greeted by the 2-inch-diagonal, 65,000-color internal display, which looks bright and vivid--provided you're indoors. On our trip to the beach, we could barely read the screen, even when we shaded it from direct sunlight. That said, the animated menus are both colorful and intuitive, but the interface sometimes was sluggish, and we had difficulty backing out of some submenus.
Our fingers had no trouble with the navigation keys, the wide, flat buttons are easy to press, and there's no lack of shortcuts. Dedicated keys for the camera and photo gallery flank the five-way toggle, which, in turn, offers shortcuts for messaging, ring tones, and contacts. Also, two soft keys open the menu and the contacts list, while the star and pound buttons are used to change the ringer mode and to record voice memos. An added bonus is a floating shortcuts bar that appears on the main screen; the bar displays icons for instant, text, and multimedia messaging, as well as voicemail, and it disappears after a few seconds of inactivity. Volume up/down buttons sit along the left side of the phone, while a second dedicated camera button sits along the right side, just above the IR (infrared) port. The LG L1200 comes with an above-average choice of features. Most of the basics are accounted for, including a 255-entry address book with room for three phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes in each entry. An additional 250 names can be stored on the SIM card. Contacts can be assigned to caller groups and matched to a picture for photo caller ID. Be advised, however, that the picture doesn't show up on the external display, and ring tones (eight polyphonic and two monophonic tones are included) can only be assigned to caller groups. There's also a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser with GPRS data speeds, an alarm clock, a calendar, voice memos, voice dialing, a world clock, a call recorder, a calculator, a metrics converter, vibrate mode, and an instant messaging function that supports both ICQ and AIM. Notably missing from the list, however, is a speakerphone.
The L1200's VGA camera takes photos in five resolutions: 640x480, 320x240, 160x120, 128x160, and 48x80. You can zoom in up to 4X in the lower-resolution modes, but there's no zooming at the highest setting. The camera adjusts for different lighting situations, such as daylight, fluorescent light, and cloudy skies, and you can tweak the brightness control if needed. The multishot feature captures fast action--up to nine shots in rapid succession, although that number drops to three in the higher-resolution modes. Once finished, you can use your photos as wallpaper, assign them to names in your contact list, or send shots to your buddies as multimedia messages. Photo quality was decent, with vibrant colors and a fair amount of detail. Expect to fit about nine full-resolution shots into the phone's 300K of dedicated photo memory. Keep in mind, however, that since the display is tough to see in direct sunlight, you'll have a difficult time framing shots when you're outdoors.
Among the L1200's extras is an IR port, which you can use to connect to the Internet, and send or receive faxes or data via an IR-enabled laptop. Unfortunately, you can't beam business cards or photos. You also get two Java (J2ME)-enabled games: Snood and the Hello Kitty-like SpaceBall. For additional fun, more titles are available from Cingular's Media Mall; 350K of the phone's memory is dedicated to games and applications. Customization options are average. You can switch between icon- and list-style menus and choose from various sounds or wallpapers. You can download more options and ring tones from Media Mall. We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900; GPRS) LG L1200 in the New York City metro area using Cingular's network. We heard our callers loud and clear, and our wireless friends said they couldn't tell we were talking on a cell phone.
Battery life was average. We got 5 hours of talk time on the L1200, beating LG's promised time of 3.5 hours. Standby time was just more than 5 days. While that's well short of the rated 10 days, we've seen worse.