Dubbed the instant messaging phone, the LG F9100 for Cingular Wireless doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it actually is. But that's a good thing, for we're left with a handy communication device that hides a QWERTY keyboard in a unique slider design. There's no camera to confuse things, and higher-end features are decidedly absent. Yet if you're looking for a handset that excels at making calls and sending messages--remember, it is a cell phone--this is the mobile for you. On the downside, the overall styling could use some work, but this is definitely a case where function tops form. The F9100 is fairly priced at $199, but you should be able to find it for less with service. In general, the LG F9100 resembles the . On the design side, both handsets have a slightly bulky, rectangular shape that isn't stylish or streamlined. Measuring 4.1 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and weighing a full 4.4 ounces, the F9100, as with the A630, fits snugly in most pockets, but it is solidly built and comfortable to hold while talking.
Yet the most prominent similarity between the two mobiles is that both hide full QWERTY keyboards, making them cool messaging machines. While the A630 opens like a book to reveal its keyboard, the F9100 instead hides its version behind the front face, which slides open lengthwise. We approve of this arrangement completely (see below). Also, it should be noted that upon sliding the phone open, the 1.75-inch-diagonal, 65,000-color screen switches to a landscape orientation and automatically brings up the IM menu.
The display itself is vivid, bright, and ideal for browsing through the simple but useful menus as well as for typing messages. Just be aware that it's hard to see in direct light. You can change the backlighting, but we are dismayed that you can't change the font size, something we consider necessary for this type of phone. Below the display are the navigation controls, which consist of a five-way joystick, two soft keys, the traditional Talk and End buttons, and a Clear key. Though they are easy to understand, we aren't in love with their design. The joystick and the Clear button are much too small, and the other controls are set flush with the surface of the phone. It does, however, have shortcuts to the media folder, the address book, text messaging, and instant messaging. The latter two are a bit of a curiosity. While you can type messages in the traditional manner by using the keypad with the phone closed, why would you want to?
The backlit keypad buttons are also a disappointment. Painfully small, they are set flush with the surface of the phone. Dialing by feel is difficult, and we misdialed more than once. Fortunately, the design of the keyboard is awesome. Since it spans the full length of the phone, the keys are well spaced and large enough for big digits. The buttons are slightly raised, which makes the interface user-friendly. Two soft keys on the right side of the screen also spring into action when using the keyboard. They let you select items and back out of submenus but are inactive when the slider is closed. Rounding out the controls is a single volume rocker on the mobile's left spine.The LG F9100 has a 255-name phone book that stores three numbers for each entry along with an e-mail address and notes (you can store an additional 250 contacts on the SIM card). Callers can be organized into caller groups, but only the groups can be paired with an icon and one of the 8 polyphonic or 12 monophonic ring tones. As a messaging phone, the F9100 comes with text and multimedia messaging and four versions of instant messaging: AOL, ICQ, Yahoo, and Cingular. In terms of the messaging features, the phone lets you hold as many as 35 conversations at once and engage in group chat. Other goodies include an alarm clock, a calendar, voice memos, a calculator, a memo pad, voice dialing, a world clock, and a unit converter. Noticeably absent are a speakerphone and e-mail support--omissions that surprised us--and you don't get any higher-end features such as an infrared port or Bluetooth, either. There's also no camera, but we didn't really miss it.
You can personalize the F9100 with a variety of wallpaper, screensavers, and sounds. You also can choose from icon or list menu styles. If you're hungry for more content and more ring tones, you can download additional options via the integrated WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The mobile also supports Java (J2ME)-enabled games, but only one title, SpaceBall, comes with the phone. If you want any others, you'll need to fork over the cash to download them from Cingular.We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900; GPRS) LG F9100 in the San Francisco Bay Area using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality was admirable with good volume and clarity. Callers reported the same on their end, though they could tell we were using a cell phone. Instant messaging is on the slow side, but that's normal for most IM phones.
Battery life on the handset was average. We beat the rated talk time of four hours by an extra 20 minutes. For standby time, we got 6 days on a single charge. While that's just half of the promised time of 12 days, it's not terrible, either. According to the FCC, the F9100 has a digital SAR rating of 0.72 watts per kilogram.