Specialty cell phone carriers haven't had the best track record. Virgin Mobile is still around, but Mobile ESPN, Disney Mobile, and Amp'd Mobile have gone under. Even hotshot Helio, which offered the Helio Ocean, merged with Virgin Mobile last year. Yet, that hasn't stopped Credo mobile from giving the wireless business a go.
As a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, which means that it doesn't operate its own wireless network, Credo is aiming for a politically minded, and thoroughly left-leaning, customer base. Each year the carrier donates one percent of its revenues to progressive groups, and it's active in green initiatives. And if you're already in contract with another carrier, Credo will pay your early termination fee regardless of your political persuasions.
Most of Credo's phones are low-end flip phones such as the LG 160, but the carrier also offers the LG Rumor and the Motorola Q9c. The LG 160 is similar to Sprint's LG VX160, though Credo has added specialized content. Overall, it's a satisfying device for basic communication as long as you know what to expect. The LG 160 is free with a two-year service agreement.
If you looked up flip phone in the cell phone dictionary (not that there is one), you might find a photo of the LG 160. Its compact size (3.54 inches by 1.85 inch by 0.78 inch), curved lines, and black color scheme are trademarks of classic flip design. The silver stripe at the top of the front face adds a touch of style, but ultimately this is not a phone that stands out from the crowd. What's more, its plastic skin and wispy construction (2.72 ounces) won't please outdoor enthusiasts. Yet, for the occasional user who just needs a phone for making calls, it should be fine.
The external display supports 65,000 colors and measures 1.06 inches (96x64 pixels). We think that it could be a little larger, but it shows everything that you need including the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. It also supports photo caller ID, though you'll need to be creative with a phone that doesn't have a camera. You can choose a clock style and a screensaver, but the short backlighting time is not adjustable.
Other exterior features include a volume rocker, a 2.5-millimeter headset jack, and a voice-dialing button on the left spine. On the right spine, you'll find a proprietary charger jack. Normally we'd complain about the 2.5-millimeter jack, but we'll let it pass on such a simple phone.
The 3.54-inch internal display supports the standard 262,000 colors (160x128 pixels), which is a step up from Sprint's LX160. The display is bright and everything from photos to colors and graphics looked good. You can change the backlighting time depending on your needs. The menus, whether in grid or list styles, are easy to use.
The keypad buttons are relatively spacious for the phone's size and we like that they're covered in a tactile rubbery material. You'll find a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, shortcuts for the speakerphone and texting menu, the Talk and End/power button, and a back key. The keypad buttons are flush but they're covered in the same material, which gives them a nice feel. They also have bright backlighting.
The LG 160 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone number types and an e-mail address. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. Also, the handset has dedicated space for emergency, information, and customer service numbers.
As mentioned, the 160 also supports photo caller ID even though the phone doesn't have a camera. You can choose from a selection of preloaded images or you can load your own images via MMS or Bluetooth. You also can use Bluetooth to send an electronic business card.
Essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a scheduler, a world clock, a notepad, a full duplex speakerphone, and a tip calculator. Besides the aforementioned Bluetooth, you also get a voice memo recorder and speaker independent voice dialing.
You can personalize the LG 160 with a selection of clock styles, screensavers, and greetings. You can get more options, and additional ringtones, with the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The handset doesn't come with any games or extra applications, but you can get titles from Credo.
Credo mobile offers some specialized content that matches its mission. On its Web portal, there's a "Credo Action" section that features a political-centered "Credo Blog" and information on progressive causes. The blog fits perfectly with Credo's liberal stance--we found stories on the torture debate and the push for same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Credo Action content asked users to contact Chevron and encourage the company to fire one of its lawyers who had worked for the George W. Bush administration. The blog and action alerts are updated frequently.
As mentioned, Credo donates 1 percent of its revenues to several causes each year. In 2009, the groups include Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The carrier also works with Carbonfund.org to provide carbon offsets for the shipping of its phones.
We tested the LG 160 in San Francisco. As an MVNO, Credo leases a portion of Sprint's network for its service. As such, all calls we made were on Sprint. Call quality was quite reliable overall. There was a slight background hum, but much less than on Sprint's LX160. Voices sounded natural, the signal was strong, and the volume was loud for most environments. We did have trouble hearing in noisy locations (like a bar), but that's not unusual for a cell phone.
Callers could tell we were using a cell phone, but that's not atypical either. Automated calling systems could understand us as long as we were indoors. When we were outdoors next to a tree, they had more trouble understanding us. Speakerphone calls were just average. The audio was loud, but it was also fairly distorted. We had to speak close to the phone to be heard.
The LG 160 has a rated talk time of 3.5 hours and a promised standby time of seven days. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 10 minutes.