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In an age where gadgets grow even more complicated, it's comforting to know that you can buy a cell phone that's just a phone. Every once in a while, AT&T quietly rolls out a basic handset for its Go Phone prepaid service that eschews most high-end features and is all about making calls. One of its latest models is the LG CG180. Exceedingly simple in form and function, the CG180 does exactly what a phone should do while offering a speakerphone, a Web browser, and simple organizer applications. We had a few quibbles with its design but we could find few faults with its call quality. The LG CG180 is just $39.99, but you can get it for as low as $19.99 with a mail-in rebate.
The CG180's design takes us back to an earlier time when cell phones were nothing but rectangles with a display and keypad. With its blue color scheme, internal antenna, and clean lines the CG180 doesn't call attention to itself; however, you know right away that it's a phone. It's compact (3.91 inches by 1.77 inches by 0.58 inch) and extremely lightweight (2.37 ounces). Yet we have to say that the plastic casing feels a tad flimsy. Though we know that the CG180 is designed to be an inexpensive, simple handset, it doesn't have the sturdiest feel. What's more, the battery cover is difficult to remove. The external speaker sits on the rear face of the phone, and the left spine holds the headset port/charger jack.
On the upside, the CG180 is extremely easy to use. The 65,000-color display isn't the largest (1.51 inches) or the most vibrant (128x128 pixels) screen around, but it's perfectly serviceable. The menu interface is easy, and we liked that you could adjust the backlighting time and the contrast. The font size is rather small and can't be changed, so users with visual impairments should test the phone before buying.
We have a few gripes with the CG180's navigation array. The four-way toggle is a tad small and there's no central OK button for menu navigation. Instead, you have to use right soft key to select functions, which isn't the most convenient arrangement. You'll get used to it over time, but we think LG could have squeezed in an OK button somewhere. Also, since there is no side-mounted volume control, you'll have to use the toggle to adjust the sound level when you're on a call. In standby mode, the right soft key opens a user-programmable shortcut, and the toggle gives one-touch access to the Web browser, the "My Stuff" folder, your minute balance, and the texting menu. The soft keys and Talk and End/Power buttons are fine, but we wish the handset offered a dedicated Clear button.
They numeric keypad wasn't the best we've seen, either. Though the keypad as a whole is tactile, there is no clear separation between the individual buttons. The buttons feel cheap, which was uncomfortable for rapid texting. The keys are backlit and the numbers on the buttons should be big enough for most users.
As for features, the CG180 has a slim list of offerings; However, on a phone like the CG180, that's sort of the point. The phone book holds 500 contacts with room in each entry for three phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups, but only groups can be paired with a graphic and one of 11 polyphonic ringtones.
Other features include a vibrate mode, text messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a voice recorder, a notepad, a calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. There's no camera, and even multimedia messaging is absent, but the CG180 offers a speakerphone.
You can personalize the CG180 with a selection of wallpapers or graphics. The onboard selection is pretty slim, but you can download more options, and additional ringtones, from AT&T with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The CG180 comes with one game (Sudoku) but you can always buy more titles
We tested the dualband (GSM 850/1900) LG CG180 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was generally good with satisfactory clarity and volume. Certainly, it wasn't the most crystal-clear audio quality we've heard, but for what the phone is, and for what it offers, the performance was more than acceptable. On their end, callers were pleased. However, some reported the CG180 picked up a lot of background noise. Our only knock is that we couldn't really count on the speakerphone. The backward-facing speaker muffled the sound a bit.
The LG CG180 has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10.5 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the CG180 has a digital SAR rating of 1.17 watts per kilogram. The LG CG180 has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10.5 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 9 hours and 14 minutes.