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LG has always had a strong feature phone presence here in the U.S., especially for the low- to middle-tier market. The most recent model is the LG Encore for AT&T, which is a touch-screen phone with quad-band GSM, 3G, a 3-megapixel camera, and a media player. It's not a terribly innovative handset and the touch interface leaves much to be desired. We were mostly pleased with the multimedia offerings for a basic handset like this, but that wasn't enough to earn the phone our good opinion. The LG Encore is available for $49.99 after a two-year service agreement and a $50 rebate.
The LG Encore's design is rather humdrum. Measuring 4.17 inches long by 2.10 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick, the Encore appears to be a run-of-the-mill touch-screen phone with an ultraslim profile and rounded corners. It does have a minimalist appeal, however, with a mirror-finish trim that surrounds the display and a back plate that is designed to look like brushed metal. The Encore has an overall plastic build with a cheap feel in the hand at 3.7 ounces.
On the front is the 3-inch 260,000 color display that is the only way to interact with the phone. It supports 400x240-pixel resolution and looks colorful and bright for the most part. Colors look vibrant and rich, though the text isn't as crisp as we would like. You can adjust the font color and size, brightness, backlight timer, menu style, and themes.
You get up to three home screens, all of which are customizable. One screen is for widgets, which you can customize with a pop-up widget tray in the bottom row. You only get up to seven widgets to choose from, though. Another screen is for your favorite shortcuts, and the third screen is for your favorite contacts. You can only have nine of each on the home screen.
At the top of each home screen is a pull-down menu that provides quick access to the music player, the Bluetooth toggle, the sound profile, all the messaging options, the calendar, and the alarm clock. In the bottom row are four shortcut keys to the phone dialer, the address book, the messaging inbox, and the main menu.
The display is a resistive plastic screen, which makes for an annoying user experience. It took quite a bit of pressure for the screen to recognize our taps, and even then we needed to be a little more deliberate when swiping a finger so that we didn't accidentally launch something. We eventually got used to it, but we don't think it's a pleasant experience.
The phone dialer is pretty self-explanatory. It has a nice roomy keypad and quick access to the speakerphone, and you can create a new text message from there as well. You can enter text via the alphanumeric keypad--for ABC or T9 input methods--or you can turn it sideways for the accelerometer to kick in and the virtual QWERTY keyboard will show up. Though the keyboard is roomy enough, the finicky touch display did mean that we had to slow down quite a bit when typing. Otherwise, there would be too many errors.
Underneath the display are three touch-sensitive keys for Talk, Clear/Back, and End functions. They are flat to the surface, and you need to wake the phone in order to use them. We would prefer them to be physical keys, but they do provide vibration feedback when pressed.
On the top of the phone are the 3.5-millimeter headset jack and the Power/Screen lock key. On the left spine are the volume rocker and Micro-USB charging port, while the camera key and task manager key are on the right. The camera lens is on the back and the microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover.
The LG Encore has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, four instant-messaging handles, a company name, a Web address, three street addresses, a birth date, an anniversary date, and a memo. You can organize your contacts into groups, add a photo for caller ID, and customize the entry with one of 24 different ringtones and alert tones.
Basic features include vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, an alarm clock, a tasks list, a stopwatch, a calculator, a tip calculator, a unit converter, and a voice recorder. The Encore also has voice command, a file manager, GPS with AT&T Navigator, text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, Yahoo), and Bluetooth with A2DP support. You also have the option of AT&T's mobile e-mail service that lets you get e-mail from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and others directly. If you want to send status updates to your various social networks, AT&T also provides the AT&T Social Net app that lets you do just that. It's compatible with Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
The Encore has the ATT.net proprietary HTML browser built in. Though it isn't as advanced as the browsers you would find on smartphones, it does render most Web sites in full HTML. The browser also has shortcuts to breaking news stories, the current weather, and local sports scores right on the welcoming screen. The default search engine is Yahoo, and you can't change that. For more on the browser, check out our review of the Pantech Pursuit.
Since the Encore has 3G, it is also blessed with AT&T Mobile Video, AT&T's streaming video service, and AT&T Mobile Music. That last houses the music player as well as the AT&T Music Store, AT&T Radio, Music ID, music videos from MobiVJ, an AT&T-hosted music community, and the music app store. The music player is fairly rudimentary, with a bare-bones interface. Still, you can create and edit playlists on the fly, and you can set songs to repeat and shuffle. You also have up to seven equalizer presets to choose from. You can send the music player to the background as you work in other parts of the phone. The Encore only has 32MB of internal storage, so you might want to invest in up to a 16GB card for more media.
The Encore has a 3-megapixel camera which can take pictures in six resolutions (2,048x1,536, 1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, 640x480, 400x240, and 320x240). Other settings include noise reduction, color effects, white balance presets, three image quality modes, three shutter sounds plus a silent option, a self-timer, brightness, and night mode. Even with all these settings, though, picture quality turned out to be rather grainy and sad. Images looked blurry and colors looked muddy. Low-light photos were especially bad. You can also record video--in two resolutions, in MMS mode or up to available storage space. You can also use this to stream live one-way video via AT&T's Video Share service.
The LG Encore comes with a number of different apps and games--YPMobile, Where, My-Cast Weather, Wikimobile, PicDial, MobiTV, AllSportGPS, Brain Exercise, Diner Dash Flo, Ferrari GT, I-play Bowling, and Tetris--and if you want more you can get them from the AT&T AppCenter. You can get wallpaper and more ringtones that way as well.
We tested the LG Encore in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was good. Incoming calls sounded loud and clear, though we did detect a bit of static and distortion that is typical of most cell phone calls. We didn't hear a lot of background noise, which is good. Voice quality was a little on the harsh side.
Callers reported similar quality on their end. Our voice sounded a bit harsh and crackled at times, but it was overall quite clean and smooth. Volume was loud enough, though they did hear the occasional hiss and scratch. Speakerphone calls were surprisingly good. Callers could hardly tell we were on speakerphone and said we sounded mostly the same.
We found the LG Encore to have decent performance most of the time, but we did notice that transitions can feel a little sluggish. Worse, we had the Encore crash on us twice when we were using the browser.
We experienced choppy 3G service, but when we did get a good-enough signal, the performance was quite good. We loaded the CNET mobile site in just 15 seconds and managed to stream a video without much buffer time. However, video quality was rather pixelated and choppy.
Audio quality of the music was not bad. The phone's tinny speaker doesn't quite do the music justice, though, so we would recommend using a headset for richer tones.
The LG Encore has a rated battery life of 3 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time. The Encore has a tested talk time of 3 hours and 36 minutes. We don't yet know the digital SAR of this phone, but we'll update the review once we find out.