Virgin Mobile is known for its simple entry-level phones, and the new LG Flare, or LX175, is no exception. The second such LG phone with the carrier--the Aloha was the first--the Flare boils it down to the basics and even lacks a VGA camera. However, it does step it up a notch from the Aloha with a colorful external display as well as Bluetooth support. It's also cheaper; the Flare is available for only $29.99, with no contract required.
Despite its fancy nickname, the Flare isn't exactly colorful or eye-catching. Its all-black exterior is more on the staid side, though it does have a sleek minimalist appearance. It's slightly curved on the sides, which contributes to a nice feel in the hand. Measuring 3.54 inches by 1.85 inches by 0.78 inch and weighing 2.72 ounces, the Flare is fairly lightweight and fits easily in a pocket or purse. The phone construction did feel a bit cheap, though.
We're glad to see an external display on a basic phone like this, and we especially like that it supports 65,000 colors. It only measures 1-inch across, but that's good enough for displaying the standard date, time, battery, and signal-strength information. It also shows incoming caller ID. Rounding out the exterior of the phone are a voice dial/voice memo key, a volume rocker, and a headset jack on the left spine, while the charger jack sits on the right.
Flip open the phone and you'll find a nice 262,000-color 1.75-inch diagonal internal display. It's fairly good for a phone this size, though it's too bad that Virgin Mobile's default menu interface doesn't show it off quite as well as we would like. You can adjust the font size for the messaging, browser, and notepad applications. You can also change the backlight time, the foreground (clock/calendar or a greeting), the menu styles (list or grid), plus the incoming call screen.
The navigation keypad consists of a four-way toggle, a middle OK key, two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone key, a dedicated Web browser key, talk and end/power keys, plus a back key. The toggle doubles as shortcuts to Virgin's My Account feature, a new text message, the recent calls list, as well as Virgin's VXL Web page that lets you download ringtones, games, and other personalization options. Though the keys felt tactile enough, the keypad felt a bit crowded, especially the two soft keys and the number dial pad. Also, the keys don't have a lot of give and need a bit more push than most.
As an entry-level phone, the Flare doesn't have a lot of features to begin with. It has a decent-size phone book, with room for 500 contacts. Each contact can hold up to five numbers, three e-mail addresses, a Web address, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with one of four animations for caller ID. You can also pair them with one of 11 polyphonic ringtones. Other basic features include text messaging, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, a scheduler, an alarm clock, a tip calculator, a regular calculator, a world clock, a voice memo recorder, and a notepad. We're happy to see the Flare also has voice dialing and Bluetooth support.
As part of Virgin Mobile, you can customize the Flare via downloads from Virgin's VXL portal. Options include wallpaper and screensaver graphics and animations, clock styles, alert sounds, and ringtones. Demo versions of three games are included--Sexy Poker, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, and Tetris, and you can always download more. Just be careful, there's only 8MB of internal memory.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900) LG Flare in San Francisco via the Virgin Mobile service. We were impressed with the call quality--volume was loud enough, and callers were able to hear us quite clearly. There was little static or interference as well. Speakerphone quality didn't fare so well though; callers thought we sounded muffled and we had to speak up. Similarly, callers didn't sound so good via the phone's speakers. We paired the Flare with the Plantronics Discovery 925 without a problem.
The Flare has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 7.1 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 3.75 hours talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Flare has a digital SAR rating of 1.23 watts per kilogram.