While Australian residents endure the wait until 2008 for a local Apple iPhone -- or pay obscene sums to buy one overseas and do a cheeky unlocking manoeuvre -- handsets with a similar touch-based interface are hitting the market. In June we reviewed the HTC Touch, and now comes the LG Prada, which also employs an expansive, strokeable screen.
Prada is one of the world's biggest luxury fashion brands, and is the label of choice for a tonne of celebrities, and even the earthly incarnation of Satan, according to the book and movie The Devil Wears Prada. The classy Italian fashion folk have teamed up with LG in order to release this covetable communications object.
The LG Prada has a distinctive, streamlined look that will catch the eyes of everyone within a five-metre radius when you unsheathe the handset from its leather sleeve. Like the iPhone, there is no keypad, and very few buttons and ports mar the smooth, glossy surfaces. At 54 millimetres across and 98.8 millimetres tall, the KE850 is wide but not uncomfortably so -- it fits snugly into one hand. The all-important depth measurement is 12 millimetres, which is slightly thicker than the iPhone.
Those who have lapsed into a catatonic state awaiting the arrival of the Apple device -- or had their hands on an iPod Touch -- will be familiar with the touchscreen interface of the KE850. There are no number keys, so all calling and texting is done via virtual means. To make a call, you tap the phone icon and a keypad appears onscreen. It's a similar story for texting, but unlike the iPhone there is no QWERTY keyboard -- you compose an SMS using the standard alphanumeric key configuration.
As with that other designer handset, Motorola's Dolce & Gabbana V3i, the Prada phone comes with a range of accessories that just scream "I paid top dollar for this device, so gaze upon it and despair". The goods include a brown leather pouch and a black branded wiping cloth that you can use to wipe off the phone should it become sullied with the airborne filth of Dickensian street urchins as you pass their huddled forms on the way to Chanel.
The Prada phone offers some cute touch-related extras to keep you occupied during idle moments -- two of the pre-installed animated wallpapers are interactive, and allow you to direct the movement of a butterfly or fish by tapping a section of the screen. Guiding the little creatures around the display is strangely compelling. There's also the draggable clock widget complete with alarm that pops out when you tap the clock face.
There's a 2-megapixel camera with LED flash, so when you're sitting front row at fashion week you can take a few subtle snaps of the models on the catwalk. The large display serves nicely as a viewfinder, and multishot mode adds a bit of fun.
A music player, world clock, voice recorder and FM radio round out the features list.
The bad bit? There's no 3G, so any Web browsing you do will be on the slow side. But let's face it -- this is a phone for toting, not for nerding it up on the Internet.
In general we're not huge on touch-activated controls because they can be temperamental, but the Prada phone behaves pretty well and is easy to use. Your instincts will tell you to push firmly with your fingers and lift them off the screen between presses, but we found that the phone responds to much lighter contact. Scrolling can be problematic -- our attempts to drag the scrollbar achieved nothing, and we ended up resorting to using the up/down keys on the side of the phone to navigate through lists and images.
The camera did well for two megapixels, but we found the placement of the lens awkward -- it's too close to the edge of the phone. The autofocus took a few seconds to settle before snaps were taken, but resulted in a blur-free image.
We had one major problem with the KE850. The texting experience made us want to stab ourselves in the face with a toasting fork. Switching to capital letters, typing words unrecognised by the T9 dictionary and inserting numbers all took far more time and effort than we're used to. The touch interface also occasionally fails to register a key press. If you're accustomed to speedy SMS using a traditional keypad, you will be frustrated by the textual limitations of the Prada handset.
The KE850 is a gorgeous piece of hardware, and the touchscreen works better than expected, but the lack of 3G and the trialling experience of texting hold it back from greatness. As befits a Prada product, it's elegant, expensive and impractical. Fashion fiends will go mad for it.