Prepaid phones are usually basic and no-frills, but some of the latest prepaid models have been bucking that trend. The LG Prime, for example, is the first touch-screen phone we've seen available on AT&T's prepaid GoPhone network. It won't replace a smartphone, but it does have basic multimedia features like a 2-megapixel camera, a music player, and you can check your e-mail on it. The LG Prime is available for a very affordable $99.99 without a contract.
If you're familiar at all with LG touch-screen phones, you might feel a bit of deja vu when you look at the Prime; it looks a little like past LG touch-screen phones such as the Vu Plus. Measuring 4.25 inches long by 2.08 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, the Prime has a simple rectangular design with slightly rounded corners and edges. At just 3.14 ounces, the Prime is lightweight for its size, which results in a rather cheap plastic feel in the hand.
Despite its cheap feel, the Prime's bright and vibrant display impressed us. Its 3-inch screen has a 400x240-pixel resolution and can display 262,000 colors, which LG cleverly shows off with its shaded icons and colorful menu interface. You can adjust the size and color of the dialing fonts as well as the general font size of the phone's text. You can also adjust the phone's brightness and backlight timer.
The Prime has a resistive touch screen. Like so many resistive touch displays, it requires a bit more pressure when tapping than when using a capacitive display--resistive displays are not quite as accurate, either. Still, you can go through a calibration wizard to help your taps be more accurate, and there's vibration and sound feedback as well if you want more confirmation that it has registered your touch. We warn you that if you're used to capacitive displays such as that on the iPhone, you might find the relative sluggishness of the Prime's touch screen testing your patience.
The Prime has a home screen similar to that on the Vu Plus in that you can customize it from a widgets tray along the bottom of the screen. By tapping the little arrow on the right, you can select any of eight widgets to place on the screen. However, you're limited to only eight and aren't allowed to add your own shortcuts. Aside from the widget tray, along the bottom of the screen are four shortcuts to the phone dialer, the phone book, the messaging in-box, and the main menu.
The phone dialer has a nice roomy virtual keypad with shortcuts to the speakerphone, voice command, recent call history, and the contacts list. As for text messaging, the phone automatically reveals a landscape virtual QWERTY keyboard when you create a new message. The keyboard is surprisingly spacious, but that means its text input area is relatively small in comparison. You can also choose to enter text via the alphanumeric keypad in portrait mode.
Underneath the display are three physical keys for Send, Clear/Back, and End/Power. On the left side are the volume rocker and microSD card slot; the 3.5mm headset jack sits on top. The charger jack, screen lock key, and camera key are on the right side. The camera lens is on the back.
The LG Prime has a 1,000-entry contacts list with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, four instant-messenger names, a company name, a display name, a Web address, three street addresses, a birthday, an anniversary, and a memo. As always, you can organize your contacts into groups, add a photo for caller ID, and add any of 24 ringtones and alert tones to a contact.
The Prime also has a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a calculator, a world clock, a tasks list, a stopwatch, a tip calculator, and a unit converter. Its other more-advanced features include a voice recorder, voice command, an FM radio, instant messaging, AT&T's mobile e-mail that lets you check your personal e-mail, and Bluetooth. There's also an AT&T Social Net application that gives you quick access to social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Bear in mind that the mobile e-mail service costs $5 per month.
As the Prime is a touch-screen phone, we were happy to see that it comes with an HTML browser, albeit the proprietary AT&T MediaNet one. Still, we wouldn't recommend going full HTML all the time as the smallish display, resistive touch screen, and lack of 3G make it difficult to read large Web pages without a lot of scrolling. The mobile versions of most Web sites served us well for the most part with the Prime.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the addition of AT&T Mobile Music on the Prime. You can purchase and download music from Napster and eMusic. Like other AT&T Mobile Music packages, you get access to MusicID (a song ID app), a music fan community site, and other music apps. You can also transfer your own music to the phone via USB or a microSD card. The Prime supports AAC, AAC+, MP3, and WMA file formats, and though the Prime only has 48MB of internal memory, the phone can read up to 16GB cards.
The music player interface is like others we've seen; you get the usual player controls plus options for repeat, shuffle, and creating and editing your own playlists. It also has up to six preset equalizer settings and a visualizer. You can send the player to the background if you want to multitask in other parts of the phone.
The 2-megapixel camera on the Prime has a healthy array of settings. You get five resolutions, three quality modes, three color effects, five white-balance presets (including an auto setting), a self-timer of up to 10 seconds, automatic or manual ISO, 2x zoom, three shutter sounds plus a silent option, night mode, sequential shot mode, brightness, and the capability to build a cross-section or tri-section of images. Its photo quality was bland, and its colors looked dull and slightly gray. Images weren't as sharp as we would like. The Prime has video mode as well--you can record in either 320x240- or 176x144-pixel (QVGA or QCIF) resolutions.
You can customize the Prime with wallpaper and screensavers, and you can download a few games and apps from the AT&T AppCenter. The phone comes with Brain Exercise, Bubble Bash 2, I-play Bowling, Tetris, World Series of Poker, Mobile Banking, My-Cast Weather, and Pocket Auction.
We tested the LG Prime in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was quite pleasant on the whole. On our end, we heard our callers very clearly with good volume, though they sounded rather robotic and fuzzy at times.
On their end, callers, too, said that we sounded very machinelike. However, they could still hear us and we carried on a conversation without problems. There was the occasional hiss and skip of static, but it was not distracting. Calls made with its speakerphone did not fare so well, though. Callers had to ask us to speak up most of the time as we sounded too soft and far away. We thought they sounded loud and clear
As for audio playback, we thought the music sounded very loud and brash with not a lot of nuance or bass, especially via the phone's speakers. We encourage you to use a headset, especially since the phone has a 3.5mm headset jack.
As the phone doesn't support 3G networks, we didn't expect too much out of the phone's EDGE speeds. The Prime managed to load the mobile version of the BBC Web site in about 19 seconds. Still, it was on par with what we expect from a prepaid phone.
The LG Prime has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 16 days standby time. We ran the Prime through our battery drain tests and had a result of 3 hours and 45 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Prime has a digital SAR of 1.1 watts per kilogram.