LG takes on the music-focused mobile phone market with the U400, a 3G slider model available exclusively on the 3 network.
While it can't quite match the Chocolate in the smooth, slim and sexy stakes, LG's U400 has the same glossy finish and sliding form factor. Measuring 99.8mm by 48mm by 20.4mm and weighing 113 grams, it's nicely compact when closed, but lacks the simple elegance of its cocoa-monikered companion.
We've seen scroll wheels a lot in recent product reviews, and not just on iPod-inspired portable audio devices. LG's U400 slider phone features a jog dial that serves as a menu navigator, music track scroller and DJ-style "scratcher" when editing audio files. While it's an interesting change from the usual five-way button or joystick, it scores higher for gimmickry than practicality. We found the response of the jog dial inconsistent -- rotating the wheel a few clicks will not always move through the same amount of menu options. It is possible to navigate in a more conventional way by using the up/down and left/right parts of the dial, which we found ourselves resorting to quite frequently.
Sliding the phone open reveals a keypad that is comfortable to use and nicely spaced. The top part of the slider presents a few problems however -- button layout is unconventional, with the jog dial placed on the left and circular Send, End and Back keys squished on top of each other on the right. The position of the soft keys at the edges of the scroll wheel also does not correspond to the position of the related onscreen text, so we found ourselves occasionally pressing the wrong button.
The slider mechanism is nice and springy without being too sensitive; something we've been on the lookout for since experiencing the Nokia N80's not-as-smooth moves.
While the U400 is being billed as a music player-focused phone, there's also a lot of scope for to get creative with your multimedia -- features include a 2-megapixel camera with a host of customisation options for photo-taking and video-recording. There's also the melody composer, complete with a fun-for-five-minutes DJ function that allows you to add scratch sounds to music tracks using the jog dial.
The music player supports AAC, AMR, MP3, MIDI, WAV and WMA audio formats, while the video viewer allows you to watch MP4, WMV and 3GP files.
Memory-wise, the U400 sports 52MB of onboard space, and a microSD slot allows further expansion for music tracks, videos and pics.
Surprisingly, there is no FM radio -- unusual for a multimedia-heavy phone.
The U400 offered very good sound quality for both voice calls and music playback. It didn't quite have the bass-level richness found in Sony Ericsson's consistently good Walkman phone series, but LG's tailored-for-tunes offering can certainly hold its own.
We really liked the look of the 262k-colour screen, which allowed photos and Web pages to be displayed in sharp, vibrant hues.
One performance problem that sends our review scores south is when text entry suffers from lags. We are pleased to report that we were able to speed through text message composition with no problems on the U400, so those who like to type in a frenzy of flurried thumbs won't suffer the frustrations of delays and errors.
Transferring videos to a PC via Bluetooth was easily and quickly done. We also appreciated the phone's support for the A2DP profile (which allows for streaming to Bluetooth stereo headphones), a feature common to Nokia's upcoming music slider, the 5300.
The main problem with the U400 is the jog dial -- while it was apparently chosen to make navigating easier, the erratic onscreen responses to wheel movement made us long for a conventional button or joystick. We're all for keeping an open mind about design and love seeing innovative button layouts, but when usability is sacrificed, the novelty fades quick-smart.