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NEC L1 review: NEC L1

The NEC L1 has a slim profile and some nice features, but it ultimately can't compare to better-equipped thin phones.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
5 min read
If you're hoping like we are that the thin phone craze is nearing its end, we have some bad news for you. The skinny cell trend that was born out of the Motorola Razr shows no signs of abating. Samsung and Sanyo have jumped on the bandwagon, and now NEC is hoping to capitalize on it as well. At just 0.5 inch wide, the NEC L1 is as trim as the Razr but has a slightly boxier, more angular form factor. Features are decent, with a 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, and world phone support, though we're puzzled as to why there's no speakerphone. Also, call quality was middling at times and volume was a bit too low in our tests. And as is the case with most phones in its class, the trade-off for being thin is a cramped, nontactile button layout. This GSM handset isn't offered by a U.S. carrier, so it costs a pricey $379. As a result, you're better off with the Razr or the Samsung MM-A900.



The Good

The NEC L1 has a slim design, Bluetooth, world phone support, and a megapixel camera.

The Bad

The NEC L1 has poorly designed buttons and controls, inconsistent call quality, and a tiny external display. Also, it lacks a speakerphone.

The Bottom Line

The NEC L1 has a slim profile and some nice features, but it ultimately can't compare to better-equipped thin phones.

The L1 is rather boring when viewed from the front.

Like the Razr before it, the L1 is all about being thin. At just 4.0 by 1.9 by 0.5 inches and 3.2 ounces, it slips into just about any pocket, and its profile will not go unnoticed on the street. Yet as with other thin phones, it can be uncomfortable to balance the handset between your head and your shoulder and difficult to feel the vibrate mode when worn in a pocket. When viewed straight on, the L1 is rather dull. Rectangular with sharp corners, the phone sports a simple silver color scheme with few exterior touches. The rectangular external display is tiny for the phone's size, but it still crams in the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. Since it's monochrome, however, it doesn't show photo caller ID and only the clock style is changeable. At the front face's top is a small camera lens, while a looped antenna sits just above. The only other outside features are a small speaker on the front flap and a volume rocker on the right spine.

The internal TFT display is rather attractive, with support for 65,000 colors. Graphics and animation are sharp, and at two inches diagonal the display has a decent size. Personalization options are limited, with no settings for font size, backlight time, or brightness but we like the intuitive design of the user-friendly menus. On the downside, the navigation keys caused us a bit of concern. Like most thin phones, internal controls on the L1 are flush with the surface of the phone, which takes some practice for first-time users. A five-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to the missed and received calls lists, the ringer modes menu, a downloads menu, and the camera. Though the toggle itself is rather tactile, the four shortcut buttons surrounding it are a bit small and hard to press. These keys give access to the messaging menu, the Web browser, the phone book, and the main menu.

The keypad buttons are somewhat disappointing as well. Since they're small and lie flat on the surface of the phone, it's difficult to dial by feel. What's more, the backlighting is rather dim. The talk and end/power keys and a clear button sit on the top row of the keypad.

The internal phone book holds 500 contacts with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, three e-mail addresses, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 150 names). You can save contacts to caller groups or pair them with one of 22 polyphonic ring tones. You can assign contacts a photo as well, but they won't show up on the external display. Basic features consist of a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, an alarm clock, a scheduler, a to-do list, a notepad, and a currency converter. Unfortunately, you don't get a speakerphone, but the L1 does offer full Bluetooth, voice commands, and a voice memo recorder for clips up to one minute long.

The L1's camera doesn't have a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions (1,280x1,024, 640x240, 352x288, 176x220, 176x144, and 128x96). Features include a self-timer, a 5X zoom (varies by image resolution), and a burst mode, and you can also choose from three quality settings, six fun frames, four lighting modes, three color effects, and three shutter sounds (there's no silent mode). The camcorder shoots clips with sound while offering a similar set of editing options. Overall, the L1 comes with 26MB of internal memory for saving your work. When finished with your shots or clips, you can send them via Bluetooth or in a multimedia message or transfer them to a computer or printer with the included USB cable. Photo quality wasn't the best we've seen from a megapixel camera; colors were somewhat washed out and the lighting was dim.

The L1 doesn't have great photo quality.

You can personalize the L1 with a variety of wallpapers, color styles, and greetings. If you want more options beyond what comes with the phone, you'll have to buy them over the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. As for more ring tones, the phone supports MP3 files, and it even comes with a rudimentary MP3 player. Don't expect too much, though, as the features and the user interface are basic.

We ="="" labs="" 4520-6603_7-5109683-2.html"="">tested

the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) NEC L1 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Voice quality was satisfactory overall but it could be middling at times with some static and interference. We also found the volume to be a bit low, so users with impairments should test the L1 first. Call quality was comparable over the included wired headset and the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset.

The NEC L1 has a rated talk time of 2 hours, 20 minutes and a promised standby time of just over four days. In our tests, we eked out slightly more than 2 hours of talk time.



Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6