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Virgin Mobile Lobster 544 review: Virgin Lobster 544

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The Good Expandable miniSD slot; price tag; colour screen; compact and light design.

The Bad Lack of Bluetooth, FM radio and speakerphone; boring-looking menu.

The Bottom Line Virgin's Lobster 544 comes with some useful features and is relatively cheap. However, don't expect it all -- it's designed for people on a budget and some cuts have been made. For example, there's no Bluetooth or FM radio, and the casing does feel a little more plasticky than more expensive phones

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6.5 Overall

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Virgin's Lobster 544 doesn't look like a lobster, feel like a lobster and it certainly doesn't taste like one. It does, however, come in a box with a white silhouette of a lobster on it and there are two small lobster logos -- one on the front and one inside the handset. The phone is good value for money, but don't expect all the bells and whistles.

The Lobster 544 is currently available at Virgin Mobile for £70 on pay as you go.

Design
Aside from its exotic name the Lobster 544 is a fairly average handset to look at. It's a clamshell phone that measures 49mm by 88mm by 22mm. It feels compact and light in the hand and the front has a dark grey reflective section that makes it look like the Sony Aibo's head. The casing does feel more plasticky than more expensive handsets, but this is to be expected when you're on a budget.

On the front of the phone there's an external colour screen that displays incoming calls and messages, and further up there's a 1.3-megapixel camera with a small LED photolight. Right at the bottom of the front section, there's a dedicated MP3 button that lets you activate the MP3 player with a single click, and play and pause tracks.

The left side of the phone is feature packed, housing the 2.5mm port for the headset, the infrared port and last, but definitely not least, the miniSD slot, including a 64MB miniSD card that comes bundled with the phone. The advantage of having a 2.5mm headphone port is that there are readily available adaptors for around £4 that will convert it into a 3.5mm port. This means you can use your own headphones, but keep in mind that you'll lose the hands-free functionality of the provided headset.

The right side of the phone houses a dedicated shutter button and a two-way volume rocker, while the charging port is at the bottom in the traditional spot. The back is minimalist with just a small clip to release the battery. In order to open the Lobster you just have to use your thumb to push the clamshell open. This is easy to do and the hinge is spring mounted making it pop out almost automatically once you flip it open half way.

Once the Lobster is cracked open you will see the 262,000-colour screen that measures 30mm by 37mm. It can display MMS messages well but it's a little small for browsing the Web via the WAP browser. Underneath the screen on the bottom part of the open clamshell is the navigation, soft key and keypad. The navigation key is easy to use, but the red OK key in the middle can be awkward to press and annoyingly accesses the WAP browser from the main page instead of the menu.

Instead, the menu key is the left soft key, and the right key accesses the phone book -- these keys can not be changed. You can, however, choose your own shortcuts on the navigation key by setting up, down, left and right to access whichever applications you see fit. Underneath the two soft keys are the send and end call keys, and in between those is a dedicated MP3 key that gives you direct access to the MP3 player.

The keypad has large keys but we found them a little hard to press at times -- the keypad becomes narrow at the bottom causing you to have to bend your thumb more in order to press the lower keys properly.

Features
The Lobster 544's MP3 player is not the best we've ever seen on a phone, but then it is only setting you back £70. The player lets you play tracks but little else. The one advantage to this phone is the handy 2.5mm slot that can be adapted with a 3.5mm adaptor to use your own headphones. Accessing the player is also made easy by the dedicated buttons on the outside and inside of the handset.

The other main multimedia feature of the Lobster 544 is the 1.3-megapixel camera that comes with a small LED photo light and can be activated with the shutter button on the right of the phone, or using the menu. There are several options within the camera that let you add effects, frames and adjust the quality of the image. The camera will also shoot video.

Fortunately, there is an expandable miniSD slot with a bundled 64MB card, so you can store all your MP3s and pictures on there. You can also use the Lobster 544 as a USB mass storage device, so you can store any type of file that will fit on to the card.

If you want to browse the Web instead of listen to music then you can always use the built-in WAP browser and access your favourite WAP sites over a GPRS connection. You simply have to press the red button in the middle when you open the phone and you're immediately taken to the Internet services page.

We have a couple of niggles with the Lobster's feature set -- the lack of a speakerphone mode and the lack of Bluetooth, which means you can only use the provided headset for hands free. Also you can't send files over Bluetooth, you can use infrared or the provided USB cable, but these methods only work at close range. The Lobster is also only dual-band, which means there's a chance it won't work when you go on holiday.

A final but rather petty problem is the menu that looks rather dull -- it's not colourful or exciting. While this isn't a massive problem, we weren't impressed with the lacklustre interface that simple didn't match up to the exciting Lobster name.

Other features include a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, polyphonic ringtones and Java games.

Performance
The image quality from the 1.3-megapixel camera is acceptable for MMS messages and viewing on a mobile phone, but is blurry and pixellated when viewed on a PC monitor.

The audio quality on the MP3 player is loud enough to hear properly and you can even play music through the handset loud enough to hear without the headphones.

Battery life is quoted at 100 hours standby time and 150 minutes talk time.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield

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