For a smartphone brearing the Prada title, the Prada 3.0 is a pretty unassuming device in the hand. Cut from the same cloth as so many monoblocks before it, the Prada 3.0 is a glossy-black touchscreen smartphone, almost indistinguishable from other LGs, Samsungs or even the iPhone from a distance. This is less true when you look at it from behind, where LG uses the signature Prada "Saffiano" texture across the plastic battery cover, which looks nice but feels rough to touch. Though it would have pushed the price up, we think a softer feeling with, maybe, leather would have sold the idea of luxury better.
The signature Saffiano texture on both the phone and the box it comes in.
Even more interesting than its physical design is the use of a monochrome user experience after the phone is switched on. Though this can be adjusted by the user, the default wallpaper is pure black, with white icons pointing to all the core system apps, like the web browser, calendar and so on. Even the design of these apps has been skinned to maintain this elegant black-and-white aesthetic for as much of the user experience as possible; though the illusion is invariably broken once you stumble over the rainbow-coloured icons of Google's apps like Gmail and the Play Store.
LG chose a 4.3-inch WVGA resolution screen for the Prada 3.0, which is sufficient but noticeably less sharp than the 1280x720-pixel resolution screens we've started to see from Samsung, HTC and LG itself. The press materials that accompanied our review unit point to the fact that this screen is capable of producing 800 nits of brightness, which is eye-achingly bright if you push it up to 100 per cent. The viewing angles of this panel are not so impressive though, with dips in the strength of the image on the screen at angles greater than about 45 degrees in both directions horizontally and vertically.
It's been three years since the last Prada-branded smartphone, and a lot has changed. The second Prada, the KF900, sported a WQVGA display and 60MB of internal memory. Of course, specs like that just would not cut it in 2012, regardless of how good a phone looks and feels.
Happily, the Prada 3.0 is built much like any other smartphone is these days, with a dual-core 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM, plus 8GB internal storage and a microSD card slot to expand this memory.
This hardware combination keeps the Prada 3.0 in good stead throughout most of our benchmark testing, but its results are middling overall. A BrowserMark benchmark result of 52,448 would have been respectable last year, but falls way short with phones like the Galaxy Nexus achieving scores in excess of 100,000 in the same test. Benchmark tests only prove so much, however, and we found this doesn't reflect the everyday performance of the phone well, which we found to be extremely quick. Home screen navigation is slick and task switching occurs with a minimum of fuss.
If there is a major issue within the performance of the Prada 3.0, it's in the handset's lack of an 850MHz 3G radio. In Australia, the Prada 3.0 will launch exclusively on the Vodafone network, which relies on the 850MHz band to deliver the best speeds on its network, and this phone is definitely not enjoying the best speeds. In fact we mightn't have noticed that this feature was missing had we not experienced such slow download speeds.
LG opts for a 1540mAh lithium-ion battery in the Prada 3.0, which delivers a decent day's worth of use, so long as you don't pump the screen up to its full 800 nits. When we punished it with continuous web browsing and the brightness set to 100 per cent, the Prada 3.0 pulled a meagre 3.5 hours before running out of juice. While the bright display may help you outdoors, be sure to turn it down again once you're out of direct sunlight.
Beyond the basics, there are only a few extra features in this Prada phone to speak of, and these merely keep this smartphone running with the pack, rather than having it set the pace.
SmartShare is one example. An LG-designed media sharing application, SmartShare, is just a catchy name for DLNA connectivity (a technology in dire need of a catchy name). When your phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as other media-playing devices in your house (your TV, gaming consoles or PC, for example), you can share media to and from the phone. Once connected you can display the photos you've taken on the phone with your large flat-panel TV, or if you have movies on your laptop you can stream them to the phone.
The Prada 3.0 also includes an NFC chip among its inner workings, giving you the chance to communicate quickly with NFC-enabled devices, but if you don't understand what this means, don't expect LG to help you figure it out. In short, NFC works like a trigger, telling your device to do something. This "something" can be a huge number of things. Some new wireless speakers can pair with phones using NFC, a bus-stop advertisement can open a web page on your phone if you hold the handset near the NFC tag in the ad poster. More importantly, phones can quickly communicate with other phones, so if your friend has an NFC-enabled phone you can send them media, text messages, web pages or contact info just by touching your phones together.
Including NFC in the Prada 3.0 shows that LG is conscious that NFC is soon to be a widely used technology, but to not do more to help in the education of its customers renders this nifty feature useless to all but the already initiated.
Unlike many smartphone cameras coming through our labs of late, the camera on the Prada 3.0 doesn't work to oversaturate the colour in the photos you take. Even when we tested it by photographing colours that tend, on other camera phones, to struggle with (see: the Din Tai Fung signage below), the Prada did a respectable job of reining in the colours. Some users may think the results are somewhat underwhelming, but we quite like the colours we are seeing.
Its autofocus, on the other hand, could be improved. Up to a third of the photos we took during our tests turned out blurry. Shaky hands are always going to be part of the struggle for smartphone camera engineers, but when compared to its competition, the autofocus in the Prada 3.0 should be better, we feel.
The Prada 3.0 is a big leap forward in LG's partnership with the world-renowned fashion brand, but a sideways step for the LG portfolio, overall. It may be the first true Prada smartphone, and features like NFC are most certainly welcome, but it is otherwise a run-of-the-mill smartphone by all other measures. With the Prada label, you might expect the specs and feeds of the phone to be out-shone by high-fashion design, but we fear fashionistas will be disappointed by the cheap, plastic construction as much as we were.