The technology world and the fashion world seldom come together. Perhaps it's because those in the tech world struggle with fashion, or perhaps it's those in fashion who struggle with technology. Nearly two years ago LG embarked on a daring partnership with Prada and the result was one of the first mass-market touchscreen phones in Australia. A sleek, simplistically designed handset, though ultimately one that struggled technologically.
This second generation of Prada phone is what you mightn't expect from a fashion phone: it's fatter. Over 50 per cent heavier and 5mm thicker, the new Prada is a bit of a porker, though for a very good reason. The Prada phone is now a slider with a full-QWERTY keyboard concealed beneath the slide. This is a master stroke from LG, which shows that this Korean company is aware of what a phone is mostly used for in this segment — SMS messaging.
The interface is subtly different from the originals; the home screen now makes use of three panes, selectable by swiping your finger across the screen. The main menu is almost identical to the previous LGs, but with the colour stripped out, the interface themes are either black on white or white on black. Opening the slide changes the interface to a single revolving list of shortcuts, stripping out the extras you're not likely to use with the keyboard exposed.
On the back of the Prada is a 5-megapixel camera with LED photolight and a self-portrait mirror — so you can be sure you look fabulous before snapping yourself for MySpace. Around the edge of the phone you'll find the standard volume and camera keys, plus a key for switching active applications and another for locking the touchscreen. The bundled headphones are inserted into the USB charging port.
For many interested in a Prada phone its list of specs probably reads like a laundry list of the things you need and nothing you don't. For the web it features HSDPA and Wi-Fi, and file transfers are completed by either USB or Bluetooth. There's no GPS or any location-based services pre-installed, but Google Maps is, of coarse, downloadable.
Notably absent is a wealth of internal storage. There is a microSD card slot for expanding storage, but its 60MB of usable memory is paltry compared with nearly all of the smartphones in this price range. 30MB is sufficient for taking a bunch of photos or alternatively you could store about 20 songs. Our test unit came with a 1GB microSD card which is a good start, but music lovers will need to get a bigger SD card.
You might also consider more memory after you start taking photos with the excellent 5-megapixel camera. With the lens camouflaged on the back of the handset, we mistakenly assumed its performance would be unmoving. However, some of the photos we've taken, particularly at night, has turned out really well. The flash does the trick, it was able to light groups of people within 2 metres of the phone, and though the shots turned out grainy, we've been happy with the way they've turned out. The digital zoom is rubbish though, pushing it in to the full four-times zoom turned great photos into a pixellated mess.
From the moment we switched the Prada on we knew it was a winner. LG's Arena, which we reviewed two weeks before, was a cluttered mess of icons for tools of limited use. In contrast, the Prada phone is simple in its design and as a result is easy to use. Better still, it's fast: menus load like lightning, and commonly used apps, like messaging and taking photos, are ready to use with a minimum of lag.
The QWERTY keyboard is one of the best in the business, and typing messages and emails is pure pleasure. It's a shame that LG hasn't included easy set-up email for business users — you'll need to know all of your account settings like incoming and outgoing mail server details — because the Prada phone would look great on the boardroom table next to the ever-growing range of business smartphones. We were also boggled by the lack of the exclamation point on the keyboard! The four-row pad includes most commonly used punctuation, including three different styles of parentheses, but no exclamation mark! We love exclamation marks!
The web browser is the other letdown for us. Like the Arena, the Prada has the hardware to offer a decent web experience, but the browser is disappointing. The Prada browser is still better than the Arena, it loads faster and renders neater, but it's still a long way off the best browsers, like that in the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic.
We don't want to pigeon hole our readers too much, but we suspect those interested in the Prada phone won't lament the lack of GPS and a decent web experience too greatly. For us, the real absence is that of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the handset and substantial internal storage, and both of these issues have easy fixes — a headphone adapter and 1GB storage are bundled with the phone.
The LG Prada is proof positive that the touchscreen experience in mobile devices has improved in the past two years. The Prada is one of the most responsive and intuitive touchscreen experiences we've had so far in 2009; the menus are clear and easy to understand, and the transition between menus and apps is seamless. The AU$999 price tag may have some shoppers baulking, but if you're offered the Prada on a decent phone plan we can happily recommend it.