With the large amount of touch-screen devices being released in Australia before the iPhone makes its way down under, there is something many people don’t know. LG’s touch-screen based KE850 Prada phone has been floating around since February this year – way before the iPhone was released. The CEO of LG has even stated that they believe Apple stole the design of the handset after it was showcased at the iF Design Awards in September 2006.
The Prada has only just been made available in Australia, still long before the iPhone. The handset does away with a conventional physical keypad, and relies almost completely on screen presses for control of the handset.
The handset was created through a joint effort between Prada and LG – with the press release stating that the two have worked together “from handset development to marketing.”
At almost $1,000 RRP, how does the handset stack up? Let’s find out.
Touch-based user interfaces are not new in any regard, but in recent times they have made more of an appearance on the market. One of the KE850’s main highlights is its Flash-based user interface, which is used for 99% of the interaction you will have with the handset. The user interface is presented by a 240 x 400 pixel TFT LCD with 262,144 colour support.
Still images up to 1600 x 1200 pixels can be captured with the KE850 Prada’s 2mpx digital camera. Video capture is also supported, and the handset has an LED flash for low-light settings. A bare 8MB of internal storage is offered, but files can be stored on a microSD memory card (supplied).
The physical design of the KE850 also deserves some mention here. Designed by Prada, the KE850 has won the International Forum Design award for product design for 2007, and the Red Dot Design Award for “best of the best”. More on the physical stylings follow…
There’s really no denying that the LG KE850 is a beautiful handset. The front and back of the handset are finished in glossy black, and the middle has a glossy stainless steel appearance – although I’m pretty sure it’s not actual stainless steel. The front of the handset has a “PRADA” text logo towards the top, and three buttons under the display.
Flipping the handset around to the back you will find the digital camera module, complete with LED flash, chrome mirror, and the actual 2mpx lens. Under the camera is the Schneider Kreuznach text logo. The only LG logo on the handset is found on the back of the handset.
The left hand side of the handset has the interface port (used for the data-cable and any wired accessory), the volume up/down keys, and the multifunction audio button. More on this button can be found in the making and receiving calls section. On the right hand side you will find the media player/camera multifunction key and dedicated keylock key.
At the top of the handset on the right hand side is the wrist strap attachment, and at the bottom the only ‘key’ is the battery cover release. Overall the handset is extremely clean cut and simple.
The glossy surface of the KE850 has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. On one side, it looks great and suits the handset to a T, but on the other hand it’s extremely hard to keep clean. Because of the touch-based user interface, you can’t help but touch the screen. LG have included a wipe cloth in the sales package, but who wants to carry that around everywhere they go?
User interface & display
The latest touch-based user interfaces do away with the need for a (sometimes fiddly) stylus, instead relying totally on the users fingers for interaction with the handset. The Prada phone by LG has only three ‘actual’ buttons, or eight if you could the side keys. All other input is achieved by tapping the screen.
The user interface is a Flash-based UI, providing moving graphics and a full use of colour, as well as a pleasant experience for the user.
The KE850’s display is a 3” TFT LCD panel, at the unusual 240 x 400 pixel resolution. The resolution is larger than the common 240 x 320 pixels, but a larger screen is always welcome in my book! The display can reproduce approximately 262,144 colours.
Because the display is going to be poked and prodded constantly, it has a hard plastic covering that prevents the actual LCD being touched (and possibly damaged). This does make the touch input slightly more difficult (you have to push harder), but will prolong the life of the handset. As I mentioned earlier, the entire front and back of the KE850 are made of glossy material, so they are both very prone to fingerprints.
The dedicated unlock button on the right hand side is extremely handy, but is slightly hard to press. When unlocked, the handset’s standby screen is displayed. There are three major elements here: the large clock, four quick launch buttons, and the top row of status indicators. A lot of the standby screen can be customised, including the clock type, and wallpaper.
Four themes are pre-installed on the KE850: PRADA theme, Blue theme, Butterfly theme, and Fish theme. The latter two have their respective animals floating around in the standby wallpaper, which looks pretty cool.
The first button in the quick launch row under the clock launches the main menu, which is icon-based with four separate tabs. The second button launches the phone application with large numerical keypad for number input. Next is the messaging shortcut, and the last button opens the contact book.
Thankfully, all of the icons on the KE850 are large enough to be pushed with your thumb and the handset is spot-on most of the time. In messaging and number input there are some issues, but I’ll talk more about that later. I did find that buttons close to the edges of the display were often not recognised, resulting in some frustration!
When icons are not used the KE850 opts for large text labels, which really are just like elongated buttons. The font used on the handset is extremely easy to use, and the size is acceptable. If a text label cannot fit completely across the screen it scrolls when highlighted.
Single taps are used to ‘click’ icons or labels, and you can slide your finger upwards or downwards to scroll up and down through text or menus. Most screens will have a navigation bar on the left hand side, but it’s quite fiddly to ‘press’ due to its size.
Lag is an issue on the KE850, and it does get painful at times. A handset based solely on touch needs a lot of processing power, and it seems LG have skimped out in this regard. Jumping through the menus is practically impossible as you need to wait until a ‘screen’ is fully loaded before you can get any further. There are transitions from one menu to another, and effects when pressing icons – being able to turn these off may have sped things up but that functionality is not offered.
Because of the lag and the fiddly operation of some elements of the UI, I’m only giving the KE850 3 out of a possible 5 stars. The UI does a good job and is effective in some regard, but it still needs some work, and while LG are at it: some more processing power.
Making and receiving calls
As the KE850 Prada is a 2G-only handset, it only supports audio-based calls over GSM 900, 1800, or 1900MHz networks. A fully featured phonebook is included to store contact details.
The quick launch icon on the standby screen of the KE850 makes it extremely easy to make calls… provided you know the number you want to dial. Searching through the phonebook is less than an enjoyable experience due to the tiny navigational bar. Back to the phone application though – it is similar to the messaging application, with a large dial pad and number display. The physical pick-up and hang-up keys can be used, or you can use the on-screen keys.
The phone book can also be launched from the quick launch menu. Only four contacts can be displayed at once due to the large font size. The navigational bar on the right hand side of screen can be used to quickly scroll through contacts, but due to its size it’s extremely hard to ‘grab’. An easier, but more drawn-out method, is to keep sliding your finger down (or up) on the arrows in the centre of the screen. Hitting the physical pick-up key will dial the currently selected contact.
Volume through the earpiece and the loudspeaker was adequate, even below maximum volume. The sales package includes a stereo headset, which plugs into the interface port on the left hand side of the handset. Calls can also be taken through a Bluetooth headset (not included). Bluetooth Handsfree, Headset, and Stereo headset profiles are supported.
Messaging on the KE850 is virtually a nightmare. Phew, I’m glad I got that out. I’m a person who loves text/MMS messaging, and while using the KE850 I refused to message most of the time as it just takes so long!
The KE850 supports all the usuals: SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging. SMTP and POP3 protocols are supported for e-mail messaging, and video MMS is fully supported. The handset comes with T9 dictionaries for local languages, which is always handy.
Messaging can be opened from the standby screen or by accessing it through the menu. It is laid out like most other LG handsets, with separate options for creating SMS, MMS, and e-mail messages. SMS and MMS are stored in the same inbox, drafts, outbox, and sent folders. E-mails have their own separate storage section.
Let’s move on to the actual messaging interface. Three lines of text are displayed at the top of the screen, with the rest of it occupied by a numerical keypad. On top of the middle line is the T9 word selector/navigation buttons. The layout is similar to that of other LG handsets, except the * key is now dedicated to inserting symbols. T9 is activated by default and is probably the most effective way of messaging on the KE850. Multi-tap and numerical input is offered.
In the beginning, each character is displayed at the same time as you push the key. Further down the track, and the message gets larger, things start to slow down and you’ll soon want to throw the handset out of the nearest window. Once you have completed a word and wish to change the T9 selection, you need to push the up/down arrows on the second line of text. This will alternative through the possible options, and if not found you can add your own word to the dictionary. When adding a word you need to use the physical backspace key, as the last selected T9 word will be placed in the text box and there is no software cancel key.
Pressing buttons too quickly will result in the handset skipping letters completely. You need to be constantly watching the handset and waiting for the letter to appear before you can move to the next letter. Sometimes the KE850 likes to play up and refuse to accept a key press for a few seconds – tapping constantly will eventually work.
Up to 10 messages can be linked together in a ‘single’ message, and the handset will count the characters above the text box for easy reference.
There’s no denying that text input is always going got be an issue with touch-based handsets, but there are some ways that LG could have made it a more pleasurable experience. The lag is what really got to me, and I’m sure most users will have the same problems.
Local connectivity on the KE850 Prada can be achieved with USB 2.0 or Bluetooth 2.0. The handset is tri-band GSM compatible, supporting the GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz networks. GPRS and EDGE data is included for packet data access.
The sales package of the KE850 includes a USB data-cable and mini CD-rom with software for Windows-based computers. The same interface port that is used for charging is used for the USB data-cable, and USB’s Mass Storage Device profile is fully supported for driver-free communication with the handset. Both the internal and external memory will be displayed when connected via USB.
Bluetooth 2.0 Headset, Handsfree, File Transfer, Image Printing, Dial-up Networking, Business card transfer, Serial Port device, and Stereo Headset profiles are supported. I could only achieve data transfer around 40kbp/s using my MacBook (which has built-in Bluetooth 2.0). Better than some handsets, though.
An Obigo browser is pre-installed on the KE850 for web browsing. Obigo were responsible for the first WAP 1.1 browser in 1999, and have since been acquired by Teleca. The browser is WAP 2.0 compliant and uses a GPRS or EDGE connection for data transfer over 2G networks.
The entertainment tab of the main menu contains all of the KE850’s multimedia applications. An FM radio is built in to the handset, and a media player for video and audio playback is included. A voice recorder is also offered.
The MP3 player scans the internal and external memory when opened, and adds any compatible file to the library. You can play single files by tapping their name, or turn on the multi-select option and create your own on-the-fly play list. Shuffle and repeat options can be turned on through the settings menu, and the MP3 player also two skins: black or white.
MPEG4, H.263, and H.264 format video files can be played back by the integrated video player.
My Stuff is a file browser for the KE850 that sorts internally and externally stored files into five sections: images, sounds, videos, documents, and others. The file manager displays small thumbnails of an item and has several navigational icons on the right hand side for quickly jumping through a series of images.
Running JBenchmark 3D results in an error, meaning that the KE850 does not support mobile 3D graphics (M3G - JSR 184). The JBenchmark 1.0 and 2.0 scores are less than impressive, and you may find Java games that ran fine on other handsets will struggle with the KE850 Prada.
The KE850 Prada’s PIM applications can be found in the third tab of the main menu. There are six main features, which are the alarm clock, calculator, world clock, unit converter, calendar, and memo function.
The calendar application is pretty nifty, displaying a full month in a large font that is easy to read. Schedule items for the currently selected day are shown at the bottom of the screen. There are no specific types of schedule items, but they can be set for specific times and dates, all day, and can contain notes, and alarms. Scheduled items can also be repeated daily, weekly, monthly, or annually.
World Clock is just what the name suggests – a world clock! An image of the globe is displayed when the application is launched, and you then use your finger to rotate the globe to find the general area of the place you want the time of. Tapping that area opens a more detailed map with locations for you to pick from. The application is pretty cool, but unfortunately… laggy.
Using the JBenchmark suite I achieved the following results:
Four Java games are pre-installed on the handset. Halloween Fever, Photo Puzzle, Virus, and Pipe. All user-installed application are stored in the “Downloaded” section of the Games & Apps section of the main menu.
The Prada can view most basic document formats, including Microsoft Word. Strangely enough, the handset will not be able to open documents that are not in the “Documents” section of the file manager.
The KE850 is an extremely well built handset and feels solid in hand. It is not flimsy in any regard, and as I mentioned earlier, the material on top of the touch screen is very strong. The buttons at the bottom of the handset are hard to push down, but let’s face it – you’ll rarely use them!
My only build-related issue is the battery removal – it’s really hard to get out! I’m the type of person that quite often needs to change SIM or memory card, and as both of these ports on the KE850 are under the battery, I found myself in some strife when it came to getting it out.
There is a small indent on the bottom of the battery, but if you don’t have nails… good luck!
An 800mAh lithium-ion battery pack powers the KE850 Prada. Estimated battery life by LG is 300 hours standby time, and 3 hours of talk time.
In my time testing the KE850 I found I could only get about 2 hours talk time out of the battery before receiving low battery warnings. This is by no means impressive, and means most users will be recharging the handset daily. The handset will display several warnings before simply turning itself off. When the battery is too low, the handset will prevent you from opening battery-intensive applications such as the camera viewfinder.