LG Electronics has been a long time ally of Hutchison Whampoa, the company behind the Three (3) brand in many countries around the world, so it should come as no surprise that their latest 3G handset, the U880, is only being offered by Three in Australia. The U880 shares much the same feature set as previously sold LG handsets by Three, but brings them together in a small, light and thin clamshell than what we’ve seen in the past. The specifications are respectable – 1.3 megapixel rotating camera, music player with MP3 and AAC support, microSD memory card, Bluetooth, Java, and tri-band GSM support.
The biggest change in this new LG handset has to be the smaller form factor. Up until now all LG handsets have been fairly large and have weighed anywhere between 130-150 grams, but the U880 has managed to lose weight to the point of tipping the scales at 102 grams. It’s also become thinner and more like a modern day GSM model than a 3G brute.
Other than this much remains the same from previous recent LG clamshells. As mentioned in the introduction there is a conveniently rotating camera, music player support, Bluetooth, external memory support and other features you’d expect of a modern day 3G mobile phone.
The LG U880 is a thin clamshell that is available in one of three colours: black, silver or pink. The antenna is internal and the shape of the handset is well rounded and harmonic, although when the clamshell is opened the angle of the screen compared to the keypad is too great, and I found myself having to hold the phone at an uncomfortable angle to look directly at the screen. The phone measures 98 x 49 x 18.2 millimetres and weighs 102 grams, so it is much smaller and lighter than most typical 3G handsets are.
The front of the phone is adorned by the sub screen and three buttons for controlling music without opening the handset. With phone manufacturers keen to push music as the next killer application for mobile phones, more and more phones seem to have these three music buttons on the front. In any case, you’ll also see the camera lens at the top of the phone, facing backwards or forwards. On the left hand side is the proprietary headphone socket and volume keys; while on the right you have the memory card socket, camera shutter button, and a cleverly concealed charger/data connector. There’s nothing of note on the top of bottom, but on the back you’ll see the hole for a strap and the battery itself, which with the flick of the switch at the top will swing out to reveal the USIM card socket underneath.
So where’s the speaker you might ask? Well if you open the phone, you’ll find that there are two stereo speakers on either side of the voice call speaker, just above the main LCD. On the bottom half of the phone, below the rotatable camera, is the rather large keypad. LG phones have always featured a large amount of useful buttons, and the U880 is no exception here. Above the standard number pad, you’ll find dedicated buttons for going back, delete, the menu, video calling and 3’s webpage portal. As well as two soft keys, you have the four direction pad and a centre confirm key as well. However instead of displaying arrows, the pad shows what shortcuts each direction invokes if pushed in the standby screen:
The buttons are located next to each other without any spacing, but they are each indented slightly in the air, making them fairly easy to press. I had no problems or complaints using the keypad here.
User Interface & display
The U880 uses a 176x220 pixel LCD to display its contents. This is the industry standard at the moment and is no different from all the previous 3G handsets LG have offered. It can display 262,144 colours and the display is bright and clear, refusing to completely fade out in bright light and remaining readable (although it will fade out slightly). The phone is capable of displaying up to seven lines of text in menus and six lines when composing a message.
There are two ways to display the main menu – using a 3 x 4 grid of 12 icons, or through a ‘slideshow’ of menu options that scrolls from left to right. Personally I prefer the grid as I can scroll straight to the menu option I want in a few button clicks, rather than several clicks to reach the middle of the slideshow. In any case, you can use the number keys as shortcuts to quickly jump to a menu option. Also when in a sub-menu, you can push the left and right keys to quickly cycle through each main menu option, as if you were going back to the main menu and selecting another option first, only quicker. The menu operates very fast and there is no lag when selecting options and jumping through sub-menus – it all just works smoothly.
Making and receiving calls
The U880, being a 3G phone, is capable of making both voice and video calls. I tested the U880 on 3’s 3G network and found call quality to be very good, with both my caller and I able to hear each other clearly. Video calls also work without any trouble. The loudspeaker will activate when making a video call, but I couldn’t find any way of activating it during a normal voice call at all. On the same token, I couldn’t deactivate the loudspeaker during a video call (not that you normally would), so it doesn’t look like LG allows users to toggle the speakerphone on or off.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the many readers who sent us feedback regarding this issue. It seems that if you want speakerphone during a voicecall, you’ll need to hold down the C (clear) button while the call is connected to activate it. I don’t quite agree with this method of activating it (a menu option would have been a much better idea at least), but the fact that the function is there is a good thing nonetheless.
A stereo handsfree is included in the U880 retail package, and testing with it also yielded no problems and a smooth, clear conversation. The U880 has Bluetooth support for earpieces and again, I had no problems with my Motorola HS801 headset.
There are a number of included ringtones and sound effects included in the handset, and the 72 tone polyphonic synthesiser makes them sound great. More ringtones can be added to the phone from a PC or another device, as well as over WAP (or more specifically, from Planet 3, Three’s web portal).
The address book can store up to 500 contacts, and each contact can have multiple information tags attached to them. They include five different phone numbers, two email addresses, personal details, a picture, ringtone and homepage address. Each contact can be assigned to a group as well.
The U880 supports all manner of messaging – SMS, MMS and e-mail. There is T9 predictive text support in each messaging type, and not just for English – there is support for multiple other languages too. Linked SMS are supported and up to seven messages can be connected to send a large message – this equals approximately 1070 characters. Text entry is very fast on the U880, with no slowdown even if many characters are entered into a single message.
With MMS you can attach multiple pictures, sounds and videos through slide support. Messages of up to 300 kilobytes can be composed and sent to phones that can receive such large messages (mainly 3G ones only at this time – most GSM networks are restricted to 100 kilobyte messages). Email can be sent through MMS, or through the POP3/IMAP4 client, which in the U880’s case is programmed to work through 3’s email service by default. You can however program it to work with other email services.
The U880 supports both W-CDMA 3G and GSM network modes. On 3G it can access the internet at up to 384 kbps per second, while on a GSM network it can access at 48kbps through GPRS. The U880 supports the three main GSM bands (900, 1800 and 1900), so it can be used in many locations around the world.
In terms of local connectivity, you have the option of USB or Bluetooth. USB can be used to connect with a computer for transferring data and synchronisation, as well as to use the phone as a 3G/GPRS modem. Bluetooth is a bit more versatile, able to be used for data transfer to a large number of devices (other phones, for example) as well as for wireless headsets.
In addition there is microSD memory card support (or Transflash as it used to be known), but there is no included card or microSD to SD card adapter included in the package, so this isn’t a very practical way of transferring data to a computer. As a USB cable is included, however, I would recommend that as it allows for faster data transfer than Bluetooth. The included CD will install the USB driver and then all the software you need. I was able to transfer a number of different file types off the phone straight to the computer, and it worked without a hitch.
The build quality of the U880 is excellent. There are no creaks or loose parts and the flip is very rigid. All socket covers firmly go into place and aren’t likely to pop out on their own. The battery is also fastened firmly, and since the battery itself acts as the back cover, there’s no need for a separate one on top of that.
The U880 gets an A+ in the area of build quality. Well done LG!
The rather large 1050mAh Li-ion battery of the U880 allows it to last for seven days and seven hours on standby (175 hours), while allowing for 2.7 hours of talk-time and 2 hours of video talk-time on the 3G network. On the GSM network the phone manages a slightly longer 3.5 hours of talk-time. Recharging the phone takes a little over two hours, due to the high capacity of the battery.