LG GW520 £220
18th Sep 2009 | 10:35
It's more stylish Cookie than clever Arena, but the GW520 feels underpowered where it counts
LG GW520: Overview
The LG GW520 is an odd beast, neither fish nor fowl. It has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, like a business phone, but there's no Wi-Fi, so you can't access broadband internet and there's no option to add apps like you can with a smartphone.
But it is a slim and sleek affair (at least by QWERTY keyboard standards) and includes LG's widget-based interface, push email, quad-band GSM, HSDPA 3G, a 3-megapixel camera and FM radio.
There's also a couple of nods to social networking with a Facebook app and LG's Livesquare, which offers a picturesque way of keeping track of your contacts.
LG is clearly aiming it at the middle of the market, but to keep down costs it has also dispensed with camera flash and autofocus as well as GPS and made do with very little onboard memory.
It's less of a smartphone proper, and more of a QWERTY-packing Cookie – a low(ish) cost style phone with a little bit of extra attitude.
LG GW520: Design
The LG GW520 is a neat enough looking package, with the black plastic front and sides offset by silver trim.
It seems a little on the chunky side at 107x53x16mm and 125g until you consider some of its QWERTY-packing rivals such as Nokia's E75 (112x50x14mm, 139g), or HTC's mammoth Touch Pro2 (116x59x17mm, 179g). In that company, it's actually quite svelte.
From the front it bears more than a passing resemblance to the KP500 Cookie with its touchscreen and three buttons, though it doesn't come with a stylus.
The 2.8in screen is big enough, though the real estate beneath it could have been a bit better utilised than merely providing a border.
At the bottom are call start and stop/power on keys surrounding a circular shortcuts button that also doubles as a task manager. These are all covered by rubberised plastic so they're nice and grippy.
Around the sides are volume buttons, the screen lock key, camera shutter and microSD card slot (none supplied), covered by a plastic grommet.
On the top is a microUSB slot for charging/syncing, again covered by a plastic grommet. The all-silver back features a large loudspeaker grille and the lens for the 3-megapixel camera.
The GW520's 2.8in resistive touchscreen features 262,000 colours and 240x400 pixel resolution. It's decently bright and clear, though it suffers easily in sunlight, and it's a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
All touchscreens have to manage that trick of finding a balance between sensitivity and usability – sensitive enough to distinguish your presses and brushes, but not so insensitive that you have to bash at it to make yourself understood.
Sadly the GW520 doesn't quite manage that trick, and we often found ourselves tapping firmly but to no avail as we attempted to access functions, particularly when using the browser. The haptic feedback was a bit hit and miss too – you can adjust the levels of buzz for the home screen and menus, but it disappears when using the browser.
There's an accelerometer to switch the screen to landscape mode when you turn the handset on its side, but it only works in a few circumstances and it will automatically flip when you open the keyboard, or when using the web browser, video viewer or browsing pics from your gallery.
LG GW520: Interface
The GW520's interface is much the same as other touchscreen phones from LG, featuring the now familiar array of widgets with which you can populate the home screen. A settings icon near the bottom opens up the widgets tray, so you can choose which widgets you want on your home screen
It's a nice system, but there aren't quite enough widgets available. You can choose from an analogue clock, message counter, web search, FM radio, music player, notes, picture slideshow, dual location world clock, calendar, weather, Facebook and push email.
We'd have liked a web widget that takes you straight to your preferred home page, or a movie player, but unfortunately you can't add new widgets from the main menu, which is quite a let-down, especially in comparison to Samsung's TouchWiz interface.
If the home screen starts to look cluttered however, you can shake the handset to make the widgets line up more neatly, so long as you have your widgets tray open.
At the bottom of the screen are four fixed shortcuts – keypad, contacts, messaging and menu. The menu is neatly laid out, with four groups of icons which you switch between via the selection bar on the right.
Incidentally, you can adjust the selection bar so it either flips between menu pages or scrolls through them, and the menus do that nice little iPhone-style bouncing thing when you scroll through them.
As with other recent LG touchscreen phones, a press on an empty part of the home page will bring up a status page offering info on your network, connectivity, memory and data usage.
LG GW520: In use
The QWERTY keyboard slides out to the left with a satisfying thunk to reveal four lines of 40 decently spaced keys.
It's very neatly laid out too, with a coloured square highlighting the numeric keys and the same colour scheme around the arrow keys.
The alt key is a different, bright colour (red on our black model) to help it stand out. The raised, rounded keys are nicely distinctive under the thumbs and backlit too, so you'll have no trouble typing in dim light conditions.
LG is pushing the social networking aspect of the GW520, and not just with the enticement of extra long messages using the QWERTY keyboard.
Livesquare is a new offering and lives on an alternate home page you can access by brushing across the screen. It's a way of organising your contacts and messages, laid out like a field, zoo or park, and populated by animated characters which could be human or cartoon animal avatars.
Each displays the number of messages you have waiting from each contact, and even people who aren't in your contacts book. You can set it so that it refreshes each day and tapping a slider near the bottom of the screen brings up a list of your communications history.
It looks cute, and works well, though we soon found ourselves wishing there was a greater variety of avatars.
There's a Facebook app on board too, which is easy to set up with your online account. Unfortunately, updates won't be pushed to your phone, so you'll need to manually log in on a regular basis to keep up with the latest updates, which, considering the presence of push email, seems like a trick missed.
Setting up email is easy enough in most cases, with just email address and password required. There's also the option of push email with a range of email servers for easy set-up, including Hotmail, Google mail, Yahoo! and AOL, though others are supported too.
You'll need to keep the push option open for it to work, but it will notify you as soon as new mail arrives, which makes it more immediate than most non-Blackberry devices. It supports threaded messaging too, so SMS conversations show up like an extended IM chat.
LG GW520: Camera
The 3-megapixel camera is okay rather than great. It launches with a press of the shutter button in around four seconds, so it's not bad for quick snaps.
There's no autofocus so you'll need to be a bit careful with your composition but then again, it takes its shots with only about a second delay.
There's no flash and not much in the way of other extras, just a multi-shot option (three, six or nine pics), night mode and a timer (three, five and ten seconds).
Picture quality isn't bad considering its limitations. It will take pics at up to a maximum of 2048x1536 pixels and if you're careful with your light and don't try anything too fancy you can get some reasonably sharp snaps which you can upload direct to your blog via the Blogger app.
QUALITY:The camera fails to focus properly and colours look washed out
There's an editing suite on board which allows you to add drawings, text or icons to your pics, as well as adjusting brightness, colour and contrast. There's also a range of effects filters which as well as offering the usual monochrome and sepia, also has oil painting, mosaic blur and sketch
LIGHT: In soft light, the camera does ok...
...but in dark conditions performance drops massively
For video recording quality drops a considerable notch since it records in QVGA resolution at just 12fps, which is pretty paltry even by camphone standards. You can add audio or text and there are different effects to merge one video or image into another such as a dissolve or an uncovering effect.
LG GW520: Misc features
As already mentioned, the GW520 has absolutely no Wi-Fi whatsoever. While this may help to keep the initial cost down, it's a serious handicap for a phone with a QWERTY keypad.
Yes, we know it's supposed to be for messaging, but the temptation is strong to use it for browsing, and the speed of input just isn't reflected in the connection, which can get very frustrating very quickly, even though it has the fastest sort of HSDPA 3G connection available, with 7.2Mbps download if your network supports it.
It also has quad-band GSM and A2DP stereo Bluetooth for wireless headphones as well as data transfer.
Video playback on the GW520 is pretty good, with movie trailers showing up nice and crisp on the screen, when we could find something to play on it. It's pretty limited on the video file format front, with no support for DivX and we couldn't even get it to play our WMV or AVI files, just MP4.
The basic music player controls can be added to the home screen as a widget but you can access the full player menu by pressing and holding the widget. It will play MP3, AAC and WMA audio files and you can organise them in all the usual ways, though you can't make playlists on the hoof.
The FM radio has a nice virtual dial interface and auto scan as well as 50 presets and RDS info. You'll need the supplied headphones to act as the aerial and they are deeply ordinary, but a pain to upgrade since there's no 3.5mm jack plug – you'll need LG's micro USB adapter.
With no Wi-Fi connection, the LG520's web browser has to make the most of its HSDPA connection and sadly, it doesn't.
It's slow to open and despite the QWERTY keypad, slow to use, since you're constantly having to tap the screen to bring up your menu options. In theory you can press the screen to zoom in but we found this only worked intermittently, and was just about impossible to zoom out again without resorting to the menu.
It's good that you can set up RSS feeds, but the menu bars are too intrusive, leaving you little room to view the webpage and the menu options aren't as obvious as they need to be for hassle-free browsing.
Bookmarks for instance tend to display the tagline rather than the name of the site, so the Guardian shows up as 'Latest news…', which can start to get confusing after a while.
There's an extremely paltry 40MB of memory on the handset itself, which is pretty pathetic, though you can increase this to 16GB via the microSD card slot. You'll need to provide your own though since there's no card supplied.
LG claims 4.5 hours of talk time with up to 500 hours of standby and the battery stood up pretty well to our more than average use while testing, and gave a clear two days including a fair bit of browsing and music playback as well as calls.
LG GW520: Verdict
As a messaging phone it's not bad at all, and that QWERTY keyboard is one of the better, as well as one of the most discreet, we've seen. The social networking side of it has been overplayed by LG though, with only Livesquare and Facebook ticking the social boxes
The LG GW520 is a neat little package, certainly compared to the bricklike dimensions of many QWERTY keyboard phones and manages to retain the compact good looks of the Cookie while adding extra functionality.
The keyboard is a joy to use and much better than we expected for a handset at this price with neatly spaced, tactile keys.
The Livesquare app is fun and useful – nice to see a new approach to arranging your contacts and Facebook was easy to set up and use, though we'd have liked to have had our updates pushed to us instead of having to check them at intervals.
The push email system worked well though
The touchscreen looked good but could be unresponsive, especially when browsing. The widgets interface impresses to tease since there's only a limited number of widgets available – why not make all the menu options available as widgets?
The browser is clumsy and slow and the biggest disappointment about this handset and we really missed Wi-Fi access despite the presence of HSDPA 3G network connection. The camera is distinctly so-so and nothing to get excited about either.
And with the speed of change involved in online networking, we'd have liked other apps besides Facebook to have been available. As a low(ish) cost introduction to touchscreen phones it offers a lukewarm welcome but the clunky browser, unresponsive touchscreen and lack of Wi-Fi left us with a distinct chill.