Looking for a cool, new cutting-edge mobile phone? This isn't the review series for you. Like many users, I wanted a phone that does a good job acting like a phone. Me, I can no longer afford "cool" -- I accidentally destroyed my last phone, didn't have insurance, and don't feel like shelling out big bucks for a hip, high-end model.
No, I need an entry-level handset that doesn't cost too much but does a great job with the basics. Read: simple voice calls. This time, I'm giving the LG C2000 on the Cingular plan a spin. It has a retail price of $170, but you can score one for $30 through Cingular's Web site if you sign up for a two-year agreement.
If I've learned anything from this search so far (other than to check my pockets before putting my pants through the wash), it's that there are two types of cheap cell phones: the bare-bones models that excel in the basics, such as the Nokia 2128i (see BW Online, 1/24/06, "Nokia's Bare Essentials 2128i"), and those that try to take on the nicer phones, often with little success.
The LG C2000, sadly, is among the latter. While it boasts a lot of extra features -- from an instant-messenger service to a built-in digital camera -- it hasn't mastered the task I most need: making calls. Voice quality is poor and battery life is short. In short, I'd look elsewhere.
On the outside, the LG C2000 looks like just about every other clamshell phone. It's got the standard gray exterior, a camera lens on the face, and an exterior LCD screen on the outside that displays the time (the display is actually grayscale, but they give it a blue-sky backlight to make it seem more colorful).
BACK TO BASICS.
While its looks leave it solidly in the middle of the pack, the LG C2000 is a laggard when it comes to physical design. The button layout is clumsy. Turning on the handset or ending a call requires you to cramp your thumb up, and I found myself accidentally hitting the button for camera mode when I wanted to hit the "end" button.
The hinge feels overly flexible and flimsy, like it could easily snap. And maybe it's just me, but the device opened too wide to feel comfortable when I held it close to make a call. I preferred the solid feel of the Samsung X497, another phone from Cingular, with a compact body that snaps tightly shut (see BW Online, 3/1/06, "Samsung's X497: Smart, Snazzy, and Sensible").
When it comes to features inside, the LG C2000 looks great on paper. In addition to the camera and IM service, it has a large color display, Web-surfing capability, and a host of multimedia offerings, including the ability to download photos, MP3 ringtones, and Java-based games from Cingular's MEdia Mall. Once reserved for high-end multimedia phones, such features are becoming commonplace on lower-priced devices. Cingular in particular does a good job ensuring that even the most inexpensive phones connect to its store, so anyone can buy a $2.50 download of It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp. Or whatever suits your fancy.
Still, I would be happier if the manufacturer invested in nailing the basics first. The first big problem: voice quality. After making a few calls from different areas around New York City, friends on the other end of the line told me that while my words were audible, my voice consistently sounded muffled and staticky, even when the phone showed full bars of coverage. On my end, friends' voices also sounded muffled, but were still coherent.
Battery life on the LG C2000 was too short. Talk time tops out at about 180 minutes, compared with the average 200 or more on other multimedia phones. It also falls short of endurance runners like the simple Nokia model or the snazzier Samsung X497, which boasts a talk time of as much as 240 minutes.
Finally, in what I'm finding to be a trend for Cingular phones, the IM feature was riddled with glitches. While I could log into AOL Instant Messenger easily, I was unable to see buddies' responses to my messages on the phone (they received my IMs without a problem). After about 30 minutes of troubleshooting with an engineer from Cingular, we discovered an error in the phone's setup.
Once we had it fixed, though, I still found there was a several-minute lag between when messages were sent and received. Instant messaging was far from instant in any event.All told, the LG C2000 was a disappointment. While thrifty users willing to sacrifice other features to have a camera phone might pick this inexpensive option, I would stay away. For everybody else on Cingular, the Samsung X497 is a similar model with comparable features that gets the job done right.