So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- HSDPA connectivity, pocketable form factor, sturdy construction, external stereo speakers
- Limited internal memory, memory card not included, mediocre camera
If you want a slim, lightweight phone that can access Telstra's Next G content portal but is otherwise light on frills, the TU500 is a good candidate. Heavy multimedia users should look elsewhere.
Price$ 679.00 (AUD)
A brushed metal face, matching metallic keypad and sleek, clamshell construction give LG's latest mobile phone an attractive yet conservative appeal. The TU500 forms part of Telstra's Next G-compatible handset line-up, and as such offers high-speed access to the Next G content portal.
The TU500 is pitched as a 'multimedia mobile' and, for the most part, it does a good job at living up to this title. The external stereo speakers provide excellent sound quality at a decent volume, and A2DP Bluetooth support means you can connect to Bluetooth enabled wireless headphones. The multimedia player supports a range of music formats, including MP3, AAC and WMA, and video playback (encompassing the WMV, MP4 and 3GP formats) is smooth, with decent frame rates.
Unfortunately, the limited internal memory is far from multimedia-friendly. The unit is advertised as having 14MB of storage, but much of this is taken up by system files that you can't manually delete, leaving you a paltry 8MB to play with. The TU500 is expandable via microSD, but it's not hot-swappable as the slot is located underneath the battery. Worse, Telstra doesn't provide a memory card in the sales package, so you'll have to either spend more of your hard-earned on one, or content yourself with two music tracks or a handful of photos stored on the phone at one time.
While the selection of streaming content available on the Next-G network is not as diverse as found on their competitors' portals, Telstra does have a formidable ace up its sleeve with FOXTEL by Mobile. This isn't the full-fledged FOXTEL, but one to three hour segments of twelve FOXTEL channels, all of which are specially produced for the mobile channel and refreshed periodically throughout the day. Subscribing to the service costs $12 a month, and channels include Sky News headlines, CNN, MTV, FOX8, The Comedy Channel and Disney Channel.
The high-speed HSDPA connection really comes to the fore when streaming bandwidth-intensive multimedia. While the standard has a theoretical maximum speed of 1.8Mbps, we only achieved real-world speeds closer to 500Kbps; more than enough to ensure little to no buffering pauses when streaming video. The TU500's 2.4in 262k colour screen (with 176x220 pixel resolution) is a good size for watching the occasional clip, but the screen orientation doesn't automatically switch to landscape to make the most of the viewing area. This needs to be done manually each time, which gets progressively more annoying the more you stream video.
The handset itself feels sturdy and durable with just the right amount of resistance in the hinge. The 2.5mm audio jack and USB connector are protected by rubber stoppers, and a slim 95mm x 48mm x 15mm footprint is ideally-sized for back pocket travel. Standard for a clamshell is an external screen for displaying useful info like time, battery life, missed calls and caller ID. This measures 1.2in, with a 96x96-pixel resolution. Below the display are multimedia keys, handy if you use the TU500 as an MP3 player.
Nestled in the hinge is a 1.3 megapixel camera can be used for both video calls and photographs. This multi-tasking is made possible with the 180-degree rotatable bezel which faces towards you for video calls or self-portraits and away from you for snapshots. However, picture quality isn't one of the TU500's strong points. In addition to having a fixed focus lens and no flash, photos are grainy with poor colour reproduction. 15-second video clips (in 3GP format) can also be taken with the camera, but these have similarly poor quality.
The menu system prioritises functionality over attractive design and is easy to navigate, using a standard 3 x 3 grid with animated icons. The keypad is one of the best we've seen, with large, well-rounded keys and excellent tactile feedback. We had no major complaints with call quality and reception, but one notable quirk was that volume for voice calls wasn't consistent. During testing, we noticed that callers' voices would repeatedly fluctuate in volume.
Interestingly, the TU500 doesn't provide any UMTS 3G support, offering only tri-band GSM and 850MHz WCDMA. The latter is Telstra's particular variant of HSDPA, which is incompatible with the HSDPA on the other networks.
With three hours talk time and 250 hours standby time, battery life is below average when compared to other 2G phones, but average for a handset in this class.
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