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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
3G services put to the test
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

The initial third-generation (3G) handsets tended to be big and chunky, but this is now changing as manufacturers pack the technology into smaller models, such as LG's U8110.

LG U8110 phone, LG
The LG U8110 crams a lot in a shiny package
At first glance the LG U8110 does not look like a phone for a 3G network.

Early handsets for 3 set themselves apart, and not in a good way, by their bulk.

Handsets have long been something that people use to say something about themselves and a brick-like mobile said all the wrong things.

But it is a compliment to say that the U8110 is about the same size, if slightly chunkier, as the clamshell handsets found on second-generation networks.

By comparison, the LG phone is longer but less deep than the Panasonic X60 that is popular among Vodafone customers.

Geek appeal

I liked the clamshell design as it has a "Kirk Out" flippability that, as an aging geek, I appreciate probably rather too much.

The phone's slim shape certainly puts my Nokia 7650 to shame which bulks like a transit van next to a sports car when sat beside the U8110.

Digital camera with zoom
Video player
120 hours standby
140 minutes talk time
100 minutes video calling
126 grams
Screen 220x176 pixels
Supports 65,535 colours
14MB internal memory
MP3 player
Speaker phone
Avatar address book
SMS, MMS and video messaging
Polyphonic ringtones
It has all the things you could expect from a mobile phone such as a camera, a colour screen (220 by 176 pixels in size), polyphonic ringtones, video player, video calling, multimedia messaging, e-mail and a basic organiser.

As a Nokia owner I am familiar with the Symbian way of getting round a phone and the LG interface suffers by comparison.

Initially I regularly got lost in the menus because there seemed to be a lot of ways to get to and from different functions.

The number of choices was a bit overwhelming but I suspect given time I would get to know the best way in and out of different features.

However, some functions, such as making a call, I could only get to work from the main 3-branded screen.

I found this a bit odd given 3's pushing of cheap voice calls as the main reason to swap to a third-generation network.

Call quality was everything you would expect and the ringtones and sounds for events, such as messages arriving, are bright and clear.

I did get caught out by the U8110's power-hungry demands and had to recharge slightly more often than I do with my existing mobile.

Network news

Using the phone also gave me a trial of the 3 network.

For all the basic stuff such as voice calls and text messages, the 3 network was just as good as anything I was used to.

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, AP
Sport video clips are popular on 3
The multimedia content is intimidatingly deep, but 3 does a good job of packaging the new stuff in a "Today on 3" menu that is refreshed several times a day.

This menu has links to news and sport headlines as well as popular games and music and video clips.

The one fault I found when following the links was 3's tendency to overdress its information dotting it with lots of extra graphics and images.

Data arrived faster than I can get it on my 7650, but there was so much more to each section that the improvement was not as apparent as you might expect.

One thing second-generation operators seemed to have realised is that people want data quickly. As a result they tend to leave out the window dressing.

This is partly a necessity because of the limited bandwidth on 2.5G networks but 3 could easily distinguish itself by getting text reports to people much faster than its rivals can manage.

Clip art

On the news menu, video clips had prices next to them showing how much they cost to watch.

Kirk, Bones and Spock
A clamshell phone evokes memories of Star Trek
Most 3 contract customers pay a fixed fee every month so they do not pay by the clip but I would imagine that these price labels could make people hesitate because they are unsure how much they have spent.

It also seemed impossible to get to the Wap sites outside 3's walled garden. I know why they have done it but it was frustrating as the sports results service offered by Sky was not as up to date as I would like.

I was also surprised at how obvious the adult content was. The evening refresh of "Today on 3" put a link to the over-18 content at the top of the menu, although access to the content can be barred.

Broadly, 3 compares very well with the UK's 2.5G networks, which is entirely the problem.

It still seems to put in place barriers to those things, such as video news clips, that would really set it apart.

For the moment it is keeping pace with, rather than leading, the pack.

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