Review of the LG 4600


The LG 4600 is a compact CDMA clamshell phone sold by Telus Mobility. Given my rather huge disappointments with previous LG CDMA products, I wasnít expecting much from the 4600. At first I was quite impressed with the phone, but when it came time to test it in the real world the good feelings Iíd gotten earlier came crashing down. Read on to find out firstly what was so great about the phone, and then why it inevitably disappointed me.

Last Updated: 06-Jul-2004

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Also read Comparing performance of Telus PCS Phones.

General

Some may find the overall appearance of the 4600 rather feminine, but I felt that it was a well-balanced design that would be right at home with both male and female buyers. The plastic seems to be of exceptionally high quality and the paint makes it seem as though itís built out of metal. Fit-and-finish is excellent all around, and the hinge is rock-solid. Obviously durability is difficult to discern during a short test, but if the quality of construction is anything to go by, the 4600 should last quite a while (severe abuse notwithstanding).

Prominent on the front of the phone is a 3-line external display with 6 LEDs across the top. The LEDs are a cute touch, but they donít really add much to the usability of the display, and could have been replaced with another line of text. However, for those who like something interesting to show off to friends, the LEDs are at least a novelty.

The display itself is electroluminescent, which is a change from the usual LCD designs. For that reason it is quite visible under all lighting conditions, but Iím not sure how it will affect battery life, as that type of display can be rather power-hungry. The font is a little small, but it makes up for that by being extremely crisp and clear.

Once the phone is opened the design continues to impress, though I did take exception to the weird font used on the keypad, and by the mostly-flush design of the keys. However, everything else seems to be well thought-out, and to its credit the keypad is actually a lot more user-friendly than it appears on first glance. With the exception of the 4-way cursor key, I found the keypad very easy to use, it was blessed with excellent tactile feedback, and it was well-spaced.

The screen is a bit of a mixed bag however. The 8-line, 120 x 160 pixel, 65K color screen produces very nice images, but the backlight just isnít very bright. I found it odd that in some situations the brightness of the screen was increased to a much better level, but it was relatively dim most of the time. Itís difficult to see in bright sunlight, and virtually impossible to see in daylight when not in the sun. This makes the phone exceedingly difficult to use outdoors, and a real danger to use while driving a car.

When the screen is visible the overall layout of the various menus and input screens is exceptionally well executed. The phone has virtually instantaneous response speed (unlike many phones on the market these days) and itís mostly a joy to use. However, user-defined shortcuts are limit to JUST ONE. You can change the functionality of the cursor up key in standby mode, but thatís pretty much it. In other words, you have to use the phone the way the designers want you to, and not the way it best suits your needs. This is a horrible oversight that LG should address in future models.

Ringer volume is adequate, but only one standard ringtone is actually loud enough to hear in a crowded shopping mall, and even then it isnít exactly stellar. Like most phones the musical ringtones are only useful for ďpoliteĒ company, and in quiet environments.

The LG 4600 is one of the few CDMA models that come with a non-extendable stubby antenna. Extendable antennas have been put on so many CDMA phones that most people have probably come to the conclusion that they are necessary. Previous models, such as the Ericsson T206, have proven that no visible antenna is even necessary for excellent RF performance, but as youíll see the LG 4600 doesnít exactly help matters much in this department.

The phone also includes an excellent voice recorder, which actually lets you record the voice of the person calling you. This is a revelation after testing countless Telus PCS models that wouldnít allow me to record anything during a call, or would restrict me to recording only my own voice. On the downside, the phone doesnít record both sides of the conversation, but it is rarely necessary to record your own voice too. Sound quality of the recorded audio is excellent, and indistinguishable from the original. Recordings can be started using a conveniently-located button on the side of the phone. I give LG top marks for this feature.

The phonebook is pretty good, though not quite excellent. It stores multiple phone numbers, but you canít duplicate a label. If you have more than 2 mobile numbers for a contact for example, you have to pick non-applicable icons for the remainder. This is a common complaint I have with many phones from any manufactures.

LG compounds the problem by not removing the used labels from the list when you pick a label for a newly added number. If you pick a label thatís already used it beeps rudely at your and you must select another label (which might also be taken). It also stores an email address, URL, and a text memo (which can be used for street address, though a distinct street address field would have been preferable).

The phone includes many other small touches that are common on many other phones. I was particularly pleased with the calendar feature, which is well laid out and is easy to program and read. The only omission that I would fix is that you canít repeat entries on a bi-weekly basis. However, to be fair to LG, this seems to true of virtually every other calendar implantation except on Nokias.
 

RF Performance and Audio Quality

Incoming audio quality on the 4600 is very good, though I fall short of calling it excellent for two reasons. First of all the tonal balance of the earpiece is a little boomy, and depending upon who you speak with on the phone, it can be a bit annoying. Overall however, the tonal balance is very good, and the level of background noise is exceptionally low.

The second problem is the earpiece volume, but not for the reasons you might expect. In the case of the LG 4600 the complaint is that the volume canít be turned DOWN enough. At the lowest volume setting the phone is TOO LOUD for comfortable use in a quiet environment. Aside from that, volume is excellent and you shouldnít have any trouble in noisy environments.

Outgoing sound quality is very good also, and perhaps the best Iíve heard on a Telus PCS phone in quite some time. It handles background noise far better than most CDMA phones Iíve tested over the last 3 or 4 years. Only the Kyocera Slider on Bell Mobility can match the LG 4600 for overall outgoing sound quality, and Iím not even sure the LG isnít actually better.

The phone also works well with earbuds and headsets, though the earpiece volume pumped out to the headset seems a bit low (which is in stark contrast to the internal earpiece volume). I personally preferred the overall quality of the phone on its internal earpiece and microphone however.

So now that weíve heard all of the good and neutral things there is to say about the LG 4600, what disappointed me so deeply about it? In two words, RF performance, and by that I donít mean just a lack of RF sensitivity. Over-the-road performance of phone was also horrible.

When it comes to RF sensitivity the LG 4600 can barely match my old ST-7868W. It seems to do a slightly better job connecting when a call is placed (or when a call comes in), but when it comes to actually holding onto a call and keeping that call clean enough to tolerate, the LG 4600 is simply one of the worst phones Iíve test in years. This was actually the second LG 4600 I tested for RF sensitivity, and both failed miserably. Youíll also see plenty of complaints on various newsgroups and forums about the poor RF on this particular model.

When it comes to over-the-road performance the LG 4600 is just pathetic. After observing a mind-bending number of audio disruptions during a call while driving to Square One (to test RF sensitive) I decided to test the phone on a controlled route against the ST-7868W. I followed a route that went between my house and Square One during which time I alternately tested either the LG 4600 or the ST-7868W. Over the same route the ST-7868W produced only mild audio disturbances that were very tolerable, whereas the LG 4600 produced so many disturbances (some of which were staggering in their intensity) that it was hard to believe that the phone was even on the market at all.

When reading the newsgroups and forums you will find a few messages saying how great the RF seems to be on this phone. However, the negative messages far outnumber the positive ones, and I can only conclude from this one of two things. Either the posters of the positive messages havenít really compared their 4600 to something good, or there are really some LG 4600 models out there that actually work. The poor performance might be the result of poor quality control, but as Iíve often said, I can only comment on the one I test, and that one wouldnít even be worth your consideration if they paid you use it.

There so there you have it. A phone that could have been a personal favorite, and a definite list-topper, was utterly devastated by RF performance that is so bad it boggles the mind. It didnít help matters that it also has other negative aspects such as a dim screen that canít be seen outdoors, mediocre ringer volume, and a lack of custom shortcut keys. The bottom line is I canít recommend this phone to anyone. If the RF was excellent I could have overlooked the other relatively minor shortcomings and perhaps even fall in love with this phone myself.

Home