Review of the LG TG800F


The LG TG800F is the GSM version of the Chocolate. While Fido doesnít seem to use the name Chocolate on their web page, the box and user guide for the phone do refer to it as such. The big selling point of the chocolate line is its use of touch-sensitive keys for many of the buttons on the phone (though the numeric keypad is still a standard mechanical type).

 

The LG TG800F is available on Fido.

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2007

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

Special thanks to StudentPhones for lending the TG800F for this review.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: A number of tests were performed in both Square One and Ikea to see how well the TG800F compared with an old Nokia 6340i. The Nokia has really good RF sensitivity, but can be matched by quite a few phones on the market. Sadly the Chocolate performed poorly compared to the 6340i, loosing the audio while the Nokia was still able to provide interference-free performance. Because the TG800F has a built-in (hidden) antenna, tests were performed holding the phone in a variety of different ways to ensure that my fingers were not interfering with the antenna.

Based on my experiences with other phones (tested in these locations), the TG800F ranks as about average (to slightly below average) when it comes to pulling in weak signals.

Over-the-road Performance: The phoneís ability to cope with handoffs and network problems seems to be a slightly above average, but it doesnít come close to matching the performance of the recently-tested Motorola PEBL or some of the more recent Nokia models. In a way, the phone sounds pretty much like a slightly-improved Nokia of yore. Handoffs are sometimes tame, and sometimes quite obvious, but I have to admit I never found them particularly annoying during the tests.

Despite the phoneís inability to perform with the best of them, Iím still going to give it a ďgoodĒ rating for this aspect, because Iíve heard plenty of GSM phones that handled over-the-road issues far worse than this.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Not bad, but a little bit harsh and a little bit tinny. Overall however, Iíd categorize the tonal balance of this phone as average (a recurring theme in this review). It falls far short of the gorgeous quality I noted in the Motorola PEBL a couple of months ago, and it isnít quite as good-sounding as the recently-tested Sony-Ericsson W300i, but it comes close.

Throughout the many real-life phone calls I participated in using the TG800F I never found myself wishing Iíd used something else. I did wish it sounded a bit nicer, but overall it was easy to live with from day to day.

Sound Reproduction: Once again, this aspect of the phone is only average. Nuances of speech are generally reproduced accurately, and it has very little background hiss (except at the highest volume setting). There does seem to be a bit of electronic background noise when the backlight is on, but it isnít particularly noticeable unless you use the phone in a very quiet room.

Earpiece Volume: On this score the phone does very well, with my only complaint being that there are too few volume gradients. One setting may be a bit too loud, while the next lowest may be not loud enough. Aside from that however, the native earpiece can generate clean sound at volumes most phones only dream of. It therefore works very well in loud environments, except that the sound gets harsher as the volume increases.

Outgoing Audio: Sadly, this is one aspect of the audio thatís noticeably sub-par. My own recordings to voicemail, as well as comments from various people I spoke to using the phone, demonstrated that the TG800F has rather fuzzy-sounding audio quality thatís also a little faint. One caller described it as sounding like I wasnít talking directly into the microphone. Everyone agreed it wasnít loud enough.

When background noise is present the phone does even worse. I made test recordings from my car at highway speeds and even with the windows closed (where virtually all other phones donít pass on any background noise to the caller) the TG800F was making it sound like I was driving in an open roadster. When I opened my window the wind and tire noise from the highway almost completely blotted out my voice. While Iíve heard worse outgoing performance on a few low-end CDMA phones, Iíve never heard quite such a bad showing from a GSM phone.

Speakerphone: Despite this being a defacto standard on virtually all phones these days, and despite the fact that you can play MP3 files through the earpiece at perfectly listenable levels, the TG800F does not have a speakerphone feature.

Stereo Earbuds: I tried out the stereo earbuds (with built-in microphone) provided with the phone and I was really not that impressed. When used to talk on the phone the volume is way too low and the overall quality is noticeably worse than with the native earpiece. When the earbuds are used to listen to MP3 files however, I found a total lack of low-end. Iíve tested earbuds with incredible bass response, and so the limitation isnít due to the style of the earpieces. There also wasnít much high-end either.

Just to see if the problem was the phone or the buds, I connected them up to my Motorola i580. In phone mode the earbuds produced enough volume to make me go deaf, and so clearly the TG800F has extremely low earphone output level. I then played MP3 files on my i580 and they were also very loud. There was a still a complete lack of bass, and so that was evidently the fault of the earbuds. Overall however, sound quality from my i580 was vastly superior to the sound quality from the TG800F in both phone and MP3 modes (as well as being markedly louder). That being the case, I rather doubt that getting a higher-quality headset is going to help much.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Like most of the audio aspects of this phone, the ringers were average. They were loud enough to hear in many day-to-day situations, but they were mostly inaudible in loud environments such as out on a busy street or in a crowded food court at the mall. Most of the available ringers had a la-de-da sort of sound to them and none were adequate for outdoors use.

Keypad Design: Technically there two different keypads on this phone and each warrants its own critique. The number keys are standard mechanical types that are exposed when the phone is slid open. They are well-spaced, but for the most part they are flush and it is difficult to discern one from the other strictly by feel. All of these keys pressed well and did their jobs in an accurate fashion, but they are a little mushy and are a bit short on solid tactile feel.

One of my biggest complaints about the numeric keypad had nothing to do with its physical construction, but rather the phoneís slow response to them during a call. When you must type digits during a call (such as those times when you have to key-in information) the lag time between pressing a key and hearing the touchtone is longer than on any phone Iíve ever tested. I could find no way to turn off the tones (even if you turn off key sounds completely), and so there is no way to bypass this issue.

The second keypad is really the selling point of the Chocolate line. On the face of the phone, immediately below the screen, are a series of touch-sensitive keys that really have no physical existence except for light-up symbols. Whenever the keys are active, the lights behind them are on. If the lights are off, there are effectively no keys there. They arenít really touch-sensitive, in that they donít use pressure to actuate. They appear to be proximity sensors, and because of that they do not work if you are wearing even thin driving gloves.

Based on my usual criteria for judging keypads, the touch-sensitive keys fail outright for having no tactile feel and there is no way to find them without looking at them (the ring around the OK button doesnít count, because if you feel around for your position on the pad, you will activate keys you didnít intend to). However, this type of keypad is a concept in its own right and doesnít deserve to be judged in the same way as a mechanical keypad. Just the same, I wish to warn potential buyers that they should at least try the phone out before they purchase one to make sure they are comfortable with the keys and the way they work.

After I became accustomed to the keys I found that they worked fairly well. There were a few issues that cropped up occasionally but I could not readily duplicate them. For example, on at least 3 different occasions I slid open the phone and it went ahead and dialed the last number Iíd called. I thought that might be because Iíd had my thumb on the TALK button when I slid it open, but deliberate attempts to reproduce the problem failed.

On at least 3 other occasions I called voicemail and when I went to enter touchtones I found myself in the middle of entering a text message. The touch-sensitive keys are normally turned off during a call, but they are re-activated if you press a numeric key. This means that if you have to enter digits at multiple times throughout a call, you will run into trouble with your cheek activating the touch-sensitive keys.

So it seems that the touch-sensitive keys are an okay idea that needs a little bit more work. Whether you like them or not will generally be a matter of personal taste and your tolerance to the problems they sometimes produce.

Display: The color display is a 262,000-color TFT unit with a resolution of 220 x 176 (a very common size for Motorola phones). When the backlight is off, the display appears black and it blends in with the black of the surrounding case, thus making it seem as though the phone doesnít have a screen. Brightness is good, but not exceptional and so itís really tough to see in bright sunlight. Youíll also have trouble seeing the markings on the touch-sensitive keys in bright sunlight, but hopefully by then youíll have memorized what they do.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: Before I comment on the camera I wish to point out one of the most bizarre piece of engineering Iíd yet encountered. When the phone is held upright, thus displaying a camera image that is taller than it is wide (portrait mode) the picture you end up taking is actually longer than it is high (landscape mode). When you turn the phone sideways to see a landscape view of what the camera sees, you end up with a portrait picture. Not only is this really confusing, it also means that the screen is cutting off a fair chunk of the picture, even when you are setting up to take a shot.

Another particularly annoying aspect of the camera is the long delay between pressing the shutter button and when the photograph is actually taken. Youíll get used to it, but youíll never completely feel comfortable with it.

All that said however, this is a not a half-bad camera (in bright conditions). It has very low digital noise, which is great for taking low-light pictures, but I just couldnít get those types of shots to look sharp. All of my low-light shots, no matter how carefully I tried to hold the phone still, were blurry. Shots taken in bright sunlight look sharp and have excellent color balance.

The following 2 pictures demonstrate that the LG TG800F has much better color balance than my i580, but it has a greater fisheye effect:

Shot out the window with the TG800F
Shot out the window with the i580

MP3 Player: One big difference between the TG800F on Fido and the model sold by Telus is that the Fido model DOES NOT have a MicroSD slot. Subsequently you can not add extra memory to the phone and you are stuck with the measly 128 MB that come with it. This memory is shared between all forms of multimedia data, including videos, photos, and music.

Itís just as well you donít have that much space to store MP3 files, because the player on the TG800F is a pretty basic bit of software. It does not read the ID3 tags from your files, and so all you get is one big play list consisting solely of the filenames of each MP3. There is no way to sort your songs by artist, album title, or genre.

Despite a lack of external memory however, getting MP3 files onto the phone is a snap. Just plug the provided USB cable into your computer and the phone appears as an external mass storage device (there isnít even a need to load drivers). Putting MP3 files onto the phone, or copying photographs off of it, is no more difficult than dragging and dropping them in Explorer (or whatever application you use).

Conclusions

If everything about the TG800F was merely average, Iíd still recommend it, but it fails so uttering when it comes to outgoing audio that I have trouble endorsing this model. Youíll constantly punish your callers with mediocre sound quality at the best of times, and horrible problems when background noise is present.

Most of the desirability of this phone is derived from the touch-sensitive keypad, but if you are the type that reads my review of phones to find out how well they work as phones, then you wonít be likely to choose a glitzy feature over mediocre performance.
 

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