LG and Prada have a history of collaboration; their debut phone arrived around the same time as the first iPhone, sporting a black and white display, a petite footprint and a 2-megapixel camera. Next, the Prada II brandished a sliding QWERTY keyboard, a 5-megapixel camera and arrived at a time when WiFi functionality was a big enough deal to note on the press release. Four years on, the pair have rolled their sleeves and attempted to reclaim a place among the top devices, with classy aesthetics backed up by a strong hardware and attractively customized software. This is the team's first attempt at an Android device, and on paper it's got some respectable specifications, including a 4.3-inch NOVA Plus display, a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera sensor that appears to be the same one found on LG's 2011 flagship models. Granted, LG probably wasn't ever planning to include its latest HD IPS screen on a phone where branding was dominated by the other partner, but this smartphone still wants to appeal beyond its good looks.

It's now appeared in Korea and Western Europe and we were fortunate enough to borrow one from UK retailer Phones 4u for review. Are people willing to stump up the top-tier smartphone cash for a device with last year's specifications? Do people want a Prada phone? Might a fashionista be more likely to plump for an iPhone? Or is it too popular? And what about that monochrome skin? We'll talk it all out after the break.

Prada phone by LG 3.0 review

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LG

Prada phone by LG 3.0

Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Top-notch camera sensor
  • Good in-box headphones

Cons

  • A little safe, design-wise
  • Pricey for last year's specs
  • Not the highest-quality build materials
Summary

The hardware benefits from Prada's design input, and while it's the best-looking LG phone yet, the screen lags behind what the company's other flagship handsets offer.


Hardware


Those Prada consultants have done a lot of favors for LG here. The phone feels solid, despite the plastic backing and removable battery -- there's been more time and thought expended on the phone's design compared to LG's Optimus family. It's in the details, like the machined metal buttons and USB port cover, the slightly recessed display and those capacitive Android buttons that disappear when the screen is off. This phone has a screen almost as long as its full name. This 4.3-inch display encompasses the majority of the front plane, with the 1.3-megapixel camera and Prada branding the only things undulating the black calm. The 9mm profile makes it a bit tricky to keep hold of at times and while Prada and LG are both quick to herald the fashion label's Saffiano pattern along the black panel, this solid plastic sheet isn't remotely like the leather that pattern dreams it was.


It does, however, help you keep a grip on the phone and will help disguise any confrontations with pocket change and car keys. Awake the screen with a touch of the power button, and LG's NOVA Plus display comes alive, with LG's staple capacitive line-up lighting up below. LG continue to hold onto a haptic four-button arrangement -- we're still waiting to see how it juggles this setup when the promised Android 4.0 update rocks up to the Prada 3.0. Along the top edge, you'll find the power button, micro-USB port and camera button. The power button lights up once you've managed to get a finger to it, while the MHL-compatible USB socket has a machined sliding cover that feels anything but fragile. Unfortunately, the camera button is a one-press affair; all focusing will need to be done with a tap on-screen -- one of the minor failings on what is a solid, professional hardware design. On the back, the textured cover is perforated by the loudspeaker, another Prada label and an embossed LG logo that's keeping itself in the shadows. The curved sides help keep it in your hands, with solid volume control keys located on the left edge.


We're now getting plenty of attractive phone designs from a lot of places, and while this is a confident entry, it's perhaps a little too safe for us -- some high-end materials are what's missing here. A genuine bare metal finish instead of the glossy paint and high-end backing would have been appreciated. Anonymous blank slabs -- we've seen a surfeit of 'em. We also found a pair of Prada-branded in-ear buds hiding in the base of that outlandish gift-box and, surprisingly, they're pretty decent earphones. They're loud, with a good level of bass, they also an in-line mic for hands-free calling. It was a pleasant surprise, given the ever-so-slightly underwhelming quality of the phone's hardware.

Screen


LG's NOVA Plus display is a divisive beast. It's not Super AMOLED Plus, but more like a very good TFT display. Viewing angles are respectable, although we've been spoiled by IPS. LG's gone in a different direction and like on its Optimus Black; it's a very bright direction. It can blast out up to 800 nits of brightness and we can honestly say you'll have no problems reading this display in full daylight. In daily use, we kept brightness at around 50 percent, and it was hardly an issue in cloudy London. The WVGA (800 x 480) resolution will disappoint many -- count us as one of them -- and while we get that the high price does factor in that label, we're approaching the next generation of smartphones. High-definition displays are here. Fortunately, there is a Gorilla Glass coating to maintain the screen's good looks while in your pocket.

Camera


Packing an eight-megapixel camera with flash, the software behind it is largely unchanged from LG's latest Android devices -- aside from the monochrome styling that we'll get to a bit later. Auto white balance performance is a little muted, but the presets generally do their job. Focal options are limited to automatic (tap to focus), face tracking and continuous, but our shots were generally well detailed, with compression artifacts thankfully minimal. There's no specific macro option, but automatic doubles up for this. The camera app includes timer and shot options like continuous shot and a panorama option which follows a logical 'line up the boxes' approach to ensure that your handful of VGA snaps align up nicely. The results seemed a step above the panorama settings we've tested on the Galaxy Nexus or Xperia Arc S.

Prada phone by LG 3.0 sample shots

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The third Prada phone also takes the leap into 1080p video, with results comparable to the LG Spectrum -- that is, light performance is good but, like its LTE half-brother, there's no autofocus. The built-in mic also works well compared to other phone's we've tested; it effortlessly picked up our voice.


Performance and battery life


The Prada phone 3.0 runs a dual-core OMAP4430 1GHz processor, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. This is expandable by a microSD slot, found beneath the battery cover, but above the battery. With phone manufacturers attempting to either limit phone storage or plump for minimal built-in storage and expect the customer to foot the bill of expansion,we're glad that LG continues to offer both comfortable built-in storage and the option of microSD expansion. In use, the phone behaves snappily, responding to our swiping whims with ease. It's worth noting that Prada and LG's home-brewed skin may take its toll on that dual-core might, but we find it doesn't impinge on performance much.

If anything, it's a shame there's no AMOLED display to "freeload" on the phone's predominantly dark, monochromatic palette. The phone arrives with a 1,500mAh battery; worrying on a 4.3-inch dual-core smartphone and compounded by Motorola's latest battery-rich RAZR Maxx. Running our typical battery rundown test (WiFi on, movie looping, screen brightness fixed at 50 percent), we managed seven hours of constant playback. For some reason -- perhaps it's that luminous screen -- we were pleasantly surprised. In more typical use, the fashion phone generally outlasted out the day, as long as we weren't getting lost and whittling down the battery with GPS. We'd still recommend plugging it in to charge daily. The sub-seven hour battery life places it around its high-definition screened LTE phones like the Spectrum and Nitro HD, unsurprising, and is an average benchmark for a mid-range dual-core phone.

Prada Phone 3.0 LG Nitro HD Galaxy S II (unlocked)
Quadrant 2,876 2,616 3,200
Linpack single / multi (MFLOPS) 43 / 54.9 51.1 / 81.8 55 / 81
Vellamo 835 1,156 763
NenaMark 1 (fps) 57.2 56.1 59.8
NenaMark 2 (fps) 32.4 37.2 49.1
Neocore (fps) 57.2 59.8 59.8
SunSpider 9.1 (lower numbers are better) 4,872 2,687 3,369

Our benchmark tests prove that the Prada phone 3.0 lags behind LG's other recent smartphones -- we used the Nitro HD here, with a performance more in line with the Samsung Galaxy S II. The phone scored particularly high in SunSpider testing; we re-ran these tests but returned to a score, bordering on 5,000. For standard smartphone tasks, it's a capable device, while also able to handle existing processor-intensive gaming titles like Shadowgun. Call quality was generally excellent, although we found that any noise cancellation feature wasn't quite up to the job; our caller found that background noise in a relatively quiet cafe interfered with the call quality. The Prada phone 3.0 packs in radios for GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800 and 1900, while the HSPA+ 21Mbps radio works on 900, 1900 and 2100 frequencies, meaning US importers will find their carrier choice limited to either AT&T or T-Mobile. In our speed tests, the handset topped out at around 4,000 kbps down, averaging out at around 2,500 kps on both O2 and Three networks in the UK.

Software

Prada and LG didn't stop at the front-facing hardware when it came to this project -- they decided to plunge right into the software, crafting their own 'interpretation" of Android. Stock Android fans probably felt a chill down their spines after reading that, but we'd like to state that it's not all bad. At its core, it's the same Android Gingerbread experience you'll get on a pile of recent smartphones, albeit with most of the color drawn out of it. The Prada Phone 3.0 runs Android 2.3.7, with LG faithfully promising a jump to Ice Cream Sandwich in the future. However, given LG's past form on smartphone upgrades, we're not particularly confident about seeing it that soon. The monochrome skin pervades everything we normally cover in our software reviews, including icons, widgets, menus, the keyboard and the notification bar. It's the line-drawing-inspired icons that will catch your eyes first. LG's built-in apps arrive with their own stylized icons, but the designers made the clever choice to add in a list of extra icons (including the Google-themed standards, like YouTube and App Market), with a whole alphabet to assign to those third-party apps, meaning you can just about stick to the monochrome styling, regardless of your app preferences.

The notification bar is decked in a few shades of grey, with shortcuts to mute, WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC and data traffic. There's a music player resting beneath that went largely untouched by us. The keyboard is a simple affair; a predictive input option can be toggled on or off. Stock widgets, like email, calendars can also be expanded and contracted; a nod to the Android 4.0 future? Built-in LG apps include wireless media streaming and two display options. Car Home will lock down the standard capacitive buttons, offering a simplified version of your phone for calls and navigation, while Desk Home will furnish that NOVA display with a digital clock read-out. There's also an app task manager, LG's curated app store, Polaris Office and a relatively comprehensive image editor that includes a smattering of Instragram-style filters.

Prada phone by LG 3.0 screenshots

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The Prada phone 3.0 has a capable web browser too. Although it looks a bit aged in comparison to high-definition screened rivals, the 4.3 inches of screen means scrolling and zooming are both done with ease; multi-touch works well through the phone's complete interface.

Wrap-up


Sure, most of you have probably made your mind up about this phone as soon as you saw Prada in the title, emblazoned on the box and etched on the screen. The good news is that this fashion phone's specifications aren't a joke -- unfortunately, it's last year's flagship specs, dressed up in a Prada suit -- a bigger 4.3-inch number. The understated, stylized black-and-white skin will be an acquired taste; but it also magnifies that LG Nova display -- for better and worse. Those whites will boom out from black backgrounds in daylight on that NOVA display, but it looks washed out in comparison to AMOLED rivals. We're torn on the design, too. It echoes one our favorite handsets from last year, but doesn't inspire the same wow factor -- things have moved on. This is a designer phone, but while it's solid, at the same time it's plain -- although Prada would probably prefer the term "classic." It's running a specification sheet we saw around this time last year -- are you willing to pay up for that label? Off-contract, it's going to set you back £500 ($787); while it's better looking than the rest of LG's smartphone fare -- and far less temperamental -- it also costs around $150 more.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.

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