LG's kept our thumbs busy over the last few days with its GW300 -- a 2G featurephone with a portrait QWERTY keyboard, a first from LG that joins the likes of Samsung's CorbyTXT and Freeform along with INQ's Chat 3G. O2 UK offers this phone with just a standalone price of £78.29 ($129) with a minimum £10 ($16.50) initial top-up, but little is known about US availability for now. Either way, there's no harm in pointing your sexy eyes to our review just in case something happens tomorrow. Go ahead -- you know where to click.
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LG GW300 impressions


Hardware

One of the first things we noticed -- or not noticed -- was the LG GW300's weight. Just for comparison the BlackBerry Bold 9700 weighs 4.3 ounces, whereas the GW300 is a mere 3.53 ounces. Despite the lightness you'll find plenty of physical features all over: a circular D-pad sandwiched by two concave keys, a decent 2.4-inch 320 x 240 LCD screen, a QWERTY keyboard (obviously, although our review unit came with a German QWERTZ version), an FM radio (headphones required), a standard 3.5mm handsfree jack (awesome) and a micro-USB port. There's also a hot-swappable slot for a microSD card, supporting up to 16GB. On the back lie a removable 900mAh battery and a two megapixel camera sans flash. For color options you have silver and black (like our review unit), silver and red, and silver and aqua.


Obviously our main interest is in the keyboard's performance. In general we found the keys to be stiffer and denser than we prefer -- we've set the BlackBerry Curve series to be our benchmark for keyboard stiffness and key spacing. The combination of these two factors made it difficult for us to tell if we were pressing the right keys, and we're talking about using our small Asian hands here too. Indeed, there were typos around 10% of the time which is arguably tolerable, although our thumbs did quickly grow tired from the transition from touchscreen keyboard to the heavy punching on this GW300. Another keyboard issue is that the shift key is placed below 'Y' with no better reason other than to annoy its dear customers. Not cool. We're fine with the backspace and enter keys shifted down by one row as they're still reachable, but the shift key is just way too low there for anyone who takes SMS capitalization seriously (read: the average teenage texter might not care). On a brighter note, we dig the concave pads below the screen which host two soft keys, a menu shortcut key and a cancel / lock key -- all easily reachable and comfortable to use.

To test the GW300's voice quality we treated it to a trip to Birmingham International train station, and boy, it was well deserved -- a quick call back to our North London office gave us crystal clear sound on both ends, even when we stood right by a running diesel train. We then tested the two megapixel camera and saw mixed performances from the video and still samples -- the pictures were of acceptable quality in well-lit conditions (and there's no flash to help either), while the heavily-compressed 3GP videos were more of an eye-burner than YouTube material. See for yourself below:

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LG GW300 camera photos


Software

You can expect to get all the bog-standard features on the GW300: calendar, alarm, calculator, notes, multimedia players, Java games, email etc. We had no qualms with most of these tools -- the only silly bit was the lack of customizable alarm time options for calendar events. Simple it may be, but the music player can deal with a handful of common formats including MP3, WMA, AAC and MP4 -- all can be set as your ringtone or system sounds within the player. Even a 320kbps track worked fine and the line-out audio sounded just as good as from an ordinary PMP (not from its bundled handsfree though -- our review unit didn't come with one). We just wish LG could tweak the player so that the lock key doesn't pause music before locking the screen. Yeah, really. As for the video player we had to stick to MP4 format and nothing larger than the screen's resolution -- the standard iPod video settings worked like a charm (we had 900kbps and 30fps encoded by Xvid).

One notable feature is the optional LiveSquare homescreen which can also be found on several other LG phones. It displays your familiar contacts in the form of animated humanoid avatars on a field (our favorite one is the piece of bread that blinks and jumps), giving you access to a quick summary of their text messages, phone calls and emails.


We eventually got to the Facebook Java app hidden inside the Applications folder -- apparently right-click on the D-pad should launch it but we had no luck with that. With the lack of WiFi and 3G connections plus the slow nature of this app, patience is your only friend until the app is done with initial loading. You get all the basic functions like viewing updates, updating your status, writing on walls, and browse pictures. Sadly, no photo or video uploading tool here -- but this app should be enough to keep Facebook addicts happy for short commutes. Non-Facebook users can of course entertain themselves with the simple browser, but note that it didn't handle big websites well -- we had error messages about insufficient memory, so you should stick to mobile sites.


Wrap-up

There's plenty of potential in the LG GW300, especially for this sub-$130 price -- it covers all your basic needs with the addition of Facebooking on the go, and doesn't force you to proprietary headphone and power ports. We'd say it's perfect for texting addicts with a moderate budget who doesn't mind too much about web connection speeds and camera quality -- the main audience is probably the young teenagers here. All we ask for now is a softer, more spaced out keyboard and a better camera, then we've got a deal. Oh, and a Twitter app would be nice, too.