Tracfone is, as I always say in these posts, “America’s largest prepaid only mobile provider”. They offer pretty good deals on prepaid wireless with some of the best terms in the industry. If there’s a problem with Tracfone, it’s the phones themselves. Tracfone’s hardware is years behind the times. This is most likely because the company wants to get the best possible prices on older, popular and proven designs, although Tracfone’s customer base isn’t exactly cutting-edge, either. Tracfone’s cheapest handset – the Motorola c139 – looks like something from 1999, save for the low-res color screen. Their second tier phone – the Motorola w370 – is a slightly thicker version of Moto’s RAZR, the hottest phone of 2004.
Recently, however, Tracfone has offered two new phones with some groovy new features: the Motorola w376g and the LG 600g. Both phones offer Bluetooth and VGA cameras, a first for Tracfone. A bit of a warning: Bluetooth on the Moto phone is crippled, in that it can only connect to Bluetooth headsets. The LG, on the other hand, can connect to most any other Bluetooth device, including desktop PCs, so you can use your computer to shuffle pics and ringtones back and forth instead of SMSing them to yourself. For this reason, and for the external screen (another rare feature on Tracfones), I decided to ask for the LG for Christmas. For what it’s worth, the Moto phone also comes with a built-in FM radio (a feature you think you’d like, but end up never actually using).
So… Santa was good to me, and I got the LG! I transferred my airtime to the new phone quickly and easily (but more on that later). I also ordered a few accessories, such as this Bluetooth USB adapter ($5.94 shipped) and this Bluetooth earpiece (around $25). Now that those accessories have arrived… I can do the review!
Here’s the LG 600g. Unlike Tracfone’s Motorola lineup, this phone has smooth lines and curves. In fact, here’s my very fist ding on the phone: it’s so symmetrical that it’s hard to tell which way you’re pulling it out of your pocket. It’s hard to tell the top from the bottom, and there are ridges on the back of the phone (to help you remove the battery cover) in exactly the same spot on the back as the camera is on the front, so if you’re feeling blindly for the phone, it’s kind of hard to tell how the phone is oriented in your hand. More than once I’ve pulled it out of my pocket and haven’t been able to tell without looking that the phone is facing me or upside down. It’s a minor annoyance, but one that will probably go away with time and familiarity.
As far as the basics go, this phone is as good as any. It has a nice color screen, the resolution of which seems higher than Tracfone’s Moto phones. Or, at least, the people that designed the LG UI went to more trouble making their icons and menus. So the UI is much nicer than the Moto 370. Some have complained that the LG’s screen doesn’t work from many angles, and I can see their point. When holding the phone at an extreme angle, the LG is washed out. But then, how often are you really going to be looking at your phone from a 23 degree angle?
Another plus is that most of the phone uses a “number menu” system, similar to Sanyo (and other) phones. With Tracfone’s Moto phones, you have to use the arrow keys to move up and down to make a selection. With the LG, you can still do that, or you can use the number key currently assigned to the menu option as a short cut. So you can click Tools > 3 > 1 > 1 to turn Bluetooth on or off, instead of being required to press the “up” and “down” arrow keys. That’s a nice upgrade from Tracfone’s crippled Moto units.
The LG comes with the ability to store 1000 phone numbers. But be careful: the phone actually has two address books! There’s one on the phone itself, and one on the SIM card. The only problem is that the SIM card address book is an old-fashioned “flat” phone book (one entry per person), while the address book on the phone itself supports multiple entries per person. In other words, the SIM address book is like an old-fashioned cell phone where you have to have separate “Bob – Home” and “Bob – Work” entries, while the address book on the phone allows you to have a single entry (“Bob Smith”) with multiple sub-entries (Home, Work, etc).
I mention this because the SIM address book is selected by default on the phone. I had already entered a good portion of my address book – and was kind of pissed that I had to use old-fashioned flat entries! What year is this? – before I found that the phone’s address book supported multiple entries. So I had to go and enter everything all over again. Oh well – live and learn. Hopefully if you read this and decide to get a 600g you won’t make the same mistake.
The LG comes with a VGA (640×480) camera. It has no flash, and doesn’t work so well in low light, so you’ll get those traditional “shaky cam” pictures in a lot of instances. Here are a couple of pictures I snapped outside on a sunny day:
Not great, but good. Here’s a stray kitty:
Again, not great, but decent.
The phone comes with a lot of options, such as the ability to select “standard” (640×480) or “small” (320×240) pictures, to choose the quality (fine, superfine, standard), white balance, etc. All pretty standard stuff, really. A flash would really have been nice, but for $39.99 I’m not complaining. I really just wanted any camera, just to have a 21st century phone. Since my photos will probably be “drunk in a bar and uploaded to Facebook” pictures any way, it’s no big deal.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true: I’ve only played around with Bluetooth for a little bit. I’ve messed around with other people’s phones for a few minutes… and that’s about it. So I was pretty much a Bluetooth novice. But getting everything set up with the LG was a piece of cake. Let me walk you through it.
The USB desktop adapter was the first thing that the mailman brought. I was really worried about this, since driver support for x64 Vista is spotty, especially for cheap imported gear – like a 99¢ Bluetooth adapter! But installation couldn’t have been simpler: I just unwrapped the adapter and stuck it in a USB port on the front of my computer. Vista found the new hardware and installed the drivers for it in a couple of minutes. I then went to my phone and enabled Bluetooth, then told it to look for new devices. It found my computer, and asked for a 4-digit PIN. I entered one, and then my computer connected to the phone and displayed a box that asked for the PIN I’d just created. I entered it, and the computer completed pairing with the phone.
As I understand it, there is third-party software out there that can mount the phone as a device in Windows Explorer. I could then simply drag and drop files to and from the phone that way. Unfortunately, I haven’t found that software yet (but I’m not really looking, either), so I have to use Windows Vista’s built in “send-receive” file manager. This is kind of a pain, since you have to enable “Receive file” on the computer, then send the file on the phone for it to work. Vista’s built-in BT stack apparently only works this way. But I’ll look in to it and get back with you. In any case, sending and receiving files via Bluetooth is pretty painless with the LG, even if it is cumbersome. I haven’t had a problem yet, and I’ve even sent a couple of Java games (J2ME games only) to the phone. which installed perfectly. All in all, it’s a far better experience than sending the pics via MMS or email, and far cheaper, too.
Getting the Bluetooth headset working was even easier. And what can I say – it just works. I’ve only had it for a week or so, and I’ve only made a few calls with it, but I’m satisfied with the results so far. I haven’t had a headset since the small wired ones, which were a big pain in the ass. Wireless headsets are pretty nifty, though.
For some reason, LG made the process of turning on both ring and vibrate a bit cumbersome. You can press and hold down the # button to instantly turn everything to vibrate (good for walking into meetings or theatres, I suppose). Or you can turn that feature off by holding down the # key again. The phone defaults to “ring only”, and to change that you have to go to Tools > Audio > Alert Type > Ringtones and change the setting to “ring and vibrate”. Why they couldn’t get add this as an option when you use the volume control buttons on the side of the phone is a mystery to me.
As other online reviews have mentioned, the ringers aren’t especially loud, nor does the “vibrate mode” vibrate that much. If you’re looking for a phone for someone hard of hearing, this phone ain’t it.
Contrary to a couple of other online reviews, I find the basic phone quality – the clarity and volume of the calls – to be just fine. Others have said that the Moto w376g sounded “richer” and that the 600g had an “echo problem”. I haven’t found this to be the case at all. As far as I’m concerned, the phone works just great!
Unlike the Moto phones – which use iTAP, Motorola’s version of T9 – this phone uses proper T9. And it’s a joy to use, compared to iTAP.
The phone will allegedly play all J2ME games, although it’s kind of hard finding games that will work on the 128×160 screen.
ONE POSSIBLE ISSUE?
There’s one nagging thing about this phone that scares me. After having it on for a couple of weeks, the external volume – that is, the volume of the ringer – became noticeably quieter. And “system sounds” – like the little “confirmation tone” after you change a setting – disappeared altogether. I missed a few calls because I couldn’t hear the phone ring over a talk radio show. Power cycling the phone “fixed” the problem, although I worry about the future stability of the phone in general.
Since then, I’ve had a couple of instances where the phone’s performance went to hell, and power cycling fixed it. But I’m not liking it.
There are a lot of customer service nightmares involving Tracfone out there on the Internet. People get new phones and their voicemail won’t work for weeks, or people get defective phones and getting someone to take it back is a constant game of ping-pong between the retailer (like Walmart) and Tracfone.
But honestly, it’s always worked for me. Tracfone’s customer service folks are indeed located somewhere in Central or South America. The phone reps use scripts and are probably underpaid. But the females always seem to be trying so hard to speak English, you almost feel embarrassed for them. My only complaint with Tracfone’s CS reps is that the call center is SO LOUD. It sounds like there are 3,000 people in the room with your CS rep, and that’s what makes them hard to understand.
Also, before calling customer service I tried to transfer my old phone’s minutes to this phone via Tracfone’s website, only to get “Sorry – Transaction could not be completed at this time” error messages. I know this was just after Christmas (and maybe the site was busy), but I’ve never gotten the website to work. Ever. And the last time I upgraded my phone, it was a Tuesday in the middle of June – hardly a “rush time” for Tracfone’s servers, no?