24 months or even 18 months is ever such a long time to commit to staying in the UK if you're me, so when I came back from Colombia I decided to go pay-as-you-go rather than contract. I had an old phone so just got a SIM card for it and this was fine for a bit until I realized that I really did want a Smartphone like all the other cool kids. The top end handsets can be hideously expensive if you're buying rather than getting for free, so iPhones etc were out, but I happened across this LG Optimus Chat and was hooked immediately. At just £59.99 on PAYG it's notably cheaper than most, and currently comes rather randomly with a free £15 H&M gift card too, plus a more sensible 2GB SD card. Throw in the cashback credit I already had from my top ups and it was a pretty decent deal. I bought mine from a local O2 store as it was the same price as buying online from them and I didn't have to mess around with the incompetence that is Yodel trying to deliver it.
The LG Optimus Chat has a full QWERTY keyboard and runs Android, both of which were features that appealed to me. If I can't have an iPhone, I at least want to be able to have apps and any I've looked into seem to have an Android version, so that's fine. I really like the look of this phone. It is black and pink and a bit on the girly side, but not obscenely so. My previous phone was also pink prompting comments from the girl in the O2 shop as she transferred my contacts from one to the other, but it's not that I'm especially enamored by peach or coral or cerise, it's just that for some reason a lot of handsets that have a splash of colour in them seem to be pink. The phone is a reasonable size and the pink-on-pink keyboard slides in and out, tucking away neatly when not in use. Most of the phone's operations can be accessed through the touch screen, including texting and dialing, though for these there is also the option to use the proper keyboard rather than the on screen one, which I see as the best of both worlds.
This phone appealed to me because it had a built in 3.2 mp camera which is good enough to use for important, not just camera phone, shots - my actual camera has died recently, so getting this phone meant I didn't also need to replace that separately. There's also a video camera option and while I am sure it has a limit in terms of film length, I've not hit it yet with the videos I've made (mainly Cheer routines and individual leaps, jumps and tumbles I need to work on). The camera and video are under the same button and you can toggle between the two easily, though to view all your saved items you need to navigate out of there and into the 'Gallery' tab. It's not a massive issue but it was fiddly at first as I couldn't work out where to find things I'd previously filmed.
The 'Camera' shortcut is on the first screen of the phone, along with a link to the Android Market, and another to all your already installed Apps. Scroll to the left (by pulling your finger across the screen, there's no button for this) and you have the "Networking" screen which comes with Twitter, Facebook, email, Gmail and so on. You can also get a preview of texts as they arrive here, though the quick link to your text message inbox is available from all screens. Back on the initial screen, if you choose to go right instead you'll find location links like Maps, while further right again is the "Media" screen, with YouTube, Gallery and the Video Player, plus the Music Player (NB videos you have made can be played in both Gallery and Video Player, the photos only come up in the former).
The phone comes pre-loaded with various apps and others can easily and quickly be downloaded from the Android market. You can choose where to save these, for example if you wish to have a shortcut on a certain screen, and I found it easier to install a Yahoo Mail app on my front page than try and sync through their generic email app. I think you could fit about 16 short cuts on each screen but they'd be cramped and you might find it hard to tap them accurately, so I tend to stick to 8 on each, with a row of 4 along the top of the screen and an additional row of 4 along the bottom. Each screen also has a direct link to the whole range of apps and features installed on the phone, so even if they're not there as a shortcut, they're only one extra tap away. These include things like the calculator and calendar, your contacts and direct links to a Google search page and so on.
I found the phone very intuitive, with most things exactly where I expected to find them. In fact, my larger issue was around getting to grips with a touch screen, and tapping with just the right amount of force to make something happen. There are some features that I especially like with the phone, too, for example I like the way the screen rotates depending on which way you are holding the phone, so it can be either landscape or portrait. This is great if you're typing something with the QWERTY keyboard as it means the screen above matches, but also means that you can hold the phone upright as is perhaps the normal inclination, and the screen will swivel to match you. A related feature is the 'Not now' response to incoming calls - rather than having to find the button to hang up on someone if you're in a meeting or can't talk for some other reason, you can simply turn the phone over, so it's screen down, which does then hanging up for you. You can also adjust the ringer volume easily, including setting it to silent mode, using the buttons on the side, a bit like with some laptops.
That QWERTY keyboard looks small but is actually quite easy to use and much quicker for me than trying to use the touch screen which has the 3-letters-per-key set up that matched the buttons of old handsets. Most of the QWERTY keys have functions overlaid too, which saves on space while keeping all the options you need. The only one that threw me was the acute accent which I thought was the apostrophe, and then wondered why it was using up all my character allowance in texts (special characters taking up more than regular ones). Punctuation is important to me - I can't do txt spk, and I certainly dont like missing out proper punctuation since its so important in conveying meaning so I like that it isnt missing from the keyboard
I found the phone's approach to text messages novel too, since it collates them into 'conversations', saving your sent and received messages by contact, as you'd get in an email trail. For the most part this works well, but sometimes I have completely unrelated exchanges with the same person, and the phone clumps them all together to make it look like we're huge fans of non sequiturs. I am also a little sad you can only delete a whole thread at once, so you can't save any super cute / filthy messages you want to re-read again and again. Something I do like, on the other hand, is the way it gives you a character countdown on each message so you can see how much you have left before you trigger two messages, important if you're paying per message or have a limited free allowance.
When messages appear there is a preview along the top of the notification bar on whichever screen you are on. This only shows the first and last lines of the message which can be...interesting. If you're on the "Networking" screen, you get a longer preview but it still may not be the whole message. That said, if you are out with people who may look at your phone if it pings, you may like to change to a different screen if the content of any incoming message has the potential to be, shall we say, a little less clean than it might be.
The phone is quite easy to use as the screen is a good size so with the exception of some apps that come with annoying adverts, you don't normally click on anything you don't want. The touch screen is quite accurate, but is a smidge slow at times, leaving you wondering whether it will react in a moment or two, or whether it hasn't registered your tap. It feels like a robust design, and even though the keyboard slides in and out, the mechanism doesn't feel flimsy or insecure in any way. The clarity of the screen is excellent and bright and even small fonts can be read quite easily. The screen is about 7.2 cm by 4.6 cm, with the overall phone 10.9 cm by 5.9 cm, so very little space is wasted. The phone is chunky but not massive, and considering it incorporates a hidden, slide-out keyboard, I think it's remarkable compact. It fits in pockets easily (though not in those phone-holder pockets in handbags) but everyone would know you were carrying a phone (or hope that's what that bulge was).
I wanted a phone where it was easy to turn my data on and off, partly so I don't get roaming charges abroad, and partly because leaving the wifi option on really runs down the battery. This takes just 3 taps with the LG Optimus Chat, although I would have preferred it if Data and Wifi were in the same tab, like Wireless Networks and GPS Satellites are. It scans for Wifi networks automatically and will remember favourites, both unsecured and secured (including the password).
The only area I find troublesome is the battery life, but I don't think it is masses worse than other Smartphones, and I am perhaps being unfair in comparing it to my previous, non-smart (dumb?) handset. The spec claims a 17 day standby time, or 4 hours talk time per full charge, but it's things like surfing that really seem to use up the battery life for me. It will last 2 days at a push but really I need to charge it every night to ensure I'm not stranded. My old phone got plugged in more on a weekly basis so it is a change for me, but is to be expected for all the added features this newer type of model has.
There's not much that this phone has that others don't. Yes, there's a great range of ring tones and alerts, but most phones have this now (so there is NO excuse for anyone to have the old school Nokia duh-duh-der-der, duh-duh-der-der, duh-duh-der-der derrrr). There are lots of apps available, but these are generic to all Android phones, not just this model. I think the two things that perhaps make it stand out a little are the full keyboard and, in all honesty, the price. It is priced as an entry level smart phone but I can't see anything it's missing that more expensive models might offer. I am extremely pleased with my purchase because the phone is easy to use, looks good, and gives me access to all the Apps I could want. I think the price is excellent for a branded Smartphone, and I would highly recommend it to those on PAYG who might be looking to upgrade to something a bit snazzier.