Review by Michael Oryl on Thursday April 14, 2005.
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LG F9100It seems that there is always a different way of doing something. These days a lot of that type of thinking goes into mobile phones, especially when it comes to text input. We've seen countless new keypad designs over the past couple of years, and have seen a lot of QWERTY keyboards mashed into a mobile phone in unexpected ways. The Siemens SK65 had a very novel design, as was that of the Motorola A630. LG tries to one-up everybody by providing a design that maintains a normal, compact form factor, yet still gives us the QWERTY keyboard that we crave.
The LG F9100 created quite a buzz when it first appeared on the net, and now we finally have a chance to test it out thanks to LetsTalk.com, who graciously provided us with the handset for testing.
The F9100's Design
When closed, the only thing that might hint that something special is hidden inside the F9100 is that the display is not quite centered in the handset, making room for a pair of keys that serve no obvious function. This is to say that the F9100 is a fairly typical looking candybar shaped handset. It measures 4.19" x 2" x .98" (106mm x 51mm x 25mm) in size, and weighs a relatively hefty 4.75oz (134.7g). The body construction seems quite solid, and the materials used don't seem cheap at all. The main numeric keypad has a good feel and is easily read in both bright and dim light, thanks to the blue backlight. The 5-way joystick has a very nice feel and action to it, and the softkeys and call control keys are all decent. There are limited controls on the F9100 otherwise. A pair of buttons on the left side of the phone control the volume - and that's it. On the right hand side you will find the headphone jack, on the bottom the charger port, and on the back, little more than the battery latch and the ringer speaker, which can play MIDI, SMF, and SMAF polyphonic ringtones.
The display is a passable 65k color STN type unit with a resolution of 128x160. In many cases it tends to look a bit washed out and blue in color, but while I wouldn't want to look at photos on it, it works fine for general use. Since the F9100 has no camera on board, the display should not be a problem. You can always tweak the brightness and contrast settings to find what works best for you personally.
It all looks very simplistic in design, until you open up the sliding keyboard, that is. Then things get a bit more interesting. The bottom half of the device slides out to the right side to reveal 3 rows of keys. The slider mechanism works on a seemingly simply set of guide rails with a pair of weak magnetic latches for keeping things in place when opened or closed. The magnet that keeps the device closed is not strong enough to prevent the keyboard from potentially opening when the device is in your pocket, and since opening the slider up automatically unlocks the phone's keypad, that can be a problem. But otherwise, the action is smooth and the design seems solid.
When the QWERTY keyboard is opened, the two extra softkeys to the right of the display become active, and the display then works in landscape (horizontal) mode. This is good for messaging, where having longer lines of text is generally more important than having more lines of text. The keyboard keys have a reasonable feel to them, but suffer from poor coloring and backlighting. The combination of a silvery metallic finish on the keys and the blue and yellow backlit letters and digits makes the system nearly impossible to read in typical room lighting. It works great in the dark, and looks fine in very bright light; it just isn't readable in average lighting. The numbers and punctuations marks, the secondary purposes for the keys, are especially bad since they are in yellow. If there was a way to turn off the keyboard backlight, I would have done it in an instant, and the keyboard would have been much more usable as a result. As it is, though, I was very displeased with the experience. I imagine that if I would have spent enough time on the device so as to not need to look at what I was typing, that I would have been ok, but getting to that point would have been very frustrating. There are other issues, too. For example, the shift type keys can not be held down. You first have to press shift, then press the 'a' button to get a capital 'A'. You can lock the shift key by pressing it twice, but that is seldomly useful. Since there are only 3 rows of keys, numbers and punctuation are secondary functions of the alphabetic keys, requiring use of a special yellow shift key. Again, you have to press the key before every number or punctuation mark, or press it twice to lock it on. This just doesn't work well.