Aimed squarely at the younger mobile messager, the LG KS360 may have a slide out Qwerty keyboard and touchscreen dialling but it's certainly more budget-priced social tool than top-end smartphone.

Available for under £80 on Orange pre-pay deals, the KS360 is geared up for messaging duties with its sliding 35-button keyboard.

But alongside its easy to use email, instant messaging, text and MMS, the KS360 is set up for speedy access to online social networking sites such as bebo. Facebook and MySpace, plus other popular services such as Flickr and YouTube.

Limited connectivity

Although its set up for such services, the KS360 isn't one of the most advanced mobiles around.

It lacks 3G high-speed data, using lower speed GPRS and EDGE connectivity, and as you'd expect with a low-cost phone there's no Wi-Fi onboard.

Its other facilities are limited– there's a Wap 2.0 browser for mobile internet surfing, while the onboard camera is a modest 2-megapixel shooter with no flash.

Sleek design

Still, the KS360 does adopt one of the latest must-have technologies – touchscreen control – albeit in a very restricted manner.

When the phone's keypad is closed, there are just a bank of slightly raised, rounded control buttons showing, and no number keys. But with a touch of a finger-iconed button the display becomes a virtual numberpad for touch-dialling.

Strangely, this is the sole touchscreen function of the KS360; there's no scrolling, tapping or dabbing through menus, just dialling.

It works efficiently enough on the large 2.4-inch 262K-colour QVGA display. This takes up a large proportion of the closed phone, which looks just like a regular sliderphone. Instead of sliding down though, the keypad slides out of the side. This add a slight bit of chunkiness – the phone measures a solid 101.5(h) x 51(w) x 16.8(d)mm, and weighs a heavier than average 111.5g.

Fiddly buttons

The convenience of the Qwerty keyboard though is what the KS360 is all about. When it slides out, the display automatically switches orientation into landscape, so you can immediately start tapping away.

The buttons are quite small and rounded, but there is just enough space between them to allow reasonable typing. It's far from normal keyboard speed, though, as keys aren't well defined enough to enable fast typing – it's easy to slide fingers onto the wrong key.

Also, the backlit keyboard markings aren't that clear on some colour schemes; LG has decked out the KS360 in a number of flashy colour combinations – black and red, black and blue and black and pink among them – but in some lighting conditions characters aren't that readable. Obviously, as you get used to the keyboard layout, you can thumb your way around more dependably, but it's far from perfect.

On the main body, the colour-trimmed rounded navigation controls look eye-catching too, but the navigation select button is a little squashed between directional keys.

Easy messaging

The KS360 uses a familiar menu system that's easy to navigate in conventional style, with a cluster of navigation pad and softkey shortcuts fast-tracking users to the key messaging apps and online services.

Messaging is very well integrated. Our KS360 review sample was Orange-branded (as part of its Signature range) and so was pre-configured specifically to Orange services. The phone brings together texting, MMS, email and IM under one menu, and you can view message threads – so you can retrace exchanges with particular people.

The Windows Live Messenger-based Orange Messenger service comes pre-loaded, so you can quickly get up and IM chatting with friends and colleagues. Orange Email is pre-configured too, and you can add your normal email accounts to the list of options as well.

Slow browsing

One of the softkeys pulls up various Orange online service options. Alongside yet another way of launching Orange Messenger, there's access to the Orange World mobile internet portal, a web search facility, Orange Music music and ringtone downloads, and account details access.

In addition, there's a Social networks option that links via Orange's mobile internet gateway to social networking sites. From here you can click to go directly to mobile versions of Facebook, MySpace, bebo, Flickr, YouTube and Dating Direct.

This set up reflects the clear targeting of this handset, although the lack of 3G does put the brakes on some of the more advanced browsing elements of this handset; slow data speeds don't make for fast content downloading.

Regular users should also watch out for data costs of using these services, unless they have a data deal in their price plan.

Decent music player

Away from its messaging and social networking keyboard-busying features, the KS360 has a low-key set of mid-level features. Its music player isn't the best-endowed music mobile around, with a very ordinary user interface.

Track category headers are basic, and track selection is more cumbersome than it should be. A limited 15MB of onboard storage is boosted by MicroSD cards expansion (up to 4GB cards are supported), but it's not LG's hottest music mobile.

The audio performance is reasonable with the supplied average quality headphones, and there's no 3.5mm headphone socket for plugging in better ear-wear to improve sound. The onboard loudspeaker gives typical mobile phone-grade sound. Stereo Bluetooth is supported, however.

Another plus point is the inclusion of an FM radio, which works efficiently enough.

Average snaps

The KS360's camera a run-of-the mill 2-megapixel shooter, with no flash or autofocus to boost its snapping abilities.

A camera button on the side flips the screen automatically into landscape viewfinder mode; unusually, the snapper button and menu controls are set up to be on the left of the phone in camera operation. This will no doubt please left-handed folk, but in practice it's no real hassle for right-handers either.

The KS360 is more about taking snaps than great pics, and in this context it does a reasonably good job without standing out. Colours are bright but detail isn't great, and colour rendition can sometimes vary with lighting conditions. In lower light, without any flash, shooting quality deteriorates and is poor in dark indoor situations.

There are a few standard cameraphone adjustments and effects, and the facility to back up photos remotely to Orange's photo storage service. But imaging isn't the main focus on the KS360. Similarly video capture quality is so-so, shooting at maximum QVGA resolution.

Basic feature set

LG doesn't go overboard with additional features, but you do get some stock organiser applications and productivity features, including calendar, memo, calculator, convertor, and voice recorder, plus the usual clock-based functions. A few games and demos of additional ones are loaded too.

The Wap 2.0 browser used here is pretty standard issue for a lower-end phone too and is a bit disappointing, even if the KS360 does lack higher speed 3G data connectivity.

Impressive battery life

Although it majors on messaging, the LG KS360 doesn't neglect voice call quality – it puts in a very decent audio performance, and appears a reliable communicator.

You can a decent amount of battery life, too, with LG claiming it can achieve 444 hours of standby time or up to 5 hours of talktime under optimum conditions. In our normal usage tests, we got around three days of life out of it, though in practice, power performance will depend on how just much communicating is done.

The KS360 isn't the first messaging-centric phone aimed at the mass market, but with its low-cost Qwerty keyboard slider and touchscreen dialling combination, it does offer a quirky alternative to regular handsets.

The LG KS360 is not trying to be a low-cost BlackBerry or smartphone, and it doesn't have a whole heap of interesting extra features. But it may appeal to mobile messagers and social networkers who prefer something more type-friendly than a standard phone numberpad – particularly at the budget price.

Network availability: Orange, O2

Looks: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Features: 3/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value: 4/5