A likeable phone, but not exactly a breakthrough
Sleek slider design
Built-in MP3 player
Limited playtime for music
No expandable memory
Image display in viewfinder
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There's no getting away from the similarities between the LG S5200 and it's main rival. Both are sleek slider-phones, decked out in smooth black casing, with 1.3-megapixel cameras and MP3 players onboard and plenty of memory built in (though no memory card expansion). Bluetooth connectivity is also on both check lists.
From LG's perspective, the familiarity is probably no bad thing. The competition,which was one of the highlight launches of 2004, has been a great seller, and has helped establish the slider as a regular alternative to the clamshell flip or monobloc candybar design.
Inevitably, though, the S5200 can't draw quite the same gasps of admiration. It is not just that someone has done it before. It is more to do with the fact that over a year has passed since the other was unveiled. Phones have got more sophisticated, megapixel cameras have become common, slider phones are not as unique as they once were, and even the rival has updated its range with the introduction of the specced-up new model. It has just enough, however, to still make it a good mid-market contender, however.
You can't deny that this is a smart looking phone. The slider mechanism means that the handset can keep sleek lines without unnecessary exterior detailing. Even the camera lens is hidden from view until you slip the top half of the phone upwards. Having practically all the panels made out of the same ebony-like plastic simplifies the appearance even more. It is just the right size, too.
One criticism that is going to be levelled at this device is that it does not have an expandable memory. Megapixel cameras demand lots of storage space if you are going to shoot high-resolution images, or take advantage of their ability to shoot low-resolution video footage, for that matter. Now that more of us are using the MP3 capabilities of multimedia mobiles, the argument for expandable memory becomes all the more stronger, however generous the built-in allocation.
The total memory on hand with the S5200 is 68MB, giving just enough space for around 60 minutes of music, so it's not likely to be replacing your iPod.
Getting to grips
Getting tracks, and other digital files, on and off the phone is not a problem, despite the lack of hot-swappable memory card. Not only does the S5200 have fully-functioning Bluetooth connectivity, it comes supplied with a USB lead. As the device offers Mass Storage support it can be connected up to a suitable PC (or Mac, for that matter) and you can then drag and drop files to and from the phone's memory - which appears to your computer just like any disk or external hard drive.
The phone has a standard 2.5mm jack for headphones, so if you don't like the quality of the ones supplied you can invest in a meatier set for better acoustics. The LG earbuds are not particularly bad, though, giving a reasonable sonic performance, with reasonable detail and with only a minimal amount of sibilance. The speakerphone can also be used - but is a touch too tinny (and lacks the volume) for anything but background use.
One frustrating feature of the camera is that the images that you see in the viewfinder are in fact just showing you the central part of the image that will actually be recorded. The image taken is landscape in format but you see a centrally cropped vertical image. This is fine if you simply look at your picture on the phone, as they are displayed in the same way. But it is irritating when you download the pictures to a PC (or send them to someone else), as your composition changes, and the image you wanted to record is effectively taken at a lower resolution.
With 1.3 million pixel elements, the CMOS sensor should be capable of delivering reasonably detailed images when the top quality setting is used. However, it seems that the phone applies an overgenerous amount of compression even when using Super Fine mode, and this means that a significant amount of resolution is lost. Looking at our results,many pictures were marred by excessive JPEG artefacts - creating a mosaic-like effect that obscured detail.
This was particularly noticeable when shooting a shot of a magazine page; at first glance it looked as if the type would be legible, but the over-processing of the image meant that the words were lost. This is also a fixed focus camera, so real close-ups are not possible, limiting the subjects that can successfully be shot. Results are reasonable compared with the average cameraphone - it's just the spec suggests more than is actually delivered.
Of the phones other talents, the built-in gaming can also not escape a mention. Of the two supplied, Action In Life is not necessarily the most playable but it is amusing.
The phone's rechargeable battery puts in an excellent field performance, managing to keep the handset running for almost a whole week (164 hours, to be precise), during which we made some five minutes of calls. Speech is also transmitted and received well, providing clean conversations.
You can't help but like this phone, simply because it looks and feels so right. But the physical attraction is let down by some of its other capabilities. It is a decent middleweight with a good set of features, but there are other contenders - including from LG itself - that are pushing the mid-priced boundaries further.
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