Lobster544a review

Virgin claws its way into the music-playing market

TechRadar Verdict

A good package at a knockout price


  • +

    Expandable memory

    USB link and charge

    MP3 player and camera built in


  • -

    No Bluetooth

    Tiny onboard memory

    Initially awkward navigation

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What's in a name? Not much, really, when Virgin Mobile's suitably quirkily titled own-brand Lobster range continues to make feature-rich phones available at very competitive prices.

The latest flip phone in the range is the Lobster 544, billed as a music playing specialist with its multiformat player, 1.3-megapixel camera and expandable memory capacity. And at just £70 on pay-as-you-go and free on contract, it's a rather attractive clamshell proposition.

After the rash of ultra-skinny handsets we've seen lately, the Lobster 544 seems slightly rounded in comparison, though it still weighs only 80g. Its solid build quality is quite reassuring and at least you're not likely to sit on it if you forget you slipped it into your back pocket (been there, done that, got the repair bill!).

It's also a pleasant-looking phone, with its black and silver finish and chunky chrome music key taking pride of place on the front below the external 65k-colour CSTN LCD screen.

The camera lens is located above this screen as is a small flash, making it nice and easy to shoot self-portrait shots. A quick tour around the rest of the exterior features a headphone jack, infrared port and MiniSD card slot in the left-hand side, while the right-hand side houses the volume key and camera quick-launch key.

The main keypad layout is a sensible one, set below a 128 x 160 TFT LCD screen capable of showing 262K colours. It has good-sized keys and there are two worth singling out. The round red 'Virgin' key will take you to the Wap browser with a short press and directly to the Virgin Mobile Bites portal if you hold it down. Just below this key is a dedicated MP3 player launch button.

Memory loss

The 544 is a tri-band phone, so will travel well, but a closer inspection of its features reveals a few quirks; probably, we suspect, in order to keep the price as low as it is. For example, the internal memory is a very stingy 500KB. On a multimedia phone like this, that'll get you nowhere, so it's just as well you have the option of using a MiniSD card.

Speaking of multimedia, they'll be your main reasons for choosing the 544 and for such an inexpensive phone, the camera and MP3 player are far better quality than you'd expect.

The MP3 player particularly does itself proud, as tracks played out through the onboard speaker don't sound as tinny in the treble range as with other more expensive phones we've tried. Plug in the headphones and obviously the quality increases still further.

It might not have any equaliser settings, but it doesn't need them since the sound is well rounded and smooth. And in many respects the fact that you have to load tracks to the memory card (the onboard memory won't even accept one MP3 file) takes the pain out of transferring music, since you can pop it in a card reader, hook up to your computer and simply drag and drop files.

You can hook up via the supplied USB cable and use the phone in 'mass storage' mode like an external disk drive. This brings a surprise added benefit - you can charge the phone's battery from the computer via USB. It's handy if you get caught short without your charger, that's for sure.

It doesn't have the ability to create playlists within the content stored on either the memory card or the phone, but then unless you're prepared to buy loads of memory cards you'll need to be a bit selective about what you store anyway.

Snap happy

The camera fares a little less well in comparison, but only on one or two points and it's still a decent snapper for the money. The maximum picture resolution available is 1280 x 1024 pixels but in this setting the 4x zoom is not available. Drop down to smaller picture sizes and it will be.

There is a flash but unless you're in very low light conditions your pictures will look better by not using it, as it seems to adversely affect the colour tone and give shots a washed out look. It's not too hot with picking up small detail but is fine for reproducing medium and large objects.

If you like to be creative there are a large number of effects for you to choose from, and you have the choice between single and continuous shot modes (3 or 5 shots).

The camera will shoot video clips (with and without audio) as well in various lengths and file sizes, or you can opt to switch those restrictions off altogether. The quality settings are the same as those offered for still images, as are some of the camera settings, such as the exposure controls.

Video footage was pleasingly judder-free and colour tones came out well. Audio was picked up extremely well, so we were very happy with the end result.

Other features that can be found on the 544 include SMS/MMS messaging, a 300-entry phone book with vCard facility, five built-in games - two of which are Java - and the option to download more, a calendar, world clock and various useful organiser tools, and lastly for the dieters out there, a BMI (body mass index) calculator.

Connectivity options available to the 544 are USB for file transfer and PC synchronisation (software is supplied) and infrared. Unfortunately, there 's no room for Bluetooth.


A single charge of the battery gave us 125 hours of standby with 13 minutes of calls, around 10 minutes of Wap browsing and general use of all the phone's features. This stacks up reasonably well against the quoted estimate of 200 hours standby. Speech quality on calls was extremely crisp and clear with virtually no hint of breakup or interference to worry about, while signal strength never posed any problems.

The phone is generally very easy to use although the menu can prove a little tricky to navigate at first if you're used to a traditional grid layout, since here it's presented in two staggered columns. Overall, it's a good package at a knockout price and well worth considering if you want some of the current must-have features on a tight budget. Nicola Veness

Camera: A 1.3-megapixel shooter is included, positioned above the external display for easy self portraits

Expandable memory: A welcome addition for a phone at this price - it supports swappable MiniSD memory cards

MP3 player: Billing itself as an MP3 phone, the Lobster 544 offers an external control button for the music player

Music button: On the main navigation key array there's a one-touch MP3 button for quick access

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