Pros: low cost, Java apps, awesome battery life, Triple Minutes for Life
Cons: camera mediocre at best, can only use a 4 GB sd card
If you look back at the epinions I have written, the very first were about baby food for my son. Baby food that looked and tasted like carrots and didn't seem to change a whole lot on its trip through my then-infant son's disgestive systems.
Tempus fugit, right?
My son starts middle school next Wednesday. That's a rite of passage of sorts; he's not a little kid anymore. He'll have a new school, new teachers, and new students. These days, that means most of those students will be sporting their very first cell phone. My wife and I talked it over and decided it was time to get my son his first cell phone.
When cell phones first came out, there were only postpaid plans. You got a phone at a subsidized price and signed a contract for one or two years of service. Prepaid is a popular model in other countries and has been gaining in popularity here. With prepaid, you buy the phone at full price and buy airtime cards in blocks of $20, $30, or whatever your carrier makes available. You top up the phone now and then to keep your service current. If you don't, the phone shuts off.
Well, fellow parents will be able to attest that eleven-year-olds have been known to be irresponsible from time to time. My grandmother lost her cell phone and later discovered $1500 in calls to Mexico on her bill from whoever found it. Since this was his first cell phone, prepaid would offer us a certain amount of protection. If he lost the phone, we would lose a certain amount of airtime, but it would be limited.
My son isn't big into talking on the phone, so Tracfone seemed to be a good choice. Tracfone is a service targeted to people who want a phone for occasional use. The same company also operates Net10 (10 cents a minute) and Straight Talk ($45 unlimited).
Tracfone also has a reputation for selling cheap phones that don't have a lot of bells and whistles. And they do have the $10 no-frills phones that you may have seen in blister packages at convenience stores. But a few frills can be quite affordable. After looking it over, I bought Alex the LG 800g. It was on sale at Target for $34.99.
The LG800g is a touchscreen phone. It's much smaller than an iPhone or my Samsung Galaxy S III. The 2.8 inch screen is pretty small by today's standards, and the screen resolution is pretty low at 240 × 320. The phone itself is very small -- 4.06 L x 0.47 cm. W x 0.23 cm. It will slip into a pocket with no problem. It's small, thin, and easy to carry.
Call quality is good. We used Alex's new phone to call his uncle for his birthday and the call quality was just fine. Using the speakerphone was loud and clear enough. We could hear him, he could hear us -- not much other than that to say.
Tracfone advertises this phone as "app capable'. I have an Android phone and my wife has an iPhone. When Tracfone says "app capable", they are referring to J2ME -- Java 2 Mobile Edition apps. There is no centralized app market. There are websites where you can go to -- www.mobilerated.com is one, www.java-mobiles.net is another.
The bad part is that J2ME apps are often cruder and more simplistic than Android or iPhone apps -- there's no comparison. It's like traveling back to the mobile world of 2003. The good news is that there are plenty of apps out there, and a lot of them are free. And yes, there's a Facebook client and a Twitter client out there. They won't have the polish of an iOS
The phone itself does come with a few bells and whistles. It can accept a microSD card (which is pretty standard for most phones), although oddly, only up to 4 GB. This can be used to augment the phone's relatively anemic internal memory. (You can store maybe 30 pictures on internal memory; thousands on an SD card.) It doesn't come with a microSD card, but you can pick one up anywhere and a 4 GB one is priced at around $5 these days. Still, 4 GB is a wimpy amount by today's standards.
It has a music player which proved to be Alex's favorite part of the phone. It comes with a charger that uses the micro USB port on the phone. It has a calendar, alarms, and as I mentioned before it does run J2ME apps.
In fact, the phone is pretty open for a Tracfone. Once you put a microSD card in the phone, you can connect it to your computer which will then see it as a flash drive. That's how to copy MP3's onto the phone. You can also copy Java apps and put them in the Others folder on the card. The phone does have Bluetooth and can connect to a PC, although perusing the Internet indicates that file transfer can be problematic. That's more important than it would otherwise seem because Tracfone used to have a reputation for locking their phones down to force you to send pictures through MMS (which costs money). The LG800g is still locked down in some ways -- you won't be able to unlock it and use it with another carrier, for example. But the average Tracfone user is probably more interested in the ability to transfer pictures off the phone without using up airtime. You can also put your own MP3's on the phone and use those for ringtones. For Tracfone, that's about as open and free as you can get.
The battery life on the phone is phenomenal, compared to my SGSIII or my wife's iPhone. When we got it, we charged it that night and let Alex have it the next day. He made maybe two calls on it and a few text messages, but he found the music player and some music that had already been on the card I gave him and played that constantly. He probably spent about eight hours solid listening to music. The phone's battery still showed full even after eight hours of music playing. I know dumbphones have much better battery life than smartphones, but that was pretty impressive. I imagine he'll be able to go a few days between charges.
A strong advantage for the LG 800g is Triple Minutes for life. With Tracfone, you can, for example, buy 60 minutes for $20, or 120 minutes for $30. Earlier high-end Tracfones had Double Minutes for Life, where that $20 60-minute car would now become 120 minutes and the 120 minute card would become 240. The LG800g has TRIPLE minutes for life, so the 60 minute card would become 180 and a 120 minute card would become 360 minutes. Upgraders take note: it won't take too many top-ups for that to outweigh the cost of the phone.
The camera on the phone is pretty weak. It's 2 MP and has no flash. It was the only thing Alex complained about (although he's comparing it to the camera on his mother's iPhone, with autofocus, much better optics, and a much higher price tag.) It does do video, but it's not impressive.
The phone also does have a virtual QWERTY keyboard -- but oddly, only for texting. Other text entry needs (calendars, search) allow only for keypad style entry with T9 or an extremely buggy handwriting recognition app which rarely works. I really don't see why LG couldn't have made the full keyboard available throughout the entire phone functions.
In short, the LG800g is worth a look. It's not an Android or iPhone, true. It's a $35 prepaid phone that offers plenty of features for the money. You won't be embarrassed to pull the LG800g out of your pocket. If you have a Tracfone now, upgrading to the LG800g will get you Triple Minutes for Life, and it won't be too long until that pays for the upgrade. If, like I was, you're looking for a first phone for your kid, the LG800g will serve as a touchscreen phone that won't break the bank if they lose it. It's worth the look.