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Best AT&T Texting Phone, but Could Be Better
on May 29, 2012
Update 04/04/13: See K Montgomerey's comment to my review - although I've been hoping for a firmware update, DON'T INSTALL IT until LG confirms that they've cleared the bugs.
One of the maddening things about AT&T is that if you connect a smartphone to their system (and they catch you), you automatically get upgraded to a data plan. So if you don't want a data plan, you need to find a "dumbphone" that they will allow on their network without a plan.
The LG Xpression is about halfway between a smartphone and a dumbphone, and is made for people who want to send text messages but not to use a data plan. It runs a few apps and looks android-ish (but is not android), has a sliding keyboard, a touchscreen, and is pretty good. I got this for my daughter, who is a serious texter but doesn't need a data plan, and so far she seems pretty happy.
(Update: After several weeks, my daughter asked me to drop this to three stars because of some design flaws -- see below).
What I like:
- For the price (currently free with plan), it's pretty good. It plays music, takes pictures, sends SMS and MMS messages, and can run a few apps.
- Texting is pretty good. It has a slider keyboard, and arranges text exchanges into conversations by sender.
- Connecting to a computer is well designed. When you connect to a PC through the micro-USB charging port, you get options to mount the phone as an external storage device (requires memory card), to sync music, or to use the PC for an internet connection. I haven't finished testing that last option, but really appreciate it --assuming it works, it means that we can get to the AT&T app store without buying a data plan.
- For a free phone, the operating system isn't bad. You can customize the home screen with "widgets" like android, so you have little windows on the home screen from different apps.
- It does have a basic web browser and some social media apps for things like facebook, and is eligible for AT&T's discount data plan, so if you want to buy data, it's functional. (At that point, though, I might look at the basic android phones -- their data plan is a little more expensive, but they're a lot more functional).
What could be better:
- The keys are pretty flat, so they don't give you the same feeling as a blackberry.
- The texting length limit is odd -- the first text in a conversation can be any number of characters, but when replying to a text, the phone stops accepting additional characters after 160. (160 characters is the actual limit for SMS text messages -- phones that accept more than that actually break the messages into multiple texts that the phone on the other end then puts back together. There's no good reason to limit the length of replies, so maybe this will get fixed in upcoming firmware updates).
- The display and camera are both a little behind the modern standards, although they would have been great a few years back. A 2 megapixel camera won't blow anyone away, but is enough to take some pictures as needed.
- Compatible apps are limited. From a quick review of the AT&T app store, there are few if any free apps other than demos, and even paid apps are limited.
- It's missing some of the features from more expensive phones, like GPS, FM Radio, or WiFi. Still, for a texting device and phone, it's great.
- The look of the phone is probably more suited to teens and young adults, which is appropriate for a texting phone. It's fire engine red and feels plastic-y with a swooped pattern on the back cover.
In my opinion, it's a big step up from my daughter's last texting phone, and I recommend it.
Update 8/15/12: Over the past few weeks, my daughter has two new texting complaints.
First, the phone only allocates 300kb to store texts. In fact, even if you add a memory card, there's no way to expand the space allocated to storing texts. It took several weeks to reach that limit, but now my daughter has to delete texts every day to stay under the limit. Worse, there's no way to mark multiple (but not all) texts in a conversation for mass deletion, and no easy way to copy the texts over to our home computer for storage.
Second, the phone is erratic about when it recognizes the sender for a text conversation. Some conversations are identified by the sender name in the texting app, but some are identified by phone number some of the time, by name other times. (For example, if she exits and reenters the texting app, a conversation that was labeled by phone number the first time may be identified by the contact name the second time).
Maybe those issues will get addressed in firmware, but for now, we're downgrading this to a lukewarm recommendation for heavy texters.