Mobile phones GSM and 3G review 2008

The latest mobiles deliver lots of features, but make sure you aren't paying for things you don't need.
 
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01 .Introduction

Test results for 33 GSM and 3G phones

See our latest review of GSM and 3G phones.

Buying the best mobile phone for your needs can be a daunting task, especially if you want to buy one outright and have the whole market to pick from, rather than a selection of models that are available with a particular plan.Mobile

This article contains our test results for a range of GSM and 3G models, as well as general information on what to consider when buying a mobile phone.

  • Check what to buy for the mobile that best suits you.
  • See what all the features and functions do.
  • What should you consider when choosing a call plan?
  • Got an old phone and don't know what to do with it? We show you how to recycle it.

We rated each model for:

  • sound quality
  • music quality
  • ease of use
  • durability
  • battery performance
  • sensitivity

Brands tested

  • LG
  • Motorola
  • Nokia
  • Samsung
  • Sony Ericsson

What else you'll get in this report

As well as the test results for 33 models you'll also get:

  • Our interactive database with test results, prices, specs and features for all models
  • Invaluable buying information: Plus practical tips on how to choose the right plan for your needs. Read this before you buy!
  • CHOICE Shopper: Buy a membership and get this exclusive members' service that can save you time and money on your purchase.
 
 

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  Performance
Model 3G OverallScore Price ($) Battery Sensitivity Everyday Use Ergonomics SMS
Samsung SGH-G600 69 515 69 71 80 54 81
Sony Ericsson W610i 68 499 70 73 61 68 61
Sony Ericsson W880i 68 69 73 62 63 64
Sony Ericsson W660i 67 599 66 77 62 66 61
Samsung SGH-D900i 67 599 61 74 82 56 69
Sony Ericsson T650i 67 899 62 73 61 68 63
Sony Ericsson K550i 67 449 71 73 61 65 64
Nokia 6288 66 449 57 78 80 58 75
Nokia 6233 66 389 67 74 80 59 68
Nokia 5300 Xpress Music 66 50 76 78 54 76
Sony Ericsson S500i 66 199 60 78 68 59 64
Nokia 2626 66 109 83 80 70 58 62
Nokia 5700 Xpress Music 66 559 67 70 63 61 71
Nokia 3110 Classic 65 260 55 70 78 64 67
Nokia 8600 Luna 65 720 57 80 80 49 75
Nokia 6300 65 389 55 76 75 59 68
Nokia 6070 65 199 72 78 79 66 73
Motorola MOTOKRZR 65 630 66 80 65 46 49
LG KE850 Prada 65 899 58 77 64 56 53
Nokia 6120 Classic 64 549 61 71 64 62 65
Nokia 7500 Prism 64 399 47 73 75 57 75
Nokia 6110 Navigator 64 759 64 70 64 51 71
Nokia N73 64 629 70 67 63 61 63
Samsung SGH-U700V 64 599 56 68 70 51 59
Motorola Motorazr² V8 64 749 52 76 73 38 73
Samsung SGH-J600 63 299 60 86 77 51 56
Nokia 6080 63 219 69 77 75 61 69
Samsung SGH-L760 62 399 59 65 70 53 61
Nokia N93i 62 1029 69 72 64 38 63
Nokia 5200 62 309 62 76 77 47 74
Nokia 1600 62 89 85 74 60 51 45
Nokia N76 61 679 43 68 64 54 71
Nokia 1110i 61 79 76 73 62 54 51
 
Features Specifications
Model Sound Quality Music Picture Quality Versatility Portability Durability Dimensions Digital Camera Resolution (MP)
Samsung SGH-G600 69 68 61 64 68 105 102 x 48 x 16 5
Sony Ericsson W610i 69 71 61 75 73 93 102 x 46 x 14 2
Sony Ericsson W880i 60 69 64 72 84 71 103 x 47 x 11 2
Sony Ericsson W660i 63 72 61 72 72 93 102 x 46 x 14 2
Samsung SGH-D900i 72 51 63 59 78 82 104 x 51 x 15 3
Sony Ericsson T650i 68 67 69 61 72 97 104 x 47 x 14

3.2

Sony Ericsson K550i 64 63 61 68 70 95 102 x 47 x 17 2
Nokia 6288 63 37 69 79 51 119 99 x 47 x 23 2
Nokia 6233 63 52 63 66 64 111 109 x 47 x 19 2
Nokia 5300 Xpress Music 57 68 63 84 59 107 93 x 49 x 22 1.3
Sony Ericsson S500i 68 62 65 71 73 94 99 x 47 x 14 2
Nokia 2626 52 N/A N/A 37 77 91 104 x 43 x 18
Nokia 5700 Xpress Music 68 47 64 79 60 115 108 x 51 x 17 2
Nokia 3110 Classic 64 N/A 56 73 74 87 109 x 46 x 16 1.3
Nokia 8600 Luna 68 35 58 65 55 143 107 x 46 x 17 1.9
Nokia 6300 56 40 67 72 74 94 107 x 44 x 15 2
Nokia 6070 59 N/A 25 54 72 92 105 x 45 x 19 0.3
Motorola MOTOKRZR 68 50 56 73 71 102 103 x 43 x 17 2
LG KE850 Prada 63 54 61 71 77.75 85 99 x 54 x 12 2
Nokia 6120 Classic 67 42 63 67 75 89 105 x 46 x 16 2
Nokia 7500 Prism 62 58 62 64

79

83 109 x 44 x 15 2
Nokia 6110 Navigator 69 29 62 82 52 126 101 x 49 x 20 2
Nokia N73 63 49 72 65 49 116 111 x 50 x 21 3.2
Samsung SGH-U700V 67 49 61 73 79 86 103 x 50 x 12 3.2
Motorola Motorazr² V8 70 40 61 64 66 118 103 x 54 x 12 2
Samsung SGH-J600 68 48 53 49 76.75 86 98 x 46 x 16 1.3
Nokia 6080 59 N/A 26 54 69 93 105 x 45 x 20 0.3
Samsung SGH-L760 71 56 54 57 73 93 100 x 47 x 17

2

Nokia N93i 66 54 69 75 24 164 109 x 61 x 26 3.2
Nokia 5200 57 57 35 66 60 103 92 x 49 x 23 0.3
Nokia 1600 60 N/A N/A 22 76 82 104 x 45 x 18
Nokia N76 61 30 66 77 66 115 107 x 52 x 14 1.9
Nokia 1110i 59 N/A N/A 21 77 80 104 x 44 x 18

Table notes

The following are explanations of how we arrived at the scores you'll find when using our table above or interactive database.

Overall score
The overall score is based on a combination of the following scores:

  • Battery life: 17.5%
  • Sensitivity: 12%
  • Sound quality: 9%
  • Music quality: 5%
  • Everyday use: 9%
  • Picture quality: 10%
  • SMS: 10%
  • Versatility: 10%
  • Portability: 7%
  • Durability: 5.25%
  • Ergonomics: 5.25%

Battery score
This score is mainly based on the time-in-use, but we also considered the charging time, the battery’s weight and the battery status warning.

Sensitivity score
In both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands we measured the phones’ sensitivity and sending power.

Sound quality score
For both incoming and outgoing calls, we carried out a number of acoustic measurements, such as frequency response. In addition, a user panel subjectively rated the sound quality of calls.

Music quality score
We measure the ability of the phone to perform as a music player. If a phone doesn’t have this ability, or the company indicates one of it's primary purposes is not to play music (for example by providing mono ear phone only), the score for music quality isn’t zero; instead the weighting for the music quality score may be shown as (N/A) and the scores are distributed evenly across the other category scores.

Daily use/SMS/Ergonomics scores
A user panel assessed the following:

  • Instruction manual.
  • Daily use (for example, ease of answering a call, storing a number into memory and dialling a number stored into memory).
  • SMS use (writing and receiving an SMS, and suitability of the display for SMSing).
  • Ergonomic features, such as the ease of using the keys and menus.

Picture quality score
Where applicable, we assessed the phone's digital camera, the display quality, and the transfer and storage of pictures. If a phone doesn't have a camera, the score for picture quality isn't zero; instead the weighting for the picture quality score is distributed evenly across the other scores.

Versatility score
We checked each phone against a list of features and functions, and assessed their suitability as a mobile office and for fun and games.

Portability score
Among other things we assessed the weight and volume of the phones and the ease of locking and unlocking the keypad.

Durability score

  • Shock resistance: We put the phones in an 80 cm diameter barrel that was then turned, simulating falls from, say, a table or out of a shirt pocket. After five, 15 and 25 turns the phones were checked for damage. There was a maximum of 50 falls. This is a fairly severe test.
  • Water resistance: We stored the phones in hot, damp conditions, and carried out a rain test.
  • Workmanship: We assessed the build-quality of the phones.

The following models perform well in various categories, but if you want one to specifically suit your needs and budget, look at the results table.

Best overall

Samsung SGH-G600 (GSM)

Samsung SGH-G600 (GSM)Price: $515

Good points

  • Very good SMS performance.
  • Five megapixel camera.
  • Easily accessible removable memory card.
  • Can charge the phone via a USB port.
  • Can use standard stereo headphones.

Bad points

  • Music player can be confusing.

Good overall

Sony Ericsson W880i (3G & GSM)

Sony Ericsson W880i (3G & GSM)Price: $899

Good points

  • Very lightweight.
  • Bluetooth stereo support.
  • Can use standard stereo headphones.
  • Easy to transfer photos to a PC.
  • Can use phone as a removable drive.

Bad points

  • Two megapixel resolution only good enough for postcard-sized prints.

Best for music

Sony Ericsson W660i (3G & GSM)

Sony Ericsson W660i (3G & GSM)Price: $599

Good points

  • Has two sets of music player keys, one on the keyboard and one on the side of the phone.
  • Easily accessible removable memory card.
  • Standard headphone jack
  • Can use phone as a removable drive.

Bad points

  • Cursor control small fiddly and imprecise.

Good for music

Sony Ericsson W610i (3G & GSM)

Sony Ericsson W610i (3G & GSM)Price: $499

Good points

  • Has two sets of music player keys, one on the keyboard and one on the side of the phone.
  • Easily accessible removable memory card easily accessible.
  • Standard headphone jack.
  • Can use phone as a removable drive.

Bad points

  • Thin, hard keys can be uncomfortable to use.

Best for photography

Nokia N73 (3G & GSM)

Nokia N73 (3G & GSM)Price: $629

Good points

  • Has two lenses, one for photos and one for video.
  • Easily accessible removable memory card easily accessible.

Bad points

  • Music player difficult to use.

Best basic model

Nokia 2626 (GSM)

Nokia 2626 (GSM)Price: $109

Good points

  • Inexpensive.
  • Very good call handling.
  • Very good battery performance.
  • Standard headphone jack.

Bad points

  • Dual mode means limited support when travelling overseas.
  • No Bluetooth.
  • No music player.
  • No camera.

Where provided, prices are recommended retail, according to manufacturers in December 2007.

LG KE850 Prada (GSM)

LG KE850 PradaPrice: $899

Although not a top scorer, the stylish LG KE 850 takes design cues from fashion label Prada and delivers some substance to back up its bling.

The phone can be used as a storage device, which means you can easily download the photos you took at your last glittering function with the two megapixel digital camera with autofocus.

A touchscreen allows access to the various menus and controls and, although it didn’t perform well as a music player, you do get all the options including FM radio, Bluetooth stereo and support for standard headphones.

And when you have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the paparazzi, the Prada phone should shine, as it also proved to be one of the most durable phones we tested.

Features and functions most have

  • Colour display (except the Nokia 1110i).
  • Vibration alert: You can set the phone to vibrate instead of ring — useful if you need to have your phone on while you’re in a meeting or restaurant, where a ringing phone would bother others.
  • Polyphonic ring tones
  • Keypad locking
  • Li-ion or Li-polymer battery
  • Internal antenna
  • Dual band: They can operate in both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequency bands used by Australian GSM networks. Tri Band and quad-band models support more countries and are particularly useful if you travel more widely. (All but the Nokia 1110i, 1600, 2626 and 5200 are at least tri-band).
  • SMS (short message service) or 'texting' allows you to send and receive short text messages. Predictive text input (where your phone is programmed to anticipate what you’re likely to type once you’ve started) can assist in typing them more quickly.
  • Alarm to wake you up or remind you of appointments.
  • Phonebook memory in the phone in addition to that on the SIM card (except the Sony Ericsson Z300i, so you can save additional contacts.
  • SMS memory in the phone in addition to that on the SIM card, so you can save additional messages (except the Motorola F3).
  • Calendar with reminder function
  • WAP: This stands for 'wireless application protocol', and gives you access to the same functions as GPRS. However, WAP is quite slow, and you’re charged for the time you’re connected to download information.
  • GPRS: (except the Nokia 1110i and 1600) This stands for ‘general packet radio service’, and is a faster version of WAP. It allows you access to web-like applications available over the mobile network. You can use your mobile to receive and display information on certain topics (such as the weather, sports results or the share market), buy goods or book tickets, and send and receive email. Information can be accessed more quickly than with WAP, and you’re charged for the amount of information you download rather than the time you’re connected.
  • Hands free use a speakerphone on the mobile allows you to make a call without holding the handset to your ear.
  • MMS compatible: This allows you to send and receive messages with photos and/or sound (except the Nokia 1110i and 1600).

Other features and functions

  • A USB connection of any type also lets you transfer files to your computer. Some models use a commonly available  mini or micro USB connection and can have the phone appear on the PC as a removable drive.
  • Bluetooth — a wireless radio technology that allows a range of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, mobile phone car kits, computers and PDAs, to communicate with each other easily over a range up to 10 metres. A recent version of Bluetooth (A2DP) allows you to listen to your music without cables via a pair of Bluetooth stereo headphones. Of the top 10 overall performers in this latest test, the Nokia 2626 is the only one that doesn’t support Bluetooth stereo headphones.
  • Flight mode is a handy feature for air travellers, as you can turn your phone functionality off but still be able to use your mobile as a music player.
  • A memory card allows you to store photos and video clips and transfer them to a computer or printer. Not all the phones with a memory card slot provide a card, so you may have to buy one separately. Check to see the exact type of memory you’ll need, as the cards are all tiny and look very similar but aren’t interchangeable.
  • Voice dialling: Allows you to record a word (such as the name of a person) together with a phone number, and to dial the number by saying that word.
  • If your phone has voice recording, you can also record voice messages and send them on, and record voice memos and reminders. Some models also allow you to record your talk partner (if they consent to it).
  • Most new phone models come with a digital camera, some of which also allow you to record short video clips.
  • If you want to use your phone as a mobile office, look for a model with an IR (infrared) port for easy data transfer to your computer, email capability and organiser functions.
  • Play/record video: Allows you to record video clips with the built-in camera, and play clips sent to you via MMS.
  • If you like to listen to music on the go, look for a model with a built-in FM radio and/or MP3 player. Most phones with such a function provide a headset. If not, check whether you can connect a standard headset, or have to buy a specific one.
  • A memory card allows you to store photos and video clips recorded with the phone’s camera, and conveniently transfer them to a computer or printer. Not all the phones with a memory card slot also provide a card, so you may have to buy one separately.

Mobile phone jargon decoder

How not to be bamboozled when you’re buying.

  • 3G: Third Generation or 3G describes wireless communication involving video phone calls and sophisticated internet services. However, video calling (including international calls), information services and some messaging services are only available in ‘video zones’ in most parts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth.
  • CND: This stands for calling number display, also known as Caller ID. It’s a network feature that allows the caller’s phone number to be displayed on the screen of the receiver’s phone before it’s answered - as long as the caller doesn’t have a silent or blocked number.
  • EMS: Stands for enhanced message service, and allows you to send and receive words, pictures, animation and sound clips.
  • ESN: Stands for electronic serial number, an alphanumeric number used to identify a CDMA phone. It’s essential to register the ESN and telephone number with the network in order for the phone to be operational.
  • IMEI: This stands for international mobile equipment identifier, a 15-digit number found on the back of GSM phones (usually under the battery), and used to identify them. Every mobile phone manufactured has a unique IMEI number programmed electronically into it that’s recorded along with the phone number when registering the phone to a network. The number can be used by the service provider to block the use of a stolen or lost phone.
  • mAh: Milliamperehours — the measurement used for the capacity of a battery.
  • MMS: This stands for multimedia messaging service and allows you to add your own images, video clips and sound to text messages.
  • Quad-band: As for triband, plus the phone can also operate on the 850 MHz frequency band used in parts of the US and Canada, or the 2100 MHz 3G band.
  • Roaming: Allows you to make and receive calls with your phone, as well as sending SMS, while you’re travelling overseas in countries your Australian network provider has a roaming agreement with. Check with your provider for details and costs.
  • Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card: This is the computer chip that goes into a mobile phone to operate it. The card contains your telephone number, a host of details enabling you to make and receive calls, and stores information such as phone numbers and text messages.

If you want an all-singing, all-dancing mobile, the 3G network delivers more multimedia features than the older GSM network, and with providers such as Optus, Telstra, 3 and Vodafone on board, competition for your dollar is fierce. The range of models is also improving, with one third of the models in the table compatible with 3G networks. All phones that support 3G are also compatible with local GSM mobile networks. Currently, however, the full functionality of 3G (such as video calls and access to premium content) is available only in capital cities and coastal regions with large concentrations of people.

In the past, mobile phone owners living in remote areas often opted for CDMA phones because of their wider coverage compared to GSM phones. Now, however, with the impending closure of Telstra's CDMA network, Next G could be the only choice for many mobile users in remote areas of Australia.

Telstra’s Next G network, not to be confused with its 3G service, operates on a different network frequency and offers the widest coverage, servicing 98% of the population, including much of the network coverage previously serviced by CDMA.

Although models are being added to the range on a regular basis, your choice of models with be restricted compared to the models available on the 3G and GSM networks. Of the 33 mobiles covered in in Choice's latest mobile roundup, only one (Nokia 6120 Classic) works on the Next G network. However our Smartphone story, where we look at 13 models which are focussed on multimedia and mobile office features, four models support Next G.

All the phones in the table work on the Australian digital GSM networks from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. As GSM is also widely used overseas, chances are you can use your mobile when travelling. You can do this in various ways. If you use your normal network provider, for example, it’s called roaming, and you’ll need to check which countries your provider has roaming agreements with, and what the call charges are. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new SIM card for the country you’re visiting when you arrive.

Pile of old mobile phones

If you have a phone, battery or accessories you want to get rid of, don’t throw them in the bin.

That’s especially true for older-style NiCad batteries, which shouldn’t end up in landfill as toxic cadmium can potentially leak into waterways and damage the environment.

None of the tested models has a NiCad battery.

However, all battery types and the phone’s circuit boards and plastic housing contain resources that can be recovered and reused.Mobile phone recycling bin symbol

There’s a free recycling scheme called mobile muster initiated by AMTA and Planet Ark.

You can return your old phone, battery and accessories to any retail outlet featuring this symbol.

How can you make sure you're getting a good deal on a mobile phone call plan? Answering the following questions will set you well on the way to sorting out what you need.

How will you use your phone?

It's worth thinking carefully about your likely usage pattern before you sign up — for example, for short emergency calls only, for social calls in off-peak times, or lots of business calls in peak times. You don't want to pay for a plan that has more or fewer calls than you need.

When will you use the phone most?

It pays to find out precisely how a plan you're considering defines 'peak'. As a rule, though, business hours are considered peak. Off-peak tends to be after 8 pm during the week, and all weekend. Look out for 'graded' peak and off-peak times, such as 'economy' or 'weekend' rates, that are even cheaper again.

Does the area covered suit you?

Choose coverage based on where you work, live and play, and decide between a GSM or CDMA network. If you're in a metropolitan or urban area you'll probably get a GSM connection, in a remote area you may want to connect to CDMA.

Get copies of the service providers' coverage maps to find out which network best covers the areas you need. However, coverage maps don't give you the whole story, so you also need to ask:

  • Are there any 'flat spots' or 'shadows' in these areas — locations where reception won't be as good?
  • Does the handheld coverage differ from the car coverage?

Also, check the networks' coverage maps:

Contract or prepaid call plans?

If you're used to paying regular monthly bills, you'll probably be comfortable with a call plan with a contract. You need to know:

  • What are the upfront costs?
  • Are they on top of the connection fee?
  • How much is the monthly access fee?
  • How long is the contract period?
  • The cost of calls at different times to different areas.

If you're buying a handset with your contract, this information can help you work out the total cost of the plan and relate it to the value of the phone.

Prepaid phone plans are becoming increasingly popular: once you have a phone, you just buy a card, call a phone number and type in the ID number printed on the card, transferring the value of the card to your account.

The advantages of a prepaid card include:

  • Not having to commit to a specific length of time.
  • Having more control over how much you spend.
  • Paying only a one-off fee, including the connection fee and a number of prepaid calls at fixed rates.

The disadvantages include:

  • If you don't use 'em you lose 'em. The card is usually valid for one to three months, depending on the carrier.
  • You need to be able to buy new cards easily.
  • Call costs are high.

What will it cost?

If you're tempted by a plan with lower call charges, it may mean a higher monthly access cost. To help you compare costs, companies must provide you with a total cost of the plan, but this still may not include all call charges.

Can you access extra services?

Most mobile services now come with voicemail. But there's an increasing number of other services either available now or on their way, such as:

  • Call waiting
  • Directory services
  • Short message service (SMS)
  • Caller ID
  • Paging
  • Internet access
  • Email notification
  • Receiving faxes
  • WAP/GPRS
  • MMS

If any of these services sound attractive to you, find out what's on offer from the service providers and how much you're going to be paying.

What do your friends and family use?

You can often save money on calls if you use the same network as the people you call regularly. Most providers offer cheap or even free calls within their network during off-peak times.

You can change from one company to another at will, taking your current number with you. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) says the whole process shouldn’t take more than a few hours.

This is really good news if you’re looking for the best deal, because you can change companies at will, without having to contact everyone you know to give them a new contact number. If you’re running a small business this could be a substantial saving.

But it’s not all good news. There are some traps that you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • When you leave your current provider your contract will end, but you may have to pay cancellation fees as well as all outstanding call charges, etc, so you may be better off waiting till the contract expires. Also look carefully at the conditions of your new contract.
  • If you’ve got a prepaid package you may need to get the handset unlocked before you can move to a new provider, and there could be a cost for this service.
  • Personal SIM locks also need to be removed before the transfer can take place.
  • Don’t cancel your existing service before moving. Only active numbers can be transferred, so cancelling before you move will render your current number unavailable.
  • You don’t have to keep the same handset, but make sure you take the cost of a new one into account when looking at your new contract.
  • Only the person who signed the existing contract can move the number to another provider. If you think you’ve been moved without your knowledge, contact your original provider.

For more information on mobile number portability, check the ACMA factsheet.

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