lg500gIn the world of wireless phones, the two major types are feature phones (sometimes called "dumbphones") and smartphones.

What’s the biggest difference between a feature phone and a smartphone? The smartphone is MMS-capable; feature phones are not. In order for a phone to qualify as MMS-capable, it must be able to take photos and/or video and play MP3s. And while a full keyboard (as in one with letters) isn’t a requirement, most people would consider a smartphone to have a QWERTY keyboard, touchscreen virtual keyboard or both.

That being the case, the LG500G from Tracfone is a smartphone you can buy for 30 dollars new from Radio Shack.

I purchased one of these phones because it’s a deal too good to pass up. A smartphone for 30 bucks with no contract? Sounds good to me.

I bought this phone because:

  1. It’s cheap.
  2. It has a real-deal QWERTY chiclet keyboard.
  3. It was on display at Radio Shack, so I could actually try out the keys before buying it. It also meant that if I didn’t like it, I could return the thing easily as Radio Shack’s return policies are amicable.
  4. It has a camera that shoots both photos and video.
  5. It fits in my pocket easily.
  6. It can browse the web and even use Facebook.
  7. It has 9 days standby time, which for a smartphone is pretty good.
  8. It uses the Tracfone network, meaning it’s all prepaid, and I can (and did) transfer my minutes from my old phone to my new one. It should be noted however this phone is also available with other carriers.
  9. It has the option of additional microSD storage.
  10.   Did I mention it’s cheap?

The bad stuff

It’s not a keyboard. It’s a thumbpad.

The LG500G has a true QWERTY keyboard layout that hearkens back to the old Nokia and old Blackberry designs. Big-handed people will absolutely hate this phone as the keys are really small. In addition, the keys are stiff compared to NET10’s LG900G.

It should also be noted that the keyboard is a mostly-standard layout. For example, if you look at the picture of the phone above, note the location of the zero key. It’s not under the 8 but rather to the right of the 9; this is something you’ll have to get used to.

It does not come with a car charger

Home charger, yes. Car charger, no. The price of the car charger? 20 bucks, bringing phone + charger total cost to $50.

Picture 25Nowhere does it state what the phone lock code is

This one requires a bit of explanation.

In the way I use a cell phone, I set it to auto-lock. What this means is that on startup, you need a 4-digit PIN to get into the phone. It also means that if I set the phone down, auto-lock also kicks in when the screen dims after 30 seconds (or 1 minute, if desired).

The way to get to the phone lock code on the LG500G is Menu, 8, 6, 2, where you can choose to enable or disable Phone Lock. However, on attempt to enable/disable, you’re prompted for the code – but you don’t know what it is.

Figuring you can change it, you go to Menu, 8, 6, 4, 3 – but you can’t change it because you don’t know the existing security code.

I’ll tell you what it is: 0000.

How did I figure this out? I guessed. Tried 1234. Nope. Tried 1111. Nope. Tried 3333. Nope. Tried 0000 – success! Then I could change my security code and enable Phone Lock.

Is the default code 0000 on other carriers other than Tracfone for the LG500G? I have no idea, but on Tracfone it is 0000 by default until you change it – which you should.

Menu hell

The LG500G has menus that go real, real deep. So deep that it’s easy to forget how to get to certain functions.

Unfortunately it’s a common trend these days that no matter what phone you use, you’re subjected to deep menus. Were I to put how bad the deepness is on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "tolerable" and 10 being "nightmare", I’d rate the LG500G a 7. 

The good stuff

Good screen

The screen is bright and reads mostly well in sunlight. Washout is a problem in very bright environments, but that’s the case with just about every other wireless phone that exists.

If you currently have a feature phone where you have a problem reading what’s on the screen, the LG500G will definitely be an improvement.

Easy-read fonts

Fonts are crisp and clear, and can also be punched up to larger sizes easily for those with poor eyesight.

Loud speaker

The LG500G has a better-than-average external speaker. Like with most handsets it will distort when set to the maximum volume, but surprisingly the distortion is minimal and the chassis doesn’t rattle at max volume either.

Beeping tones that can be heard

If you want a ringtone or text tone that is the most audible, you use beeps as that will cut through loud environments easily – such as driving with the window rolled down.

The LG500G comes with softer ringtones by default, but it also comes bundled with harsher digital beep tones you can use.

It has a browser and can load mobile-friendly sites

The browser included is stupidly basic, but it gets the job done. It can load Facebook, all major webmail as they all have mobile versions that auto-detect on load and you can get along with it for the most part. Some sites scrunch down the text to itty-bitty size and there’s really not much you can do about that, but otherwise the web experience is "OK" at best. Not great, and certainly not fast by any means, but it works.

I estimate the two places you’d use most often would probably be webmail and Facebook. Does it chew up minutes fast? That depends on how much you use it, obviously. For most people, the answer would be no.

Who would benefit the most from this phone?

Anyone who wants one of the absolute cheapest no-contract MMS-capable handsets possible.

Not everyone wants to put down a wad of cash for a ritzy iPhone, and there are scores of people who are vehemently anti-contract when it comes to wireless carriers. These same people however do want something that can make calls, text, send/receive photos and video, do it all with no contract involved and not pay a lot for the phone; that’s where the LG500G from Tracfone shines most.

To note: Yes, there are other carriers both prepaid and post-paid who sell QWERTY phones for $30 new now, as it appears the price for them has dropped across the board. If you were biding your time waiting for the price to be right before getting one of these, now is the time to get one.

Final tech notes on the LG500G

Yes, it does have a standard headphone-out jack, so you can plug in headphones or hook it up to the AUX port of a car stereo.

The maximum microSD storage size supported is 4GB. That’s not a lot, but you can still fit a good amount of music on that (which is most likely what you’d use it for).

Yes, it can do everything other MMS phones can, meaning you can send photos or videos to other MMS-enabled phones or email addresses.

The 1.3 megapixel camera more or less only works in well-lit environments. There’s the option to punch up the brightness and a few quality setting options (as in "standard", "fine", etc.), but don’t expect to take masterful photos with this phone as the maximum pixel resolution for a still photo is 1280×960. Also bear in mind there’s no flash bulb and it’s fixed-focus.

The specs state the battery can do 5 hours talk time, 9 days standby. For a smartphone that’s pretty good. That’s nowhere near as good as the ultra-basic Samsung T105G which has 350 hours (just over 2 weeks) of standby time, but then again the T105G is a feature phone with no MMS capability.

You can transfer data to and from a PC using a data cable, also at Radio Shack, but the cost of the cable in most places is 20 bucks. Yeah, that’s kind of stupid but that’s the way it is. Alternatively you can pop out the microSD card when needed and plug into your PC if you don’t feel like spending the money on that cable. You could also simply email the photos and videos you take to yourself from the phone.

Where the microSD card goes physically is under the battery. Take off the back cover, take out the battery and look for a small silver flap. This flap has a slot-shaped hole where your fingernail goes. Pull the flap gently, it clicks, then swing it up so you can install the card. Which direction do you pull the flap to lock/unlock? It has arrows on it to tell you.