A Few Dumb Phones – Review of T Mobile’s LG GS170
Posted by Heather
Let me start by saying I am an avid Nokia user and have been for the past …ten years? Something crazy like that. I have had several different models of Nokia phones, all of them relatively alike in terms of general usage. However, my most recent one stopped powering on and I had to get a new phone.
Guess what? No more Nokia (dumb) phones available at T-Mobile. Hardly any left to choose from, at all!
I have always hated Samsung but I got what I thought was the best available phone, the Samsung Gravity TXT. I tried really hard to like it and the battery life was very impressive (truthfully even better than this phone). However, the Gravity TXT was just too far outside my comfort zone and – believe it or not – I wound up trading the phone in for the LG GS170.
The LG GS170 is pretty cheap, or at least it can be. It’s $69.99 if you buy it full price from T-Mobile. If you buy it prepaid from T-Mobile it’s $49.99 and if you buy it as an upgrade with a 2-year contract it’s $9.99 (plus the $18.99 upgrade fee).
If you want to buy it prepaid or without renewing your contract, just buy it from Walmart. Mine was about $30 prepaid from Walmart which is still cheaper than if I’d bought it from T-Mobile.
At $69.99 no one in their right mind would buy it.
The phone is just a small, basic flip phone with a small screen on the front and a bigger screen (though still not “big”) on the inside.
The mini-screen shows the same top icons as the main screen – battery life, if your alarm is currently set, and it’ll show if you have sounds on or if your vibrate profile is currently active. With the phone closed, the volume button alternates between showing the time or showing the date on the mini-screen.
If you receive a text message, you can read it directly from the mini-screen by using the volume button. However, an accidental press of the volume button will initiate that process and the text will show up as if you had already read it.
Thus, if you receive a new text while the phone is in your pocket, and the volume button accidentally gets pressed, you won’t know you received a new message until you see it in your inbox and wonder why you don’t recognize it.
The battery is much better than my Nokia 3711 (the last Nokia I had…*sniff*) but not quite as stellar as the Samsung Gravity TXT. Still, you can safely play games, text, and even make some calls without worrying about your battery totally dying.
It seems to lose the initial bar much faster than it loses any others. I’ve had it drop by 1 bar fairly quickly but then stay on 3/4 battery until I got it back on the charger (hours later).
Call quality on the LG GS170 seems fine. Being a flip phone probably helps in terms of having the speaker to your ear. I haven’t experienced any noticeably worse trouble with reception than I have on any other phone. The volume could probably stand to go a bit higher, but it’s still loud enough to hear clearly with mild background noise.
One weird thing about this phone is the “Contacts” button on the main screen. It doesn’t actually open your list of contacts – it opens the Contacts menu, forcing you to again choose “Contacts” to actually see the list. However, pressing the down directional key opens your contacts list.
This phone has no keyboard, but the number keys are flat, fairly large, and comfortable. They feel a little stiff when typing out a long message on the keypad but nothing terrible. The only complaint with the keypad is that the middle “Select” key is tiny and it’s very easy to hit one of the directional keys when trying to hit the menu key.
It sort of hides under my thumb.
The camera on the LG GS170 is about what you’d expect for this sort of model. By that, I mean it’s an older phone and it looks like it. As such, the camera isn’t superb. It’s just a simple VGA camera. The largest photos you can do on this phone are 0.3MP or 640×480. At that resolution, you cannot zoom.
However, the white balance, image quality, brightness, and color settings (sepia, negative, mono) can all be changed. The camera also has Night Mode, and can even do Burst Shots or be set to a timer.
Also expected for this sort of phone is the very low memory. Interestingly enough, the phone has its memory categorized into “Common Memory” and “Reserved Memory”. The “Common Memory” shows the total available (9.8MB). The system uses 1.6MB and there are game demos that can’t be deleted, along with the ringtones and such. Effective memory available for you to actually use is about 7MB.
However, the “Reserved Memory” is only about 2.7MB and dictates the numbers overall. Multimedia messages are counted against the “Common Memory” but to my dismay, the LG has the same “500″ messages limit on text messages. Boo. (Also – max 1,000 contacts, 100 calendar items, 100 tasks, 50 notes, 50 secret notes, 5 alarms, 100 call history entries, and 20 bookmarks)
Thankfully, the message limit is tolerable on the LG. 500 messages actually means 500 messages. If I have 0 messages in my Sent Items, Drafts, etc, then I can actually have 500 messages in my Inbox. The space fills up pretty quickly but since it’s counting your overall messages it is still pretty tolerable. The message settings also let you opt to not save your Sent Items.
Although not quite as detailed as many of my Nokias, the LG provides a good amount of customization. Also, there are some other settings under the individual menu items. For example, under “Organizer” or “Contacts” you’ll find other configurable settings.
- Sound Profiles – Normal, Silent, Outdoor, Flight Mode, Meeting Mode, and 3 Custom Profiles. You cannot make others but you can fully customize Normal, Outdoor, and all 3 Custom. Silent lets you choose whether or not to use vibrating alert, and Meeting Mode only lets you set up a call reject text message and whether or not to have a vibrating alert. I presume that Meeting Mode automatically rejects calls but I haven’t tested it yet.
- Display – Customize the screen theme (wallpaper, clock/calendar display, and clock font color), menu style (grid or list) , dialing (font color for dialed numbers), font (size), backlight (screen brightness and duration), handset theme (blue, dark blue, or white), and start-up greeting message.
- Connectivity – Bluetooth, Internet Profiles, and Access Points.
- Phone – Date & Time (the calendar is oddly defaulted to start on Monday but that can be changed in Organizer > Settings > Calendar Settings), Language, Set Shortcuts (only works for left-directional key), Security (PIN code request, phone lock (also uses PIN), lock if SIM is changed, and change codes), and Reset Settings.
- Network – Automatic, Manual, Preferred Lists
- Memory Manager – Shows Common Memory, Reserved Memory (allowing you to “Clear All”) and also SIM Memory (no “Clear All” option)
- Phone Information – Just your phone number, model number, and S/W version (no configuration).
The phone also has Application Settings:
- Text Message – Message Center Number, Request Delivery Report, Validity Period, Message Types (text, voice, fax, email, etc – not sure what this is for), Send Long Message As (mms or multiple sms)
- Multimedia Message – Retrieval Mode (home/roaming network), Delivery Report, Read Reply, Priority, Validity Period, Slide Duration, Creation Mode (warning, restricted, or free), Delivery Time (immediately or after 1 day/hour/week), Multi Msg Center
- Voicemail (no actual configuration options)
- Service Message (on/off)
- Save Sent Message (yes/no)
- Profiles (default is web2go, but others can be added)
- Appearance Settings – Character Encoding, Scrolling Control, Show Images, Java Script
- Cache – On/Off or Clear Cache
- Cookies – On/Off or Clear Cookies
- Security – Certificates List, Session Clear
- Certificates List
And of course, there are also Call Settings:
- Call Divert – aka Call Forwarding
- Caller ID (“Send My Number”) – On/Off or Set By Network
- Auto-Redial – On/Off
- Answer Mode – Send Key, Any Key, or Open Flip
- Bluetooth Answer Mode – Hands-Free or Handset
- Free Call Timer – Show/Don’t Show
- Minute Minder – “Don’t Use” or set for 1 Minute, 3 Minutes, 5 Minutes, or “Set Time Manually”.
- Save New Number – Yes/No
- Call Waiting – Enabled, Disabled or “Set by Network”
- Call Reject – Off or on for All Calls, Contacts, Groups (select 1 or more groups), Unregistered, or No Caller ID
- Fixed Dial Numbers (requires PIN code)
- TTY Mode – On/Off
- Hearing Aid Mode – On/Off
The Other Features
With this phone, it would almost make more sense to list all the features it doesn’t have, than the ones it does. However, by listing everything you can do on this phone should hopefully give an idea of what isn’t possible.
Many people who complained about this phone and gave it a low rating on T-Mobile’s website claim that it is very non-intuitive, a complaint that I actually had made regarding the Samsung Gravity TXT. I find this phone far more intuitive than the Gravity TXT, but that may be because many of the features function similarly on LG as they do on Nokia.
Here are some other features and settings I like or dislike about the phone:
Pros – You can set multiple alarms and customize the tone. The alarm-specific tone choices are very nice, such as birds chirping. You can change the snooze settings but this phone actually does one better – you can choose snooze time when the alarm goes off! You can choose to turn the alarm off right away or snooze for up to 1 hour.
Cons – You are limited to only 5 alarms, and the alarm sound can be a little on the quiet side even at full volume. However, it is still loud enough to be heard in adjoining room.
Pros – The phone has a camera easily accessed via a designated camera button. You can view and edit photos easily from your photos folder. You can also turn photos into audio postcards – allowing you to send a “framed” photo with your own personal message to the recipient.
Cons - Photo quality is pretty poor. Maximum photo size isn’t very big and the small screen makes it difficult to see exactly what you’re really photographing. Not much room for storage.
Pros – This is where a lot of T-Mobile reviewers have complained – saying texting isn’t easy. I would disagree. While there isn’t a specific setting to change from T9 to abc, it’s easily done by holding down the # button and it maintains whatever setting you last used (you can also change it through “Options” with the left soft key). A quick press of the same button will change from lower case, to 1st letter in caps, to all caps, to numbers. A quick press of the * button brings up various characters (holding it down changes languages). Recipients can be added via checkboxes, simplifying mass-texts. New messages received show an alert and generally can be viewed without interrupting your current actions (pressing “Back” after reading the message will go back to what you were doing). Moving and deleting texts can both be done with multiple texts at once using the “Mark/Unmark” function. New emoticons can be added to the list of available ones, for easier access.
Cons – The phone can be kinda slow, sometimes taking a moment to catch up to whatever you’ve typed. It also lacks any sort of copy/paste. Although settings give you the option between long messages being MMS or multiple sms, the phone will automatically switch to MMS after approximately 800 or so characters (a 5 page text). If you change the capitalization, you may have to change it back before it will capitalize correctly by default, (i.e. If you type something in capitals, then go back to lowercase, the phone initially stays lowercase even if you type a period and a space.) If you are a T9 lover, the T9 on this phone seems sort of strange. Many of its suggestions are not words (though can allow more user-level customization of the T9 dictionary). Also, sometimes when trying to delete multiple texts (such as in the sent box), some texts may be “still sending” – which will prevent deletion until that text particular text is unmarked. You can delete it individually when that happens, just not part of a mass-deletion.
Pros – The LG GS170′s manual is a pretty quick read.
Cons – It’s a pretty quick read. It really seems more like the “Quick Start” manual than the fully comprehensive manual of how to use the device. The safety information takes up the first 41 pages of the manual. To put that in perspective, the entire thing (prior to warranty information and the Spanish version) is only 63 pages. That means you have 23 pages of real useful information and the rest is spent telling you not to use your phone in the rain.
Other Features The Phone Has:
Told you the phone doesn’t have a lot of features. It’s a very basic phone and it’s meantto be used as such. It has the web, sure, but it’s really just meant to be used as a phone – calls and texts only. These are the other features it has that are pretty standard and not anything very particular.
- Calendar (can even be shown on the main screen display with events/holidays marked)
- Games (phone comes with demos of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, Tetris, and Family Guy Uncensored)
Other Features That The Phone Has But I Didn’t Use:
- Web Browser
- Voice Recorder
- Secret Notes (hidden via security code)
- Date Finder (to determine exactly what day it will be x days from a different specific date)
- Unit Converter (currency, area, length, weight, temperature, volume, and velocity)
- World Clock
As you can see, this phone definitely qualifies as a “dumb phone”. It surprised me that the phone even has a web browser, considering it doesn’t offer any IM client, let alone “Social Buzz” or any other sort of social media application. In fact, this phone has a folder for “Other Files” as well as a folder for “Applications” – both folders come empty.
However, this phone doesn’t really try to impress anyone with flashy looks or anything. Everything on this phone screams “SIMPLE!” – but that’s also why I like it. It’s very simple and works perfectly for me to text with, catch on-the-spot photos with, or make and take actual calls. If you want a phone that is all about calls and texting, or if you need the most Nokia-like dumb phone from T-Mobile’s scant selection, go with this one.
If you want something a little more flashy and need the media player, a micro-SD card slot, or are just more familiar with Samsung, you may be fine with the Gravity TXT – or even the Samsung T359, which is an older phone with far fewer features yet has a higher rating on T-Mobile’s website than the Gravity TXT.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what features a phone has or doesn’t – it boils down to what you personally “can’t stand” and what you “can’t live without”. If a phone has all the same features as your laptop, yet you only use it to make calls – what difference does it make?
Don’t base your choice off any one review or other person’s opinion. Ultimately you have to decide what features you really care about, and what sort of flaws you would reasonably be able to tolerate. Hopefully, this review helps you determine that and gives you a better idea of whether or not this phone has what you are looking for.
If you have any questions about this phone, I’d be happy to try to help you. Just leave me a message in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!
Update: Since writing this post (I’d only owned the phone a month or two when I wrote this), I have had a few annoying problems arise that I originally did not. They seemed to all stem from some particularly problematic weather, which caused the power to go out all around the area for over a full day. I think it was merely coincidence though.
The main problems I’ve encountered since writing this review:
- Phone will randomly lose service in areas that I know get reception.
- Phone will maintain 2+ signal bars but show “Searching…” (for a network) instead of displaying “T-Mobile” (it allows no texts and only emergency call during this time) which is sometimes only fixed by restarting the phone. (This was almost constant in areas of normal reception when the weather caused the power outage. Since that time, the frequency of this occurrence has dropped significantly though it does still happen on occasion.)
- Text tone does not play completely or reliably (sometimes it plays a partial tone, sometimes none at all). Vibrate seems reliable.
- Phone will drop calls despite having good reception (calls are dropped in an unnoticeable fashion – simply disconnected with no beep or other notification, it just goes dead. This too happened more frequently in the days following the storm but the frequency has decreased and it is now a relatively rare occurrence.)
Although I’ve considered trying out the Sparq (anyone try that yet?) instead due to those issues, the phone does still work relatively well.