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Devices like the iPhone and HTC Hero have proved that onscreen keyboards are just as fast to type on and easy to use as physical keyboards, but some people simply prefer the tactile feel of a proper keyboard. What's more, keypads/numpads are simply not up to snuff if you do a lot of texting or emailing. The problem is, phones that feature a proper keyboard tend to be expensive smartphones of the Blackberry or Windows Mobile ilk. LG, however, is hoping to offer a compelling middle ground with the GW520.
The GW520 is a higher end version of LG's other current low cost slideout keyboard phone, the KS360, but it has a few key extras including 3G support and a larger screen. However, this has resulted in a significant price hike. Where the KS360 is available for just £60 on Pay-As-You-Go, the GW520 costs £129. This is by no means extortionate but neither is it completely bargain basement. Of course, the big question is does it justify the extra cost? Well, let's take a look.
Straight away the GW520 has the look of a lower cost device than many of the premium phones we're used to seeing. In particular, the silver painted chassis, while no less sturdy or more prone to scratches than other phones, looks dull and the paint will no doubt start to rub off after a few months in a pocket. The front also looks cheap, as the call answer/end buttons are made up of a single rubber piece, rather than individual buttons. However, overall this is a perfectly smart looking device.
Unsurprisingly, due to the keyboard, the GW520 is not a thin phone, but it's by no means a Goliath either. With dimensions of 106mm x 53mm x 14mm, it fits comfortably and securely in the hand with all the buttons falling easily within reach.
Accessing the keyboard brings into play the metal sliding mechanism. It doesn't raise the screen up at an angle for easy viewing like the Nokia N97 and Touch Pro2, but it's nonetheless well-engineered.
Likewise, the keyboard is excellent with large spacious keys that offer a really positive action with a particularly sharp break so you know when you've hit them or not. The layout is also very good though not quite perfect. The space button is a bit small, the position of the punctuation mark keys is a little odd, and the way the keyboard goes right to the edge means it's sometimes difficult to reach the keys closest to the edge of the phone. Nevertheless we were able to type at a decent rate straight away.
These latter points do highlight our insistence that the best onscreen keyboards are actually easier to type on than physical ones because the layout can be cleaner, making it easier to see what you're doing. We won't dwell on this point though.