LG unveils 3G Prada phone in Japan

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They say everything comes to those that wait. A year after it went on sale in the rest of the world customers in Japan will soon get a chance to buy the LG Prada phone, but with a feature not available elsewhere: 3G.

From the outside not much has changed. It has the same shiny black case, 3-inch touchscreen display and row of three buttons on the front cover that had many comparing it to Apple's iPhone when it was first unveiled in January 2007.

The 3G version, called the L852i in Japan, will go on sale in June through NTT DoCoMo. That's about the same time as Apple -- if you believe the rumors -- is expected to announce a 3G version of its iPhone. Both LG and Apple first announced their respective Prada and iPhone handsets in January 2007, with LG going on to beat Apple to market by several months.

The delay in bringing the Prada handset to Japan appeared to be in the mind of the companies at Thursday evening's launch.

"Many of you have been asking why it took such a long time to launch in the Japan market," said Chang Ma, vice president of marketing strategy at LG's mobile communications company. He said that Japan's status as "one of the most sophisticated markets in the world" meant that the two companies wanted to introduce "a version more suitable for meeting the high demand of Japanese consumers."

The delay was also likely due to a technical reason. Japan uses a proprietary 2G standard so 3G support is essential if an international handset is to be launched here. The same lack of 3G has kept the iPhone out of Japan to-date.

The new Prada phone packs the latest 3G support and is compatible with the basic 2.1GHz WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) band used by NTT DoCoMo and also the new 800MHz band but there is no GSM support for roaming. It can also download data at up to 7.2Mbps over HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).

The camera's resolution is unchanged at 2 megapixel but the addition of 3G and support for video telephony means an addition sub-camera has been added to the front panel of the phone. The screen has tactile feedback so it vibrates when touched and 240 pixels by 400 pixels (WQVGA) resolution.

Compared to the first generation model the 3G phone is slightly, but not noticeably, larger and heavier. It measures 101 millimeters by 54 millimeters by 12.7 millimeters and weighs 92 grams.

The phone will be differentiated from others in Japan not just by its design but also by its price. It is expected to cost around ¥85,000 (US$815), which is roughly double the price of mainstream handsets. But perhaps that's not a problem. LG and Prada said they aren't going for the mass-market with this handset.

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