LG's new G3 shows that the company is continuing to step up its smartphone game. As a longtime cell phone reviewer, and someone who hates the thought of an Apple-Samsung duopoly, I'm glad to see that happen.
Yet, there's another reason that I'm pleased. Though LG may have been a little slower to hone its flagship phone skills than some of its rivals -- it really hit its smartphone stride in 2012 with the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G -- Samsung's crosstown rival has been producing blockbuster handsets for a decade. And for proof, I'm going to take you way back to 2006 and Verizon's LG EnV.
She didn't look like much...
The EnV VX9900 wasn't LG's only noteworthy phone of the pre-Android era. There was the Chocolate, the VX8300, the Vu, and the Prada (the first phone with a capacitive touchscreen), just to name a few. Yet even now the EnV remains my favorite of them all, and one of the best messaging and media handsets my fingers ever felt.
Of course, by today's standards, the EnV would be a brick. Boxy, angular, and heavy, it wasn't a looker even then, and its external display was pretty much useless. But no matter, as the EnV was all about being useful (which it was) and it actually streamlined and improved the even stodgier design of the VX9800, which LG had introduced the year before. I also liked how its rear side resembled a camera and that like many phones of that era, the EnV was built to last.
Fortunately, the EnV was a much better story inside. The 65,000-color display was bright and beautiful and the stereo speakers delivered impressive sound. It was the keyboard, though, that really won me over. No, it wasn't the first cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard (that would be the Nokia 9000), and it had that annoying split space bar, but with four rows of comfy keys, dedicated numbers buttons, shortcut keys, and a handy navigation toggle off to the side, it perfected what a messaging keyboard should be.
A media machine
As great as the roomy keyboard was, the EnV also played an excellent media game. Running on Verizon Wireless's 3G network (the fastest data you could get at the time), it had streaming video and a music player that you could stock with wireless song downloads from the carrier.
Sure, the depth of content of those services and the media performance itself would look archaic to 2014 eyes, but they set a standard in the US market. It was the same story with the 2-megapixel camera: it was fine for the time (and it had autofocus!), even if it would be forgettable today. Just as important, call quality was admirable and the battery life was top notch (up to 19 days of standby time).
The first in a line
After the VX9800 and the EnV, LG and Verizon spun out three more models, all of which were better than the model before. And while the family was largely confined to North America, it's still an important page in cell phone history. Here's what came next.
The Voyager VX10000, which arrived four months after the original iPhone in November 2007, added an external touchscreen and more features. It was hardly the "iPhone killer" that it was rumored to be, but it did have many features Apple's first handset lacked, including 3G, multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, and an integrated GPS application.
Following in 2008 was the LG EnV 2. It shared most of the EnV's features, which made it considerably cheaper than the Voyager ($129 vs. $299 with a contract), though it had a flatter design that swapped the Voyager's touchscreen for a large alphanumeric keypad.
The next year, the LG EnV3 finally raised the feature bar with a 3.0-megapixel camera and a full HTML browser. And even better, it put the space bar back in its proper place in the center of the bottom row of keys. The small external display remained, though, and by this point the line was beginning to show its age. Android was almost a year old, after all, and Apple was about to introduce the iPhone 3GS.
The last in the series was the EnV Touch VX11000, which followed right on the heels of the EnV3 in June 2009. The official successor to the Voyager, it also won CNET's Editors' Choice Award. The Voyager brought back the front touchscreen and further refined the keyboard while throwing in a 3.2-megapixel camera, EV-DO Rev. A (a wireless modem feature), a document viewer, and visual voicemail. It was a lot to pack into such a small device -- and the EnV Touch's usability suffered as a result -- but it was a fitting end to a successful series.