The LG CE500 for Cingular Wireless strikes us as a consumer-friendly multimedia phone. Its plastic exterior makes it seem like a toy, but it hides a decent array of multimedia features. Even though the CE500 lacks Bluetooth and a speakerphone, it is packed with an MP3 player, triband abilities, and EDGE support, as well as a VGA camera plus camcorder with flash. Because of that, the CE500 may serve as a primer for consumers who are looking for their first MP3/camera phone. The LG CE500 will be a Best Buy exclusive for a limited time, selling for only $99.99 with a two-year contract with Cingular. As multimedia phones go, the LG CE500 is far from flashy. Unlike with the latest media handsets from Sprint, the display doesn't swivel or turn around, plus it measures a somewhat bulky 3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and weighs a hefty 3.7 ounces. Sure, that's smaller than a smart phone, but it's clearly not the type of phone you slip in your jeans pocket. The black and silver outer shell was a mixed bag, and though it feels cheap (as does the external antenna), like it belongs in a toy store rather than an electronics outlet, it managed to withstand multiple jostles inside a purse with nary a nick. It also felt comfortable in our hands, partly due to its rounded corners, and while the front flap opens pretty easily, it takes slightly more effort to close.
A wide silver vertical stripe runs down the middle of the front flap, and in the center of the stripe is the camera lens with a flash, an external display, and MP3 player buttons. The 1.2-inch-diagonal TFT external screen has 65,000 colors and a 96x96-pixel resolution. It shows signal and battery strength, the date, the time, caller ID (where available), and your choice of wallpaper. When the camera function is enabled and the front flap is closed, the screen also shows a reflection of yourself, thus allowing for self-portraits. The external and internal screens display the same skin when the MP3 player is turned on. We like the music player buttons; they are not only useful but also give the phone a little more style. On the left spine are the headset jack, the volume controls, and a TransFlash card slot. On the right is a dedicated camera button.
Flip the LG CE500 open, and you'll note the bright, 262,000-color TFT 1.8-inch internal display that's easy on the eyes, both in daylight and at night. As with the external screen, you can adjust the backlighting time up to 30 seconds, and the same information on the external screen appears here. However, font size and brightness could not be adjusted. Almost half the keypad is taken up by the phone's controls, which consist of two soft keys, a four-way navigation toggle with an OK middle key, a camera button, an MP3 player shortcut key, the Talk and End/power buttons, and the Clear key. The four-way toggle is also marked with shortcuts to text and instant messaging, the My Stuff menu, and the address book. The blue-backlit dial pad is slightly beveled, and even though it is flat, we were still able to dial by feel.The LG CE500 packs quite a number of features, despite its understated exterior. Aside from its multimedia and EDGE features (see below), the phone has a small 250-entry address book that stores up to four numbers and an e-mail address for each entry; the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. Caller groups and photo caller ID are supported, and you can pair callers with one of 12 polyphonic or 10 monophonic ring tones. There's also a vibrate mode and a silent mode. Buried under the My Stuff menu is the Tools submenu, which lists all the organizer features: an alarm clock, a calendar, a voice-memo recorder, a calculator, a notepad, a world clock, and a unit converter. This is an impressive list, but we wish it were easier to locate. You can also make conference calls with ease and swap between two or more calls. A speed-dial feature lets you store up to eight numbers and the voicemail default. Both text and multimedia messaging are enabled, and the CE500 supports POP3 e-mail and three instant-messaging networks: AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ. You can even have up to 10 open instant-messaging conversations at once. Because this is an EDGE phone, it's no surprise that the CE500 also has access to Media Net, Cingular's mobile Internet portal, which provides access to a WAP 2.0 browser, as well as various Internet services such as news, weather, and e-mail. Unfortunately, the LE CE500 is lacking in Bluetooth and a speakerphone, which we found a little disappointing, considering its EDGE capabilities.
The LG CE500's VGA camera is a little disappointing when compared to megapixel models, although it does come with a slew of features that impressed us, despite the low picture quality. They include a flash; a 4X digital zoom; camera resolutions of 640x480, 320x240, and 128x160; customizable shutter tones, as well as a silent option; brightness and white-balance settings; color effects; Economy, Normal, and High quality settings; three fun frames; a multishot adjustment (up to six shots in a row); and a self-timer for either 3 or 10 seconds. The photos can be used as wallpaper and for photo caller ID. As with most VGA cameras, the photo quality was mediocre at best. There's also a camcorder option, which allows you to record similarly poor-quality video in either 176x144 or 128x96 resolution for 15 seconds. The phone has only 32MB of shared memory, but it also comes with a 64MB TransFlash memory card, which is helpful. You can always purchase larger-capacity cards for extra storage, but TransFlash cards cap out at 512MB. The photo and video gallery were hidden away in the My Stuff menu as well, and we wished it were easier to reach them via the main menu.