The navigational controls consist of the usual two soft keys and a five-way toggle in the middle that doubles as shortcuts to text messaging, instant messaging, the address book, and the My Stuff folder. Also in the navigation array are dedicated keys to the music player and the camera. The talk, cancel/back, and end/power buttons are located right above the number keypad. Unlike the keys on the Razr, the buttons here are not flush to the surface. They're tactile and raised slightly, making them easy to press and dial by feel. While the LG CU500 has an attractive design, its real beauty lies in its features. The address book stores up to 500 contacts, and each entry can accommodate up to five numbers, two e-mail addresses, a picture ID, a memo, and one of 10 72-chord polyphonic ring tones and can be assigned to a caller group. Other basic features include a vibrate or silent mode, a speakerphone, support for stereo Bluetooth, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, instant messaging (AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and ICQ), a wireless Web browser, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a calculator, a world clock, and a to-do list. It also comes with Micro SD card slot, but you'll have to remove the battery in the back to get to it. The CU500 is a quad-band GSM phone, which means you can use it almost anywhere in the world.
The primary feature of the CU500 is definitely its support for HSDPA. A 3.5G technology, HSDPA is a successor to UMTS, a 3G technology, both of which are designed for better mobile phone performance. While the transfer speeds for UMTS typically theoretically cap out at 2Mbps, the speeds on HSDPA have the potential to get up to 14.4Mbps. The CU500 can't support speeds that high, of course, but it can perform up to 1.8Mbps, which is still much faster than what's offered on Cingular's UMTS network. It lets the CU500 manage with aplomb high-speed streaming video services such as Cingular Video, not to mention support for various music services under the Cingular Music header. Cingular Video is a relatively new service, which offers up exclusive HBO Mobile content from shows like the Sopranos and Entourage, as well as clips from various other networks, such as Cartoon Network and Fox. Please read our review of Cingular Video for more detailed information on the service.
As for Cingular Music, it's not so much a portal as it is a suite of applications. From the Cingular Music menu, you can access the music player, shop for ring tones, and access a variety of music services such as MobiRadio (for radio), Billboard Mobile (for industry news), Music Choice (for music videos), and an array of music communities that cater to fans of a specific artist. There's also a fun application called MusicID, which claims to identify the song's title just by holding the phone up to a music source. The cost to use the MusicID messaging application is 99 cents per ID. The music player itself supports MP3, WMA, AAC, and AAC+ file formats, and you upload the songs into the phone via a USB data cable, sold separately. We wish the USB cable came standard with the package. The player interface is rather primitive, but we could still arrange songs into playlists, shuffle or repeat songs, and adjust visualization and equalizer settings.
The 1.3-megapixel camera has a 4X zoom and takes photos in four resolutions (160x120, 320x240, 640x480, 1,280x960) and three different quality settings (Normal, Fine, and Super Fine). Other camera settings include a self-timer, a reverse view mode (for upside-down shots), white balance (Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Night mode), color effects (Color, Sepia, Mono, Negative), multishot, and three shutter tones (plus a fourth silent mode). There's an image editor that lets you resize, crop, color effect, and rotate your snapshots. You can also choose to shoot short video clips at two video resolutions (176x144, 320x240), though you can record only up to 14 minutes of video at 15 frames per second. We found the picture quality to be quite good for a camera phone, though it struggled with low light environs.
Personalization options are standard on the CU500. You can switch out the wallpaper, change the color schemes, and choose the way you want the clock or calendar displayed on the internal or external screen. You also have the option to download additional graphics if the included ones don't suit your taste. The CU500 has Java 2.0 support for games, and if you're not satisfied with the POGO Tripeaks and Tetris that come with the phone, you may purchase and download more games via Cingular's MediaMall. We tested the LG CU500 quad-band (850/900/1800/1900; GPRS; UMTS; HSDPA) phone in San Francisco using Cingular's service. We experienced better than average call quality, even outdoors on the busy city sidewalks. Callers did report a bit of interference, but it wasn't much of a deterrent. We also particularly liked the quality of the speakerphone which sounded loud and clear. We were able to pair the CU500 with the Nokia BH-200 without a problem.
We found the HSDPA speeds on the phone to be remarkably impressive. We managed to connect to Cingular Video in a split second, and streaming video barely experienced a hiccup with almost no downtime in buffering. We also downloaded a game called Lemmings in less than four seconds. While it may not be as fast as cable, it's certainly light-years away from dial-up. Video quality was quite low-res and pixelated, which was expected. Music quality on the other hand was very impressive, sounding crisp and clear when heard over earphones or via the phone's stereo speakers. It doesn't quite compare to that of a dedicated MP3 player, but it's good enough for a quick fix.