For hands-free use, there's Bluetooth, voice commands, voice dialing, and a duplex speakerphone you can activate before you make a call. In particular, we were impressed with the extensive Bluetooth capability. Not only can you use it to make calls with a Bluetooth headset, but it supports a stereo Bluetooth profile for listening to music (very cool), and you can transfer files wirelessly. The LX550 also comes with a USB cable for transferring files and can even serve as a USB flash drive. It was a simple exercise, but we were disappointed that the phone wouldn't accept calls during a USB connection. For modem use with a computer, you can utilize either Bluetooth or the USB cable.
Like Sprint's other music phones, the LG LX550 offers a music player that supports MP3 and AAC files (but not WMAs), as well as music purchased over the Sprint Music Store. Alternatively, you can transfer your own songs to the phone via the TransFlash card and the USB cable but not over the handset's Bluetooth connection. The music player itself is pretty bare bones; it displays album art for songs purchased from the music store, but the user interface is sparse, save for the standard title and artist info, along with a progress bar and time elapsed/total time. You can pause your tunes, skip to the next song, create playlists, and shuffle or repeat your music. And unlike previous Sprint music phones, the LX550 has an equalizer, and you can scan forward or backward within a song. It's a satisfactory experience overall, and we give Sprint credit for not forcing users to buy its music. What's more, we welcome the addition of an FM transmitter (the first on a cell phone), which allows you to broadcast your music to an available frequency on a nearby radio.
Since it supports Sprint's 3G EV-DO network, the LG LX550 is big on streaming-video options. Sprint's Power Vision service offers a variety of content, mostly in 2- to 3-minute for-pay video clips from channels such as CNN, ESPN, the Weather Channel, and E Entertainment. And if video isn't your thing, the phone supports streaming Sirius and Rhapsody radio. The LX550 also makes use of Sprint's on-demand service. You can get up-to-the-minute news, sports, and stock-market updates. Moreover, you can personalize the information by punching in your zip code. And since the phone has GPS capability, you can access movie and TV listings, weather reports, and maps for your current location. Finally, there's an online phone book and dictionary.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in just three resolutions--1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240--which was a bit disappointing for such a mediacentric phone. Still, there's a fair number of editing options, including a 5- or 10-second self-timer; a 10X zoom (except at the highest resolution); a flash; four color tones; brightness and white-balance settings; three quality modes; four shutter sounds, plus a silent option; and an image enhancer--whatever that is. The camcorder shoots videos with sound, and editing options are similar to the still camera's. The video length is limited by the available memory space, and clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds.
Once you're finished playing photographer, you can send your shots in a multimedia message, upload them to Sprint's online album service, assign them to a contact for photo caller ID, or store them on the phone's 21MB of shared memory. Otherwise, you can use the included USB cable to send photos to a computer or to a photo printer with Sprint's PictBridge service, and you can even send them to a Fujifilm retailer for printing and pickup. Image quality was about what you'd expect from a 1.3-megapixel camera. Colors were distinct, but object outlines were fuzzier than we would have liked. Overall, they're fine for use on a computer, but we wouldn't want to print them. Video clips were serviceable but grainy in places; they aren't meant for home movies.
You can personalize the LG LX550 with a greeting and choose from a variety of screensavers, clock styles, wallpaper themes, color skins, and alert tones. You can also set your photos to cycle through a slide show. More customization options and ring tones are available for download through the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Gaming options are slim, with demo versions of only four Java (J2ME) games: Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, World Poker Tour, and Zuma. You'll need to buy the full titles for longer playtime, and you get a trial version of two other applications as well. StreetFinder somewhat accurately gauges your location via GPS, and ToneMaker lets you mix and record your own ring tones.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) LG LX550 in San Francisco using Sprint's service. Call quality was exceptional, with great clarity and volume even during speakerphone calls. On the other end, callers said they too were satisfied with the audio quality, despite being able to tell we were using a cell phone. At times, we noticed some static, but it wasn't too bothersome, and we experienced no interference with electronic devices. We successfully paired the phone with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset. Call quality was good, though callers had more trouble hearing us. The included wired headset was satisfactory as well, but just don't expect too much.
Music quality didn't fare as well, however. While there was plenty of volume, songs sounded way too bass heavy, and though the LG LX550 has stereo speakers on the exterior, the interior speaker was far less effective. Song downloads averaged about 1 minute, 15 seconds, which isn't bad, considering the transfer was over the air. Also, the music player itself takes about 5 seconds to start up. We tried using the FM transmitter, and while the experience wasn't perfect, it's a step in the right direction. You can broadcast up to 12 frequencies, but the phone does not automatically scan for them. We also had to hold the phone no more than a foot away from our radio's antenna, and the audio quality was no better than when we were using the phone.
Video quality was mostly sharp as 3G phones go. It's comfortable for viewing in short spells, but it's not like watching TV, no matter what the Sprint ads may tell you. Clips didn't stop or pause for rebuffering, but there was a fair amount of pixelation. Downloads were speedy, usually about 15 seconds for a clip, and Web browsing was a big improvement upon 1xRTT browsers.
The LG LX550 has a rated talk time of 4.5 hours, while our tests showed a talk time of 4 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the LG LX550 has a digital SAR rating of 0.6 watt per kilogram.