With its plans to acquire Western Wireless, regional carrier Alltel has shown that it's serious about competing against the national big boys. That being the case, let's hope that the carrier's other handsets are more inspiring than the LG LX5550. It's not that this is a particularly bad mobile, it's just that, beyond the unusual design, thereÂ’s nothing especially noteworthy about it. At $60 with a two-year contract, itÂ’s intended to serve as a basic offering for those who want nothing more than a bare-bones cell phone. Even by utilitarian handset standards, the LX5550 is a fairly gaudy-looking device. Though the maroon-and-silver casing is unusual, we prefer a basic silver. And in another departure from normal cell phone design, the porthole-like external screen sits on the bottom of the front flap rather than at the top. Yet because it juts out from the cover, it adds extra girth to a phone that isn't exactly svelte to begin with (3.52 by 1.9 by 0.95 inches and 3.89 ounces). The stubby, extendable antenna adds an additional inch to the handset, but the unit feels solid overall. On the back of the device is the speaker, not the most ideal location as the sound can be muffled when the mobile is resting on a surface.
As with LG's popular VX6000, the external OEL display flashes 1980s-video-game-style multicolor dots across the bottom of the screen when you first close the lid. Time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available) appear in blue on a black background. As for the 65,000-color internal display, you can adjust the backlighting time to your choice of 7, 15, or 30 seconds, and always on or off, as well as the brightness level. Even at its brightest setting, however, the internal screen is rather dull. The colors on another fairly basic LG phone, the , pop much more vividly.
On the plus side, the navigation controls are roomy, and the two soft keys are sufficiently large. The five-way navigation toggle in standby mode provides one-touch access to the Web, the calendar, your messages, and the Axcess shopping site. It would have been better if one of the keys had been left open for a user-defined shortcut, but we appreciate that you can use the OK button to activate the speakerphone before placing a call. The menus, available in two styles, are easy to navigate. You can view them graphically or as a list, and a dedicated Back button provides an easy way to back out of submenus. The dial-pad keys are roomy as well, but dialing by feel is difficult, as they are set flush with the surface of the phone. The left spine includes volume controls and a voice-command button, through which you can make calls (either through the contact list or by dictating the digits), check voicemail, note the time, or access the scheduler to check on upcoming events.