LG CU320 (AT&T) review: LG CU320 (AT&T)

LG CU320 (AT&T)

Kent German

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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8 min read

Too often, the design of a phone doesn't quite live up to its feature set. The LG CU320, however, is an exception. Unlike the Samsung SGH-ZX10 (Cingular's other 3G phone), which has cool features but a dull design, the futuristic slider styling of the CU320 actually matches its advanced capabilities. We'll say off the bat that it is a bit big and bulky (3.8 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches, 4.3 ounces) with a stubby external antenna, but it's still easily portable. Plus, the advantage of the larger size is that you get a solidly built phone that feels comfortable in the hand. We liked the slick black-and-silver styling, and we were pleased to see that the slider mechanism opened and closed with ease but not so easily that it felt too loose. You can program the phone to pick up a call when you slide it open, but unfortunately, the reverse action has only one setting--closing the slider automatically ends your call, so unless you want to hang up on your friends, take care not to slide the phone shut.


LG CU320 (AT&T)

The Good

The LG CU320 has an attractive design, a great display, and a solid feature set that includes 3G support, Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and a megapixel camera. Call quality and data performance are up to par as well.

The Bad

The LG CU320 suffers from tiny navigational buttons and poor picture quality, and it lacks some needed features usually found on high-end phones. Also, you can't select which data network you'd prefer to use.

The Bottom Line

Despite some minor performance and design glitches and a couple missing features, the LG CU320 is Cingular's strongest 3G cell phone to date.
LG CU320
It's been a busy few months for Cingular Wireless. Not only did the carrier roll out the first GSM push-to-talk network in the United States, but it also started the country's first UMTS network for cell phones. Both innovations are welcome, and they do a lot to broaden Cingular's product offering. After all, Verizon Wireless and Sprint have offered PTT and 3G services for several months, so it's only fitting that America's largest carrier should play in the same league. Samsung was first to market with a UMTS handset, the SGH-ZX10, and now LG makes its own contribution with the LG CU320. Packed into a solid and attractive slider design are a generous range of features, including Bluetooth, an MP3 player, a 1.3-megapixel camera with swiveling lens, and a gorgeous display for viewing quality 3G video. Overall, the LG CU320 is a step above the Samsung SGH-ZX10, despite such irritations as tiny navigational buttons, blurry picture quality, the lack of voice dialing, and the inability to listen to music over Bluetooth. You'll pay for the privilege, of course ($149 with a two-year contract), but if you're looking to ease into beginner 3G services, the LG CU320 is a great choice.

The CU320 has a bulky but striking design.

The star attraction on the face of the CU320 is the gorgeous two-inch-diagonal (176x200-pixel, 11-line) display. Like the display on the SGH-ZX10, it shows 262,000 colors, but its bigger size means it's better suited for scrolling through the attractive menus, playing games, and watching streaming video. You can alter the font size and the backlight time and color, but strangely, contrast and brightness are unchangeable. Also, it should be noted that the display is difficult to see in direct light.

The CU320's conveniently located expandable memory slot accommodates TransFlash cards.

Below the display is the five-way navigation toggle. It's large and easy to use and has preprogrammed, unmodifiable shortcuts to instant messaging, text messaging, the phone book, and the My Stuff folder. The last of those is a somewhat confusing hodgepodge folder for downloads, games, pictures (called graphics for some reason), the camera, music tracks, and tools. Otherwise, however, the menus are easy to navigate. In standby mode, the button in the center of the toggle opens a submenu for the Web browser, Cingular Video, and the instant messenger; when you're navigating menus, it functions as an OK button. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, the Talk and End/power buttons, and a Clear key. Though they're spaced far enough apart from the toggle, the buttons are tiny and not very tactile. In standby mode, the left soft key opens the main menu, while the right soft key opens another menu of shortcuts for eight user-defined functions.

Opening the slider face reveals the spacious black keypad. Though the keys are flush with the surface of the phone, making it difficult to dial by feel, the keys are large and well spaced. The backlighting is rather dim, however, so users with visual impairments may have some trouble dialing in dark environments. A volume rocker on the left spine sits just below a covered headset jack and just above the TransFlash card slot. On the left spine are a dedicated camera button and a nifty Task Menu key that opens a shortcut menu to seven set functions. Above the display is the rotating camera lens, which swivels 180 degrees from front to back. There's a flash on the back of the slider face, so the phone must be in the up position to use it.

The LG CU320 has a 500-name phone book; each contact holds four numbers, an e-mail address, and a short memo, while the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. You can organize contacts into caller groups and pair them with a picture and one of 11 polyphonic (72-chord) ring tones, though we were hoping for more on a music phone. Besides the basics, such as a vibrate mode and text and multimedia messaging, the CU320 comes stocked with a strong set of features. You'll find a calendar, an alarm clock, a notepad, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world clock, a task list, a stopwatch, a date finder, and a unit converter. One unusual offering was the ominously named D-Day Counter; given the date of an event, it displays an onscreen countdown with the number of days until the event occurs. Higher-end features include instant messaging (Yahoo, AOL, and ICQ), a three-minute voice recorder, support for POP3 e-mail, Bluetooth for voice calls and data transfers, and a full-duplex speakerphone that activates after you make a call. While this list is impressive, we aren't entirely pleased with the offerings. On such a high-end phone, the disappointing omission of voice dialing and PC syncing leaves us scratching our head.

Like the Samsung SGH-ZX10, the LG CU320 supports Cingular's new multimedia service, Cingular Video, which allows users to customize a home page with streaming content in categories such as comedy, news, weather, and entertainment. Programming includes CNN, Fox Sports, Fox News, HBO Mobile, Access Hollywood, Adult Swim (Cartoon Network's adult programming), TV Guide Channel, ESPN, Speed Channel, NBC, the Weather Channel, and the Disney Channel. You can also get movie previews through iFilm and TV clips from such programs as Lost, The Tonight Show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. And don't think kids are left out, as you can watch clips from Cartoon Network and the especially enjoyable Muppets Mobile. Cingular Video requires a $19.99 Cingular Media Net Unlimited data package, while HBO costs an additional $4.99 per month. Music Choice is also $4.99 per month, and music videos are 99 cents for one 24-hour period.

For music fans, the phone comes with a serviceable digital music player that supports MP3, AAC, and AAC+ files. Unlike Sprint or Verizon, Cingular does not currently have a music download service, so you'll have to load tunes onto the phone wirelessly via Bluetooth or by transferring them with a TransFlash card (available separately). Features on the player include playlists, song shuffle, song repeat, and the ability to set tracks as ring tones; however, the player interface is rather dull and utilitarian. Instead of album art, you get a choice of two basic animations. And more importantly, you can't listen to music through Bluetooth.

The LG CU320 has a swiveling camera lens.

The LG CU320 has a 1.3-megapixel camera, but it takes pictures in only three resolutions: 1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240. The camera also comes with a good assortment of editing features. You get three picture-quality settings, a self-timer (3, 5, or 10 seconds), multishot features (three, six, or nine shots), a flash, four color effects, three shutter sounds (plus a silent option), six white-balance choices, a brightness control, and a 4X zoom (not available at the highest resolution). Once you take a photo, you can modify it with the useful image editor. You can rotate or resize images; insert text or graphics; flip the orientation to produce a mirror image; clip or blur your shots; and choose from a number of effects, including color options, a contrast setting, and a sharpness control.

The LG CU320's photos were blurrier than we would have liked.

The video recorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions: 320x240 and 176x144. The time limit varies from 30 seconds in MMS mode to 25 minutes in general mode. Editing options are similar to those on the still camera, but the zoom decreases to 2X. Once finished shooting or filming, you can save your work to the phone's respectable 64MB of memory or to the TransFlash card. At the time of this writing, the capacity of TransFlash cards tops out at 512MB, whicht should be enough to keep you happy.

You can customize the CU320 with a variety of wallpaper, menu styles, color schemes, and sounds. If you want more options or ring tones, you can download them from Cingular using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Game choices were limited to demo versions of Tetris and Texas Hold 'Em; if you want the full versions or any other Java (J2ME) titles, you'll have to buy them.

We tested the triband, dual-mode (GSM 850/1800/1900; UMTS 850/1900) LG CU320 using Cingular Wireless service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Call quality was generally good, though we noticed on our end that voices sounded a bit metallic. Callers reported the same on their end and said they could tell we were using a cell phone. Volume, however, was satisfactory for all types of calls. Speakerphone calls were reliably clear, with little to no distortion. We also tried connecting to the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset. Though we made the connection with ease, we encountered noticeable static on some calls. That could be due to the headset, however. Overall, we had no trouble getting a signal and detected no interference from other electronic devices.

We were pleased to see that the LG CU320 can make voice calls and use data services simultaneously. Most of the time we were able to get a clear UMTS signal in the city, even in buildings. Yet it did peter out at times, and on a couple of occasions, our connection timed out when we were trying to download a game. Also, it was annoying that in areas of weak UMTS reception, we couldn't program the phone to automatically find the fastest available network (such as EDGE). But on the plus side, download speeds were zippy (400Kbps to 700Kbps), which makes Cingular's network a bit faster than the EV-DO networks from both Sprint and Verizon. We downloaded a 209K game in 20 seconds--nice. At the end of the day, however, we wish we had access to Cingular's 3.5G HSDPA network. Though it's up and running in the 16 cities where the UMTS service operates, HSDPA is currently available only for laptop users. That means we'll have to wait until Cingular rolls out the Samsung SGH-ZX20.

Video quality was very good, particularly on such an attractive display. We downloaded a 3-minute, 30-second Sex and the City clip in just 15 seconds and watched the whole thing without experiencing any rebuffering or pauses. The frame rate of 15 frames per second is half that of a television's, but videos looked smooth, without any pixelation. We could recognize faces, though sound lagged behind the picture at times. In all, it's a fun exercise as long as you remember that the phone isn't designed to replace your living room entertainment center. Likewise, sound quality on the MP3 player was fine for short spurts, but don't throw away your iPod just yet.

The LG CU320 has a rated talk time of 2.5 hours and a promised standby battery life of 8.3 days. In our tests, we got 3 hours, 41 minutes of talk time and 13 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the CU320 has a digital SAR rating of 1.06 watts per kilogram.


LG CU320 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8
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