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LG CU500 (AT&T) review: LG CU500 (AT&T)

LG CU500 (AT&T)

Nicole Lee
Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
7 min read
It's tempting to call the LG CU500 yet another Razr clone. After all, the Samsung MM-A900 and the Sanyo Katana have both made attempts at the Razr form factor, and the LG CU500 looks dangerously similar. But the clone moniker would be a disservice, as the LG CU500 is so much more than that. It's the first HSDPA phone offered by a North American carrier, which means it is the first handset that can reach connection speeds up to 1.8Mbps. Cingularhas capitalized on the high speeds by packing in Cingular Video, its video streaming service, and Cingular Music, a music service portal. Together with a 1.3-megapixel camera, an audio player, a speakerphone, and more, we think the LG CU500 is definitely one of Cingular's flagship phones. The LG CU500 retails for $179.99, but you can get it for $79.99 after discounts and with a two-year service agreement. The LG CU500 is the latest in a line of phones inspired by the Razr's design. Much like the Samsung MM-A900 and the Sanyo Katana, the flip phone has that same wide body and slim silhouette, though the inclusion of a rotating camera lens and external music controls actually makes it look more like the MM-A900. The CU500 is a little thicker and heavier at 3.8 by 1.95 by 0.76 inches and 3.7 ounces, but it still maintains a sleek and attractive form factor. It comes in black with some silver and chrome accents inside and out. The handset feels nice in the hand and pretty comfortable when cradled against the ear.


LG CU500 (AT&T)

The Good

The LG CU500 is the first carrier-offered HSDPA phone in North America. It's a quad-band world phone with a great slim design, external music buttons, and a camera with a rotating lens. Features include a 1.3-megapixel camera, an audio player, a Micro SD memory card slot, a speakerphone, and access to exclusive content, courtesy of Cingular Video and Cingular Music.

The Bad

The LG CU500 has two superskinny function buttons on the side that are difficult to press; we also didn't like that you have to remove the battery in order to get to the Micro SD card slot..

The Bottom Line

The LG CU500 is one of the fastest phones we've ever tried, with swift downloads and impressive video streaming speeds. The feature set is impressive; the picture and audio quality are great; and the slim, attractive design is a bonus.

The LG CU500 looks a lot like the Razr.

At the top of the device is a rotating camera lens that swivels up to 180 degrees. You can switch easily from taking pictures away from you to shooting self-portraits. Located underneath is a bright and colorful external screen, though it is a little small at 1.2 inches diagonally. The display has support for 65,000 colors, and we like that you can customize its background. As expected, it shows the date, time, battery and signal strength, and caller ID (and photo caller ID if you have it). You can also use it as a self-portrait viewfinder, plus it'll display the currently playing song if you've activated the music player.

The LG CU500 has a swivel-lens camera.

Right underneath the display are the music controls, which consist of the rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward buttons. We found the controls to be extremely convenient, since you can access your music without having to open the phone. On the left spine are a headset jack, the volume rocker, and a unique task manager button that allows you to multitask between different applications. When the handset is closed, you can use the button to access the music player and the camera/camcorder. While we love the functionality of the task button, its superskinny shape makes it difficult to press, and the same goes for the volume rocker above it.

The LG CU500 has convenient external music controls.

Flip open the phone, and you'll see a beautiful internal display. The screen is of average size at 2 inches diagonally and supports 65,000 colors, which isn't as good as the 262,000 colors of the MM-A900 but still appears vivid and bright. You can't change the contrast or brightness, but you can set the backlight time and the font size for dialing. You can also choose to change the menu style to icon or list view.

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 LG CU500 takes fairly good photos.

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.

The LG CU500 has a rated talk time of up to 5 hours and a standby time of up to 10 days. It had a tested talk time of 4 hours and 50 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the CU500 has a digital SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram.


LG CU500 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9
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