LG CU500V (AT&T) review: LG CU500V (AT&T)

LG CU500V (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.

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The "V" in the LG CU500V's name stands for Video, and that's the key feature separating it from the LG CU500. The LG CU500V has a new video-calling feature from AT&T called Video Share, which is the country's first nationwide video-calling service. It isn't perfect--it only streams video one-way and it'll only work with certain phones--but the potential for live video streaming outweighs these concerns. Imagine shopping for something, and being able to stream live video of your choices to a friend for an opinion, for example. That said, everything else about the LG CU500V is exactly the same as the LG CU500. From the thin flip phone design to the high-speed HSDPA, the LG CU500V mirrors the LG CU500. So if you already have the LG CU500, I wouldn't upgrade unless you really want the Video Share service.


LG CU500V (AT&T)

The Good

The LG CU500V offers AT&T's new Video Share feature that lets you make video calls. It's also a HSDPA 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 microSD memory card slot, a speakerphone, and access to exclusive content, courtesy of Cellular Video and AT&T Music.

The Bad

The LG CU500V 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 microSD card slot.

The Bottom Line

The LG CU500V is one of the fastest phones we've ever tried, with swift downloads, impressive video-streaming speeds, and the ability to make video calls with AT&T's Video Share service. The feature set is impressive; the picture and audio quality are great; and the slim, attractive design is a bonus.

But if you're considering an upgrade to a speedy HSDPA phone with video calling, the LG CU500V isn't a bad choice. It rivals the Razr in looks and design, and its HSDPA offering lends the phone to a variety of high-end 3G services like Cellular Video (previously known as Cingular Video), AT&T Music, and more. Add that to a 1.3-megapixel camera that takes great pictures, an audio player, and more, and we think that the LG CU500V is one of the better 3G phones out there. The LG CU500V is currently available for $29.99 with a two-year service agreement, making it one of the cheapest 3G phones around.

Because the only difference between the LG CU500 and the LG CU500V is the AT&T Video Share feature, large parts of this review are lifted from the review of the LG CU500.

The LG CU500V is the latest in a line of phones inspired by the Razr's design. The flip phone has that same wide body and slim silhouette, though the inclusion of a rotating camera lens and external music controls actually make it look more like the Samsung 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. It comes in black with silver and chrome accents inside and out. The handset feels nice in the hand and pretty comfortable when cradled against the ear.

The LG CU500V has a swivel camera lens.

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 (measured 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 (or photo caller ID if you have it). You can also use the display as a self-portrait viewfinder, plus it'll display the currently playing song if you've activated the music player.

The LG CU500V took pretty good photos.

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 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 CU500V has convenient external music player 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 262,000 colors, but it 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 navigation controls consist of the usual two soft keys and a five-way toggle in the middle that doubles as a shortcut 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 CU500V 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 ringtones 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 a microSD card slot, but you'll have to remove the battery in the back to get to it. The CU500V is a quad-band GSM phone, which means you can use it almost anywhere in the world.

The LG CU500V has microSD card slot that's hard to access.

Of course, the key feature that sets this phone apart from the LG CU500 is the AT&T Video Share feature. The feature only works if you have signed up for the Video Share service, which costs $4.99 per month for 25 minutes, or $9.99 for 60 minutes. You can also opt to use it for 35 cents a minute without a subscription. Activating Video Share is easy: just call someone who also has the service, and a "Video Share" option will pop up on the lower-right corner. Once selected, the recipient will be prompted to accept the video link. You'll instantly be able to stream live video to the recipient. Unfortunately, AT&T's Video Share only supports one-way video streaming for now, plus it's only available within a 3G network. That said, we found this technology fascinating, and can definitely see the potential of using this for comparison shopping or catching up with friends and family who live far away. Stay tuned for our review of the AT&T Video Share service.

One of the most impressive features of the CU500V 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 CU500V 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 AT&T's UMTS network. It lets the CU500V manage with aplomb high-speed streaming video services such as AT&T's Cellular Video, not to mention support for various music services under the AT&T Music header. Cellular Video offers up exclusive HBO Mobile content from shows like The Sopranos and Entourage, as well as clips from various networks, such as the Cartoon Network and Fox. Please read our review of Cellular Video for more detailed information on the service.

As for AT&T Music, it's not so much a portal as it is a suite of applications. From the AT&T Music menu, you can access the music player, shop for ringtones, 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 environments.

Personalization options are standard on the CU500V. 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 AT&T's MediaMall.

Performance of LG CU500 (Cingular)
We tested the LG CU500V quad-band (850/900/1800/1900; GPRS; UMTS; HSDPA) phone in San Francisco using AT&T'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 CU500V with the Cardo S-2 without a problem.

We found the HSDPA speeds on the phone to be remarkably impressive. We managed to connect to Cellular 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 CU500V 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 CU500V has a digital SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram.


LG CU500V (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9