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The new LG EnV for Verizon Wireless has been one of the most anticipated cell phones of the autumn season. As the successor to the popular LG VX9800, the EnV (or VX9900) inherits its predecessor's QWERTY keyboard, high-end feature set, and admirable performance while offering a number of refinements that make it both new and improved. Again, we have some design complaints, but for messaging and multimedia addicts who've outgrown a T-Mobile Sidekick, the EnV is a solid choice. For now it's priced quite fairly at $150 with service.
LG must have learned from its previous mistakes when it designed the EnV. Yes, the phone is still boxy like the VX9800, but smoother lines give it a sleeker and more professional look. At 4.64x2.08x0.78 inches, it's thinner and narrower than its predecessor (4.57x1.97x1.0 inches) even if it is a tad taller. And though it's still hefty at 4.6 ounces, it is noticeably lighter than the VX9800 (5.19 ounces) and feels more comfortable in the hand. As with the VX9800, you can talk on the EnV while it is open, but it's rather awkward to do so.
The 65,000-color external display has the same color resolution as on the VX9800, but at 1.25 inches diagonally, it's actually smaller. Though we get that a smaller phone means a smaller screen, we suggest that users with visual impairments should test the phone first. You can use it to navigate through the phone's menus, but the small screen size means we had to do a lot of scrolling to find the feature we wanted. Also, since not all menu options are available, we had to open the phone repeatedly just to access certain applications. In standby mode, it shows the date, time battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. You can change the backlight time and the dialing font size.
The camera lens and flash sit on the back of the phone, and this time LG added a lens cover--nice. As with the VX9800, the phone's ergonomics are like that of a real camera--particularly when you hold it horizontally. Again, there's a dedicated camera shutter control on the left spine, and we're glad to see the volume rocker adjusts the zoom instead of changing the orientation, as it did on the VX9800. The former arrangement was just awkward. The external display is your camera viewfinder, but it's worth noting that unlike those of most cell phones, the display has a landscape orientation. That means you must flip the phone on its side to take portrait shots instead of the other way around.
The navigation array and keypad buttons show improvements as well. Besides having a more spacious overall layout, they're also bigger and more tactile. The four-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, while an OK button sits in the center. There are also two soft keys, the Talk and End/Power controls, and a Clear key. The latter also functions as the voice-dialing button, which is a bit strange. A side-mounted voice-dialing control would be much more intuitive. The text on the keypad buttons is a tad small, but the buttons are brightly backlit. Fortunately, they're also raised above the surface of the phone, and it's easy to dial by feel. Completing the exterior of the EnV are a volume rocker and a camera-shutter control on the left spine. Both controls were tactile and easy to find by feel. The memory card slot--now Micro SD instead of Mini SD--hasn't been moved from the right spine nor has the headset jack just above it. The covered charger port is on the bottom of the EnV.
The hinge mechanism has a solid construction, and we like that it opens a full 180 degrees. Yet due to the bulge of the camera lens and the new way the hinge opens (the front flap now wraps behind the rear flap), you can't rest the phone on a table evenly. That is annoying. What's more, it's difficult to use the left spine controls unless the phone is completely open.
The EnV's 2.25-inch, 262,000-color internal screen is on a par with its predecessor. It's bright and vivid with readable text, and it's great for viewing graphics and taking photos. You can change the backlighting time, and we were glad to see LG add several choices for the font, size, and color. In an unexpected twist, the main menu page uses icons instead of the tabs found on Verizon's standard interface. It's a nice change, considering that we've never warmed to the tabs, although once you're inside a submenu, the dreaded tabs appear again. Stereo speakers sit on both sides of the display.
The internal navigation array is again set just to the left of the QWERTY keyboard. It's almost unchanged except that it's now black instead of silver. The toggle and central OK button are large and easy to use, and the toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. You also get another set of Talk and End/Power buttons, while in a smart move, LG separated the Clear button and the speakerphone control into two separate keys. The thin soft keys just below the display still are a bit small, but due to the new placement of the hinge, they're no longer scrunched up next to the display. The extra room makes them more tactile and comfortable to use. Though the placement of the aforementioned OK button way to the left of the display was a bit disconcerting on the VX9800, we're used to it by now.
LG did a minor overhaul of the QWERTY keypad with satisfying results. The keys felt more tactile, and we liked that they are square rather than oval. Here again, there are dedicated Shift, symbol, and Enter keys, but LG ditched the VX9800's menu shortcuts control in favor of a new E-mail button that gives one-touch access to the wireless sync feature. LG also added a second space bar to the left of the Z button, but we'd prefer it to be in the middle as it is on the Sidekick.
The EnV's feature set is impressive and offers some goodies not available on the VX9800. But first, we'll address the basics. The 1,000-contact phone book (double the capacity of the VX9800) has room in each entry for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 18 polyphonic ring tones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice commands and dialing, instant messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, a tip calculator, and a voice memo. For more demanding users, the EnV also comes with e-mail, wireless syncing, a speakerphone, and text-to-speech dictation. Bluetooth 1.2 is onboard as well with profiles for headsets, dial-up networking, file transfer, object push, and A2DP stereo sound.
As an EV-DO phone, the EnV supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services including the V Cast video service and the V Cast music store. The music player's interface is identical to those on other Verizon phones, but it's worth noting that you can't access the V Cast or music downloading menus from the external display. You also have the option to purchase a variety of Verizon applications including VZ Navigator, ChaperoneParent, and Backup Assistance and a host of alternative services such as Fox Sports Mobile Pro and Accuweather. There's even an application called TinyBartender that will give you drink recipes on the fly. And of course Verizon's Get it Now Internet service has even more programming choices.
The EnV's 2-megapixel camera is impressive and comes stocked with a wealth of options. You can take pictures in four resolutions (1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240) and choose from four color effects and four white-balance settings. There's also a 2.5x digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution), a brightness control, a night mode, a self-timer, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). The autofocus is a particularly nifty feature; it helped us to the keep the phone steady and eliminated blurriness when taking our shots. On the downside, you can access the photo-editing options only with the internal display, which is a bit inconvenient for self-portraits.
The camcorder takes clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with editing options similar to those of the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are limited to 15 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for up to an hour. Speaking of which, the EnV comes with 64MB of shared memory for saving photos, but you're better off saving to a memory card. Photo quality was quite good overall. Colors remained bright, and object outlines were distinct--we could even read text from a computer screen in one of our shots. There was also enough brightness, though the flash hardly helped in darker situations. Videos were decent if you held the camera steady, but it couldn't handle quick movements.
You can personalize the EnV with a variety of included wallpapers, display themes, clock formats, and sounds, or you can buy more options if you want them. There are no included games, but you can always buy titles via the WAP 2 wireless Web browser; just remember that Verizon uses BREW instead of Java. In yet another change from the VX9800, the EnV's QWERTY keypad has five keys colored in gray that you can use for playing selected games.
We <="" cnet:link=""> tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) EnV in San Francisco using Verizon's service. Call quality was admirable and a bit improved over that of the VX9800. There still was a slight tinny, metallic quality to voices, but the clarity and volume level were satisfying. There was a slight hiss of static as well, but it happened very infrequently. Callers reported no problems, though they could tell we were using a cell phone. We did have to speak close to the handset to be heard, however. Speakerphone calls were quite good, with clean audio quality and plenty of volume from the stereo speakers. Callers had a little more trouble hearing us, but it was fine overall. Also, we liked that you can activate the speakerphone not only by using the dedicated controls but also by opening the phone during a call. Calls with a Bluetooth headset also were decent.
Within San Francisco, reception was strong, and the EV-DO connection was solid. Games and files downloaded in seconds, and Web browsing was speedy. Streaming video quality over the V Cast network was average--improved over the LG Chocolate but not quite as good as the LG VX8300. The stereo speakers provided great sound that was in sync with the images, but the video itself was rather pixelated and choppy, even on the sizeable internal display. Overall, though, it's fine for short stints, and we were pleased the streaming clips never froze or paused. On the upside, music quality was more consistent. The audio was loud and clear both through the phone's stereo speakers and through a headset. The music downloading service was sluggish occasionally, but it wasn't bothersome.
The LG EnV (VX9800) has a rated talk time battery life of 4 hours and 30 minutes and a tested talk time of 4 hours and 45 minutes. It has a promised standby time of 19 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the EnV has a digital SAR rating of 0.7 watts per kilogram.