Not everyone needs a smartphone or even a high-end handset. LG and U.S. Cellular hope so at least, as they have partnered up to introduce the LG Envoy, an entry-level clamshell that's pretty bare-bones when it comes to features. You won't find a music player on here, and 3G seekers will be out of luck. Yet, the Envoy does satisfy the basic requirements for a decent consumer handheld--it's slim, compact, and it makes calls. LG also threw Bluetooth and a VGA camera in there to sweeten the deal. As you might expect, one of the Envoy's biggest attractions is its price, and it doesn't disappoint at only $9.99 after the usual discounts and agreements.
The LG Envoy has a very simple clamshell design, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. At 3.75 inches long by 1.94 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, the Envoy is decidedly compact and pocket-friendly. It has straight sides, rounded corners, and subtle curves along the edges that result in a comfortable feel in the hand. The Envoy is clad in a glossy piano black plastic that makes it feel rather cheap.
Sitting on the front of the phone is a camera lens at the top plus a 0.98-inch external display underneath it. The display is a grayscale CSTN with 96x64-pixel resolution and is not meant for much more than showing basic information. It displays the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and incoming caller ID. A 2.5mm headset jack, volume rocker, and Micro-USB port sit on the left spine, while a camera button sits on the right.
The phone flips open easily yet firmly thanks to the Envoy's sturdy hinge. When you do so, you'll reveal the phone's 2.2-inch 260,000-color TFT display with a 220x176-pixel resolution. While the screen didn't exactly dazzle us, we found it perfectly serviceable for a basic phone like this. The screen is bright and colorful, and text is legible enough. Graphics were a bit more pixelated than we would like, but that's a minor complaint. You can adjust the wallpaper, the banner text, the backlight timer, the menu style, language, the appearance of the clock and calendar, the font type, and the style and size of the dial fonts. You can also have the phone match the number to the name in your phonebook as you're dialing.
Beneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a square toggle and middle OK key, a dedicated speakerphone key, a Clear/voice command key, the Send key, and the End/Power key. The toggle doubles as shortcuts to a favorites list, a My Menu list of up to 12 customizable shortcuts, the EasyEdge shop, and the calendar.
Right underneath the navigation array is the number keypad. The keypad is quite spacious, and each row of keys is separated with a curved delineation. The keys on each row may seem flat to the surface, but there's actually a slight bump underneath each key to help you dial by feel.
The LG Envoy has a simple 1,000-entry phone book, with room in each entry for seven numbers, two e-mail addresses, a URL, and a memo. You can also add a photo for caller ID and any of 28 sounds to be used as either a custom ringtone or message tone. If you prefer, you can set your own MP3s as a ringtone. You can organize your contacts into caller groups as well.
Other features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, voice command, voice memo recording, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, and a unit converter. Slightly savvier users will appreciate the mobile Web browser, Bluetooth, and access to U.S. Cellular's EasyEdge shop that lets you buy ringtones, apps, and games. A few BREW apps come preloaded on the Envoy; they are mSpot radio, AccuWeather.com, ToneRoom Deluxe, City ID, My Contacts Backup, Pac-Man, and Social Scene.
The VGA camera on the LG Envoy is quite basic, but it does come with a few settings to help improve the photo quality. They include up to four resolutions, three quality settings, brightness, multishot mode, color effects, white balance presets, and a night mode. There's also a self-timer and the option of four shutter sounds or none at all. There's also 2x zoom, but it only works when you're not at the highest resolution. As you might expect, the photo quality of the VGA camera isn't the best. Images looked blurry and out of focus, and colors were very dull.
We tested the LG Envoy in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network. Call quality was very impressive. Callers sounded loud, clear, and natural, without any static or interference whatsoever. On their end, they reported solid call quality as well. Our voice sounded very natural, and was free of any hiss or crackle. We didn't experience many problems with background noise, either. Speakerphone calls were quite good as well.
LG Envoy call quality sample Listen now:
The LG Envoy makes no pretensions about its entry-level status; it's a regular run-of-the-mill flip phone without a lot of features. However, we like its slim and minimalist design. You still have basic functions like Bluetooth and a VGA camera, and it's easy to use. Most importantly, it gets job number one done, and that's making good-quality phone calls. For only $9.99 after a discount and a two-year contract, that's not a bad deal.