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LG Envoy II (U.S. Cellular) review: Subpar specs in a subpar performer

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You wouldn't expect high-end features in a simple phone, and you're not going to get them with the Envoy II. Not only is the low-resolution screen hard to look at from certain angles, you also won't get video recording, a flash, or any expandable memory.

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5.3

LG Envoy II (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

The <b>LG Envoy II</b> has an extremely easy-to-understand interface and several shortcut buttons to launch frequently used applications.

The Bad

The Envoy II has a grainy display with a narrow viewing angle, the headset jack is nonstandard, and the power/end button is inconveniently located.

The Bottom Line

With its low-end specs and mediocre camera, the Envoy II isn't worth buying -- especially since the Samsung Chrono 2 comes in at a cheaper contract price.

True, like its predecessor, this handset is geared toward people who are mostly interested in making calls. But given that, call quality should have been better than it was.

Frankly, for a prepaid price of $49.99 and a contract price of $69.99, I'd want something more. Fortunately for U.S. Cellular customers, there is a better option in the Samsung Chrono 2.

Design
The LG Envoy II has an all-black plastic design that, while lightweight at 3.66 ounces, feels cheap and almost toylike. The front of the device features a glossy finish, and houses a 0.98-inch monochrome display with a 96x64-pixel resolution, and a camera. This screen shows information like the time, date, reception, and battery.

The handset measures 3.9 inches tall, 2 inches wide, and 0.7 inch thick. On its left are a Micro-USB port, a thin volume rocker, and a 2.5mm headset jack that is protected by a small cover.

LG Envoy II
Because of the placement of the voice command button, it's easy to press that key accidentally instead of the power/end button. James Martin/CNET

To remove the back plate, you can slide your fingernail in a small insert at the bottom of the phone in the rear. Once that is off, you can gain access to the battery.

When you open up the Envoy II, you'll see a 2.2-inch QCIF display. It has a 176x220-pixel resolution, so it is by no means crystal-clear. Even a solid-color background looks grainy because the resolution is so low, and it has a narrow viewing angle. If you tilt it about 45 degrees, the screen becomes washed out and you can't really see any of the menu items. However, when viewed straight on, text and icons are still readable.

Below the screen are two sets of buttons. The top portion includes left and right soft keys, shortcut keys for the camera and speakerphone, and then keys to access the alarm clock, text to talk, and voice commands like opening voice mail or hearing the current date and time. In the center of it all is an OK select button, encircled by four navigational buttons.

The second set is the alphanumeric keypad, along with send, clear, and end/power keys buttons.

While the buttons are generously spaced and easy to press, they are quite flush with the surface of the phone, making them hard to discern one from another by touch alone. Furthermore, the placement of the voice commands key is directly to the bottom right of the central OK button. I'm very used to having power/end keys there, so I found myself launching voice commands when I really wanted to quit out of an app.

Get the message with the LG Envoy II (pictures)

See all photos

Features
Aside from making calls, the device can hold up to 1,000 contacts and send SMS text messages, colored photos, and voice memos. It has an incredibly easy-to-understand user interface. On the home screen, you can view your reception meter on the upper-left corner and your battery status on the upper right. Various icons will also appear at the top depending on what is currently running, like 1X data, Bluetooth, or vibration mode.

At the bottom of the screen, you'll see message, menu, and contacts. The menu consists of 12 icons that you can select either by pressing their corresponding number on the keypad (for instance, you can press 1 to open up your phone book), or you can navigate with the four directional buttons.

LG Envoy II
The menu page shows 12 customizable applications. James Martin/CNET

Listed in the menu are contacts, messaging, call history, multimedia, a store portal called EasyEdge where you can buy games and ringtones, a calendar, a browser, tools, settings, Tone Room Deluxe, in which you can purchase even more ringtones from current music hits, an app that backs up your contacts, and the game Uno. These are all default choices, however, as you can customize your menu in tools.

When you launch the tools menu, you'll also get access to both the regular calculator and tip calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, and a unit converter. You can also launch the voice command app from here.

Additional features include Bluetooth 2.1, 129MB of internal memory, and GPS capabilities. Unfortunately, the phone does not have an expandable memory option.

Camera
The 1.3-megapixel handset cannot record video and doesn't come with a flash. It does have a few photo options, however: a brightness meter, three picture sizes (from 320x240 to 1,280x960-pixel resolution), a multishot option that'll take either three or six photos in succession, four color effects, five white balances, a night mode, a timer, three photo qualities, four shutter sounds, and an option to send a photo as a reminder to yourself.

The photo quality was not only poor, but much worse than you get from other 1.3-megapixel shooters, like the one in the Cosmos 3. Not only were colors muted and washed out, but edges were blurry and ill-defined, and objects were extremely out of focus.

LG Envoy II - outdoor
Despite my having held the camera as still as possible, this amply lit outdoor photo is out of focus. Lynn La/CNET

LG Envoy II - indoor
Though the CNET carpet is easy to see, this picture is still blurry and muted. Lynn La/CNET

LG Envoy II - SSI
In our standard studio shot, the white background is an unpleasant shade of brown and yellow. James Martin/CNET

Performance
I tested the handset here in San Francisco, and call quality was respectable, though not the clearest I've heard on a feature phone. Though none of my calls dropped and audio didn't cut in and out, voices sounded muffled and dampened, and I could hear a bit of static with every word. Granted, it wasn't enough to prevent me from hearing what was being said, and it wasn't distracting, but it did reduce the call quality. Furthermore, the maximum volume for the speaker phone could stand to be a lot louder. I had to remain pretty close to the Envoy II in order to hear my friend speak.

I was told I could be heard clearly, though I did sound a bit flat. My friend even commented that I sounded a little nasal as well.

LG Envoy II (U.S. Cellular) call quality sample

Listen now:

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When it comes to Web browsing, the phone is understandably slow. It takes anywhere from 8 to 10 seconds to load a skeletal version of a Web page, and opening up the browser in the first place takes even longer. In the same vein, the camera is also sluggish. You'll need to hold the phone still for a few seconds after snapping a picture to prevent motion blur, and it takes about 1 to 2 seconds to fire up the camera.

The Envoy II has a 950mAh battery that has a reported talk time of 5 hours and a standby time of 12.5 days. During our battery drain test, it lasted 7.07 hours for talk-time. Anecdotally, the device has solid battery life, lasting several days (under minimal usage) without a charge. According to FCC radiation standards, the handset has a digital SAR rating of 1.15 W/kg.

Conclusion
Feature phones don't have top-notch specs, but the Envoy II is so lacking with its offerings that it's hard to imagine why one would pick it over U.S. Cellular's more stylish Chrono 2. The Chrono 2 has a bigger battery, your standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and 1GB of internal memory. And best of all? It's $20 cheaper than the Envoy II with contract.

LG-Envoy-II-35791990-6732.jpg
5.3

LG Envoy II (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 6