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In the world of clamshell phones, it's rare to see anything remotely refreshing come through the pipeline. All too often, devices sport the same familiar design and slow performance.
But in a space that offers such little variation, Verizon's LG Exalt stands out in two ways. First, its design is notable: it's equipped with a relatively large 3-inch screen, and it has foregone the monochrome external display for chic LED lights (similar to the LG dLite) that serve the same purpose. Second, for a basic handset, it performs quite swiftly.
True, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a modern smartphone, but for those who just need the basics, the Exalt will satisfy. Especially since the device is currently free, after you sign a two-year contract.
Design Even though it's just a flip phone, the LG Exalt doesn't skimp on style. In this day and age, it's one of the most chic-looking clamshells I've seen in a while, and it's nice to see that a conscious effort was made for this device's look, despite its old-school form factor. Its smooth and glossy design can make it slick to handle at times, but it's comfortable to hold and will easily slide into your jean pockets.
When opened, the handset measures 4.37-inches tall, 2.06-inches wide, 0.62-inches thick, and weighs 3.88 ounces. Compared to other flip phones, the Exalt is a bit bigger in terms of length and width, so if you want to open it up with one hand, you'll need to give it hard flick.
On the outside, there is no obvious external display. However, once you press any of the side buttons, moving LED lights will shine from underneath the device's black surface and the time will appear. We've seen this before, with the LG dLite, but it's still a stylish addition. The lights can also show you when you have a missed call or get a text message. If you receive an incoming call from an unblocked number, the lights will also scroll the number though, similar to a news ticker.
On the handset's left edge are a volume rocker and 3.5mm headphone jack. The right houses a shortcut key -- you can push it once to launch the camera, or long-press it to go directly to video recording. On the very bottom edge is a Micro-USB port for charging.
Located on the back are a 2-megapixel camera (without a flash) and two slits at the bottom for the audio speaker. You can pry off the battery door using a small via a small indent near the Micro-USB port. Once it's removed, you can gain access to the removable 900 mAh battery and microSD card that's expandable up to 32GB.
The phone has a 3-inch WQVGA display with a 240x400-pixel resolution. For a clamshell device, that's quite a big screen, and I like that it's colorful and bright. However, with that resolution level, it's not the sharpest screen. Photos do look pixelated, there is some aliasing on texts and icons, and images appear grainy. For what it is though, the display suffices, and you won't have a problem using it with day-to-day use.
Below the display is an alphanumeric keypad that is generously sized and spaced, and comfortable to press. The buttons are stylish too: they're flush with the rest of the handset's surface, which looks modern, and their shiny tile-like design is chic.
The keypad includes two soft keys up top, four navigational arrows with a center select button, and two shortcut keys to launch the speaker and alarm clock. Along with the number keys, there are also three keys for sending a call, ending a call (which doubles as the power button when you long press it), and a "clear" button to navigate backward. This key also launches voice command when you're at the home page.
Software features The Exalt can hold up to 1,000 contacts. You can save up to five numbers, two e-mail addresses, and one street address under each person. You can also assign a photo, a ringtone (there are 38 already included), and add a personal note to each contact.
Contacts can be organized into groups (you get to make 10), such as favorites, friends, and family. Three people can be added to a emergency contact list specifically, where you can also store any pertinent medical information.
When you're at the homepage, press the center OK button to launch the menu. There you'll see nine icons for contacts, messaging, recent calls, the Opera Mini mobile Web browser, a media center, a native e-mail client, apps, the photo gallery, and finally the settings and tools icon.
You can change the look of these icons under three themes (there's classic, modern, and a neat sketchy style called artistic), and change how these icons are displayed (for example, if you prefer, as a list instead).
Under settings and tools, useful features include two calculators (a regular one and another that specifically figures out restaurant tips), a calendar, and an alarm clock. You'll get a world clock, a notepad, and a stopwatch as well.
There are preloaded apps such as a Verizon-branded ringtone app, navigator, and backup assistant. Daily Scoop is also included, which notifies you of local deals and special offers. Additional features include Bluetooth 3.0, GPS support, and 260MB of internal memory.
Camera and video Given that this is a 2-megapixel camera, photo quality was adequate, but still not very sharp. Though objects were distinct and easy to make out, they still lacked crisp focus and featured blurred edges. With photos taken indoors, whites appeared more amber or yellow, and colors altogether looked muted.
One confusing thing about the camera is that if you hold the device vertically, and the viewfinder looks as if it is framed vertically, the photo actually ends up horizontal. To take a vertical photo, you will have to tilt your handset to the side. Again, the screen will make it look like you're taking a horizontal picture, but the composition will actually be switched.
Once you figure out this switch, it's easy to adjust. You can also change this setting in the options menu and have it framed in "actual view." But this "full screen" preview is the default setting, and it's confusing and unintuitive. I suggest you switch to "actual view," since the default makes it very difficult to compose your pictures, and you have no idea what will be included in the frame.
Video quality was also expectantly poor. Images looked grainy and pixelated, though they were easy to make out. The camera was slow to adjust for lighting, and you can see a notable amount of color banding. White, bright colors were often blown out and dark hues were hard to distinguish from one another.
Some basic photo options include an exposure meter, four photo sizes (from 320x240 to 1,600x1,200-pixel resolution), a timer, five white balances, four color effects, and a night mode. Video recording also has the same white balance and color effect options, and your recordings can be shot in either 176x144 or 320x240-pixel resolution. In addition, if you want to send a video, the camera allots 15 seconds of recording time. For a saved video, you get up to an hour (depending on how much stored capacity you have).
Performance I tested the single-band (800MHz) phone at our San Francisco offices and call quality was good. Voices were easily comprehensible, came in clear, and volume range was at adequate levels. None of my calls dropped, audio was consistent, and I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noises. I did notice, however, that voices sounded a bit pinched and hollow. Audio speaker yielded similar, tinny, results. When I turned the feature on, my calling partner's voice remained sharp, especially at a high volume level. As for my end, I was told that I could be heard clearly as well, though there were hints of static here and there with my voice.
LG Exalt (Verizon Wireless) call quality sample
Compared to devices like the LG Envoy II and the Revere 2, the Exalt performs rather quickly. Opening up the web browser (which takes an inordinate amount of time on the other devices), only takes about three seconds, and sending a photo (of about 270K in size) took a little over a minute. Though opening up menu items or returning to the home page isn't exactly instantaneous, I didn't get the sense of lag that I would normally expect. On average, it takes about 1.93 seconds to launch the camera and around 26 seconds to start up the handset.
The phone has a 900 mAh battery that has a reported talk time of 5.5 hours and a standby time of nearly 18 days. Anecdotally, it has solid battery life, lasting several days (under minimal usage) without a charge. During our battery drain test for continuous talk time, the device lasted 6.62 hours. According to FCC radiation standards, the handset has a digital SAR measurement of 0.43 W/kg.
Conclusion Verizon has several basic handsets in its lineup, and some have additional features that the Exalt does not have. The Casio G'zOne Ravine 2, for example, is waterproof and built ultra-tough (but costs $199.99 with contract), and the $0.99 LG Cosmos 3 sports a physical QWERTY keyboard.
However, if you're not in the market for a rugged phone, and you're keen on the clamshell form factor, the Exalt is seriously worth considering. Compared to the the carrier's other flip phones, which are the $49.99 Samsung Gusto 2 and the $0.99 LG Revere 2, it has a larger screen, higher resolution, and a bigger battery. With features like that, on top of a free on-contract price, it's easy to see why the Exalt is the better choice.