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It's become a rite of passage that the autumn season brings more than pumpkins and turkey dinners; it also brings another high-end messaging cell phone from LG and Verizon Wireless. Two years ago, we said hello to the LG VX9800; last year, it was the
While some cell phone watchers have hailed the Voyager as the "iPhone killer," we prefer not to use the expression since it assumes that the iPhone is the device that every other cell phone should be measured against. Also, in many ways the iPhone will always be in a distinct class. But that said, the Voyager VX10000 is one handset that can match--and also surpass--the iPhone in many ways. Wi-Fi is an obvious and disappointing omission, but the Voyager offers many things the iPhone lacks, including 3G support, multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, and an integrated GPS application. It's too bad that all that lavishness comes at such a high price ($299 with a two-year contract), but if you can afford it, the Voyager won't let you down. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
From the outset, the LG Voyager VX10000 looks more like the iPhone than it does its VX9800 and enV predecessors. Gone are the exterior keypad and tiny external display; instead you're greeted by a vibrant touch screen that dominates the front face of the Voyager. As you'd expect from a messaging phone, the Voyager is rather bulky. At 4.64 by 2.12 by 0.71 inches, the Voyager is exactly as tall as the enV, but it's also a bit wider when measured across the front face. Though the change from the VX9900 is noticeable, the Voyager manages to pack its keyboard as well as a long list of features into a trim profile that's a quarter of an inch trimmer than its forerunner's. And at 4.69 ounces, it weighs in at a half an ounce lighter. The result is an eye-catching and slick design that is far more stylish than both the previous LG handsets. It also has a solid feel in the hand and the hinge construction is sturdy.
The touch screen measures 2.81 inches and supports 262,000 colors in a 400x240 pixel resolution. With sharp colors, graphics, and animation, it's a massive improvement over the tiny and ineffective displays on the VX9800 and the enV. And instead of supporting only certain features, you can use the touch screen to access almost all of the Voyager's offerings. In standby mode, the display shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. It also works as a viewfinder for the camera when the phone is open. You can change the backlight time, the menu font style, and the dialing font size.
To get started using the Voyager, just move your finger to the four controls at the bottom the bottom of the display (if the display is frozen, there's an onscreen unlock control). From left to right, the buttons open the messaging menu, activate the onscreen dialpad for making calls, access the main menu, and open your contacts list. Alternatively, you can activate a shortcuts menu by tapping the top part of the display. On the whole, we were pleased with our navigation experience. Selecting an option requires a firm touch, so we didn't have many problems with pressing a command accidentally. If you're having trouble, you can reset the screen's calibration but it's too bad you can't alter the touch sensitivity as well. While it lacks the iPhone's multitouch functionality, and it's resolution isn't quite as crisp, the Voyager's display counters with a nifty and useful offering of its own. Like the Chocolate VX8550, the Voyager features tactile feedback on its touch controls. You can adjust the length and intensity of the vibrating feedback, which is a nice feature.
Beyond simple tapping, you also can manipulate the Voyager by holding your finger to the screen and moving it around. Using this method, you can scroll through long menus and move around a Web page, but we had to practice a few times before we mastered either task. For example, when scrolling through the main menu pages, we had to be careful not to select one of the options accidentally, which we did a few times. We got the hang of it eventually, but even then it felt a tad awkward. In the V Cast menus, you can use the right-hand scroll bar as a more user-friendly alternative, but in other places that option is not available. Is it too much too ask for a little consistency?
The Voyager also has inconsistent methods for entering text on the touch screen. When typing a text message, we could use only the standard nine-digit keypad. Yes, we realize that there's a keyboard inside for your messaging needs, but the external display does support a full QWERTY keyboard for typing URLs while surfing the Web (among other things). Yet we liked that, in either case, the onscreen keys are large enough to avoid mistakes during fast typing. And it goes without saying that the tactile feedback marks a big improvement over the iPhone.
The only navigation buttons on the front of the Voyager are a Clear key and the Talk and End/power buttons. When the display is in standby mode, the Clear key also activates the voice-dialing function (with a short press) and starts the voice recorder (with a long press). Though those shortcuts are useful, it was a bit annoying to press the button accidentally and hear "Please say a command." Completing the exterior are a volume rocker, a camera shutter, and a display-locking switch on the left spine, while the MicroSD card slot and a 2.5mm headset jack sit on the right spine. The charger port sits on the bottom of the phone next to an antenna that extends for V Cast Mobile TV broadcasts. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone, though it's disappointing that LG removed both the lens cover and the flash. Granted, the cover isn't totally necessary, but we expect a flash on a 2-megapixel camera phone.
Inside, the Voyager is just as attractive as it is on the outside. You're drawn immediately to the huge screen that sits between the stereo speakers. In a smart move, LG made the Voyager's internal display the same size as the exterior screen and gave it the same lovely resolution, customization options, and menu interface. It may not offer touch controls, but it's a big leap over its counterpart on the enV, and it does its job very well. And in another welcome improvement over the VX9900, the Voyager rests evenly on a table when open. Just be aware that here again, the left spine controls are difficult to access unless the Voyager is open the full 180 degrees.
The navigation array hasn't moved from its place just to the left of the QWERTY keyboard, but LG redesigned it slightly. Though this toggle remains square, the OK button is now circular and slightly recessed, while the entire array is black instead of silver. Happily, the changes didn't have an effect on the control's usability, as we still had an easy time breezing through the menus. The toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions while the rest of the navigation controls include the normal Talk and End/Power buttons, a Clear key, and a speakerphone shortcut. The familiar soft keys sit just below the display, but we like that they're a tad larger here. Like on the VX9800 and the enV, the placement of the aforementioned OK button far to the left of the display can be disconcerting on at first.
The alphabetic keypad remains is one of the best we've seen on a cell phone. Not only is entire arrangement quite spacious but the keys are also a tad larger and more tactile than on the enV. You get are the same Shift, symbol, and Enter keys, but LG replaced the enV's e-mail button with a control that opens a user-programmable shortcut menu. While most of the alphanumeric keys are black, three are colored gray to indicate that they double as gameplay controls. Lastly, we like that LG kept the second space bar to the left of the Z button, but we'd still prefer it to be in the middle of the keyboard as it is on many smart phones.
Though there's a lot to say about the Voyager's design, that doesn't mean the handset skipped on features. By all means, it packs quite a wallop inside, but we'll start with the basics first. The Voyager offers a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and any of 21 polyphonic ring tones. There's no field for notes in each contract entry, which is unusual.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging (the iPhone lacks MMS), a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch, a notepad, a tip calculator, and a voice memo recorder. For more demanding users, the Voyager also comes with speaker-independent voice commands and dialing, USB mass storage, instant messaging, and a text-to-speech feature. Bluetooth 1.2 is onboard as well, with profiles for headsets, dial-up networking, file transfer, object push, and A2DP stereo sound (the iPhone doesn't offer a stereo profile). Unfortunately, PC syncing for your contacts and calendar is not integrated, which limits the Voyager's usability for road warriors. Also, while the handset supports e-mail, the POP3 application isn't as user-friendly as on the iPhone. It's regrettable that the VX10000 doesn't offer Wi-Fi, particularly since it's so geared for browsing the Internet (see below). While the integrated 3G is more than adequate for Web surfing, we'd much prefer having a choice. But this being Verizon, it's obvious, but not surprising, that the carrier prefers that you pay for the use of its 3G network. The Voyager comes with 180MB of shared memory, which is quite generous, but you're better off saving to a memory card. The MicroSD card slot can accommodate cards as large as 8GB.
The speakerphone can be activated one of two ways: by opening the Voyager when you're on a call, or by dialing a number with the handset open. In either case, you can then deactivate the speakerphone by closing the Voyager or by pressing the dedicated button next to the internal navigation toggle. Opening and closing the phone will also toggle between the external and internal displays automatically. In most cases, your current task won't be interrupted.
As an EV-DO phone, the Voyager supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including the
With so many multimedia features included on the Voyager, it's difficult to name one offering as the best of the bunch, but if one comes close it would have to be Verizon's stellar V Cast Mobile TV service. With the $15 per month Basic package, you get eight channels: CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go, and Nickelodeon. Not all the offerings are "live" as in simulcast; some of the content is timeshifted, others delivered specifically for mobile viewers. Mobile TV is currently available in 25 U.S. markets, with more to come. For full details see our full review of Mobile TV or the LG VX9400 review.
The Voyager's has a solid 2-megapixel camera, though it's short on a few options. And frankly, we were hoping that LG would bump up the resolution from that of the enV. 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), spot metering, a brightness control, a night mode, a self timer, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). The nifty autofocus is carried over from the enV; it's quite useful, as it helped us to the keep the phone steady and eliminates blurriness when taking our shots. The controls are easy to use, as long as you can access those buttons on the left spine--remember, you must have the Voyager fully open--and you're careful not to confuse them with the soft keys. And as we said earlier, we were hoping for a flash.
We like that when taking photos you can use the full display as a viewfinder, but it's too bad that the same isn't true when you're viewing images form your album. In that case, the pictures take up only part of the display. Also, while it's great that you can se you can switch to the external display for vanity shots, it takes a few too many steps to get you there. Unlike the enV, you can access the camera's menus on the external display, but the touch interface is a bit clunky. For the most part, photo quality was quite good, but it was somewhat inconsistent. The majority of our images features bright color resolution with sharp definition. On a few other occasions, however, our photos were washed out and a tad blurry. The camera seems to work best when it's held completely still, for which the autofocus helps. Dim conditions are tricky without a flash.
The camcorder takes clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with sound, and it has a set of editing options similar to that of the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are limited to 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. You can use the external display to record videos and even film yourself when the phone is open. Though a message on the external display will command you to hold the Voyager horizontally in order to film, it's not completely necessary that you do so. It's just that filming in landscape mode will better represent the frame's true size. As with photos from your album, filmed clips will take up only a portion of the display. Videos were comparable with the enV, which is to say they're decent if you hold the camera steady. On the other hand, the camera couldn't handle quick movements.
With a full HMTL browser, the Voyager offers a great surfing experience that almost rivals the iPhone's. The external display renders full Web pages in all their glory; there are no clunky WAP pages to be seen. It won't support flash but you can click through multiple pages, view photos, and select links at will. As mentioned earlier, you can maneuver through pages by sweeping your finger cross the display while getting the tactile feedback. Though the motion isn't as fluid as on the iPhone, and it can be a bit tricky to your select preferred link on a crowded page, LG deserves a lot of credit for presenting the mobile Internet in this form. Like so much else that's new, it may not be perfect, but it is big step ahead. And even without Wi-Fi, it ups the ante over the iPhone by offering the Web in 3G. You can use the internal display to view the full Web pages as well, but using the toggle to navigate is tedious.
You can personalize the Voyager with a variety of color themes, wallpaper, screen savers, and clock formats, and you can write a personalized banner. We were surprised that the Voyager offers one full game with Pac-Man. Usually, Verizon doesn't give us any games.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) in San Francisco and Los Angeles using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was quite admirable. The signal remained strong and was free of static or interference. Also, voices sounded natural, and we enjoyed plenty of volume--even when talking on a noisy street. Our only complaint was there was a slight hissing sound on our end. Still, it didn't happen all the time, so it wasn't a bother.
Callers reported satisfying conditions on their end. They could hear us plainly, and the audio was clear. In fact, some of our friends couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. They didn't encounter the hissing noise, but a couple of callers said we sounded slightly tinny. Automated calling systems could distinguish our commands as well, even when we were talking on a noisy street.
Speakerphone calls were also agreeable. The volume was louder than we expected, and the audio clarity was some of best we've encountered on a speakerphone. Callers reported the same conditions, but on the whole we had the best experience when talking in a quiet room. As for Bluetooth calls, we successfully paired a headset and experienced decent call quality. Like with most touch-screen phones, the external display locks automatically during calls to avoid an accidental hang-up. You can unlock it by pressing the aforementioned unlock icon in the lower-left corner. That's not an issue for the most part, except for when you need to use the dialpad while on a call.
The EV-DO connection was relatively strong as measured by the number of reception bars on the screen, yet our actual experience was somewhat mixed. V Cast videos loaded in about 15 seconds, which is more or less average, and navigating through the V Cast menus was speedy. Downloading a game took just a few seconds as well, and surfing the Web was relatively zippy. Web pages such as Yahoo and CNET loaded in about 10 to 15 seconds, which isn't bad. We were hoping to see it move a little faster, and of course, offer Wi-Fi as an alternative, but the browser is perfectly satisfying for what it offers. And in any case, it's better than AT&T's EDGE network. On the other hand, the V Cast Music service was pokier. Songs took more than minute and a half to download, which is slower than we've seen on other Verizon EV-DO phones such as the LG VX8350.
Contrary to earlier impressions, the response time for the touch screen was rather swift. Yet we noticed a few times that the touch screen seemed to freeze for a couple of seconds. On those occasions, we had to wait momentarily before the screen would respond to our touch. It happened very infrequently, and with no pattern, but it's still worth noting.
The Voyager's streaming video quality also was uneven. We really wanted to watch videos on the external display, but the experience left us disappointed. Though the menu is a tad slicker than the normal V Cast interface, and the videos cover almost the full width of the landscape display, the quality was rather poor. There was frequent pixilation, and small images could be almost blurry. Likewise, while the sound matched the speakers' mouths, the volume was muffled. Since all V Cast sound comes from the twin speakers inside the phone, the level is rather low when it is closed.
The V Cast experience has less pixilation when using the internal display, but the size of the frame is much smaller. Clips weren't unwatchable by any means, but we were hoping for better. On the upside, however, videos never froze, and we didn't have to pause for rebuffering. Although the San Francisco Bay Area won't get V Cast Mobile TV until early 2009, we were able to test the feature in Los Angeles. On the whole the experience was satisfactory with clean video and no distortion. It was comparable with the other V Cast Mobile TV phones we've reviewed.
Music quality was satisfying on the whole. The twin speakers gave enough volume, and the audio was clear. As is typical with a music phone, it's not good enough to replace your standalone MP3 player, but it's fine for most uses. Try headphones for the best experience.
The LG Voyager VX10000 has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 20 days standby time. It fell a bit short in our battery tests, reaching 3 hours, 45 minutes of talk time. That's still a decent result for a CDMA handset, but it's 4 hours less than what the iPhone delivered. According to FCC radiation tests, the Voyager has a digital SAR rating of 0.765 watt per kilogram.