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When AT&T Mobile TV launched two years ago, the LG Vu was one of AT&T 's launch devices for the live mobile TV service. The Vu had a lovely 3-inch display, and it even had a pull-out antenna to further amplify its television reception. Still, the design was getting long in the tooth, and we're glad to see LG and AT&T finally come out with its successor, the LG Vu Plus. The Vu Plus still offers AT&T Mobile TV, but gone is the antenna, and in comes the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It also features an upgraded camera and 3G/HSDPA speeds. The LG Vu Plus is available for $149.99 with a new two-year service agreement.
While it looks similar to its predecessor, the Vu Plus is actually quite different. Measuring 4.31 inches long by 2.1 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Vu Plus is a tad longer and thicker than the original, partially due to the sliding QWERTY keyboard. It's also a little heavier at 3.95 ounces. It's rather blocky in appearance, but it does have rounded edges for a more comfortable feel in the hand.
Like the original, the Vu Plus has a 3-inch display. We're happy to note the display is capacitive, which means it responds quickly to our finger taps. We did wish the display was made out of a sturdier glass material instead of plastic, but it worked fine for the most part. You can also add sound effects and vibration or haptic feedback to your finger taps if you want--you can adjust the length and intensity of the vibrations as well. The screen looks crisp and colorful, thanks to the 262,000 color support and the 240x400-pixel resolution. You can adjust the color and size of the fonts, the screen's brightness, and the backlight timer.
Most touch-screen feature phones allow you to customize their home screens these days, and it's no different with the Vu Plus. In fact, you get up to three customizable home screens. One screen is for your favorite contacts, one is for widgets, and one is for application shortcuts. For the widgets home screen, you can add and remove widgets from a tray along the bottom of the screen, much the same way as you would with the TouchWiz interface on a lot of Samsung phones.
Along the bottom of each home screen are shortcuts to the phone dialer, the phonebook, the messaging in-box, and the main menu. The phone dialer features a large and roomy virtual keypad with shortcuts to the speakerphone and a new text message. If you want, you can also use the virtual T9 keypad for typing out text messages, but we would rather use the physical keyboard for that. The main menu structure is similar to that of other LG touch-screen phones like the LG Glimmer--it's divided into four categories; Phone, Multimedia, My Stuff, and Settings.
Underneath the display are three physical keys--the Talk key, the Clear/Back key, and the End/Power key. Slide the display to the right and you'll find a full four-row QWERTY keyboard. Though the keys are raised above the surface, we found we still had to use our fingernails to type since the keys are lined up so close to one another. Also, the keys felt a little stiffer than we would like. Still, we were able to type with few mistakes, and we liked that there was a dedicated .com key on the keyboard.
The volume rocker and task manager key sit on the left spine, while the microSD card slot, screen lock key, and camera key are on the right. The headset/charger jack is on the top, and the camera lens and LED flash are on the back of the phone.
The LG Vu Plus has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, a messenger ID, a Web address, a street address, a birth date, an anniversary date, and a memo. You can also add the entry to a caller group; add a photo for caller ID, and customize each entry with one of 20 polyphonic ringtones and alert tones.
Other essential features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, a tasks list, a stopwatch, a calculator, a tip calculator, and a unit converter. You also get a voice recorder, voice command, a file manager, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, Yahoo), GPS with AT&T Navigator, a HTML Web browser, and Bluetooth with A2DP stereo support. The Vu Plus comes with AT&T's mobile e-mail application, which lets you get e-mail from a variety of Web mail services (Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL Mail, just to name a few), and you can enter in your own provider email address, too.
The star feature of the Vu Plus, however, is support for AT&T Mobile TV, the carrier's live mobile TV service. Powered by Qualcomm's MediaFLO network, you will be able to receive the TV signal via MediaFLO's own network, so you won't have to suffer through the buffering issues typical with streaming video. You also won't get hit with data charges, since it's a separate subscription. You get more than 150 simulcast and time-shifted programs from many popular networks--they include CBS Mobile, CNN Mobile Live, ESPN, Comedy Central, Fox, MTV, NBC, and more. The service will cost you, though: it's $9.99 a month, with the first seven days free.
Speaking of Web browsing, the Vu Plus is blessed with 7.2 Mbps HSDPA speeds where available, which also means it gets access to the aforementioned Mobile Video, along with AT&T Mobile Music, which lets you download and purchase music from services like Napster and eMusic. You also get a few music apps built-in, like MusicID, XM Radio, and access to streaming music videos. The music player interface is simple yet slick. You get the usual player controls in addition to the ability to create and edit playlists on the fly, the repeat and shuffle modes, plus you can send the player to the background if you wish. The Vu Plus has a 50MB internal storage, but you can load up to 16GB microSD cards for additional storage.
The Vu Plus has a decent 3.0-megapixel camera, but we wished it took better pictures. You can take pictures in five resolutions, from 320x240 all the way to 2,048x1,536. Other settings include three quality settings, five white balance presets, five shot modes including a night mode, four color effects, autofocus, a self-timer, and three shutter tones plus a silent option. Photo quality was all right, and the autofocus worked well to reduce the blur, but we wished the colors were a bit brighter. There's also a built-in camcorder that can record in two resolutions, with recording modes for either MMS mode or up to available storage space. You can also use the camcorder to stream live one-way video via AT&T's VideoShare service.
You can personalize the phone with wallpaper and alert tones-you can either use your own or download them from the AT&T AppCenter store. The phone comes with a few applications and games--The Weather Channel, Mobile Banking, Pocket Express, Bejeweled, I-play Bowling, Rolling with Katamari, and Uno--but you can get more via the AppCenter as well.
We tested the LG Vu Plus in San Francisco using AT&T's service. We experienced decent signal strength--we got three to four bars when we were in the CNET office--and 3G coverage seemed strong as well.
Call quality was good, but not great. On our end, we heard our callers loud and clear, albeit with a slight harsh quality to their voice. We experienced little static or background noise as well.
On their end, callers reported a slight gritty quality to our voice. They said it was noticeable tinny, and that we were on a cell phone. They also heard a background hiss, which was odd since we were in a quiet office at the time. We were still able to carry on a conversation, however. Speakerphone quality had similar results, except with a bit more of an echo effect.
The AT&T Mobile TV reception was spectacular. While the video quality was rather pixelated, we experienced no lag at all when switching channels, and there was no buffering time when loading videos. As for AT&T's Mobile Video service, we experienced very little buffering time as well--about two seconds per video, thanks to the 3G speeds. Video quality was quite blurry and pixelated, though. We also managed to load the full CNET front page in just 25 seconds, which is quite speedy.
Audio quality for music playback was decent. The external speaker on the back had a rather hollow monotone output, so we would recommend using a stereo headset. It's unfortunate that the Vu Plus didn't come with a 3.5mm headset jack, but at least you can use stereo Bluetooth.
The LG Vu Plus has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 12 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 11 minutes. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR of 0.67 watt per kilogram.