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The LG Vu has been a long time coming. Ever since we saw the LG Prada early last year, we wanted a similar handset for the U.S. market. Not soon after, we grew jealous of our international cousins for having access to the LG Viewty, the 5.0-megapixel successor to the Prada available only in Europe and Asia. Since then, we've seen the LG Voyager and the LG Glimmer come our way, but we were still waiting for a full touch screen phone from LG. Finally, at CTIA in April 2008, we had our glimpse of the LG Vu, which many have claimed to be the U.S. version of the Viewty. However, its claim to fame isn't its camera--instead, the Vu is one of AT&T's launch devices for AT&T Mobile TV, the carrier's brand new live mobile TV service launching in May 2008. Combined with its stunning design and array of multimedia features, the Vu is definitely a showstopper. The LG Vu will be available for $299.99 with a two-year service agreement after a $100 mail-in rebate.
At first glance, the LG Vu appears to be a grown-up version of the LG Prada. It has the same glossy piano-black finish, silver sides, and minimalist style, but it is definitely larger and a bit more rounded on the edges. Measuring 4.24 inches long by 2.16 inches wide by 0.51 inch thick and weighing 3.16 ounces, the Vu is fairly light for its size thanks to its all-plastic casing. The Vu is slim and lightweight, and it can be easily slipped in a pocket or purse without too much bulge. Bear in mind that the glossy finish attracts a lot of fingerprint smudges.
Sitting front and center of the Vu is the very generously sized 3-inch diagonal touch-screen. The display supports 262,000 colors and 240x400 pixels, which result in amazing-looking graphics and images that are saturated with color and detail. From the home screen, you can view the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. When the touch screen is locked, you'll still be able to view the date and time. The display also acts as a viewfinder when the camera is activated. You can adjust the backlighting time, brightness, plus the size of the dialing fonts.
As you would expect, the entire phone's navigation is to be done via its massive touch screen. The touch-screen interface on the Vu mimics that of the LG Glimmer and the LG Voyager, right down to the menu structure. There are four shortcut icons along the bottom of the home screen, and from left to right they correspond to the main menu, AT&T Mobile TV, the contacts list, plus the phone function (which activates an onscreen dial pad). You can also choose to toggle on a Shortcuts Menu, which will bring up eight application shortcuts smack dab in the center of the home screen. The shortcuts correspond to Cellular Video, the music player, a new message, Bluetooth activation, instant messaging, the Web browser, the calendar, and voice command.
As with the Apple iPhone, all of the navigation is to be done via the finger and not a stylus. The navigation is definitely intuitive. It involves finger tapping to select something, and finger swiping to scroll through lists or move across a Web page. A light yet firm touch is required when navigating through the phone, but if you're still having trouble, the Vu comes with Touch Calibration software. There's even a touch-screen tutorial when you first start up the phone, which is very helpful. That said, we still had some issues when scrolling through lists--sometimes we would accidentally select something by mistake. We got used to it eventually, so keep in mind that there's a slight learning curve involved. The Vu also supports haptic feedback, which provides tiny vibrations whenever something is selected. We found this great for confirming a selection, and it is especially useful when dialing and texting.
Speaking of dialing and texting, we found the experience to be quite pleasant. Sure you won't be able to dial by feel, but the numbers on the screen are large enough to hit without too many mistakes. We especially like the texting interface, since the Vu provides an option for a full QWERTY keyboard. When the QWERTY keyboard is selected, the orientation of the screen switches to landscape mode, for easier texting. Also, whenever you tap a key on the keyboard, the key will magnify showing you selected it, much like you would see on the Apple iPhone. Similarly, you can type on the virtual QWERTY keyboard when entering URL addresses in the Web browser.
Underneath the display is the Call, Clear/Back, and End/Power keys, while the camera key, hold key, volume rocker, and charger/headset jack sit on the right spine. There's also an extendable antenna housed in the top right corner of the phone, which can be pulled out to get better reception on the AT&T Mobile TV service. On the back is the camera lens and self-portrait mirror. You have to remove the battery as well as the SIM card to access the microSD card slot, which we found terribly inconvenient.
The LG Vu's standout feature is arguably AT&T Mobile TV, AT&T's live mobile TV service. But before we get into that, let's starts with the basics. The Vu comes with a 500-entry contact list, which we found a little small, but each entry does have room for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and a memo. You can organize contacts by caller groups, pair them with photos for caller ID, and any of 12 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a tip calculator, a notepad, a world clock, a task list, a stopwatch, and a unit converter. More advanced users will like the full HTML Web browser, e-mail, USB mass storage, voice recording, voice command and dialing, instant messaging, and Bluetooth. Supported Bluetooth profiles include hands-free, headset, dial-up networking, A2DP/stereo, object push, file transfer, and A/V remote control. Though the Vu does have e-mail support for a variety of providers (BellSouth, Earthlink, and Yahoo, to name a few), it doesn't let you enter in your own POP3 address, which we found discouraging.
The Vu comes with 3G HSDPA support, which allows it access to AT&T's wide array of broadband services. This includes AT&T's Cellular Video, which lets you watch streaming video clips from content providers like Comedy Central and ESPN, plus AT&T Mobile Music that lets you download and stream songs from Napster or eMusic. The music player has a slick interface, with easy-to-use controls and the ability to view album art. You can create your own playlists, and songs are divided into artists, albums, and genres. Along with downloading songs over the air, you can also load your own tunes to the device. The Vu has an internal storage memory of 120MB, but there's also a microSD card slot for additional storage. As a bonus, the LG Vu also works with AT&T's Video Share service that allows one-way video streaming during a mobile-to-mobile call (provided the other phone is also Video Share compatible).
But the biggest feature by far is AT&T Mobile TV, AT&T's brand new live mobile TV service. It follows the trail of V Cast Mobile TV by offering live mobile television via Qualcomm's MediaFLO. Since the TV signals will route via MediaFLO's own network, you'll be able to receive live TV straight to your phone without any data or voice charges. AT&T promises more than 150 simulcast and/or time-shifted programs from content providers like CBS, ESPN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox, MTV, NBC, and more. As a special bonus for AT&T subscribers, you will get two AT&T-exclusive channels called PIX and CNN Mobile Live--PIX is a channel from the Sony Pictures library, and CNN Mobile Live offers 24-hour access to live news from CNN. The service will cost you, though; the Basic package is $15 a month for just the Mobile TV, and the Plus package, at $30 a month, is for the Mobile TV as well as unlimited Web browsing and Cellular Video. If you want to go even lower, you can opt for only four channels--CBS Mobile, FOX Mobile, NBC 2Go, and NBC News 2Go--for only $13 a month. AT&T Mobile TV will launch in 58 markets nationwide.
The Vu has a decent 2-megapixel autofocus camera, but we did wish it had a slightly higher megapixel count. You can take pictures in five resolutions (1,600x1,200; 1,280x960; 640x480; 320x240; 160x120), three quality settings, five white-balance settings, and four color effects. Other settings include up to 2x zoom, three shutter sounds with a silent option, a macro mode, a night mode, and a self-timer. Photo quality was quite good. Colors appeared accurate enough, and the autofocus was helpful in reducing the chance of a blurry photo. However, photos didn't look as sharp as we wanted, and we missed having a flash. The Vu also has a built-in camcorder that can record videos in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with recording modes of up to 42 seconds for multimedia messages or up to the available storage space. Camcorder settings are similar to that on the still camera. Video quality was predictably bad for a camera phone, with a lot of pixelation during movement.
There are plenty of personalization options with the LG Vu. Not only do you get an array of wallpaper, screensavers, and alert tones to choose from, you can always get more via AT&T's MEdiaNet store. There's even a Shop Ringtones shortcut right from the home screen. The Vu comes with a few Web applications--InStyle Mobile Demo (a mobile version of the magazine site), IMDB movies (an app that lets you find show times and theatres of the latest movies), My-Cast 5 weather, and MySpace Mobile (a mobile version of the popular social networking site)--but you can download more if you wish. As for games, you get Bejeweled, Jewel Quest II Demo, Midnight Pool, New York Nights, and WSOP Pro Challenge Poker with the phone, but again, you can always download more.
We tested the quad-band dual-mode (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA) LG Vu in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was excellent, with little to no distortion. We heard our callers clearly with plenty of volume, and they, too, didn't hear a lot of background noise. Speakerphone calls came through loud and clear, as well, though we did have to speak up a little bit more. We managed to pair the LG Vu with the Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset without a problem.
Unfortunately, we were not able to fully test out AT&T Mobile TV at the time of testing, since AT&T has not yet deployed the TV service in San Francisco. We will give a proper review of the service when we do.
As far as HSDPA speeds go, though, we were very pleased with the results. Web pages loaded in mere seconds, and a song download only took about minute. We also managed to stream video with little to no buffering time. That said, video quality wasn't the best; most videos looked choppy and blurry, especially the ones with a lot of action. Music quality was great, with strong melodic tunes coming through, as long as you use a headset. The built-in speakers aren't so great for listening to music because of a slightly hollow sound.
The LG Vu has a rated battery life of 3.16 hours talk time and 10 days, 10 hours of standby time. Our tests reveal a talk time of 3.16 hours. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR rating of 1.26 watts per kilogram.