Editor's note: Since this review posted, Verizon has added new V Cast cities. Please see CNET's quick guide to 3G for a complete list.
The LG VX8000 for Verizon Wireless is the carrier's first EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) capable handset. A more than worthy cell phone in its own right, the mobile is designed to benefit from Verizon Wireless's recently rolled-out third-generation-esque network, which promises average data speeds of 300Kbps to 500Kbps. In addition to boasting high-end extras such as a 1.3-megapixel camera and loads of messaging features, the VX8000's real selling point is its ability to allow users to access Video On Demand news, sports, and entertainment using the carrier's V Cast service. Kudos aside, we wish the VX8000 shipped with Bluetooth support. Nevertheless, at $199 after a $70 mail-in rebate and with a two-year service agreement, the LG VX8000 is fairly priced, considering its ample list of features. As expected, a cell phone with all of these features is bound to be hefty. The LG VX8000 comes in at 3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and weighs a hair less than 4 ounces, but it feels quite solid in the hand. An extendable antenna adds more bulk, but it's sturdier than most others we've seen. Speaking to its multimedia pedigree, on the front cover you'll find some interesting features. In addition to the 1.25-inch-diagonal, 262,000-color external display, you'll find the camera lens, which boasts a switch that changes the camera from portrait to macro mode for extreme close-ups. There's also a flash, and the external screen acts as a viewfinder for self-portraits. Below the display are three buttons: rewind, play/stop, and fast-forward, which allow you to control the playback of the multimedia files that you can download via V Cast. Sound for VCast files and the speakerphone comes through small stereo speakers on the front face, or you can use the included stereo headphones to listen to your files in private.
In addition to photo caller ID (where available), the external display shows the date, time, battery life, and signal strength. We were pleased that you can change the font size and the backlighting on the external display, but the maximum is just 30 seconds. After that, it goes dim but not completely dark. That said, pressing any of the external controls on the handset turns on the screen, so users don't have to open the flip to check the time. But the display has the really cool ability to act as a minimenu for the camera features. To access the menu, simply press the dedicated camera button on the right spine. Then, using the left-spine volume rocker and the aforementioned rewind, play/stop, and fast-forward buttons, you can take a picture or a video, as well as access your photo gallery. Below the volume rocker on the left spine is a key that activates voice dialing.
We were glad to see a nice design inside the mobile as well. The VX8000's internal 262,000-color screen is set in a mirrored frame and measures an ample 2.25 inches diagonally. A multimedia device, the LG unsurprisingly has a screen that is quite vivid and easy to view in a variety of lighting conditions. Furthermore, users familiar with the will have no problem navigating the various menus. The similarity is no accident, as Verizon is starting a program to standardize the menus on its handsets. They're easy to use, but they require some acclimation.
Because the VX8000 is a relatively large mobile, the navigation controls are well spaced. There's a five-way toggle that's preprogrammed with shortcuts to the Get Pix And Flix menu, the WAP 2.0 browser, the Get It Now menu, and the calendar. Flanking the navigation toggle are six buttons; the top two (on the left and right) are soft keys, while below the left soft key is the Clear/speakerphone button. When entering text, the Clear button serves as a Delete key, and in menus, it serves as a Back button. To activate the speakerphone, you simply hold down the corresponding button. Thankfully, with the VX8000, you can activate the speakerphone before as well as during a call. Below those keys is the Send button, under the right soft key is a dedicated camera/camcorder button, and below that is the End key. The VX8000's various keypad buttons are backlit in blue and amply spaced. Also, since the keypad buttons are slightly raised, it's easy to dial by feel.
When the phone is open, you also can activate the camera with the dedicated button on the right side. Once the camera application is launched, hitting it again switches over to the camcorder application. While we understand the need to easily be able to switch between the still and video cameras, we continually hit the camera button, expecting it to behave like a shutter. The only way to take a photo (or start and stop recording with the camcorder) is by pressing the OK button.In addition to its myriad multimedia features, the LG VX8000 sports a ton of basics, including a 500-contact phone book that stores up to five numbers and two e-mail addresses per name. Additionally, you can assign a picture to each contact for photo caller ID as well as one of the 20 polyphonic ring tones. The handset also has a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, three-way calling, a calendar, one-minute voice memos (you can save a maximum of 30), a tip calculator, an alarm clock, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, a notepad, a calculator, and a world clock. Being a fairly high-end mobile, the VX8000 boasts a plethora of communication options, including text, multimedia, and instant messaging through AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. That said, we wish the handset included Bluetooth support or, at the very least, an infrared or USB port. As a result, you'll have to rely on Verizon's multimedia messaging to send pictures. Similarly, while the mobile has an MP3 player, you'll have to pay to download any files.
The VX8000's 1.3-megapixel camera lets you take pictures in 160x120, 176x144, 320x240, 640x480, and 1,280x960 resolutions, and it comes with plentiful picture-editing options. Users can adjust for brightness; white balance; color effects; file quality; and lighting situations such as sunny, cloudy, and fluorescent, just to name a few. Furthermore, the VX8000 boasts a 4X digital zoom and a macro switch for close-up shots and several shutter sounds, as well as a silent option. Photo quality was good in better lighting conditions. However, as expected, nighttime shots didn't fare so well, even with the embedded flash.
The camcorder takes 15-second video clips in MPEG-4 format with sound. Editing options were more limited than with the camera; you can adjust only the brightness and the white balance. You can also store your work to the phone. It comes with 128MB of flash memory and 32MB of RAM. Though that was adequate, an external memory slot would have been ideal. With the VX8000, you can send and receive video clips and digital still pictures. When sent to an e-mail address, videos are received as QuickTime files, and digital still pictures come through as JPEGs.
The V Cast service is $15 per month for unlimited access to V Cast videos. Content includes On Demand video and music and 3D games from such channels as MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, News Corporation, and 20th Century Fox. Both the network and the service are now available in 30 markets nationwide, but burgs such as Cleveland, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Charlotte have been left out for now. There's no word from Verizon on when these not-so-backwoods cities will be added. The phone can be personalized with a variety of wallpaper, themes, and sounds. More can be downloaded from Verizon's Get It Now service, along with ring tones and games (the handset comes with no titles).We tested the dual-band (1.9GHz, 800MHz, CDMA) LG VX8000 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. Call quality was good, and we had no problem getting a signal. At the time of this writing, Verizon Wireless has yet to roll out EVDO support in our area. Data speeds on the EV-DO network are promised between 300Kbps to 500Kbps, which is on a par with the UMTS network rolled out by AT&T Wireless and well above 1xRTT. Because data service was not yet available in our area, we were unable to test the feature, but check back soon for a full report on the service. Being a multimedia headset, the LG's included stereo headphones were pretty good. Callers remarked that call quality was clear using the headphones and the speakerphone, and while they could tell that we were on a mobile, the calls were nonetheless clear.
Battery life was about average. We fell a half hour short of the rated talk time of 4.5 hours, but we met the promised standby time of 7.7 days. According to the FCC, the LG VX8000 has a digital SAR rating of 0.86 watts per kilogram.