When Verizon Wireless first announced its V Cast Mobile TV service earlier this year, we have to admit we were taken immediately with the LG VX9400. Like many others, we loved the LG phone's swivel design and large display. And while the first Mobile TV phone, the Samsung SCH-U620, turned out to be pretty decent, we still waited with anticipation for the VX9400. As expected, the handset's design is certainly a plus when it comes to the TV-watching experience, but it also is a bit awkward when it's time to make a call (that will happen from time to time). Audio quality was good, however, and the phone comes with a raft of features. You can get it for $199, which is pretty reasonable, all things considered. To find ringtones and accessories for these phones, plus advice and tips on how to use them, check out our cell phone ringtones, accessories, and help page.
At first glance, the VX9400 looks like a basic slider phone. A large (2.2-inch, 320x240 pixels) display hides the dialpad, leaving only the navigation buttons visible on the front of the unit. But instead of sliding up, the VX9400's display swivels to the left, thus exposing the numeric keypad. When opened, the phone has a T-shaped appearance with the screen assuming a landscape orientation (more on that later).
The LG VX9400 isn't exactly svelte. At 4.04 inches by 1.93 inches by 0.73 inch, and 4.06 ounces, it's both larger and heavier than the Samsung SCH-U620, but it's not exactly a brick either. The display, which is slightly bigger than the SCH-U620's, is bright, vibrant, and ideal for watching videos. Thanks to the 262,000-color resolution, graphics and pictures also looked good, though the display is difficult to see in direct light. The VX9400 uses Verizon's complicated menu organization system, though the interface is a bit more attractive than on previous phones from the carrier.
While you simply tipped the SCH-U630 on its side to watch videos, the VX9400 uses the aforementioned swiveling display. It's big on the cool factor but it complicates the act of making phone calls. If you want to dial a number to place a call, you'll have to open the phone to do so. Then you'll want to close the swivel before holding the phone to your ear. Yes, you can talk with the display up but if you do so, the microphone at the top of the display will shift to its right side, which is just out of range of your ear. You can make calls directly from the address book with the display closed but if you're making a call that requires you to enter automated menu options, then the swiveling back and forth can get annoying quickly. You'll also want to change the default settings for answering and ending calls to make sure opening and closing the swivel doesn't end calls automatically.
The navigation array was spacious, tactile, and easy to use. A four-way toggle surrounds a central OK button; you can set the toggle to act as a shortcut to four functions. The other controls consist of two soft keys, a Clear button, and the Talk and End/power buttons. The button just above the "End" key with the TV icon launches the Mobile TV service. It's worth noting that it can be a bit disconcerting to use the navigation array with the display up. Since the keypad sits between the controls and the screen, we had to think about where the soft keys were before we pressed them. Also, it is a bit strange to have the Talk and End keys at the bottom of the phone. We found the dialpad to be too flat and smooth for touch dialing.
The 5-inch long TV antenna tucks into a slot on the top-left corner. The left spine features a volume rocker, a voice-command button, and a 2.5mm headphone jack. The right spine houses buttons for the speakerphone and camera, as well as a microSD card slot for memory expansion. Besides the aforementioned speaker near the display, the VX9400 also features a speaker on the rear of the phone just next to the camera, lens, and flash. It's an inconvenient arrangement as it means one of the sound outputs faces away from you when you're watching videos. On the upside, the back of the phone has a nice rubberized feel for comfortable handling.
The star of the VX9400, of course, is the 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; other content is 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.
The LG VX9400 is a full-featured handset but we'll start with the basics first. The address book holds 500 contacts with up to five numbers and two e-mail addresses for each contact. You can save contacts to caller groups and pair them with a photo and one of 15 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a nicely designed world clock, a note pad, the ability to instant message, and LG's nifty tip calculator.
For worker bees, the VX9400 also has full Bluetooth with stereo and object exchange profiles (they really should be standard on all Verizon Bluetooth handsets), e-mail, and a speakerphone. Voice dialing is absent, but you can even check your balance, usage, and payment information with the My Account feature. Why this service isn't available from all carriers is beyond us.
As an EV-DO phone, the VX9400 supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services including the V Cast video service and the V Cast music store. The music player's interface is identical to those on other Verizon phones. You also have the option to purchase a variety of Verizon applications including the VZ Navigator and the ChaperoneParent.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes shots in five resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, 176x144, and 160x120) and offers a nice range of options, including settings for light metering and white balance, a self-timer, three color effects, and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option). It also includes a flash, but we found it useless in low-light settings. The Night mode brightens dark environments, but it's nearly impossible to hold your hand steady enough to get off a clear shot. The camcorder records clips in two resolutions (320x240 and 187x144) with sound and a similar set of video options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you can shoot up to one hour of video with an external memory card. Although the LG VX9400 comes with 60MB of onboard memory, that can quickly fill up if you take advantage of the music and video downloading capabilities. Picture quality was quite good with sharp color resolution and distinct object outlines.
You can personalize the VX9400 with a variety of alert tones, display themes, wallpaper, clock styles, and font sizes. You can always buy more options if you're dissatisfied with what comes on the phone, or you can get more ringtones. Unfortunately, the phone does not come with any games.
We tested the dualband, dualmode (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) LG VX9400 in the Chicago and San Francisco areas. Call quality was very good, with voices sounding loud and clear through the earpiece. Callers on the other end reported no problems, though they could tell we were using a cell phone. Sound quality was somewhat diminished when we were in a noisy environment, but all in all we were just pleased. Though, remember that as previously mentioned, the phone has a sensitive sweet spot if the display is up.
Speakerphone quality was unchanged and we had no issues using a Bluetooth headset. Reception was thoroughly decent, and the EV-DO connection didn't waver. Downloading a four-minute music video took about a minute and a half, which is quite good.
As with the SCH-U620, the Mobile TV service works best outdoors or during commutes. In other words, don't try to replace your home TV, because no matter what Verizon's commercials tell you, it's just not the same. Yet, the TV quality is superb with bright, vibrant colors and excellent handling of fast-moving objects. Overall, the picture was clearer than on the Samsung model. On the other hand, indoor reception wasn't any better with the longer antenna. As with the SCH-U620, you'll want to invest in a decent headset for watching TV, since the speaker volume is disappointing. Indeed, we had trouble hearing V Cast clips unless we were in a quiet room. The rear-facing speaker doesn't help things either.
V Cast streaming video quality was about average. Though there was little pixilation and videos never paused on their own, the audio wasn't in sync with the speakers' mouths. Also, when we tried pausing one particular video, we weren't able to start it again because it was frozen. We then had to back out to the main menu and start it again. Music quality was decent. There was more output than we had with the video sound but the opposite side speakers were an issue here as well.
The LG VX9400 has a rated battery life of 3.8 hours talk time and 19 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 4 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the LG VX9400 has a digital SAR rating of 1.25 watts per kilogram.