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LG VX9800 (Verizon Wireless) review: LG VX9800 (Verizon Wireless)

LG VX9800 (Verizon Wireless)

Stewart Wolpin
9 min read
LG VX9800
After a slow start, text messaging has caught on in a big way in the United States, and Americans now send more than 5 billion text messages every month. In response, carriers have begun to introduce handsets such as the LG VX9800 for Verizon Wireless. Although mainly the domain of smart phones and PDAs, full QWERTY keyboards are now appearing on basic cell phones, and the VX9800 marks the fourth such handset picked up by a U.S. carrier. Whether the convenience of the keyboard on this mini-laptop-like 3G (EV-DO) cell phone trumps the inconvenience of its bulkiness and ergonomic compromises is up to you. But there's no denying that the keyboard vastly improves messaging on every level. Just be prepared to open your wallet wide for the privilege: The LG VX9800 comes at a pricey $299.99, with an online discount and a two-year contract available from Verizon Wireless. The overall aesthetics of the LG VX9800 reflect its multiple functions. It's essentially the cell phone version of The Three Faces of Eve. From the front, it's a standard candy bar mobile with an alphanumeric dial pad, a navigation array, and an external display. Turn it over, and it resembles a thin digital camera with a flash above the lens, a portrait/macro toggle below it, and the shutter-release key on the top-right side, where your right index finger thinks it will be. Finally, like the Motorola A630, the VX9800 opens lengthwise to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and a separate internal display.

Although this transformerlike form factor is eye-catching and user-friendly, as with all multifunction devices, compromises have been made on all three faces. At 4.57 by 1.97 by 1 inches and a hefty 5.19 ounces, the LG VX9800 is heavy and bulky. It fits only in bigger pockets, and it can be uncomfortable to hold against your face for long conversations. On the upside, it's solidly built, and there's no external antenna to add to the bulk. The external display supports 65,000 colors, but it's relatively small--especially considering the phone's size--measuring 1.75 inches diagonally. It shows all the necessary information, including the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID (where available); conveniently, you can use it to scroll through some of the menus without having to open the phone. Additionally, you can change the backlighting and the font size.


LG VX9800 (Verizon Wireless)

The Good

Full QWERTY keyboard; high-quality displays; EV-DO capable; MP3 player; Mini SD card slot; 1.3-megapixel camera; Bluetooth; loud stereo speakers/speakerphone; voice-recognition features.

The Bad

Bulky; awkward camera ergonomics; small navigation controls; tiny screen type; tinny, metallic voice quality.

The Bottom Line

A QWERTY keyboard makes messaging faster, easier, and more fun on the fully loaded LG VX9800, but the trade-off is a bulky, less-than-cool handset.

The LG VX9800 is among the biggest phones around.

Below the display are the navigation controls, which consist of a five-way toggle, two soft keys, a Clear button, a voice-command key, and the Talk and End buttons. Overall, the navigation keys are too cramped for users with large fingers; they're also too small and flush with the surface of the phone. The dial-pad buttons are equally small, and though they're raised just above the phone, dialing by feel is difficult. On the plus side, all the keys have a cool, ice-blue backlighting. The headset jack is located along the right spine, which is a fitting location, since it faces you when you are watching video with the flap open. The Mini SD slot is conveniently located next to the headphone jack. While the volume toggle is on the left spine, where it ought to be, it ends up behind the screen when flipped up, which isn't convenient. Also on the left spine is the camera shutter.

We had some design complaints with the LG VX9800's rear-facing camera. The lens is a bit too close to the right edge/top; your index finger will often wander accidentally across the lens. Also, since there's no lens cover, you'll need to be extra careful. Instead of acting as a zoom/wide toggle, the spine volume toggle next to the shutter release shifts between landscape and portrait mode--but without shifting the view in the viewfinder accordingly; you'll have to tilt the phone 90 degrees to get the true effect. You also can use the internal display as a much bigger viewfinder, and there's even a dual-display mode for using both screens--perfect for self-portraits.

The interior of the LG VX9800 holds a wide screen, stereo speakers, and a full keyboard.

Inside the LG VX9800, you'll find its best features. We were drawn immediately to the huge, 2.25-inch-diagonal landscape internal display, which is flanked by a pair of large stereo speakers. Supporting 262,000 colors, the screen is bright and vivid; it's perfect for using the standard Verizon menus, viewing pictures and V Cast videos, and playing games. Yet, the messaging text is so tiny that you almost have to squint--not a good sign. The QWERTY keypad features individual oval keys that are generously spaced to accommodate all but the extremely pudgy thumbed. In addition to a spacebar, LG smartly included dedicated Shift, symbol, and Enter keys, and there's a nifty button that opens a programmable shortcut menu. Overall, the keyboard is comfortable to type on for long periods of time, and we liked that the phone opens 180 degrees so that you can position the flip at an angle, as with a laptop, or completely flat. In addition to typing messages, you can use the keyboard to enter address book contacts. That's a big improvement upon LG's previous keyboard phone, the LG F9100 for Cingular.

We weren't impressed with the LG VX9800's five-way navigational toggle to the right of the keyboard, as well as the two narrow soft keys underneath the screen. It's a bit disconcerting to have the toggle and its center menu/OK button nowhere near the screen, much less the command it activates. As with the toggle on the exterior, however, the interior array can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The rice-shaped soft keys are squeezed above the keyboard and beneath the screen top, making them difficult to thumb without hitting one of the adjacent number keys. There's also a Clear button in the lower-right corner. You can make calls with the top up, but we're not sure why you'd want to.

Short of a full PDA or BlackBerry, the LG VX9800 is as fully featured a phone as you can buy. You get a 500-contact phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can also match callers with a picture or any of the 10 polyphonic ring tones for caller ID; the phone supports tones up to 72 chords. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a world clock, a tip calculator, instant messaging, a calendar with scheduler, an alarm clock, a calculator, voice commands and dialing, 1-minute voice memos, and a notepad. The phone also supports text-to-speech dictation. On the more practical side, there's a full-duplex speakerphone, as well as support for calendar syncing and POP3/IMAP4 e-mail. That said, if you go with Verizon's Wireless Sync e-mail ($19.99 per month), you can't get attachments or establish a connection to a corporate server.

We are curious, however, as to why LG opted for Bluetooth 1.1 support rather than Bluetooth 1.2, especially considering the VX9800's extensive stereo multimedia capabilities. You can use only the Bluetooth connection to connect to a headset or (thankfully) to a laptop for use as a modem. This being a Verizon phone, you can't use the Bluetooth to transfer files, nor can you connect to Bluetooth stereo headphones. We're used to the carrier's phones coming with such restrictions, but we're still not happy about it. PC connection via USB also is possible, but no cable is included.

The LG VX9800's camera is fully loaded.

The 1.3-megapixel camera on the LG VX9800 is rich with features, but it doesn't always perform well. You have to hold the phone absolutely still and gently tap the stiff shutter button, or else you'll risk a blurred image. We had trouble getting a distinct image, but a few shots came out with distinct colors and shapes. You can take pictures in four resolutions--1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 176x144--but for some reason, the phone defaults to 640x480. Other features include a flash; a 4X zoom; a self-timer; a choice of shutter sounds; and a host of image-editing options, including brightness, white balance, a macro switch, color effects, and photometry. The video recorder films 15-second clips with sound at two resolutions, 320x240 and 176x144. When finished with your shots, you can send them in a multimedia message or save them to the phone's memory. The LG VX9800 comes with 128MB of internal storage, or you can get more space with the Mini SD card slot. You also can use the camera as a business card scanner. However, it works only marginally well and was not able to pick up all information on our test cards.

The LG VX9800 has good photo quality.

In addition to being a text-messaging powerhouse, the LG VX9800 is a solid multimedia phone. Beyond the aforementioned camera, you get an MP3 player, and the EV-DO support means you can sample Verizon's V Cast offerings. You can tap into hundreds of streaming video clips, ranging from CNN news updates to episodes of made-for-mobile TV shows, such as 24: Conspiracy and Love and Hate; Verizon charges $15 a month for V Cast access. You can also download 3D games. Keep in mind, however, that only major urban areas get EV-DO coverage; take a look at CNET's quick guide to 3G for a complete list. The MP3 player was oddly stuck in the menu for Verizon's Get It Now Web service, so it took us a few minutes to find it. But once we were up and running, the interface was easy to understand. It plays only MP3 clips (no AAC or WMA) saved to the Mini SD card, but you can save clips as ring tones.

Access to the personalization settings, such as ring tones, wallpaper, and other features, is limited from the external display. You can customize each of the screens separately with a variety of wallpaper and screensavers. With the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, you can download more options and more ring tones from Verizon's Get It Now download store. There are no games included--not even demo samples.

We tested the triband (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) LG VX9800 in New York City using the Verizon Wireless service. Overall, it did not perform well for voice calls, although it was still above average on Verizon's Manhattan network. Conversations cut in and out a little more frequently than we were used to on Verizon or with other LG phones. This may be the price to pay for the aesthetic decision not to include a protruding external antenna.

The LG VX9800's voice quality was hollow and metallic, not unlike that of a bullhorn but easily discernable with plenty of volume. Performance of the full-duplex speakerphone, activated by flipping the phone open, is enhanced by dual speakers to produce a cleaner conversation than with the earpiece. Conversationalists reported only the expected minor speakerphone echo at the other end. Stereo and multimedia audio from the speakers sounded a bit too separated and lacked sufficient volume for any environment other than a quiet room's. Audio quality using the Jabra BT350 Bluetooth headset and the Jabra C220's wired stereo earphones, however, was above our expectations.

With its large display, stereo speakers or optional stereo headset, and 3G capability, the LG VX9800 is a wonderful multimedia phone. Like most EV-DO phones, the VX9800 downloads most simple apps, V Cast TV clips, and all manner of messages expected at high EV-DO velocity (300Kbps to 500Kbps). However, fatter stereo and video files tended to clog the download pipe. Green Day's 7-minute "Wake Me Up When September Ends" video ($3.99), for instance, took around 3 minutes to download. Videos looked sharp on the large internal screen and flowed naturally without the usual stutter found on slower networks. Images can be zoomed to full frame, resulting only in slight color and flesh-tone splotches, as well as barely discernable jerkiness.

Considering the large internal screen and the stereo speakers, the rated battery life of a hair more than 4 hours of talk time and 8.3 days of standby time is exemplary. In our tests, we got a very respectable 5.5 hours of talk time and a solid 12 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the LG VX9800 has a digital SAR rating of 1.1 watts per kilogram.


LG VX9800 (Verizon Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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