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LG Wine III (U.S. Cellular) review: Reliable flip phone with a unique LED ticker display

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MSRP: $199.99
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The Good U.S. Cellular's LG Wine III has a sizable display for a flip phone, microSD support and a nifty-looking external display.

The Bad The device has a steep on-contract price, it doesn't have a camera flash, and its glossy coating is slippery and attracts fingerprints.

The Bottom Line While the LG Wine III is a solid and reliable feature handset, U.S. Cellular has cheaper alternatives worth considering.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Editors' note: Due to their similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of the LG Exalt . In addition, this review has been updated on October 3, 2014 with the correct on-contract price.

As one of the more stylish flip phones available, the LG Wine III (or Exalt as it is known on Verizon) stands out from the crowd of bland feature handsets mostly because of its design. But in addition to its looks, the device has other things going for it as well, like its big colorful screen, convenient shortcut keys, and a useful external display that lights up to show the time or missed notifications (similar to the LG dLite).

Unfortunately, all this comes with a pretty big price tag. Whether you get it with or without a two-year agreement, the device costs $99.99. This may be due to a lack of a manufacturer subsidy on LG's part, but it's still pricey considering the carrier has other basic handsets at notably lower prices.

Indeed, if you're shopping for a feature device, the Wine III will satisfy your basic needs. But consider U.S. Cellular's other offerings before you pull the trigger.

Design

Because it's a flip phone, it's reasonable to expect that LG didn't spend much time on its design. But surprisingly, the LG Wine III doesn't skimp on style. In this day and age, it's one of the most chic-looking clamshells I've seen in a while, and it's nice to see that a conscious effort was made for this device's look, despite its old-school build. Its smooth and glossy design can make it slick to handle at times, but it's comfortable to hold and will easily slide into your jeans pockets.

When opened, the handset measures 4.37 inches tall, 2.06 inches wide, 0.62 inch thick and weighs 3.88 ounces. Compared to other flip phones, the Wine III is a bit bigger in terms of length and width, so if you want to open it up with one hand, you'll need to give it hard flick.

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The handset's useful LED display that scrolls the time and missed notifications. James Martin/CNET

On the outside, there is no obvious external display. However, once you press any of the side buttons, moving LEDs will shine from underneath the device's black surface and the time will appear. We've seen this before, with the LG dLite, but it's still a stylish addition. The lights can also show you when you've a missed call or get a text message. If you receive an incoming call from an unblocked number, the lights will also scroll the number though, similar to a news ticker.

On the handset's left edge are a volume rocker and 3.5mm headphone jack. The right houses a shortcut key -- you can push it once to launch the camera, or long-press it to go directly to video recording. On the very bottom edge is a Micro-USB port for charging.

Located on the back are a 2-megapixel camera (without a flash) and two slits at the bottom for the audio speaker. You can pry off the battery door using a small indentation near the Micro-USB port. Once it's removed, you can gain access to the removable 900 mAh battery and microSD card port that accepts cards of capacities up to 32GB.

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The phone's sleek alphanumeric keyboard with shortcut buttons. James Martin/CNET

The phone has a 3-inch WQVGA display with a 400x240-pixel resolution. For a clamshell device, that's quite a big screen, and I like that it's colorful and bright. However, with that resolution level, it's not the sharpest screen. Photos do look pixelated, there is some aliasing on texts and icons and images appear grainy. For what it is, though, the display suffices, and you won't have a problem using it day to day.

Below the display is an alphanumeric keypad that is generously sized and spaced, and comfortable to press. The buttons are stylish, too: they're flush with the rest of the device's surface, which looks modern, and their shiny tilelike design is chic.

The keypad includes two soft keys up top, four navigational arrows with a center select button and two shortcut keys to launch the speaker and voice commands. Along with the number keys, there are also three keys for sending a call, ending a call (which doubles as the power button when you long press it) and a "clear" button to navigate backward. When you long-press it, this key also launches audio recording if you're at the home page.

Software features

The Wine III can hold up to 1,000 contacts. You can save up to five numbers, two e-mail addresses and one street address under each person. You can also assign a photo, a ringtone (there are 38 already included) and add a personal note to each contact. Contacts can also be organized into groups, such as colleagues, friends and family.

When you're at the homepage, press the center OK button to launch the menu. There you'll see 12 icons for contacts, messaging, call history, multimedia, a U.S. Cellular app portal called "easyedge," a calendar, a native Web browser, tools, settings, a ringtone store portal, Bluetooth 3.0 and the game Uno.

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The menu list consists of 12 apps, including a Web browser and the game Uno. James Martin/CNET

You can change the background color (either black or white) under display themes, and change how these icons are displayed (for example, if you prefer, as a list instead).

Under tools, useful features include two calculators (a regular one and another that specifically figures out restaurant tips), voice commands and a search tool for looking up information on your handset. You'll get a world clock, a unit converter, a notepad and a stopwatch as well.

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