By Jon Gales -- This week we took a look at the LG VX9800, a high-end EV-DO enabled handset from Verizon Wireless that has had some visibility thanks to a large advertising campaign. Think of it as the Sidekick for Verizon Wireless--QWERTY keyboard, landscape oriented screen and a larger than most form factor. It also has that wow factor once the keyboard is revealed. But can it perform?
Read on for a full review of the VX9800, including photos and a video showing the phone in action.
|Radio||CDMA 850 / 1900|
|Size||4.57" × 1.97" × 1.00"|
|Memory||128 MB built-in plus miniSD card slot|
|Screen||320 × 256 pixel 262K color screen|
|Camera||Megapixel with LED flash and business card reader|
My first impression of the LG VX9800 was the size, this is no sub-compact meant to gracefully rest in a pocket. There is no way to hide it, the VX9800 is a big handset. Think Sidekick big. But after opening the handset to reveal the larger screen and QWERTY keyboard, the size starts to make more sense. The included stereo speakers on the inside of the phone work nicely with the overall design and provide great sound though I wish they could have been a bit louder.
There are a lot of buttons on the VX9800 thanks to its dual form factor, I counted 79. But that is a bit inflated because you only use one set at a time, when the phone is closed for example there are 26 keys which is about average.
Check out the photo section below to see a comparison shot of the VX9800 and two other phones I had in my office, the Samsung e635 and the Kyocera Slider Sonic.
The phone needs to be open for the design to make sense. While closed it looks awkward thanks to the heft and abnormally small screen. Of the dozen or so people I showed it off to, most didn't think much of it until I opened it and then they were hooked. Several (non techie girls) had actually seen ads for it, so LG's campaign is working.
Verizon has a really strong network in my area (see my article about riding along with the Can You Hear Me Now guy) so I didn't expect or receive any problems with a connection. Overall voice quality is good, including the speakerphone thanks to the stereo speakers.
Being a big phone, the VX9800 has plenty of room for a big battery. But like with other EV-DO phones, if you don't live in an area that has EV-DO you're going to notice a big hit on your battery. The reason is the phone will constantly be searching out for that data signal and that uses a lot of power. I'm in an EV-DO area and if you live in a metro area you probably are too, but I would double check that you are before purchasing any EV-DO phone. Even with pretty heavy data usage (V Cast was my demo of choice and I used the AIM feature extensively) I was able to eek out around three days of battery. One thing I didn't do much of was listen to music and I have heard that eats the juice.
I found the OS a little confusing at first because it's organized a bit differently than most phones, there are only five sections in the main menu: Get It Now, Messaging, Contacts, Recent Calls and Settings. Despite it's name, Get It Now is where you'll find things like the camera and music player (in addition to the downloadable content that is associated with Get It Now).
The phone can be navigated while either opened or closed, but I found it easiest to use when opened. The external screen is just too small to be looking through menus. It is very bright though, so it's definitely worthwhile, just for limited use. To be fair, if there wasn't the high-res widescreen on the inside of the phone, the external screen probably wouldn't seem as bad, but by comparison it's just puny.
The megapixel camera on the LG VX9800 takes pretty good shots (see photo section below), but I took issue with it's position. It's on the back of the phone while it's closed. This means that while opened the camera is pointing to the ground, probably with your finger covering it. So for best results you'll have to stick with taking pictures with the phone closed, using the small external screen to preview your shots. However in one circumstance, the business card scanner, that isn't possible.
I haven't seen a business card scanner on a US phone before, but it's a great idea. It uses the camera of course, but after you snap the photo it highlights text portions of the photo letting you assign what bit is what (cell, email, name, etc). This functionality has potential, but not with the VX9800. The scanner function can only work with the phone open, and in that position the camera is underneath which also means it blocks overhead lighting. With the shadows and low light images weren't high enough quality to make the text recognition work well.
Getting photos off the VX9800 is easy thanks to the miniSD card slot. It's a shame the Bluetooth profile doesn't allow for file transfer, but this seems to be something that Verizon Wireless is consistent on.
If you're going to be using multimedia (especially music) I would advise getting a miniSD card. You should be able to pick up a GB card for around $70, though that may be a little overkill.
The LG VX9800 has a speedy EV-DO 3G data connection that makes using data on this phone a great experience. Partly because of the speed and partly because of the QWERTY keyboard, I found myself using the data features very often.
Like other EV-DO enabled devices from Verizon Wireless, the VX9800 supports V Cast. If you haven't used V Cast before, it's primarily a streaming video service though Verizon Wireless also sells some 3D games under the V Cast brand. The video quality is very watchable and everyone that I showed it to was impressed. The dual speakers on the front of the phone do a great job with the V Cast audio.
Like I noted before, typing on the VX9800 is a breeze. I found myself chatting on AIM frequently. Because of the speed I was typing, no one would have known I was mobile if AIM didn't tag me with a mobile icon.
I was disappointed with the web browser which is made by Open Wave. With a high-speed data connection and wide screen, a decent browser could do wonders for the VX9800. The browser makes it difficult to type in your own URL (at the homepage hit search, then hit enter URL) and chokes at CSS and larger pages. If you've used Opera Mobile you will be disappointed in the VX9800's browser.
The email client costs an extra $20 a month which is some serious cash for email and scheduling. This was really frustrating because the QWERTY keyboard could make the VX9800 a messaging powerhouse--that's hard to do without a decent (and free) email client.
Unfortunately Bluetooth of the VX9800 is crippled, so don't expect to be able to sync like you can with the majority of Bluetooth phones. A USB cable was not included with the phone, so I was unable to sync. The aforementioned email client handles calendar functions as well, but not contacts.
The VX9800 is a solid handset that I only have a few major gripes with. The first is that Verizon Wireless once again crippled the Bluetooth profile so that it can't do more advanced features like file exchange and syncing. You can use a headset and DUN, but that's it. The other gripe I have is the poor web browser. With a high-res landscape screen there is no reason to not have a great browser.
If you want some neat features on a mostly for-fun handset, check out the LG VX9800. If you're looking for a business phone, look elsewhere.