Review posted April 19, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
We frequently speak of convergence devices on this site: those that combine a PDA and phone, or a GPS and PDA for example. But in the US, this is the first time we're covering a new kind of convergence: broadcast TV and mobile telephony. Europe had been doing trials of broadcast TV service in mobile phones for years, but we in the US have jumped into the game late (as we always seem to when it comes to phones). But with a remarkably fast rollout, Verizon and Qualcomm's MediaFLO have gotten the service running in several major metro regions, with an aggressive plan to blanket many more areas this year (and in the coming years).
What exactly is this? No, it's not the usual V Cast video clips, in fact the service doesn't use the phone's data connection. Rather it's digital broadcast TV over-the-air, much in the same way traditional TV broadcast works. This means that phones like the LG VX9400 and the Samsung u620 (the other Verizon phone that supports TV) have tiny TV tuners and not so tiny antennas that you'll telescope up when you want to watch TV. Verizon calls this service V Cast Mobile TV, and it currently has an 8 channel lineup (we're sure more will come in the coming years) that runs 24/7. Like regular TV, you'll see a TV programming grid when you press the dedicated TV button, and channel programming is always running in real time: there's no on-demand or DVR. This means you'll need to catch your favorite show when it's broadcast, and it means content is always changing, unlike stale video clips. The schedule doesn't match regular local TV broadcasts, which means you can catch a CSI show at 10am, but your favorite CBS 10 a.m. show might air at a very different time.
This Verizon service costs $25/month for all 8 channels plus V Cast (video and music) and Mobile Web. The $13/month Limited package gets you 4 channels and the $15 TV Basic package gets you all 8 channels but no V Cast video/music or Mobile Web. The 8 channels are NBC, NBC News, Fox Mobile, MTV Mobile, Comedy Central, CBS Mobile, Nickelodeon and ESPN. We're in one of the metro areas with Mobile TV service and reception is generally good. The picture is stunningly clear and sharp when in a good reception area but can drop audio and/or video frames in marginal coverage areas (say in a large building or in the center of a large house). When in a good coverage area you'll have no problems recognizing your favorite actor's mug, but digital blockiness and dithering in weak coverage spots will make it harder to ID his or her tiny visage. Remember, this is a broadcast digital TV service from MediaFlo and it does not use Verizon's voice and data networks, so your phone's 1x and EVDO signal bars bear no relation to the TV signal.
Yes, there are commercials; the CBS news show broke for commercials just as it would on home TV and NBC had several commercial breaks during a 1 hour show. What happens if a call comes in when you're watching TV? The phone rings and you can answer (or ignore) the call as per normal. TV video and audio playback pause when the phone rings, and resume once the call has ended. The LG VX9400, like the Samsung U620, can play in both portrait and landscape modes and there's a full screen option that fills the display.
How do the VX9400 and Samsung u620 compare? The Samsung is smaller (surprisingly small) with a shorter antenna, and both are reasonably attractive and well made. The VX9400's larger display is preferable for watching TV, as are its better flesh tones (the Samsung's flesh tones are too white).
The LG VX9400 and Samsung u620
To watch TV in landscape mode and reveal the number pad, twist the front display clockwise. When closed, the two softkeys, clear and TV buttons, send and end keys as well as the directional pad are accessible (only the numbers are hidden under the display section). The design is interesting, and it's one of those you'll either love it or hate it things. The telescoping TV antenna is a whopper: thin but long with a large plastic end cap. Fortunately you need only raise this when watching TV. In a decent signal area you can get away with having the antenna at half mast with minor degradation, but you won't see or hear much of anything if the antenna is completely down.
The display is superb: very sharp and clear with vivid colors and a glossy look. In general, LG phones have very good displays and the large 2.2" VX9400 display is at the top of the heap among feature phones. Sound through the rear firing speaker is plenty loud and clear enough for TV watching, though you'll want to use a wired headset for better stereo sound when using the music player.
The keypad is roomy, and I had no trouble dialing or texting one-handed (I do have long fingers). The keys are backlit, but the letter farthest to the right on each key is more faintly lit than the rest. The number key area is quite flat, though still more tactile than the RAZR. The VX9400's thicker bottom portion feels good in hand, providing a good grip and naturally orienting the thumb tip toward the number keys. Though different looking when in landscape mode, the phone is attractive and feels well-balanced. Should a call come in while the display is in landscape orientation, the earpiece will be offset to the right side (since it lives above the display relative to portrait mode). This means you'll need to angle the top back toward the rear of your head to center the speaker at your ear. This is easy enough to do and doesn't make the phone uncomfortable. You can also swing the display back to portrait orientation when in a call, it won't hang up the call.
The camera and loudspeaker buttons as well as the microSD card slot are on the phone's right side and the volume rocker, voice command button and 2.5mm headset jack are on the left. As you'd expect, the camera lens, LED flash and battery door are on the phone's back. The LG's loudspeaker is on the back as well, next to the camera lens.
Performance and Software
The LG VX9400 is a fast and responsive phone with a generous 60 megs of internal memory and a microSD memory card slot. Menus and windows open quickly, the web browser offers good speeds and music/video/game downloads are fast. The LG has a slight edge over the Samsung u620 for download speeds, but the Samsung is faster for gaming (note that most games run in landscape QVGA mode on the LG and portrait QVGA on the Samsung). The phone runs Verizon's Flash user interface which is intuitive and it supports animated desktop images and offers two themes (VZW and LG). The upside is that the learning curve is very low but those who like variety will be bored with the same old UI on most all Verizon phones.
Like all Verizon feature phones, the VX9400 has basic PIM applications: contacts (500 contacts max), calendar and notes. It uses the same USB data cable as other recent LG phones like the Chocolate and VX8600, but so far there is no BitPim support for syncing (BitPim is a free syncing application for Windows and LG phones). Also included are a music player, V Cast video player, camera application, a Mobile Web 2.0 compatible browser that handles WAP sites, web-based email and basic HTML sites in single-column view and messaging for SMS and MMS.
Phone Features and Reception
The LG is a digital dual band CDMA phone with EVDO for data. Reception is good and is a bit better than the Samsung u620. We had no problems downloading apps and music nor did we drop calls in a very signal-challenged area that gets 0-1 bar of 1x and 2 bars of EV on average with most Verizon phones. The LG managed 3 bars of EV and held onto that single bar of 1x for voice. Voice quality is very good both incoming and outgoing, though the speakerphone is tinny sounding (albeit loud) and our call recipients commented on the speakerphone's lesser voice quality.
The LG comes with Voice Signal's excellent voice command software that does true speech recognition (no need to record voice tags). The software can read out the contents of screens to you and it works not just for dialing by name and number but for common actions such as starting a text message, getting account info and launching applications. The voice command software doesn't take dictation (give them a couple more years!).
We were pleasantly surprised by the VX9400's 1.3 megapixel camera. LG generally does a good job with cameras and though 1.3MP is now bottom of the barrel, the phone took pleasing shots. Colors were reasonably accurate, noise is acceptable for a camera of this resolution and the shots were fairly clear by fixed focus lens standards. Not bad! The LG did better than the Samsung u620 with more vibrant colors, less white out and better focus.
The 2.2" display acts as the camera's viewfinder and you can launch the camera by pressing the dedicated side button. When in portrait mode the viewfinder takes up only a portion of the display. Switch to landscape mode by swiveling the display and it uses the entire screen. The camera can take still photos in JPEG format in 1280x960, 640x480, 320 x 240, 176 x144 and 160x120 resolutions. There's a self timer (3, 5 or 10 seconds), an LED flash (you can turn it off), white balance settings, 3 shutter sounds plus silent, color effects (sepia, black and white, negative), brightness control and selectable spot or average metering (a feature you don't usually see on low end camera modules). You can save photos to a microSD card or internal memory and view them in the photo viewer application.
The camera can record video with audio at 320 x 240 or 176 x 144 which is suitable for MMS. You can set it to record as long as you wish (as long as there's enough room on your storage card) or limit it to 15 seconds for MMS. Video quality is typical camera phone stuff: good color, but there's blockiness, especially if you're moving to follow your subject or there's a lot of movement in the scene. Sound quality is good as is volume.
Music Player and V Cast Video
The music player is Verizon's basic player with support for MP3 and WMA format songs. You can save songs to a microSD card (if you use a card reader to manually copy songs to a card, be sure to put them in the "my_music" folder on the card). The player supports playlists, groups songs by artist, album, song title, genre and has a shuffle feature but no equalizer. You can also use the player to purchase songs from Verizon's download service for $1.99 per track. The player works in both portrait and landscape modes and you can see three song titles listed per scroll in landscape mode and five in portrait mode. Sound quality is good through a 2.5mm stereo earbud headset (not included with the phone) and loud though tinny through the phone's built-in speaker. V Cast videos play smoothly and download speeds are average to a bit better than average. Again, the excellent display makes the most of Verizon's V Cast video service.
The VX9400 has Bluetooth 1.2 with support for headset and handsfree profiles including car kits. The phone supports voice dialing over Bluetooth and it worked well with a variety of headsets including the Plantronics Discovery 655, scala 700 and Gennum nX6000. Incoming and outgoing audio were loud and clear and average range was good at 20 feet (tiny headsets like the Gennum had shorter range with the LG and all phones with which we tested it). The phone has a wide selection of Bluetooth profiles including DUN (dial up networking), serial port, Object Push and A2DP with AVRC for stereo bluetooth headphones. We were impressed with the LG's audio quality using A2DP with the Plantronics Pulsar 590a: it sounds better than most A2DP phones with strong bass and rich-sounding music.
As with most Verizon V Cast phones, EVDO is hard on the battery. If you're a V Cast video addict, you know what I'm talking about: an hour of V Cast video can eat half the battery. Fortunately, Mobile TV is much more battery friendly since it doesn't use the EVDO radio and the battery indicator didn't change after watching an hour long TV episode. With average use, the LG should last two days on a charge, including healthy use of the phone, texting, some web browsing and music playback. If you're a heavy V Cast video user, expect less and if you watch 4 hours of mobile TV each day, you'll charge nightly.
A very nice offering from LG and Verizon, and an exciting one since the LG VX9400 is one of the first two US TV phones. Even if you're not in a metro area covered by Verizon's new TV service, the VX9400 is worth a look thanks to its good call quality, strong reception, great display and overall good call quality. If you're looking for TV but want the smallest possible phone, the Samsung u620 wins, though we still prefer the VX9400's larger and better display.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
950 mA. Claimed talk time: 228 minutes. Claimed standby: 458 hours. Has flight mode and music only mode (Bluetooth on but phone radio off).
Performance:Approximately 60 megs of internal memory. Address book can hold 500 contacts.
x 1.93 x 0.73 inches. Weight: 4.06 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital (800/1900MHz) with EVDO for data.
Camera:1.3MP with LED flash and self-portrait mirror. Still image resolutions: 1280x960, 640x480, 320x240, 176x144, 160x120 pixels. Video resolutions: 320 x 240, 176 x 144 at 15fps. Up to 4x zoom (no zoom for highest resolution photos).
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headset
jack. Music player included. Can record voice notes (up to 1 minute when not in a call, up to 5 minutes during a call). Has speakerphone and vibrate feature.
Networking:Bluetooth 1.2. Supported profiles: headset, handsfree, DUN, serial port, A2DP, AVRC, BPP (basic printing profile) and object push.
Software:Verizon flash user interface. Calendar, contacts, notes, music player (MP3 and WMA), V Cast video player, Mobile TV player, the usual Verizon Get it Now applications, video player (supports MPEG4, 3GP and 3G2 file formats), Mobile Web 2.0 with browser, text, MMS and web-based email.