Reviewed Nov. 3, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's note, May 2008: Check out our review of the LG enV2 , the latest in the enV line along with the LG Voyager.
From time immemorial, Verizon had the
most lackluster selection of phones, but their quality of service
and fast data offset their tepid handset offerings. This year,
Verizon has turned things around with a selection of truly compelling
phones that have been released or will be released by Q1 2006.
The LG VX9800 is one of those hot new phones, and we're ecstatic
it made it to our shores rather then remaining in Korea, where
all the amazing but unobtainable CDMA phones live.
The VX9800 has
a long laundry list of compelling features, including a color
outer display, a stunning 320 x 256 pixel landscape oriented
inner display, Text to speech, EVDO, excellent speakerphone,
Bluetooth, stereo speakers, 1.3 megapixel camera with flash,
56 megs of available memory, miniSD card slot, MP3 player,
voice recorder, Verizon Wireless Sync compatibility, extremely
sturdy build and best of all a QWERTY keyboard with dedicated
number row inside. It was announced in the US on the Verizon
network on Sept. 20, 2005 and appeared in most Verizon stores
Verizon targets this $299 with new activation phone at those
who need HTML browsing and easy messaging but don't want
the price tag, added heft or complexity of a PDA phone such
as the Samsung
i730 Pocket PC Phone or the Palm
Treo 650. The high resolution 262,000 color inner display,
stereo sound and strong performance are also perfect for multimedia
mavens, and it's currently the best phone on the market to
take advantage of VCast media on Verizon's EVDO network.
The VX9800 is currently Verizon's most expandable feature
phone. You can save photos and videos taken with the camera
directly to the miniSD card by default. There's no need
to email them to a desktop email account or use Verizon's
web-based free service; just pop the card in your PC's card
reader to view, edit and manage them. And you can copy your
MP3 library to the card using your computer and a card reader.
Design and Ergonomics
The VX9800 looks like a candy bar phone yet it's really a clamshell
phone that opens on the long side rather than top to bottom and
has a full QWERTY thumb keyboard inside, similar to the Nokia
9300 design. It's a great deal smaller than the Nokia though
it's a bit larger than most feature phones.
The LG weighs 5.19 ounces and measures
4.57 x 1.97 x 1.0 inches. That's heavy for a cell phone but light
by PDA phone standards. Once you feel the build quality and sturdiness
of this device, you may not complain about the weight. This phone
is built like a tank, and feels much better than the GSM network
LG F9100 offered by Cingular. In fact, the VX9800 is much better
throughout: the F9100 has a slider rather
than clamshell, a single display that was oddly offset when the device
is open, no dedicated number row, no expansion slot and no Bluetooth.
Two large hinges hold the two halves of the clamshell
together and there's no lateral movement or play in either open and closed
positions. The display locks to a 45 degree angle and can also lock
flat open for easier texting. The 45 degree angle is ideal for speakerphone
use, video and MP3 playback when sitting on a desk or table. Speakerphone
automatically turns on when you open the clamshell and turns off when
you close the phone. When playing MP3s through the speakers, you'll want
to keep the unit open since the speakers are on the inner display surface.
Back of the LG VX9800. Note the large camera lens and portrait
/ macro slider.
When the unit is closed, it does double duty as a candy
bar phone and you can send and receive calls, initiate voice dialing,
dial using the roomy external number pad with raised, lighted keys, and
navigate a subset of the LG's menus using the outer LCD. You can even
use T9 if you wish, though the QWERTY keyboard beckons for all your input
needs. You can read text messages on both the inner and outer displays,
change Bluetooth settings by pressing the down arrow on the directional
pad, view call history, access contacts, take photos and videos- no need
to open the clamshell. The phone has a camera quick launch button on
the left side along with a volume rocker. When in certain apps the volume
rocker changes context: in the web browser it acts as the page up / down
control and it changes photo orientation in the camera application.
Open the clamshell and you'll have full access to all
menus, the keyboard and the better than QVGA display. The inner clamshell
has a direction pad on the right, call send and end buttons and two soft
keys for messages and contacts when in the main screen, and other contexts
in other menus and applications. You can easily dial a number with the
clamshell open: simply enter numbers and hit the send button. As with
most phones, the d-pad functions as an application quick launch pad when
in the main screen, offering quick access to the web browser, Verizon's
Get It Now service, Pix and Flix (camera, photo / video viewer and VCast)
The Samsung i730 and LG VX9800
The miniSD slot is located on the right side (under
a protective plastic door) as is the 2.5mm stereo headset jack. No headset
is included, but you can use standard mono headsets or LG's stereo headset
which is perfect for MP3 playback. The jack uses a 3 ring connector that's
relatively long, and the only 3rd party 2.5mm headsets we found which
worked are Motorola's HS120 and a Jabra headset.
The VX9800 has a full QWERTY thumb keyboard that's
a joy to use. It's one of the best we've ever used on phone or PDA and
in a few hours I was typing at 45 wpm. The spacebar, located to the right
rather than dead center is the keyboard's only oddity. As a fast touch
typist, I was sure that would be a deal breaker but acclimated to it
in an hour or two. Since the phone has a dedicated number row up top,
there's no need for num lock, and the phone has shift and shift lock
as well as a Symbol key. The Fn key launches a list of your 10 favorite
applications, which you can customize. Like the outer keypad, the silver
keys are backlit with light blue letters and you can adjust the timeout
from a few seconds to never turn off. The key lighting is very effective
yet unobtrusive, and all keys are easy to see in the dark.
Reception, Voice and Phone Features
CDMA LG phones generally have middle of the road reception.
The VX9800 does one better, offering strong reception compared to other
recent Verizon offerings despite the internal antenna. Though it might
not beat the top RF Motorola V710 and E815, it comes reasonably close.
It beat out the LG
VX8100, Treo 650 and the Samsung
always offered excellent incoming and outgoing call quality and volume.
Voice quality through the full duplex speakerphone is the best
we've heard and call recipients had no idea we were using speakerphone,
even when calling from a car. The phone can be set to auto-answer when
the flip is opened. When the flip is opened, the LG will automatically
switch to speakerphone mode and the phone will not hang up when you close
the flip— so
you can converse using speakerphone in the car, then close it and talk
normally once you leave the car. Speakerphone isn't available with the
Like the LG VX8100 we recently reviewed, the VX9800
has voice command software and text to speech. You need not record voice
tags since the phone uses true voice command which works rather well,
even over Bluetooth headsets. You can tell the phone to call someone
in your contacts list, digit dial, call voicemail (it will tell you if
you have messages and how many). Text to speech can state an incoming
caller's name or phone number if desired and can read text messages to
you. The phone uses a female voice with sometimes amusing pronunciation
but overall it's very usable, even over Bluetooth.
The phone's address book can hold up to 1000 contacts
with fields for name, 5 numbers, 2 email addresses, notes, group and
picture ID. You can assign a photo to a contact as well as a customized
ringtone for voice and a customized tone for incoming messages. You may
also assign contacts to groups; either one of the canned groups or one
of your own making. In addition, the LG has 99 speed dial slots, with
the last three assigned to commonly used Verizon functions (#BAL, #MIN
and #PMT) and 1 assigned to voicemail. There's also a basic calendar
with day, week, and month views. You can create your own appointments
and reminders and set recurrence as needed.
Data: EVDO, VCast, Browsing and Messaging
The LG has
separate voice/1xRTT and EVDO signal strength meters. In our San Francisco
Bay Area haunts, EVDO is live and we got excellent throughput for VCast
video and web browsing. The large, vivid display and stereo speakers
are the perfect companions for VCast video and you'll have no trouble
hearing soundtracks in all but very noisy locations.
The phone's OpenWave 188.8.131.52 web browser is
fast and renders pages in an attractive manner. The browser uses Verizon's
Mobile Web 2.0 service ($5/month or included in the $15/month VCast plan)
and their VZW Today start page with links to news, weather, email, sports,
entertainment and more. The browser supports standard HTML web sites
Hint: to visit the web site of your choice, select the Search tab in
the browser, then the Go to URL function to enter any web address you
wish. That's not exactly intuitive, alas. You can also enter web site
URLs into your favorites list, thankfully.
The included IM client allows
you to chat on AIM, MSN and Yahoo instant messaging. As with most phone
IM clients, it uses text messages to send and receive IMs. These messages
aren't included as part of Verizon's "In" messages,
so opt for one of their non-"In"
text message plans rather than an "In" package (they offer
several non-"In" text message packs, though these aren't listed
on their web site). Messages were reasonably quick over an EVDO connection
(since these are text message based, connection speed shouldn't be important),
though it's not nearly instantaneous as true IM-ing using a smartphone
or PDA phone. The client can stay active in the background, notifying
you when new messages come in. The keyboard makes IM-ing a breeze and
you may find yourself leaving plain old text messaging behind.
Oddly, the phone doesn't come with an email client
and currently there isn't one available for download under Get It Now.
Since the phone is new, Verizon may yet offer an email client. We certainly
hope they do, because the only other alternative is Verizon's $20/month
Wireless Sync service which you'll install on your PC and phone and then
set your PC to redirect emails to the phone. Wireless Sync also syncs
Outlook data from your PC to phone which is an attractive proposition
to business users who need both email and PIM syncing (though Wireless
Sync isn't compatible with all corporate firewalls). Those of you who
wish to use popular email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and AOL
Mail are in luck as the browser offers support for these. If you're a
GMAIL fan, simply go to gmail.com
to check your mail.
Display, Sound and Multimedia
The inner display is phenomenal: very bright, contrasty
and colorful. It's excellent for viewing photos and videos. By feature
phone standards, this is a very high resolution display that beats Pocket
PCs by a few pixels, coming in at 320 x 256 pixels. The landscape TFT
LCD measures 2.4" diagonally and displays 262,000 colors. Text is sharp
and easy to read, with a default of 15 lines and refresh times are good
The outer display is very good by external display
standards. The 65,000 color TFT LCD has a resolution of 160 x 128 pixels
and displays 9 lines of text. It's bright, colorful and easy to read.
Since the inner and outer displays are TFT, they are at their best indoors,
though they remain readable outdoors. You can set inner and outer display
backlight timeouts independently and you can set different wallpapers
for each display. If you wish you can use your own images (or videos
taken with the camera) as wallpapers. These can be on a card and images
need not be taken with the phone's camera.
The LG VX9800 sound system is super by phone standards.
The large stereo speakers are plenty loud for video and MP3 playback,
though you'll get the best sound from stereo headphones. In fact sound
through headphones (we used the Motorola HS120 since we couldn't get
a hold of the LG stereo headset) is excellent for MP3 playback. Get yourself
a large miniSD card and you've got a good MP3 player with EQ, shuffle,
repeat and visualizer. The LG comes with 7 EQ settings including 3D surround,
rock, jazz and classical. If there were a way to create playlists, the
MP3 player would be complete.
Video playback is excellent and the screen resolution
and quality make a good experience even better. The included video player
can play videos taken with the camera, videos downloaded through Verizon's
VCast service (mostly .wmv format) and streaming VCast video.
US camera phones aren't generally anything to write
home about, though Nokia's megapixel offerings are quite nice. What a
pleasant surprise the VX9800's 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera was. Better
than the LG VX8100's and even one of my personal favorites, the Nokia
the VX9800 takes very sharp photos with good color accuracy and lighting.
Like most cameras, it does best in moderate to well lit environments,
though low light shots taken with and without the flash aren't horribly
grainy but they do lose some color. In general, the camera takes
photos that look good on your monitor, not just the phone's LCD and they're
The LG offers a variety of camera controls and
has an LED flash which helps a bit at close range in poorly lit environments.
You can adjust brightness, white balance, turn on night mode, use color
effects, enable/disable the flash and change or turn off the shutter
sound. The phone can take photos at a maximum resolution of 1280 x
960, and can shoot photos at a variety of lesser resolutions. You can
set the camera app to save photos and videos to either internal memory
or the miniSD card. Of course, you can send your photos and videos
via MMS, or send them to Verizon's PIX Place as
well.There is no shutter lag and images
save very quickly.
We weren't wowed by the VX8100's videos but the VX9800's
are head and shoulders above not only that camera phone but much of the
US competition. The camera can shoot video with audio at 320 x 240 and
176 x 144 resolutions at 15 fps in .3G2 format which is supported by
Quicktime on the desktop. Videos, even at the higher resolution were
smooth not blocky, with good color, sharpness and sound quality. Nice
going, LG! Video clips are limited to 15 seconds in length, even when
saving to a card, which is a shame.
Bluetooth and miniSD Slot
Yes, the LG VX9800 has Bluetooth, and by Verizon's
standards, it's a bit less hobbled than usual. The phone supports headset
and hands free profiles for use with Bluetooth headsets and car kits.
We tested the LG with the Gennum Zen, Motorola
HS820, Motorola HF800 car
kit, Plantronics M3500 and
South-Wing SH305. All worked well, offering good range, volume and clarity
as well as compatibility with text to speech and voice command, though
the South-Wing did occasionally suffer from static and didn't offer as
Surprisingly (for Verizon), the LG also has Bluetooth
OBEX support for vCard transfer to and from other phones, PDAs and computers.
You won't be able to push any other data using OBEX however. We sent
contacts to the phone using an HP iPAQ hx2490 and Outlook on the desktop
and it worked well with two caveats: phone number fields won't transfer
unless you remove spaces, dashes and parenthesis, and the phone accepts
contacts with the last name first (handy for viewing but weird for voice
dialing). Bluetooth DUN (dial up networking) is enabled, though it seems
Verizon may have changed the way their servers handle authorization so
you may not be able to take advantage of DUN. Of course, DUN is prohibited
by most mobile carriers including Verizon so use this at your own risk.
The fully functional miniSD slot is another surprise
on a Verizon phone. You can save photos and videos taken with the camera
as well as recorded sounds by default to the card. This is an improvement
over the LG VX8100 where you had to save these to internal memory then
transfer them one by one to the card. In addition you can put your MP3s
on the card using a card reader on your computer (put them in the MY_MP3
folder and don't create any subdirectories in that folder because the
phone won't see them). When you insert a card into the VX9800 for the
first time, it will create the necessary directories for you, so you
need do nothing. Videos are saved to the MY_FLIX folder, photos to MY_PIX,
sounds to my_sounds and MP3s to MY_MP3. Since Verizon wants to sell you
ringtones, there's no way to transfer sounds or MP3s to internal memory
unless you want to try the free Bitpim application
on your computer to manage your phone's internal memory. Bitpim is very
powerful, but not for the faint of heart, however.
The standard 1300 mAh Lithium Ion battery is
generous by phone standards. Our two units managed 3 days on a
charge with heavy use (each day we were talking on the phone
for an hour, surfing the web for an hour, listening to MP3s through
headphones for 30 minutes, playing games for 20 minutes and watching
a few VCast videos). With light use, the phone lasted 4 days on
a charge. If you're in an EVDO area as are we, you should get this
kind of battery life since EVDO is easy on the battery. If you're
in a fringe area or one where Verizon is building out the service,
you'll get considerably shorter runtimes because the phone will
hunt for that trace EVDO signal throughout the day. This is true
of all Verizon phones with EVDO we tested (Audiovox
i730 and LG VX8100), not just the
VX9800. Should you need even more stamina, LG offers an extended
2100 mAh optional battery available for purchase separately.
Bluetooth didn't affect battery life greatly
because the phone sleeps the connection when not active. Playing
games and watching VCast videos did drain the battery more quickly
than other activities, as will using the camera's flash very frequently.
While most PDA phones have flight mode, few feature phones offer
it. The LG has flight mode (called "standalone mode"),
so you can turn off the phone's radio for use on airplanes or anywhere
else you'd like to use the phone's PIM, camera, MP3 player, gaming
and other features without having the phone's wireless radio on.
In addition to Contacts, Calendar, IM, camera,
photo viewer, video viewer and the web browser, the LG comes with
a notepad, alarm clock, calculator, EZ Tip Calc, World Clock. You
can download other BREW (Java) applications including games using
Verizon's Get It Now service. LG includes "Name Card Reader" which
is really a business card reader that works in conjunction with
the camera. Yes, it's a nifty party trick but it's actually useful
too. Put the camera in macro mode using the switch on the back,
take a photo of a business card and the VX9800 will then use OCR
(optical character recognition) to turn the words in the image
to text. It will walk you through assigned the text on the business
card to fields in the address book.
If you're looking for something short of a PDA
phone but need more than a feature phone, the VX9800 should be
on your short list. The superb keyboard makes messaging and data
entry easy and the phone's multimedia prowess put it above the
feature phone pack. The unit has excellent build quality, great
displays, an impressive camera that does a great job of both photos
and videos, Bluetooth and an MP3 player. Throw in EVDO and VCast
and you've got an excellent communications and entertainment tool,
as well as a strong phone with good voice manners, excellent speakerphone
and strong usability and one-handed operation. Heck, I liked it
so much, I bought one!
Pro: Excellent keyboard,
strong built quality, clever industrial design. Candy bar ease
of use is good, with a large lighted number pad, d-pad and easy
access to basic menu functions, Bluetooth and the MP3 player. Speakerphone
is top notch, as is voice quality and volume. Camera takes photos
and videos that are worth saving. Bluetooth works reliably and
is less hobbled than usual for a Verizon phone. Good phone reception,
great MP3 playback quality, miniSD card slot is great for transferring
photos, videos and MP3s. Good IM support with included client.
Backlit keyboard eases nighttime texting. Browser can handle normal
HTML web sites as well as WAP.
Con: No email client
included. Though not a behemoth, the phone isn't petit or light.
IM client uses text messages and Verizon's text message plans aren't
Price: $299 with 2 year contract, $469 without
x 1.97 x 1.0 inches. Weight: 5.19 ounces.
in stereo speakers, mic and 2.5 mm headphone jack.
Voice Recognition software included. Full duplex
speakerphone (works only when clamshell is open).72-Chord
Polyphonic Sound Support, Voice Memo Recorder (1
Minute Each; Up to 200 memos total). Has vibrate
feature and comes with 16 ringtones.
dual band: 800 MHz CDMA and 1900 MHz PCS bands (no
analog). Supports both EVDO and 1xRTT for data.Has
Get It Now and VCast and can run BREW apps.
MP camera with LED flash. 4x digital zoom. Camera
Resolutions: 1280 x 960, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 176
x 144, 160 x 120 pixels. Video resolutions: 320 x
240 and 176 x 144 pixels, 3G2 format.Close-up
switch on lens for macro shots.
headset, handsfree, VCard transfer over OBEX and
DUN profiles. Bluetooth
1.1, class 2 radio.
Calendar, text and MMS client, instant messaging
(AIM, MSN and Yahoo), photo and video viewer, camera,
Get it Now (download Pix and Flix, ringtones, BREW
games and other apps) and
Open Wave HTML/WAP web browser for use with Verizon's
Mobile Web service 2.0.In
addition, T9, Notes, World Clock, Alarm Clock, EZ
Tip Calc, Calculator, Name Card Reader (take macro
photo of business cards) and Voice Command.