Reviewed March 4, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The LG Versa VX9600 for Verizon is a uniquely designed phone. Want a touch screen phone, similar to the LG Dare? The Versa has you covered. Want a phone with a QWERTY hardware keyboard and built-in protective leather case? That's the Versa too. The phone comes with an accessory cover with some intelligence inside. Remove the Versa's back cover and replace it with the QWERTY cover and the phone changes its personality just a little. Thanks to a data connector on the cover and phone, the QWERTY key presses are transferred to the phone. The cover has its own OLED monochrome display, similar to a flip phone's and it displays the time, date, signal strength, battery and call info. It also has call send and end buttons so you need not open the cover to answer or end a call. Close the cover and the display sleeps, open the cover and it wakes. Nice.
The cover attachment design is well done: most every control remains accessible. The only casualty is the microSD card slot which is blocked by the cover. Calling is a bit weird with the cover attached when speaking directly to the handset; it's like holding a tiny book to your face. You can close the cover to avoid the book-like form but then you won't be able to interact with the screen that doubles as your keypad. The good news is that the cover has a port for the earpiece, call send and end buttons and a display so you can can talk with the cover closed as long as you don't need a dialer. The mic is on the phone's bottom edge so the cover doesn't interfere.
The front view of the phone in its cover. That's a small OLED display with a port for the earpiece up top and call send and end buttons below.
The cover is really lovely and has a molded fit. It reminds us of the Vaja iVolution style rigid leather case that adds very little bulk while being quite protective. The exterior is dark brown pebbled leather (it has the texture and aroma of leather so we assume it's the real thing) and the inner surface that surrounds the keyboard is stitched suede. The hinge is beefy (plastic) and the cover attaches securely. Slide a release lever to remove the standard cell phone back and attach the keyboard cover. The slider locks firmly back into place holding the back/cover securely.
The 4 row keyboard has a dedicated number row, but the bottom row of keys has the spacebar nested in the middle. There are 4 arrow keys but these don't work to navigate on-screen menus (weird), so one doesn't gain complete touch screen independence when using the keyboard. The keys are decently sized (bigger than the BlackBerry Bold's) and have a positive tactile click that makes texting a pleasure.
How is the Versa as a touch screen phone and how does it compare to the Dare? It's compact, in fact it's a little smaller than the Dare (narrower) but looks very similar with nearly the same bottom strip of buttons. Since the Versa is narrower, the screen is a tad smaller (though both measure 3" diagonally). The Versa is higher resolution at 240 x 480 vs. the Dare's 240 x 400 pixels. That means icons and text look even sharper, but small targets are harder to press with a finger-- links on a web page for example. With the standard phone back installed, the phone is quite small and pocket-friendly. Even with the cover on it's compact, though too thick for tight jeans pockets. This is a resistive touch screen like the Dare and unlike the iPhone and T-Mobile HTC G1. That means you can use a stylus (one is included that hangs from a short dongle like the Samsung Omnia i910). Thankfully you don't need to use the stylus since UI elements are large and finger friendly. The touch screen is responsive, though it occasionally missed finger presses. It's nonetheless quite usable and not frustrating like the Samsung Glyde's touch screen.
The display has haptic (vibration) feedback and an accelerometer that rotates the display when you turn the phone. Landscape mode works most everywhere, even in the home screen, which features a 4 screen UI. It's a cube metaphor-- swipe your finger across the screen to move to the next side of the cube, though that's the sum total of 3D effects. There are home screen pages for "Modules" (text/picture messaging, notepad, IM, web browser, email and calendar), favorites (actually contacts), shortcuts (add the applications of your choice here) and media (add shortcuts to bookmarked web pages, pictures, video and music). You can add and remove items from all screens except the Modules screen. Unlike the Dare, shortcuts are auto-arranged into a tidy grid and you can't place them at random locations. Swiping to each of the home screens is fast, and the phone feels responsive, though not as fast as Samsung's TouchWiz feature phones like the Eternity, Behold and Memoir.
The Shortcuts home screen page.
When the keyboard isn't attached, the Versa's on-screen keypad and keyboard come to the rescue for data entry. Like most touch screen phones, you'll get a keypad with support for T9 in portrait mode and a QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode. You can rotate the phone at any time to switch between these. The on-screen QWERTY is a bit cramped because the screen is a small (the keys are larger than the standard Windows Mobile tiny on-screen keyboard but smaller than the iPhone's and Samsung Eternity/Behold/Memoir). It's passable but made us thankful for the hardware keyboard.
The on-screen QWERTY keyboard.
Beyond the Touch Screen and Keyboard
The LG Versa VX9600 is currently exclusive to Verizon in the US. It features EVDO Rev. A for fast data, voice dialing (no tags required), an HTML web browser, a 2.0 megapixel autofocus camera and Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR with a wide selection of profiles including DUN, headset, handsfree, HID, A2DP stereo and Bluetooth printing. It has a GPS that works with Verizon's VZ Navigator service and it supports V Cast streaming video and music including Verizon's Rhapsody content.
Call quality is very good and there's little earpiece distortion even at higher volumes. Reception is better than average: we're in a Verizon-challenged service area where many phones barely manage 1 bar of 1x (voice) and 1 bar of EVDO. The Versa manages two bars of EVDO and a solid 1 to 2 bars for voice and 1xRTT. Bars aren't always accurate but the LG's download speeds, voice quality and lack of dropped calls indicate that it really is pulling in good reception. The phone plays well with Bluetooth headsets like the Jawbone 2 and Plantronics Discovery 655, and it supports A2DP Bluetooth stereo.
Side views of the phone with the standard back installed.
The microSD card slot is accessible when the cover isn't installed but is blocked when the cover is on.
The LG Versa supports background music playback. Sorry, there's no 3.5mm stereo jack and no adapter in the box, but the phone does support Bluetooth stereo headsets. It can play locally stored MPEG4 videos as well as streaming V Cast video. The Media Center player does not stretch video to fill the display, rather like the LG Dare, a few on-screen controls and a black border flank the video. The Versa has a surprisingly good web browser by Teleca, and Flash support so it can play some Flash content embedded in web pages as well as desktop youtube videos (you're not limited to the mobile version of youtube). Unfortunately, the frame rate is poor when playing FLV desktop youtube videos-- around 10-15 fps.
The web browser, viewing our homepage.
Battery life is above average for an EVDO phone with a large display and enough horsepower to handle Flash. Verizon and LG claim up to 4.8 hours of talk time and our tests averaged 4.3 hours. Even with moderate use, the LG Versa lasted 2 days on a charge, which is a half a day better than other well-featured Verizon phones. The LG has an 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery-- fairly high capacity for a feature phone.
The standard back installed.
The case, opened from the back.
The Versa VX9600's built-in GPS works with Verizon's VZ Navigator service, which costs $9.99/month and downloads maps, directions and POI information over the cellular data connection. The LG's GPS managed a quick fix indoors near a window and warm starts take only a few seconds. It kept up with us on the highway and gave clear spoken turn-by-turn directions.
The camera, at 2 megapixels with an autofocus lens is a step down from the Dare's 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera. Images are good, with pleasing color saturation and sharpness for a 2MP camera phone but the resolution is too low for printed enlargements. Max photo resolution is 1600 x 1200 with a variety of lesser resolutions supported. The camera can shoot video up to VGA 640 x 480 at approximately 15fps, as well as QVGA 320 x 240 and 176 x 144. Lower resolutions mean higher fps (frames per second) and we recommend these to avoid the jerky low fps VGA video. Images are sharp thanks to the autofocus lens, though there's the usual camera phone autofocus lag that will cost you 2 seconds between tapping the shutter button and taking the actual shot. Indoor shots aren't hugely noisy but bright outdoor shots tend to overexposure. The camera can save photos and video to a microSD card and high capacity SDHC cards work just fine.
The LG Versa VX9600 is a versatile, innovative and fun phone. If you love touch screen phones but can't do without the hardware keyboard, the Versa has a unique appeal, at least among feature phones. The QWERTY cover also happens to look great and do a good job of protecting the phone without adding significant bulk. Call quality is good and reception is very good; making this an easy phone to recommend. We'd have liked a slightly larger screen, though this would have taken the Versa out of the surprisingly small category, full screen video playback and better Flash playback performance, but those are our only complaints.
Pro: Unique and highly functional design, good call quality, excellent reception, some Flash support thanks to Flash Lite 3. Good battery life.
Con: Some quirks in the UI-- for example, the arrow keys on the keyboard don't work to navigate on-screen menus. Though the phone can play Flash videos such as those on youtube, the frame rate is poor. Lower resolution video isn't stretched to fill the screen. Sometimes hard to tap links in the web browser given the screen's small dimensions relative to its resolution.
Price: $199 with 2 year contract after $50 rebate.
Display:262,000 color resistive touch screen with haptic feedback. LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3". Resolution:
240 x 480, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer automatic rotation. QWERTY cover display: Monochrome OLED, 56x120 Pixels, 0.94".
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1100 mA. Claimed talk time: up to 4.8 hours. Claimed standby: 17.9 days.
Performance:Undisclosed CPU. Approximately 2750 megs internal memory for storage.
Size:4.17" (H) x 2.07" (W) x 0.54" (D). Weight: 3.81 ounces without QWERTY cover, approx. 5.6 ounces with cover installed.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz. EVDO Rev. A for high speed data with fallback to 1xRTT.
GPS:Yes, with aGPS. Works with VZ Navigator subscription service.
Camera:2.0 megapixel with autofocus lens. Photo resolutions: 1600x1200, 1280x960, 800x400, 640x480, 320x240. Video resolutions: 640 x 480 @15fps, 320 x 240, 176 x 144 pixels @ 20fps.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone
jack. V Cast, Music and video player included.
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Profiles: Headset, Hands–free, DUN (Dial–Up Networking), A2DP Stereo, Phone Book Access, Basic Printing, Object Push (for vCard and vCalendar), File Transfer, Basic Imaging, HID.
Software:LG proprietary OS. Teleca web browser, Media Center handles V Cast (with Rhapsody), music (MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA) and video player (WMV, MP4, 3GP, 3G2), messaging (text, MMS and email), IM (MSN, AIM and Yahoo), calendar, address book, VZ Navigator, FlashLite, Drawing Pad, Voice Command, Ez Tip Calculator, world clock, stopwatch and notepad.