Reviewed December 17, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's note 11/2007: Check out our review of the LG Voyager VX10000 that replaces the enV along with the EnV2.
Editor's note, April 2008: The LG EnV2 is now out.
When we reviewed the LG VX9800 "V" just over a year ago, we loved it. The V bridged the gap between a feature phone and smartphone with its QVGA display (then standard on PDA phones but rarely seen on feature phones), roomy QWERTY keyboard and responsive CPU. Yet it wasn't brick-like, ugly or hugely expensive. Things have changed a lot in that year and smartphones are no longer synonymous with large, clunky and pricey. In fact they've gotten downright slim, sexy and affordable. Verizon's own Motorola Q started the trend and the T-Mobile Dash and Samsung BlackJack on Cingular have recently extended that run. And so LG and Verizon have released an updated version of the "V", called the "enV" (pronounced envy), model VX9900 which offers several nice improvements at a much lower introductory price than the VX9800. But can it hold that trio of smartphones at bay?
That depends on what you want from your phone. It's perfect for heavy texters who don't crave MS Office viewers, a more desktop-like web browser and easy corporate integration. The phone can sync to Outlook over-the-air using Verizon's $20/month Wireless Sync service but comes with no desktop software or USB cable to sync to Outlook on your PC. USB cables are available separately and BitPim, a free application on the Net will allow you to sync to your PC. Think of the enV as a more staid, compact and feature-laden version of the SideKick in better business attire.
The VX9900 looks like a regular candy bar phone with a standard keypad, d-pad and display on the front face. But it opens like a laptop to reveal a spacious QWERTY keyboard and a large inner display that's flanked by gutsy stereo speakers. A neat and highly functional design first found on the much larger Nokia Communicator smartphones such as the old Nokia 9290, more recent Nokia 9300 and later on the LG VX9800.
Those of you who've used the VX9800 will notice a few design changes inside: the Fn key is gone, the display now hinges lower on the side so you'll need to reach between the keyboard and display to hit the volume up and down controls rather than reaching behind the display (when the phone is open), and the inner display is 16 pixels narrower since the enV has a more industry standard QVGA resolution LCD.
Above: the volume buttons and camera button are accessed by reaching between the display and keyboard sections when the phone is open.
Like the original V, the enV is very solidly built and looks well made. It's a bit smaller than the V, and dressed in silver with updated curves to improve looks. The external number keys aren't very tall but they are wide. Big-fingered folks will have to take care when dialing. The light silver numbers are backlit in light blue which provides passable contrast. The inside keyboard keys are black with high contrast white markings and they have light blue backlighting. The keys are large and square with a very tactile (but not noisy) click. Good stuff! The VX9900 has a dedicated number row which is much more expedient than embedded numbers that require an alt key for input. There is no standard center space bar, but rather two oversized space buttons flanking the bottom row of keys, which takes some getting used to.
The display can lock at approximately 110 degrees (a small tilt back from straight upright) and it can lock at 180 degrees (flat open). The flat position is perfect for two handed use and the 110 degree angle is good for desktop use as if it were a notebook. The phone isn't stable on a desk because the bottom isn't flat thanks to the protruding camera lens.
Phone Features, Data and Reception
The enV is a CDMA cell phone supporting the 800 and 1900MHz bands used in the US. It has EVDO (3G) and 1xRTT (2.5G) for data. It runs on Verizon's network in the US and is fully compatible with their V Cast service which includes streaming video, music downloads and more. The unlimited data plan will set you back $15 which is a great deal compared to full PDA data plans; again appealing to those who don't need the full range of smart features such as a more advanced web browser and an email client that requires no separate service.
Phone reception is good and we found it a bit stronger than the V with improved call quality for both incoming and outgoing voice. Earpiece volume is impressive and the phone can get loud enough to combat train stations and football game noise.The speakerphone is loud and clear as well. Unlike the VX9800, the speakerphone doesn't turn on automatically when the phone is opened; you'll have to press the speakerphone key on the lower right corner of the keyboard (just below the d-pad).
Like other high end LG phones on Verizon including the the LG VX9800 and LG VX8300, the VX9900
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 that's clear and audible.
The phone's address book can hold up to 1000 contacts
with fields for name, 4 phone numbers, fax, 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
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.
Display, Multimedia and Sound
The music player has only the most basic features such as playlists and shuffle. Gone is the EQ found in the VX9800. There are no dedicated external music buttons but the outer d-pad handles basic playback control when the phone is closed. The phone shows album art on the external display when closed (if available) and on the inner display when the phone is open. You can drag your own ripped MP3s files to a MicroSD memory card using a card reader on your computer, sync to Windows Media Player 10 (USB cable and driver software required but sold separately) or you can buy tunes from Verizon's Get it Now music store. Tunes cost $1.99 and once you've downloaded a song you can also download it to your PC. Songs, pay-for videos and applications are billed on your monthly statement.
The LG's stereo speakers are some of the best we've heard on a phone and their 3.5" of physical separation add a sense of audio separation to the channels. Music is clear and crisp with some bass and not the distorted, hissy mess you'd expect from a mobile phone. We also appreciate that the speakers surround the inner display and face toward you, the listener, rather than out the side or worse yet at an unsuspecting person sitting in front of you on the bus. The VX9900 doesn't come with a wired headset so you'll need to purchase one or get Verizon's $29.99 Music Essentials kit which includes a stereo headset with inline mic, USB cable and PC software for syncing music to the phone.
The 262,000 color TFT inner display is lovely with great contrast and good color saturation. It makes an excellent companion to Verizon's V Cast video service. Though ever so slightly lower in resolution than the V, we don't miss the few lost pixels and likely the enV's standard QVGA resolution ensures greater potential compatibility with BREW applications (especially games). The 65,000 color outer display is bright and sharp and is visible outdoors under sun. It offers only a paired-down set of the menu options on the outer display however.
The VX9900 has an unusual 2 megapixel camera: it offers both fixed focus and autofocus modes-- usually you get one or the other but not both. In fixed focus mode it works like most camera phones, taking the photo nearly instantly with less than superb focus and no depth of field. Put the camera in either 1 or 2 step autofocus and the subject is in sharp focus, with a 1 to 2 second delay before the shot is taken. In 1 step mode the camera autofocuses and shows you the focus screen (a yellow square in the middle of the frame) then takes the shot. In two step mode it autofocuses, again showing the yellow autofocus square which turns red when it's done focusing so you can press the shutter button. Does autofocus improve image quality? Yes. Overall image quality is good by US camera phone standards but the VX9900 won't be the envy of the Nokia 2 to 3MP camera phone crowd. Images show some noise and grain even in well lit indoor settings, but resized down to 800 x 600 a 1600 x 1200 (maximum) resolution image looks quite good on a PC screen. Colors are accurate and the enV handles bright highlights well by phone standards with only modest whiting-out of highlights.
The VX9800's business card reader which took a photo of a business card and turned it into text for use in the phone's address book is gone from the VX9900, alas. But we'll take a higher resolution camera with autofocus that takes better photos over the business card reader any day.
The camera has several white balance settings including auto, various shutters sounds (you can disable the shutter sound if you wish) and color settings such as negative, sepia, solar and black & white. The camera has night mode which does help for dark shots and a flash. These effects and settings are also available in video mode. As with photos, you can save videos to internal memory or a MicroSD card and there are settings for 15 second max videos for MMS or up to 1 hour for saving to a card. You can take videos at 320 x 240 resolution or 176 x 144 commonly used for MMS.
As with the LG VX9800, you'll hold the camera horizontally to take a photo when the phone is closed. Given the large lens it looks like a point and shoot camera from the back. The camera has a flash and a lens cover to repel those tiny dust bunnies that hide in pockets. The external camera button both launches the camera application and acts as a shutter button (you can also use the d-pad center button as the shutter button).
A few years back we lamented the lack of Bluetooth profiles on Verizon phones. Well, we're happy to report that the enV supports pretty much every profile available including DUN (dial up networking for using your phone as a wireless high speed modem for a computer) and A2DP for stereo Bluetooth headphones and headsets. Supported profiles are: headset, hands-free, dial-up networking, A2DP (Stereo), object push for vCard, serial port, file transfer, AVRC, basic printing and HID (human interface device).
Though you can't send a file from the phone to your computer, you can browse the phone using a Bluetooth-enabled computer and copy files to and from the phone (except ringtones). The phone can only send vCards to other phones and computers. The enV has Bluetooth 1.2 and manages file transfers in the 35 KB/s range.
Though sporting a lower capacity battery than the V, the enV managed just over 4 hours of talk time and well over 2 weeks of standby time. As with all V Cast EVDO phones, streaming lots of music and especially video will eat the battery quickly (about 2 hours runtime) but the phone otherwise has good staying power for a feature-laden device with a large display. With average use (including judicious use of V Cast entertainment content), the VX9900 should last 2 to 3 days on a charge. LG lists a 1700 mA extended battery available for separate purchase on their web site, though it's not listed on Verizon's web site.
For those who want a keyboard for texting but don't need all the features of a smartphone or PDA phone, let alone the more expensive data plans associated with them, the LG VX9900 enV bridges the gap. If email (other than web-based) is your thing, then the monthly cost goes up since you'll pay $15 for unlimited data and an additional $19.99/month for Verizon's Wireless Sync and we'd recommend an MS Smartphone such as the Motorola Q, Samsung BlackJack or the Treo 700p and Treo 700w. For those who aren't email addicts, the LG is a feature-rich phone.
Pro: Great phone ergonomics, strong call quality and volume. Excellent QWERTY keyboard, good camera and a better selection of Bluetooth profiles than usually found on a Verizon phone. Performs well with V Cast content. VZ Navigator is great for those on the go in need of driving directions. Stereo speakers sound great! Excellent web browser by feature phone standards, though limited to single column view.
Con: Volume rocker and camera button are nearly inaccessible with the display opened in notebook mode; you must open the phone 180 degrees to get to these more easily. No built-in email client. You must use Verizon's $19.99 monthly Wireless Sync software to do non-web based email.
Size:4.64 x 2.08 x 0.78 inches. Weight: 4.6 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital: 800/1900MHz. EVDO and 1xRTT for data.
Camera:2.0 MP with flash. Optional autofocus mode. 1600 x 1200 max photo resolution in JPEG format. Video recording resolutions: 320 x 240, 176 x 144. Can set still images and videos under 5 megs as wallpaper.
in stereo speakers, mic and 2.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Has text-to-speech, voice recorder, speaker independent voice dialing, speakerphone, MP3 player, V Cast video player and 13 built-in ringtones.
Bluetooth 1.2. Profiles supported: headset, hands-free, dial-up networking, A2DP (Stereo), object push for vCard, serial port, file transfer, AVRC, basic printing, human interface device.
Calendar, text and MMS client, instant messaging
(AIM, MSN and Yahoo), photo and video viewer, camera,
VZ Navigator (turn-by-turn driving directions, requires fee to use), Wireless Sync (requires monthly fee to use), 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, and Voice Command. Compatible with BREW downloadable apps.