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Review: Verizon LG VX9800 EVDO/V CAST Phone

The new $349.99 LG VX9800 has plenty of features: two LCD screens, streams video, shows Web pages, captures photos and movies, and has a host of other features as well. Unfortunately, this expensive consumer phone suffers from feature overload and doesn't carry out any one of its features as well as a full-featured handheld with telephony features or phones that don't aspire to more than voice, pictures, and text messaging.
Verizon Wireless continues to baffle this reviewer along with its customers by offering Bluetooth support but disabling file transfer (object exchange or OBEX). This means that the tiny videos and larger photographs you take can only be e-mailed or messaged via the slow EVDO upload speed, which runs about 50 to 100 Kbps. EVDO for these kinds of uploads is included in the V CAST subscription, by the way.

If you use the built-in mini-SD (Secure Digital) card slot, which accepts up to a 128 MB card at this writing, you can transfer images and movies to the card and then read them on a computer using the full-sized SD card adapter. If you dive into system tools and memory options, you can choose to save all photos (PIX) and movies (FLIX) to the card instead of into the internal 128 MB of storage, making it easier to transfer that media. (The card can't be used to transfer ring tones or V CAST content, which is streamed, not downloaded.)

The phone and Verizon's network are equipped to send images and videos as e-mail attachments or multimedia messages (MMS) for rates that vary from per message fees to $5 to $15 per month for unlimited in-network messaging and metered messaging to non-Verizon phones. I found that I could send photos to my Cingular phone, but not to a colleague's identical phone under a T-Mobile plan. Text messages worked fine, as did e-mail with video attachments.

The built-in Web browser ($5 per month separately or included in a V CAST subscription) works speedily over the EVDO network and just fine over the slower 1xRTT service (closer to dial-up modem speeds). Unfortunately it's a WAP browser, not one derived from, say, a standards-based approach like those embedded from Opera Software. Because of this, no Web page not designed for a mobile phone loaded acceptably. My own Wi-Fi site, completely CSS compliant, failed to load because it had too many links on the page producing an out-of-memory error.

The interface has enormous problems, too, with useful options like recording a movie buried two or more navigational directions deep under menus that don't explain themselves well. The Get It Now menu (click OK or click the left arrow) brings up options such as Get PIX & FLIX. Select that, and the final option, Take FLIX, puts you into movie-recording mode. Taking a picture is simpler, though: Holding down the camera button on the side of the phone puts you right into that mode.

Because so many different features were crammed into one phone, each kind of activity introduces odd limitations. When you're trying to send an MMS with a photo attached, for example, you can't take a new photo, only browse existing photos. On a truly integrated device, that would be a given.

The VX9800 has a host of other options that allow EVDO-speed synchronization of e-mail and contacts (for an extra $20 per month without direct corporate e-mail server support), MP3 playback (but not WMA or AAC), voice activation commands, and a lovely speakerphone capability.

But I'll finish with battery life, its strongest feature. It's rated at over four hours of talk time and 199 hours of standby time, but I tested its most multimedia and network intensive features using its larger screen. On a full charge, hours of V CAST, e-mail, and video and photo capture finally used up three-quarters of its battery life.

Integrate and make the interface consistent, put in a good mobile Web browser, and make its use as an EVDO data modem a piece of cake, and the phone has a future. In its current state, it's a jack of all trades, and a lacking in some important areas.

Online: $299.99 (two-year contract) or $399.99 (one-year contract) www.myvzw.com