updated 08:10 am EDT, Wed May 7, 2008
LG Vu Mobile TV/Phone
If you've always wanted an iPhone but couldn't afford the minimum $399 price, consider the LG Vu for AT&T for $299. This iPhone lookalike offers the same mix of a largely touchscreen-driven interface, media playback, and a camera along with the unique ability to watch TV shows thanks to a built-in MediaFLO TV tuner. Included with the phone is a recharging cable as well as earbuds for listening to music on your LG Vu in private.
The design of the LG Vu (4.25 x 2.16 x 0.51 inches, and 3.16 ounces in weight) clearly mimics Apple's iPhone (4.50 x 2.40 x 0.46 inches, and 4.8 ounces in weight). The shiny black plastic case may look good, but after extended use, it tends to collect fingerprints and grease smudges. The front of the phone displays a Send, Clear, and Power button underneath the touchscreen. Pressing the Power button initially turns the phone on, but you must press the Unlock button on the side of the phone to use it. This prevents the phone from turning on by mistake and draining its power while tucked in a pocket or purse.
The side of the phone contains an adjustable antenna to improve television reception, a plug for recharging the phone or connecting the ear buds, side buttons that perform multiple functions such as adjusting the volume or scrolling up and down menu options, an unlock button, and a camera button. When held in your right hand, all of these side buttons are easy to press with your right thumb. (If you're left-handed, you can use your fingers to press these buttons.)
The back of the unit contains a 2.0 megapixel camera and a compartment for storing the Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery along with a slot for plugging in an optional microSD card, which can be used for storing audio files.
The back compartment holds the battery along with a slot for a microSD card
The touchscreen (measured 3.0 inches diagonally) provides a virtual keyboard for typing text or numbers. Since many people prefer a physical keypad for tactile feedback, the LG Vu compensates for this by vibrating slightly every time you press a virtual key on the touch screen.
Images on the touchscreen appear sharp and distinct, and pressing buttons or menu options on the touchscreen proved responsive. Although the touchscreen is bright enough to read indoors, trying to read anything on the touchscreen outdoors, especially in direct sunlight, can be difficult as the colors appear washed out and faded. If you're a heavy phone user outdoors, the virtual keypad on the touchscreen may be less practical than a traditional keypad found on other mobile phones.
After you turn on the unit, the touchscreen displays a simple user interface with four virtual buttons that let you access additional menu options, watch TV shows, access your contact list, or just make a phone call.
The main feature of the LG Vu is its ability to receive and watch television shows through the touchscreen on your phone. (Watching TV requires an additional fee to your normal monthly subscription charge.) When you choose to watch a TV show, the phone displays images in landscape mode; you'll have to turn the phone sideways to watch your shows.
TV shows appear in landscape mode
TV shows take up most of the touchscreen except for the edges, which is where virtual buttons appear to scroll through different channels or view a program schedule of available shows. The video quality of the device is more than adequate, although if you move the phone suddenly, watch a TV show in a moving vehicle, or stand in an area with poor reception, the video quality can get chunky and distorted. Sometimes the video freezes while the sound continues playing, and sometimes the visual quality gets degraded slightly.
You can view a schedule of different TV channels
Despite these inevitable problems, watching TV on the phone works as advertised. If you're stuck in an airport terminal or waiting for someone at a restaurant, catching your favorite TV shows while you wait can be a fun way to pass the time, and the sheer novelty of watching TV shows anywhere on your mobile phone is a major attraction of this phone over any competing models.
Another fun feature of the phone is its ability to play music in one of two ways. First, you can buy music through online stores such as Napster, or you can simply listen to XM Radio to hear commercial-free radio stations. For more fun, watch music videos so you can hear the latest songs while also watching something at the same time. (Just be aware that constantly downloading data for streaming audio can run up your bill unless you opt for a subscription plan that provides this as part of a flat fee.)
Watch the latest music videos on your phone
A second way to play music is to transfer music from your computer to the phone using an optional USB cable and storing it on a microSD card. Music files must be stored in one of common audio formats such as MP3 or AAC. Unfortunately, the phone is only compatible with Windows Media Player. If you use Mac OS X or iTunes, you can't transfer your music to this phone.
Whether you use the included ear buds or simply listen to music through the phone's external speakers, the sound quality will be adequate. You won't mistake the audio quality for your home stereo system, but you'll have no trouble enjoying your music wherever you happen to take your phone.
To connect you across the Internet, the phone lets you access email, instant messaging, or web pages through a simple browser, which displays web pages specifically designed for mobile devices. Supported email accounts include Yahoo!, AOL, and Windows Live Mail. If you'd rather connect with your friends through instant messaging, you can choose between AIM, Windows Live, or Yahoo!
Besides writing text messages, you can also use the unit's built-in 2.0 megapixel camera to capture still images or video that you can send as an attachment. If you capture a still image, you can use the device's built-in image editor to crop a picture or create special effects such as displaying an image in black and white.
For such a small unit, the picture quality is adequate, but nothing you would want to use for capturing precious memories of a family vacation or holiday. If you don't attach a picture or video to a message, you can also transfer it to a computer wirelessly through Bluetooth.
The LG Vu is an adequate multifunction mobile phone that mimics most features of the iPhone right down to the touchscreen user interface. Just keep in mind that since it can't synchronize with a Mac or iTunes (on either Windows or Mac); only Windows users can take full advantage of this phone's music playing capabilities.
The highlight of this phone is its ability to let you watch your favorite TV shows no matter where you might be. If you want a combination handheld TV and high-end mobile phone, then the LG Vu is the phone for you.