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Monday November 5, 2007 1:38 pm

Why I Love LG’s VX9400 Cellphone (aka the “TV Phone”): A Review

LG's VX9400 from Verizon

In August, my contract with T-Mobile ended, and I was ready to upgrade my cell phone. Like most everyone else, I desperately wanted an , but the $500 price tag was too rich for my blood.  I also considered the Sidekick, which would have allowed me to stay with T-Mobile (whose service I love). Then one day I wandered into a store to check out their “TV Phone”: ’s VX9400. You’ve probably seen the commercials of people watching “The Daily Show” or “Spongebob” on their cellphone and wondered “Just how good is that thing?”  Well, I was hooked instantly and purchased it the next day. Despite the phone’s drawbacks – and they are major—I’ve been in love with it ever since. Here’s why…

The Pros

Let’s start with the price. When purchased, the VX9400 retailed for $100 USD after a $50 rebate. Plus, Verizon was having a “$20 off all cell phones” deal going on, knocking the final price down to $80. First I considered the phone’s standard features: voicemail, text messaging, call waiting, etc.; then threw in the bells and whistles: camera, video camera, MP3 player, Mobile Web, V CAST Mobile TV and videos… and concluded this was a great deal. Check VerizonWireless.com or your local Verizon store for current pricing.

As for the phone itself, the VX9400 is the compact, comfortable “chocolate bar” style, with a “swivel” screen that can go from vertical to horizontal with a flick of the finger, revealing the numeric pad underneath. You can speak into the phone in either position. I find it much more comfortable and natural in the vertical position, which means flipping the screen up to dial a call, then flipping it back down to talk. It’s a little strange but it becomes automatic soon enough. The phone is very easy to use. I’ve only read small portions of the manual, yet was able to figure out most of the functions, buttons and navigation myself. There are dedicated buttons for the Mobile TV, camera and speakerphone. The menu is colorful and easy to navigate. As for storage, the VX9400 uses a microSD card, up to 2GB (not included). If you’re big on storing photos, videos, MP3s, ringtones, etc. on your cellphone, buy at least a 1GB. Battery life is ok, I find that I have to re-charge the phone every other day or so.

But let’s get right down to what you really want to know: how is watching TV on the VX9400? In a word, fun. Verizon’s V CAST consists of two services:  Mobile TV and
V CAST Videos. Mobile TV consists of CBS, Fox, NBC, NBC News, Comedy Central, ESPN, MTV, and Nickelodeon. While I wish there were more channels (I am hoping more are coming down the pipeline), there’s something for everyone, and I always seem to find something to watch. Most of the programs are pre-recorded—not live. So if you missed last night’s “Survivor”, chances are you’ll be able to catch it on the VX9400 in the days after. There are a number of shows that do air live, including “Letterman”, “Leno”, “The Today Show” and occasional prime time shows. Mobile TV has a handy program guide, complete with show description, and you can see what’s coming on hours in advance. The resolution and sound quality of Mobile TV are very good; the VX9400’s screen has a bright, color-rich display and measures 2.2” by 2.2”, which I find large enough for TV and video viewing. On occasion I do have trouble accessing the service, depending on where I am (I live in NY). For example, I can never access Mobile TV from my mother’s Brooklyn apartment, yet I can from my own abode, just a few blocks away.

LG VX9400 review

I am slightly less enthused with V CAST Videos, a sort of “Video On Demand” service consisting of short, pre-recorded clips, from music videos to the latest news. While the service has many entertaining categories to choose from, I often have trouble accessing this service, no matter where I am. In terms of viewing quality, some of the clips are of decent resolution—some worse.  Rarely is the quality as good as the Mobile TV service. Furthermore, you have to pay an additional fee to view certain V CAST clips, but, you can download and store them on the phone. Currently, the Mobile TV and V CAST Video services are only available in major cities. I pay an extra $25 per month, but various plans are available . Fortunately, Verizon’s Mobile Web is also included in my V CAST package.

Speaking of Mobile Web, this is another feature I love on the VX9400. Granted, it is a very watered-down, bare bones version of the internet, but “mobile” versions of websites like eBay and Yahoo do work well on it. Plus, Verizon’s Mobile Web menu is a breeze to navigate. I use Mobile Web primarily to catch up on email (MSN, AOL and Yahoo! only), and the latest headlines. I can always connect to Mobile Web from anywhere, anytime.

So what about the VX9400’s camera and video features? I am pleased with both, although I’m very disappointed the camera does not have a zoom feature, which I often miss. The camera is only 1.3 megapixels, and you must really hold the phone still to avoid a blurry shot. However, the camera does have an impressive array of functions, including flash, white balance, color effects (sepia, b&w, etc), “night mode”, self-timer and five choices of resolution. You can even choose a sound effect when a photo is taken, including the classic “shutter” sound, “Say Cheese,” or silent mode for stealth shooting. The video camera has similar features, and I’m pleased with the resolution and quality. Furthermore, you can transfer your own videos or movies to the 9400 and watch them on the phone (provided your microSD card is large enough). Note that the phone does not include a data cable for transferring media to and from the phone. I ordered mine on eBay.

For the record, I have not used the VX9400’s Instant Message or Chat features, nor the MP3 player, since my iPod goes with me everywhere. The phone does not come equipped with any games (shame, LG!).  But given all of the phone’s entertainment features, I haven’t missed them.

The Cons

And now the bad news. The VX9400’s drawbacks are few – but huge. Let’s start with my biggest pet peeve, sound quality. I was a T-Mobile customer for 7 years, and found the sound quality on their phones to be excellent. Furthermore, I rarely had a dropped call. I was always extremely pleased with T-Mobile. Surprisingly, I can’t say the same for Verizon. On phone calls, the VX9400’s sound quality is just okay. Often, the person speaking sounds slightly muffled…it is never crystal clear. And another thing: I think I’ve had more dropped calls in the 2.5 months I’ve been with Verizon than the 7 years I was with T-Mobile.

Another drawback is the phone doesn’t include accessories: no storage card, no data cable, and no earpiece. Granted, the phone is reasonably priced. But, be prepared to kick out additional money if you want to take advantage of all the phone’s unique features.

Which brings me to the third drawback: the VX9400’s 2.5mm earjack, which is smaller than the standard sized 3.5mm commonly found on MP3 and media players. In other words, to use my iPod headphones with the 9400, I had to kick out another $13 for an adapter (or shell out money for a separate set of headphones). Fortunately, the adapter, available on Verizon’s website and in select Verizon stores, includes a microphone and call answer/end button. Just click it and go from watching Mobile TV or listening to music, to receiving a phone call without removing the headphones. Which begs the question: Why couldn’t LG just make the earjack 3.5mm and save us the money and hassle?

Overall, I highly recommend the LG VX9400. Just be willing to sacrifice sound quality and overlook occasional dropped calls in exchange for endless entertainment—and a high coolness factor (if you care about such things).  But remember: all those fun bells and whistles will cost you extra cash each month.

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