02 Jun 2007

LG VX8600: Review

I picked up a sleek, slim LG VX8600 about two weeks ago when my two-year contract with Verizon expired. I was a bit sad to say goodbye to my previous phone, the VX6100, as it was my first flip phone and cameraphone, and it had been through a lot with me including being submerged in both water and beer on separate occasions. The new phone is really a joy to use and carry around, though, so I think I'll get over it.

Overview: The 8600 is LG's popular Chocolate phone in a clamshell form factor, which I prefer. It is a digital-only phone which also supports Verizon's blazing fast EVDO network. I didn't get a data plan, however, as they run $45 a month for unlimited usage. As you can see, there is no visible antenna and the phone is a slim 15mm thick which contributes greatly to the streamlined look. The phone supports both Bluetooth headsets and data transfer. There is a MicroSD slot that allows the phone's memory to be expanded to at least 1GB. The battery is 800maH and has lasted well over two days on a charge with sparse usage.

Design: About the same size as the RAZR, the 8600 is all black on the outside with silver highlighting. It is definitely a phone that will turn heads; it looks both chic and professional. Both inside and outside displays are color. There are two side buttons on the phone, one is used for volume control and the other allows quick access to the camera and voice commands. These buttons are small and it is hard to get used to their location. I'm disappointed that manner mode cannot be set using these side buttons as it could on my other phone. The phone also has three touch-sensitive buttons on the face of the phone which are used to control the music player and display TXTs and other information on the outer screen. These buttons work perfectly at their default responsiveness setting. Unfortunately the faceplate will not stay clean; fingerprints are noticeable, especially after using the touch-sensitive buttons.

UI: The user interface of the phone leaves something to be desired. Although fast and responsive, both the main screens and the menus are structured a little strangely. Access to all of the media - music, pictures, and videos, is controlled through the 'Get It Now' menu, and the camera is so buried in this menu that the only feasible way to access it is with the side button. Bluetooth is also hard-to-find, appearing 8th in the settings menu. Shortcuts can be set to the arrow buttons, which mitigates the poor menu structure. On the main display, the icons for manner mode, voice messages, and calendar now show up in a large, unsightly blue bar that only displays when necessary, covering up the wallpaper and ruining the uncluttered look of the main display. This is probably what I hate most about the phone.

Phone: The 8600 gets fantastic reception. I can have 0 bars and still place a completely static-free call. I thought my previous phone worked well, but the 8600 can make calls from places in the house where my old phone would lose service. The speakerphone is disappointingly quiet, and can only be accessed from the right side button. One of my favorite features is how caller ID pictures show up on the outer screen when receiving a call.

Camera: A 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera is included on the phone for taking both still pictures and video. There is no flash. Still pictures can be taken at a resolution of 1280x960, videos at a resolution of 176x144. There is no time limit except the amount of space left in memory. Both pictures and videos can be saved directly to the microSD card, and both can be used as wallpapers. The camera quality is quite good for a phone, especially in sunlight. The picture directly below is resized from 1280x960 resolution, in a medium light situation.

Picture from LG VX8600 Camera Phone

Music: It's definitely not an iPod. The included adapter only supports 2.5mm plugs, a second adapter will be needed to use a normal pair of headphones. Luckily, it is quite easy to get music on the phone. I purchased a 1GB microSD card from Amazon for only $11. The only viable way to get music on the card is directly, using a card reader. Although it only officially supports WMA, I was able to play MP3 files, and unprotected AAC is supposedly possible. The music interface sucks. The sound quality through the speaker is surprisingly good for a mono output, but obviously headphones will be needed. I have yet to investigate how music affects battery life.

Bluetooth: The bluetooth support on the phone is awesome. With OS X I can easily transfer my pictures and videos to and from the phone. Transfer speeds are few seconds per picture. With the awesome freeware program BitPim, you can put new ringtones on the phone, access your phonebook and calendar, and browse the entire phone's filesystem. I'm really pleased with the amount of access allowed through Bluetooth.

Verdict: Although the music (which was supposed to be the Chocolate's big feature) comes in much under par, I have really enjoyed using this phone. It excels at making calls and taking pictures, and the bluetooth interface allows for extensive hackability. Above all, it's gotta look good, and my new phone is slick.