LG Voyager from Verizon Wireless Reviewed (Verdict: Ambitious But Flawed)

LG_Voyager_Head_On.jpgLike many people who live in Verizon country, I have eagerly awaited the carrier's latest—and definitely greatest—feature phone, the LG VX10000 Voyager. Yesterday UPS dropped it off, and I've been playing with it constantly ever since. It is a powerful thing, ambitious in that it combines much of what we like about both the iPhone and the BlackBerry into a single compact system. But it has flaws that make it hard for me to give the highest marks, especially with an after-rebate price tag of $300.

Because it's not truly a "smartphone" but rather one of the most overblown feature phones to date, I will review each feature in its arsenal:

Touchscreen: LG_Voyager_Numpad.jpgThe Voyager's touchscreen isn't as responsive as the iPhone's, though it is a lot nicer than the TouchFLO experience on the HTC Touch (Sprint's, at least). The biggest innovation is force-feedback: when your finger lands in the right place, you get a bit of a vibration. Immersion's haptic technology is behind this, so it's got momentum, but still a ways from being useful in a blind-typing situation.

The touchscreen's fatal flaw—the dealbreaker—is that it can't be used to scroll through Verizon's own menus. The screen will show a slide-bar on the right side when there are more menu items to scroll down to, but it's next to impossible to grab the bar and scroll. On the rare occasions that I was able to move the slide-bar, I didn't have real control over it. Others that I showed the phone to have had the same problems. And yes, Virginia, I did calibrate the touchscreen. Three times. (I don't know who Virginia is either.)

UPDATE: I want to thank commenter Pikes for suggesting the counterintuitive scrolling technique. "Have you tried pulling the menu UP instead of using the scroll bar?" While it doesn't propel the phone directly into iPhone territory, it certainly does alleviate some of the annoyance I encountered during my testing.

E-Mail: LG_Voyager_Email.jpgAs many who saw our Sizemodo yesterday pointed out, the Voyager is slightly chunkier than the iPhone because it also opens up into a screen-and-keyboard config, like the enV before it. Typing isn't so bad; it beats the Voyager's blatant iPhone-style touchscreen typing, though even that isn't too bad. It's nice to have a choice.LG_Voyager_iPhone_Typing.jpgWhen you work your way through the interface though, you see an envelope icon indicating messaging. It would make sense to have that icon represent both messaging and e-mail, but alas, it doesn't. The way Verizon handles e-mail is still half-baked at this point, though my guess this will improve over time. At the moment, it takes many clicks to get to it, even after it's installed: Menu>Get It Now>Tools on the Go>Mobile Email.

Once you're in, you can choose from multiple inboxes from different webmail accounts. I was happy to see how many webmail types were pre-configured; the only noticeable omission was Gmail, but you can always set it up manually. Using the e-mail program was relatively pleasant, but when I wasn't in it, I would only get new-mail notifications from one of my two accounts.

Navigation: I am a big fan of portable GPS navigation devices, so the whole GPS-on-phone thing has escaped me, in spite of its lower cost. The screens are too small and the commands don't have enough detail for my Garmin- and TomTom-spoiled self. But the Voyager's big touchscreen brings easier and better navigation closer to reality. It's definitely the best example of VZ Navigator I've seen to date. That said, the screens are still too rudimentary to compete with the PNDs, and the menu system is a little clunky. But this is something I plan to fiddle with more, because for once I can actually see myself using a phone to navigate.


LG_Voyager_Music.jpgOn the Voyager, the microSD slot is on the side, easily accessed without yanking the battery out or anything. (And it'll take cards up to 8GB, in case you are curious.) After inserting your microSD card and letting the phone build its file structure (my_pix, my_music, etc.) you can then stick that microSD into your computer's card reader and drag over your tunes. It's a primitive player—it won't look in folders and it won't always play compatible tracks. But the little speakers sound damn good, and you don't need all kinds of Verizon specialty software to load in your own MP3s.

Camera/Video: Just as you can take music from your PC and play it on the phone via the microSD card, you can also take pics and videos and save them to the card to take with you—rather than spending good money MMS-messaging your own pictures to yourself. Photo quality on the 2-megapixel camera is fine in decent light. And shooting with the large touchscreen works fine for both photo and video (files that come out are QuickTime-playable 3GPP2).

Browser: iPhone lovers will tell you that the iPhone has the best browser on any phone, and to date, I think they are right. While the Voyager does its best to capture the styles of a page, it easily misinterprets your finger gestures (are you scrolling or clicking?) and its lack of speed is surprising given the bandwidth advantage of EV-DO over EDGE. I was surprised to see such an advanced browser on an LG phone, but alas, it's still no match for browsers from Apple, RIM or Palm.

There are other aspects to this device that are sure to please some people: it is compatible with Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV service—provided it's available in your area. (When we try to tune in, we get an error saying "No V Cast Mobile TV Signal.") Chronic text-messagers will be excited about the easy-access messaging; call me old-fashioned but I only wish access to e-mail were as straightforward and integrated.

In the end you have a lot of powerful hardware working towards a not all-together clear objective. I like a lot of what I see, and to further the iPhone comparison, it would be nice to see Verizon and LG follow suit and update the Voyager software, but I am not sure that's in the cards. To be worth $300 and the large sums of money you will spend each month on service, this phone needs a smoother touchscreen, a more integrated e-mail system and a much smarter browser. [Verizon's Voyager page]

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