It's become a rite of passage that the autumn season brings more than pumpkins and turkey dinners; it also brings another high-end messaging cell phone from LG and Verizon Wireless. Two years ago, we said hello to the LG VX9800; last year, it was the LG enV VX99000; and now in 2007, we greet the next model in the series, the highly anticipated LG Voyager VX10000. More of a thorough revamp than a simple redesign, the Voyager features everything that we liked from the VX9800 and the enV, but it raises the bar immensely by offering redesigned controls, V Cast Mobile TV, and a huge external touch screen that's both luscious and user-friendly.
While some cell phone watchers have hailed the Voyager as the "iPhone killer," we prefer not to use the expression since it assumes that the iPhone is the device that every other cell phone should be measured against. Also, in many ways the iPhone will always be in a distinct class. But that said, the Voyager VX10000 is one handset that can match--and also surpass--the iPhone in many ways. Wi-Fi is an obvious and disappointing omission, but the Voyager offers many things the iPhone lacks, including 3G support, multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, and an integrated GPS application. It's too bad that all that lavishness comes at such a high price ($299 with a two-year contract), but if you can afford it, the Voyager won't let you down. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
From the outset, the LG Voyager VX10000 looks more like the iPhone than it does its VX9800 and enV predecessors. Gone are the exterior keypad and tiny external display; instead you're greeted by a vibrant touch screen that dominates the front face of the Voyager. As you'd expect from a messaging phone, the Voyager is rather bulky. At 4.64 by 2.12 by 0.71 inches, the Voyager is exactly as tall as the enV, but it's also a bit wider when measured across the front face. Though the change from the VX9900 is noticeable, the Voyager manages to pack its keyboard as well as a long list of features into a trim profile that's a quarter of an inch trimmer than its forerunner's. And at 4.69 ounces, it weighs in at a half an ounce lighter. The result is an eye-catching and slick design that is far more stylish than both the previous LG handsets. It also has a solid feel in the hand and the hinge construction is sturdy.
The touch screen measures 2.81 inches and supports 262,000 colors in a 400x240 pixel resolution. With sharp colors, graphics, and animation, it's a massive improvement over the tiny and ineffective displays on the VX9800 and the enV. And instead of supporting only certain features, you can use the touch screen to access almost all of the Voyager's offerings. In standby mode, the display shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. It also works as a viewfinder for the camera when the phone is open. You can change the backlight time, the menu font style, and the dialing font size.
To get started using the Voyager, just move your finger to the four controls at the bottom the bottom of the display (if the display is frozen, there's an onscreen unlock control). From left to right, the buttons open the messaging menu, activate the onscreen dialpad for making calls, access the main menu, and open your contacts list. Alternatively, you can activate a shortcuts menu by tapping the top part of the display. On the whole, we were pleased with our navigation experience. Selecting an option requires a firm touch, so we didn't have many problems with pressing a command accidentally. If you're having trouble, you can reset the screen's calibration but it's too bad you can't alter the touch sensitivity as well. While it lacks the iPhone's multitouch functionality, and it's resolution isn't quite as crisp, the Voyager's display counters with a nifty and useful offering of its own. Like the Chocolate VX8550, the Voyager features tactile feedback on its touch controls. You can adjust the length and intensity of the vibrating feedback, which is a nice feature.
Beyond simple tapping, you also can manipulate the Voyager by holding your finger to the screen and moving it around. Using this method, you can scroll through long menus and move around a Web page, but we had to practice a few times before we mastered either task. For example, when scrolling through the main menu pages, we had to be careful not to select one of the options accidentally, which we did a few times. We got the hang of it eventually, but even then it felt a tad awkward. In the V Cast menus, you can use the right-hand scroll bar as a more user-friendly alternative, but in other places that option is not available. Is it too much too ask for a little consistency?
The Voyager also has inconsistent methods for entering text on the touch screen. When typing a text message, we could use only the standard nine-digit keypad. Yes, we realize that there's a keyboard inside for your messaging needs, but the external display does support a full QWERTY keyboard for typing URLs while surfing the Web (among other things). Yet we liked that, in either case, the onscreen keys are large enough to avoid mistakes during fast typing. And it goes without saying that the tactile feedback marks a big improvement over the iPhone.
The only navigation buttons on the front of the Voyager are a Clear key and the Talk and End/power buttons. When the display is in standby mode, the Clear key also activates the voice-dialing function (with a short press) and starts the voice recorder (with a long press). Though those shortcuts are useful, it was a bit annoying to press the button accidentally and hear "Please say a command." Completing the exterior are a volume rocker, a camera shutter, and a display-locking switch on the left spine, while the MicroSD card slot and a 2.5mm headset jack sit on the right spine. The charger port sits on the bottom of the phone next to an antenna that extends for V Cast Mobile TV broadcasts. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone, though it's disappointing that LG removed both the lens cover and the flash. Granted, the cover isn't totally necessary, but we expect a flash on a 2-megapixel camera phone.
Inside, the Voyager is just as attractive as it is on the outside. You're drawn immediately to the huge screen that sits between the stereo speakers. In a smart move, LG made the Voyager's internal display the same size as the exterior screen and gave it the same lovely resolution, customization options, and menu interface. It may not offer touch controls, but it's a big leap over its counterpart on the enV, and it does its job very well. And in another welcome improvement over the VX9900, the Voyager rests evenly on a table when open. Just be aware that here again, the left spine controls are difficult to access unless the Voyager is open the full 180 degrees.
The navigation array hasn't moved from its place just to the left of the QWERTY keyboard, but LG redesigned it slightly. Though this toggle remains square, the OK button is now circular and slightly recessed, while the entire array is black instead of silver. Happily, the changes didn't have an effect on the control's usability, as we still had an easy time breezing through the menus. The toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions while the rest of the navigation controls include the normal Talk and End/Power buttons, a Clear key, and a speakerphone shortcut. The familiar soft keys sit just below the display, but we like that they're a tad larger here. Like on the VX9800 and the enV, the placement of the aforementioned OK button far to the left of the display can be disconcerting on at first.
The alphabetic keypad remains is one of the best we've seen on a cell phone. Not only is entire arrangement quite spacious but the keys are also a tad larger and more tactile than on the enV. You get are the same Shift, symbol, and Enter keys, but LG replaced the enV's e-mail button with a control that opens a user-programmable shortcut menu. While most of the alphanumeric keys are black, three are colored gray to indicate that they double as gameplay controls. Lastly, we like that LG kept the second space bar to the left of the Z button, but we'd still prefer it to be in the middle of the keyboard as it is on many smart phones.
Though there's a lot to say about the Voyager's design, that doesn't mean the handset skipped on features. By all means, it packs quite a wallop inside, but we'll start with the basics first. The Voyager offers a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and any of 21 polyphonic ring tones. There's no field for notes in each contract entry, which is unusual.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging (the iPhone lacks MMS), a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch, a notepad, a tip calculator, and a voice memo recorder. For more demanding users, the Voyager also comes with speaker-independent voice commands and dialing, USB mass storage, instant messaging, and a text-to-speech feature. Bluetooth 1.2 is onboard as well, with profiles for headsets, dial-up networking, file transfer, object push, and A2DP stereo sound (the iPhone doesn't offer a stereo profile). Unfortunately, PC syncing for your contacts and calendar is not integrated, which limits the Voyager's usability for road warriors. Also, while the handset supports e-mail, the POP3 application isn't as user-friendly as on the iPhone. It's regrettable that the VX10000 doesn't offer Wi-Fi, particularly since it's so geared for browsing the Internet (see below). While the integrated 3G is more than adequate for Web surfing, we'd much prefer having a choice. But this being Verizon, it's obvious, but not surprising, that the carrier prefers that you pay for the use of its 3G network. The Voyager comes with 180MB of shared memory, which is quite generous, but you're better off saving to a memory card. The MicroSD card slot can accommodate cards as large as 8GB.
The speakerphone can be activated one of two ways: by opening the Voyager when you're on a call, or by dialing a number with the handset open. In either case, you can then deactivate the speakerphone by closing the Voyager or by pressing the dedicated button next to the internal navigation toggle. Opening and closing the phone will also toggle between the external and internal displays automatically. In most cases, your current task won't be interrupted.