Too often, the design of a phone doesn't quite live up to its feature set. The LG CU320, however, is an exception. Unlike the Samsung SGH-ZX10 (Cingular's other 3G phone), which has cool features but a dull design, the futuristic slider styling of the CU320 actually matches its advanced capabilities. We'll say off the bat that it is a bit big and bulky (3.8 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches, 4.3 ounces) with a stubby external antenna, but it's still easily portable. Plus, the advantage of the larger size is that you get a solidly built phone that feels comfortable in the hand. We liked the slick black-and-silver styling, and we were pleased to see that the slider mechanism opened and closed with ease but not so easily that it felt too loose. You can program the phone to pick up a call when you slide it open, but unfortunately, the reverse action has only one setting--closing the slider automatically ends your call, so unless you want to hang up on your friends, take care not to slide the phone shut.
The star attraction on the face of the CU320 is the gorgeous two-inch-diagonal (176x200-pixel, 11-line) display. Like the display on the SGH-ZX10, it shows 262,000 colors, but its bigger size means it's better suited for scrolling through the attractive menus, playing games, and watching streaming video. You can alter the font size and the backlight time and color, but strangely, contrast and brightness are unchangeable. Also, it should be noted that the display is difficult to see in direct light.
Below the display is the five-way navigation toggle. It's large and easy to use and has preprogrammed, unmodifiable shortcuts to instant messaging, text messaging, the phone book, and the My Stuff folder. The last of those is a somewhat confusing hodgepodge folder for downloads, games, pictures (called graphics for some reason), the camera, music tracks, and tools. Otherwise, however, the menus are easy to navigate. In standby mode, the button in the center of the toggle opens a submenu for the Web browser, Cingular Video, and the instant messenger; when you're navigating menus, it functions as an OK button. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, the Talk and End/power buttons, and a Clear key. Though they're spaced far enough apart from the toggle, the buttons are tiny and not very tactile. In standby mode, the left soft key opens the main menu, while the right soft key opens another menu of shortcuts for eight user-defined functions.
Opening the slider face reveals the spacious black keypad. Though the keys are flush with the surface of the phone, making it difficult to dial by feel, the keys are large and well spaced. The backlighting is rather dim, however, so users with visual impairments may have some trouble dialing in dark environments. A volume rocker on the left spine sits just below a covered headset jack and just above the TransFlash card slot. On the left spine are a dedicated camera button and a nifty Task Menu key that opens a shortcut menu to seven set functions. Above the display is the rotating camera lens, which swivels 180 degrees from front to back. There's a flash on the back of the slider face, so the phone must be in the up position to use it.
The LG CU320 has a 500-name phone book; each contact holds four numbers, an e-mail address, and a short memo, while the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. You can organize contacts into caller groups and pair them with a picture and one of 11 polyphonic (72-chord) ring tones, though we were hoping for more on a music phone. Besides the basics, such as a vibrate mode and text and multimedia messaging, the CU320 comes stocked with a strong set of features. You'll find a calendar, an alarm clock, a notepad, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world clock, a task list, a stopwatch, a date finder, and a unit converter. One unusual offering was the ominously named D-Day Counter; given the date of an event, it displays an onscreen countdown with the number of days until the event occurs. Higher-end features include instant messaging (Yahoo, AOL, and ICQ), a three-minute voice recorder, support for POP3 e-mail, Bluetooth for voice calls and data transfers, and a full-duplex speakerphone that activates after you make a call. While this list is impressive, we aren't entirely pleased with the offerings. On such a high-end phone, the disappointing omission of voice dialing and PC syncing leaves us scratching our head.
Like the Samsung SGH-ZX10, the LG CU320 supports Cingular's new multimedia service, Cingular Video, which allows users to customize a home page with streaming content in categories such as comedy, news, weather, and entertainment. Programming includes CNN, Fox Sports, Fox News, HBO Mobile, Access Hollywood, Adult Swim (Cartoon Network's adult programming), TV Guide Channel, ESPN, Speed Channel, NBC, the Weather Channel, and the Disney Channel. You can also get movie previews through iFilm and TV clips from such programs as Lost, The Tonight Show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. And don't think kids are left out, as you can watch clips from Cartoon Network and the especially enjoyable Muppets Mobile. Cingular Video requires a $19.99 Cingular Media Net Unlimited data package, while HBO costs an additional $4.99 per month. Music Choice is also $4.99 per month, and music videos are 99 cents for one 24-hour period.
For music fans, the phone comes with a serviceable digital music player that supports MP3, AAC, and AAC+ files. Unlike Sprint or Verizon, Cingular does not currently have a music download service, so you'll have to load tunes onto the phone wirelessly via Bluetooth or by transferring them with a TransFlash card (available separately). Features on the player include playlists, song shuffle, song repeat, and the ability to set tracks as ring tones; however, the player interface is rather dull and utilitarian. Instead of album art, you get a choice of two basic animations. And more importantly, you can't listen to music through Bluetooth.