Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2005 / 8 Adar I 5765

Verizon phone plays video

By Mark Kellner | What do you expect to see on the screen display of your mobile phone? How about Lester Holt of NBC or perhaps Brenda Bernard, a CNN anchor, either one giving you a news story or a miniature newscast?

That's one of the promises of the LG VX8000 mobile phone, as introduced by Verizon Wireless along with a service called "VCAST." Buy the phone (list price reportedly $270) and for $15.00 monthly access in addition to a Verizon calling plan, VCAST customers get what the firm calls "unlimited access to a wide array of more than 300 daily updated videos from leading content providers."

While you might wonder who is so far removed from a television that they need to see a newscast on a mobile device, there appears to be a market for this sort of thing. Of course, the emphasis may be on entertainment as much (or more) than news. In announcing the service, Verizon noted deals that would bring content from Viacom's "MTV Networks' VH1 and Comedy Central brands," as well as "24: Conspiracy," "Sunset Hotel" and "Love & Hate," programs from 20th Century Fox, which the firm says are "specifically designed for mobile phones."

This is a CDMA phone, of the "3G" variety — the so-called third generation of the oldest cell phone technology. That means the phone works well in the United States, and with this new revision seems quite powerful. I was very pleased with the coverage and quality of signal, even indoors. The down side is that CDMA doesn't play well overseas; that's the hallmark of GSM service. If you travel globally, that's a big consideration.

Big — as other reviewers have noted — is also a plus in looking at the VX8000 phone. It has two big screens: front and back displays that are clear and crisp. I could, for example, view the video clips in either portrait or landscape mode, and the images were very clear, albeit small. The sound isn't as big as it could be, I guess, but it certainly was good. The phone is also solid in its feel and on your hip: the included holster is very sturdy.

Another "big" is the built-in still and video camera. The video part captures a few seconds of sound and motion; the still pictures are 1.3 megapixels, enough for a fairly decent picture. These are nice touches; I'm coming to believe that no cell phone should be without a camera since it is such a handy feature.

The phone also has some Web and e-mail capabilities. These are less spectacular: I found typing Web addresses nearly impossible and e-mail very trying. There is still a need for phone makers to come up with a better way of handling these tasks, perhaps short of the small keyboard found on some models. Without an easy way to enter these, it's frustrating when it shouldn't be.

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There are two other deficiencies I've found in this phone, a phone that I really want to like overall. One is that its 3G data capabilities cannot be used with a portable computer: Verizon sells a separate card and service for that. This is enforced by the lack of Bluetooth wireless communication in the phone, which, Verizon says, would add substantially to the phone's cost.

That may be the case, but it may be something that Verizon and phone maker LG Electronics will want to rethink. With a few better features, especially a Bluetooth link, this could be a device that truly soars into the stratosphere of cell phones.

Instead, while I can recommend the VX8000 for the area's news junkies, I'd have a difficult time suggesting it to many others.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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