Cell phones always seem to come with inevitable compromises. There are sliders with both numeric dial pads and wide QWERTY keyboards that are excellent at messaging, but little else. There are cellphones with combined alphanumeric keypads that are excellent at multimedia, but make messaging difficult. LG’s messaging-centric enV3 is well-named, since it includes an envious combination of both a wide QWERTY keyboard, and a separate full-sized physical numeric dial pad, but also is excellent at multimedia. But is the jack-of-all-trades enV3, available from Verizon, a master of all, some or none?
Features and Design
The enV3 is a horizontal flip phone. When flipped up, the lid loosely locks in two positions, first at around 130 degrees for video viewing, and then further back at a flat 180 degrees for photo snapping and text messaging.
The 1.56-inch external LCD provides access only to a limited number of apps – for example, you can view photos but not videos, you can read and send text messages but not IM or email, and you can’t browse the Web. Access to all applications is available only from inside on the internal 2.6-inch LCD screen.
Below the small, slit-like external LCD is a navigation array and physical dial pad. Around the perimeter of the enV3 are the microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD slot, a volume rocker that also controls camera zoom, and a camera shutter button.
The phone comes packed with all the expected modern cellphone apps and amenities: WAP 2.0 Web browser accessed via Verizon’s EV-DO network, full messaging and e-mail access, 3.0 MP camera and HVGA video recorder, music and video player, A-GPS navigation, and some less common cutting-edge apps such as visual voicemail, RSS and blog update support, and Bluetooth Easy Pair v2.1.
Can a phone serve as a workable PMP?
The enV3’s internal LCD display makes V Cast video look bright, colorful and crisp, with nary a digital artifact. Its excellent-sounding music player can quickly be activated from the external LCD. Both the external speaker and internal stereo speakers blast out an impressive amount of clock radio-like sound and volume.
Like most LG phones, enV3 makes an excellent conversation piece for both private and speakerphone speaking, with high clarity and plenty of volume to overcome most noisy ambient environments.
The slightly rounded QWERTY enV3 keyboard keys make it easy to slide your thumbs around to quickly and smoothly tap out missives. But there’s no threaded messaging, which is disappointing in a phone advertised as a messaging device.
Thanks to Verizon’s swift EV-DO network, mobile-optimized Web pages load in a near instantaneous 3-to-5 seconds, while non-mobile optimized sites take 10 seconds or more, depending on their graphical components.
As on most Verizon phones, the carrier’s front end slows things down by forcing you to funnel all requests through its system. Booting up and accessing the Web, for instance, takes around 10 seconds, average for Verizon’s EV-DO devices. If you want to enter a URL, the browser has to access a special URL input Verizon page first. If you access a site such as CNN or ESPN from Verizon’s home page, the resulting URL is filled with Verizon IDs instead of simply m.cnn.com.
Like its cousin, the envy Touch, the enV3 takes high quality 3-megapixel photos, thanks in large part to a plethora of exposure settings. Like photos taken with the enV Touch, however, the enV3’s large images do look as if some digital interpolation is at work to keep edges smooth and details somewhat sharp, but otherwise its snaps look colorful with high contrast. Even indoor shots pop with color, but we found it difficult to keep our hands steady enough to avoid motion blur. Unfortunately, its zoom is a lackadaisical 1.6x.
A bigger problem: You have to shoot using the internal LCD as the viewfinder. The external screen shows only the middle vertical third of a potential pic, making it impossible to see and frame what you’re aiming at. But when using the internal 2.6-inch screen, the shutter release and zoom on the phone’s left side are somewhat blocked by the LCD lid, which opens right over left. To alternately use the OK button on the QWERTY as the shutter release means your fingers also block the lens. These ergonomics can be overcome, but the design for photo-taking is unnecessarily awkward.
You have a choice between half VGA 320 x 240 and QCIF 176 x 144 video. Obviously, the HVGA videos are superior, since you can actually watch them with minimal digital pixelation when blown up, but you can only send QCIF files via MMS.
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LG’s battery life rating of 5:45 hours is based on usage, rather than just talk. The company correctly assumes you’ll be spending as much time on apps requiring the power-sucking internal LCD screen as you do talking. In our unscientific tests, we got only 10 minutes more than the rated “usage” time in just pure talk, all with the screens dark. This leads us to believe mixed real-life usage life will be much less than advertised.
If you can make the ergonomic concessions for photo taking and don’t need to see entire text conversations, then the enV3 is well-worth the $30 premium over the still-available but less-endowed enV2, and a bargain compared to the fancier but not necessarily more functional enV Touch, priced $20 higher.
- Four-line QWERTY keyboard
- Speedy EV-DO WAP 2.0 Web browser
- High-quality 3-megapixel photos and HVGA video
- Visual voicemail
- No threaded messaging
- Limited access to apps via external screen
- Difficult to frame photos using external screen
- Poor photo-taking ergonomics