Meet the R2D2 of cell phones. The LG-VX8100 is squat, dumpy, and not much too look at, but this runt of a cell phone is a workhorse, fun yet functional, inelegant but eminently ergonomic. But be careful. There are two VX8100’s floating around. The original Verizon V CAST-capable VX8100 has been around nearly a year. But a new VX-8100, along with a new LG VX-9800 (now called “The V”), compatible with Verizon’s new online Music Cast store ($15/month), have been introduced. The old and new phones are identical — there’s no way to tell the difference from looks alone. If you own an older VX8100, you can upgrade it to be MusicCast upgradeable for a small fee. And the new VX8100 ($149.99 w/$50 rebate and 2-year contract) doesn’t come with any accessories to help you download and listen to music — the miniSD memory card, stereo earphones with wired in-line mic and PC sync USB cable are all extra; the latter two items and a software disc are part of a separate LG Music Connectivity Kit ($29.99). But even with these shortcomings, the VX8100 is a solid, unobtrusive multi-functional — music player, 1.3 MP digital camera, Web-enabled, video playing — cell phone, arguably one of the best performing models available.
Features and Design
This phone is designed for music, but physically, no one is going to confuse it with any of the iPod models. At 3.58 by 1.92 by 1.03 inches and 4.16 ounces, the VX8100 is short and dumpy. There are music transport controls — play/pause, FF/skip and RW/skip on the front flap so you can control your tunes without opening the phone, and the speakers are mounted on either side of the clamshell hinge, meaning you’ll get the same stereo sound of music, ring tones or speakerphone chatting if the flap is up or down.
Volume toggle, voice memo key and the stereo headphone jack are located on the left spine, the camera key and miniSD slot on the right. There’s a 1.2-inch external color LCD that clearly displays time, date and phone signal strength and status. The VX8100’s stumpy antenna makes tight pocket fit awkward, and it doesn’t telescope.
Inside the clamshell, the VX8100 sports a 2-inch LCD that displays deep color saturation and blacks. Keypad buttons are large, well-spaced but nearly flush with the handset surface, with large readable fonts and backlit blue for bright nighttime usage. Once the backlight goes off, however, keys become bland and, especially the SEND and END keys, almost indistinguishable.
In addition to its V CAST music and video viewing capabilities, the VX8100 is packed with a 1.3 CMOS megapixel camera with both flash and video light and an 8x zoom, Bluetooth and a massive internal 45.5 MB user memory (64 MB total) that can be supplemented by a MiniSD card for picture, video and music storage — although, as noted, no card is included. Because the VX8100 is an EV-DO phone, there’s speedy EV-DO Web surfing, text, picture and video messaging, and both MSN and Yahoo instant messaging. The VX8100 also has the usual raft of PDA tools — voice memo recording, a 500-contact phone book (five phone numbers, two email addresses with picture CallerID and personalized call and message ringtones), a world and alarm clock, 99 speed dials (including one for voice mail), a calendar/scheduler, notepad and an EZ Tip Calculator for the percentage impaired. The only thing missing is POP3 email.
Image Courtesy of WireFly
LG and Verizon have made the entire music downloading/uploading experience about as easy as possible. Verizon charges $1.99 per WMA track, but that’s for two copies, one for your phone and one that you can download later to your PC (sorry, Apple fans, Music Cast isn’t compatible with iTunes or the Mac). If you want to save some money, use the online Music Cast service that lives within Windows Media 10 (with software included in the Music Essentials Kit) to download 99 cent tracks, then simply upload these or other ripped or previously purchased MP3 or WMA tracks from other non-subscription services to the phone and save a buck per track.
You’re also better off downloading tracks from Music Cast on your PC — the online tracks are ripped at the higher-quality 256 kbps bit-rate. Songs downloaded to the phone itself are only 160 kbps. By comparison, iTunes tracks are ripped at just 128 kbps. Of course, you’ll fit fewer tracks on your phone at the higher bit rate, necessitating a high-capacity and more costly miniSD card.
As a cell phone — the whole reason you’re buying this phone — the VX8100, is a dual band/tri-mode 1.9 GHz CDMA PCS model, and performed seamlessly and fast on Verizon’s broadband EV-DO CDMA network in Manhattan. Songs take between 60 and 90 seconds to download to the phone, depending on the length of the track, while V CAST videos, pictures and other messages uploaded in 30 seconds or less, and Web pages filled in half that time.
Included with the new version of the VX8100 are stereo earbud headphones with an inline microphone, enabling you to listen to music or talk on the phone. When the phone rings, music goes into pause and a button on the mic lets you start and then end a call, restarting the music automatically. Without the earbuds, earpiece conversation quality was loud and crisp, near land-line like quality. The VX8100’s side-mounted stereo speakers produce plenty of music, video and ring tone volume — the TV commercials don’t exaggerate the decibel level — with a hint of echo.
LG has equipped the VX8100 with a CMOS 1.3 MP camera, a technology that produces slightly better results than the standard CCD imaging chip — although obviously no substitute for a real digital camera — but still requires a death-like stillness when snapping a shot since the slightest movement will produce a blurred image. Also include are both a video light and a flash, an unusual combination.
Unfortunately, at 3.75 hours of talk time and 6.8 days in standby, battery life is about 10-20 percent lower than comparable phones, likely to be shortened still by music downloading and listening. If you recharge religiously every night, however, this short battery life becomes a non-issue and eliminates the only complaint you’ll have about this otherwise excellently designed little multifunction workhorse.
There are prettier phones. There are better music phones (such as Motorola’s new SLVR L7 iTunes phone from Cingular). There are phones with larger screens for more satisfying video viewing and TV watching. There are better digital camera phones. But there are few phones that are proficient at all these functions at such a relatively bargain price. But you will have to make an additional investment to make the phone fully music compliant, an annoying roadblock to an all-purpose out-of-the-box experience. And it’s not much to look at. But like a Volvo, the VX8100 is a safe, reliable choice that you can depend on.
- Big, bright LCD screen
- EV-DO compatible
- V CAST video and music service compatible
- Stereo headphones included
- External memory card slot
- Not iPod compatible
- Not very stylish
- Short battery life
- Needs additional Music Essentials Kit for V CAST music service compatibility