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Verizon's Would-Be iPhone Killer: LG Voyager

We put the LG Voyager through the paces.

Here come the fake iPhones.

Verizon (VZ) - Get Verizon Communications Inc. Report is launching its hotly anticipated LG Voyager today Wednesday. The touch-screen phone with the flip-open keyboard is sells for $299 with a two-year contract, and is intended to answer Apple's (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report much-heralded iPhone from AT&T (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report that fetches $399.

Verizon loyalists are going to have mixed emotions about the Voyager. While they sneer at the iPhone's slow 2.5G Net access speed, the captive flock drools over Apple's sleek big-screen goodness. The Voyager promised to soothe the ache.

With a full Qwerty keyboard and a snazzy new touchscreen, the Voyager is seemingly well equipped to run on Verizon's 3G EV-DO network. And for speed fans, that's roughly twice the Net surfing performance of AT&T's EDGE system that current iPhone's are tethered to.

But Voyager's favorable comparisons to the iPhone end about there.

Here's the bleak truth about the Voyager: It's not the thrilling gadget adventure people were waiting for.

While some of Voyager's borrowed looks make you think iPhone, it's an entirely different device. For starters, it isn't a true smartphone. There are no PDA functions such as document creation, email program or desktop syncing. In fact, the menu system is exactly the same as you'll find on many of Verizon's music phones.

The Voyager is probably the best illustration yet of Verizon's fundamentally flawed wireless strategy. Put it this way: If Verizon's V-Cast lives up to your dream of what mobile broadband is all about, then the Voyager is your vessel.

Alternatively, if you want a true Internet device with a real browser and fast Net access anywhere, keep up the good search.

Playing with the Voyager for the past week has provided a nice mixture of fun with a familiar dash of frustration.

Once you accept that the Voyager is intended to be more of a media player and less of a

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BlackBerry -- in other words, all fun and no business -- then you can appreciate some of the phone's capabilities. For example, as a video game player, the Voyager is a couple notches above the pack.

The phone has "stereo" speakers and a vibration shock similar to game controllers, making the "action" a little more engaging. Games have to be purchased of course, and prices are around $5.

One big problem with the game controller is that it's positioned too close to the "end" key. So if you miss the up button by a couple millimeters, the game is over. And that applies to other programs like the browser and messages.

The Voyager also comes with an assisted global positioning system or A-GPS, which enables navigation. The VZ Navigator program has to be activated for $10 a month or $3 a day.

Fans of Verizon's flip-open enV phone from LG will be pleased with the Voyager. It is essentially an upgrade to that model, only it has a bigger internal screen and an external touch screen. Not to rain on Verizon's publicity parade, but this phone could easily have been called enV-2.

Speaking of the touch screen, though it is small at 2.8 inches compared to the iPhone's 3.5 inch screen, it makes some great strides in the right direction. It gives a tiny buzz to confirm your touch, which is an increasingly popular little feature thrown in to make the touchscreen navigation a little easier.

The biggest disappointment with the Voyager however, is the Web viewing. Verizon has chosen to stick with the paltry Openwave browser that's been lamely rendering Web pages ever since phones could access the Net. It's no secret that mobile phones face big challenges when it comes to delivering anything close to a full Web page on a smaller screen. Even the beloved iPhone has felt the hot blowback from critics who call the miniaturized pages unreadable.

To attack this problem, the Voyager's screen has tools like a zoom button and a few display setting options to try to accommodate the standard blog-sized page on a small screen. Like the iPhone, it even includes a flick function that lets you move around on a page by sweeping your finger across the screen.

But it's pretty much all for naught. Old standby sites like Yahoo Finance and Gawker are too daunting for navigating on the touchscreen. It was far easier to use the keyboard and the inside screen to surf the so-called Net.

At this point, Apple's perch atop the cool phone market will not be threatened by the wayward Voyager.