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Smartphone Review: Small but Playful

The LG VX9800 is made for gamers. But if you promise thrills, you better deliver an amusement park.

The LG VX9800 phone from

Verizon Wireless

is probably a little like meeting Tom Cruise in person. It's smaller than you expected and far more dogmatic about personal choices than you'd hope.

Standing 4 1/2 inches on end and 2 inches wide, the VX9800 is surprisingly compact. It looks like a thick candy-bar phone until you flip it open to find a keyboard, a color screen and a pair of speakers. It is one of the first multimedia phones designed to work on Verizon Wireless' new third-generation, or 3G, network.

Verizon bills this as the all-in-one phone that unlocks the door to a dazzlingly rich and informative wireless world. Unfortunately, what the phone actually delivers is a world with lots of limits and plenty of little price tags attached.

The VX9800 gets huge style points for its wide QWERTY keyboard. But then come the demerits for the skimpy display screen. For whatever reason, the LG/Verizon braintrust decided to put a 2.25-inch screen in a 3-inch opening. It's an odd move for a flagship 3G video and gaming phone.

And even with the puny screen, don't expect to see a bargain basement price. The VX9800 is in the same bracket as rival devices like the new Palm Treo and the Sony PSP. The VX9088 goes for $300 with rebate and two-year contract. And in addition to your calling plan, you will pay another $25 a month for unlimited messaging and access to the games and media offerings.

After sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into a fast evolution data-only, or EV-DO, upgrade to its network, Verizon Wireless' desire to sell lots of videos and music is understandable. But if you promise the kids thrill rides, you better deliver an amusement park.

And at the moment, Verizon's media download setup, called VCast, is a tad light on compelling offerings. Unless, of course, you feel like watching TV previews, a Chianti wine tasting or, for a mere $4 extra, a Shakira video.

You can certainly see where Verizon is going with this. Think Japan or South Korea, where media feeds to cell phones are a popular feature. However, given the VCast programs available today, a lot is going to be left to your imagination.

One group of users is probably going to like this phone a lot: gamers. My 7-year-old son's discovery of the trove of preloaded games opened my eyes to a big market for this phone. You get a few games included, and of course you can also download games from a menu including Evel Knievel for $2.50, Tetris for $3 or unlimited Tetris for $7.50.

While some phones are made for work, the VX9800 is clearly made for play. This is no smartphone, which means it has no PDA or PC operating system. So don't expect to find a Word program, an Excel spreadsheet or any kind of task organizer.

There is a mini browser that lets you type in a URL or Web address and visit sites on the Internet. Though, as you might imagine, most Web sites don't squeeze well into a tiny screen. The Verizon Wireless portal helps with a list of channels like news, weather and sports as well as email. You can get mobile versions of your MSN Hotmail,





accounts. The phone also supports instant messaging from AOL, Yahoo! and


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On the back of the phone there is a camera that gives you the impression you are packing some big photo power. But behind the easily smudged lens cover is a standard pinhole aperture common to other 1.3-megapixel camera phones. In other words, in bright conditions you can take decent pictures and even some grainy videos, but you won't be tempted to forgo the professional photographer at your wedding.

The LG VX9800
QWERTY yes; display, eh

The phone has Bluetooth, if you are so inclined. The VX9800 also has a mini SD memory slot so you can play your songs on the phone.

As for calling, the VX9800 comes up a little short. This is an all-digital phone, meaning it cannot take advantage of Verizon's well-blanketed analog network coverage. This won't mean much to users who have strong digital signals, but out in the country I found the service very spotty.

Overall, the phone will keep you well entertained as long as you keep feeding it electronic quarters. But if this is the rich 3G experience we've all been waiting for, then there are likely to be some customers who will be disappointed.