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Verizon Holiday Phones

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Oct 3, 2007, 1:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless announced four new phones. Read previews of the LG Voyager, LG Venus, Samsung Juke, and BlackBerry Pearl 2 here. Video tours included.

Intro 

Verizon Wireless unveiled its holiday lineup. Included in the new batch of phones is Verizon's flagship feature phone the LG VX10000 Voyager, dubbed the iPhone killer by some. It certainly makes some advances in the feature phone market with its touch screen user interface, but do the advances really compare to the iPhone?

Following close behind it is the LG VX8800 Venus, which incorporates a dual-screen fascia into a slider form factor. It has style and features to spare.

Rounding out the feature phones is the Samgsung Juke, a MP3-player focused phone that sacrifices functionality for style.

Last on the list is the BlackBerry Pearl 2, a high-speed version of RIM's style-conscious smartphone.

Take a look inside to see what they're all about.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Voyager 

The LG VX10000 Voyager is Verizon's new flagship media/messaging phone. It is clearly meant to be an iPhone competitor, with its touch screen interface and the similar appearance of its basic menu screens.

Body

There's no doubt that the Voyager is an attractive phone. Derived from the LG enV, the front face ditches the small screen and standard keypad for a large touch screen instead. It is attractive, elegant and simple all at the same time. Mostly black, ringed with silver (like another phone we know about), it is also about the same size as the enV, though slightly thinner. It definitely slips into a pocket easier than the enV did, and feels better in your hand. The materials are improved all around, and it is obvious LG spent some time putting on some nice touches.

Using the touch screen is satisfying, though not as satisfying as the iPhone. The response of the UI is slower than on the iPhone. It smudges just as easily, but provides microvibration feedback (haptics), which the iPhone does not. Below the screen are three buttons rather than one: the send, clear and power/end keys. Using the end key almost always aborts any program and takes you back to the home screen. The action of these keys is nice, though they can be hard to find, because they are blended into the grills for the stereo speakers. They do become illuminated when the phone is being used.

Opening up the Voyager, it is almost identical to the enV. The navigation cluster on the right is slightly updated with different materials, as are the keys, but the layout is practically a photocopy of the enV's hardware. The QWERTY keyboard was just as easy to use and permitting for quick entry of text. The action and feedback of each key was acceptable. The hinge was solid, and worked just like the hinge of the enV. It locked at a two-thirds position for viewing content and could be opened 180 degrees for composing pictures or video.

The camera is on the back in the same location as on the enV, and does not include a flash or good vanity mirror. The camera does have autofocus.

The buttons on the left side of the phone include the camera key, a lock key, and the volume/zoom toggle. They were all easy to find and use, though the camera key is a little small if you ask me. The microSD and data port hatches were no more difficult to use than any others we've encountered.

But enough of the hardware. Let's dig into that new user interface...

User Interface

If you are looking for an iPhone experience on the Voyager, prepare to be disappointed. Though it bares some similarities, there are also striking differences in the way the platforms work.

First off, it simply isn't as fast as the iPhone. The iPhone responds quicker and more delicately to input from your finger and the animations and applications are more well thought out. And the Voyager is not multi-touch. You can't zoom in and out of web sites or pictures like you can with the iPhone. Still, the UI on the Voyager's front screen is leaps and bounds better than what we're used to dealing with from Verizon phones.

The first thing you have to do when using the Voyager is to unlock it. The unlock icon appears in the exact same location as the iPhone's, but rather than slide it sideways, you just press it. The home screen appears somewhat similar to the iPhone's in that there are four icons present along the bottom that launch messaging, the phone app, the menu and contacts. The rest of the screen is blank (or whatever wallpaper you choose).

Tapping on any of the icons at the bottom brings up that application. The bottom right corner of most screens there is a clear key that takes you back a screen or out to the main menu. Depending on what application you are in, the rest of the navigation keys that appear along the bottom of the phone change and show appropriate options for that application.

If you simply hit the center of the screen, you'll get the full menu, which is some 16 or so different things. There is also a redundant menu key along the bottom of the phone, but rather than launch the full menu, it only shows the 8 most oft-used applications. These bigger icons are slightly easier to tap with your thumb than the smaller ones on the full menu.

Once the applications are open, they work similar to the way they would on any Verizon phone with its current platform. All the graphics and fonts have been updated (and trust us when we say this is a really good thing), but the overall underlying architecture of the operating system is sadly similar. Let's say you launch the messaging application. With it open, you'll see a list of options in the center of the screen. Along the top are icons representing the other applications and arrows to slide that selection sideways so you can jump to another application without having to go back to the main menu. The enV worked the same way.

The interior screen user interface, which is not touch sensitive, is almost identical to the enV's, though again all the graphics and fonts are changed. This is a major disappointment. While we didn't expect the device to have to touch screens, it would have been nice to see more elements of the touch interface transported to this interior screen.

Applications

The Voyager is fully compatible with all of Verizon's V CAST services, including the music store and mobile TV. It also has A-GPS and Verizon's VZnavigator app, music player that now supports unprotected AACs, a camera, video player, and full HTML browser.

The browser was not as impressive as we were hoping it would be. Granted, we we buried deep within a building in the middle of midtown Manhattan, but browsing speeds were slow, and pages were not all that quick to render, even with EV-DO coverage. Browsing with the phone closed is more iPhone-like, and lets you use the touchscreen to navigate to web sites. Slow as it was, this was still a much better experience than Verizon's Web 2.0 WAP browser. It was good to see the full version of Phone Scoop show up on the screen.

The camera is also great to use with the phone closed. You have the full screen to use to compose images, and you can fully interact with the menus on the touch screen. This makes it easy to make adjustments while shooting.

Conclusions

The Voyager definitely makes strides over the enV and other Verizon phones. Even at $250 or $300, it will likely be a pretty big hit, given its iPhone-like user interface and the full QWERTY keyboard to support messaging fanatics. It is much more elegant than the enV, and offers improvements that will make it enticing. Even so, we were hoping for a bit more improvements in the guts of the UI, and not just on the surface.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Here is a video preview of the Voyager. You can watch it here:



Or go to YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.

Venus 

The Venus is an interesting in-between device. It takes some cues from its larger, more fully-realized brother the Voyager, but for the most part sticks to the same old Verizon Wireless guns.

Body

Like the Voyager, the Venus is stylish, elegant and classy. It features good materials, a silver and black appearance, and a nice alligator-textured back panel for easier gripping. Rather than sporting a full touch screen, the Venus only goes halfway. The upper portion of the screen is a regular display with no touch capabilities. The lower portion of the screen replaces what would be the navigation cluster with a touch sensitive navigation system instead.

The Venus's touch screen navigation uses haptics to provide microvibration feedback to let you know you've made a selection. It is very prone to smudges, but works fairly well for navigating the phone's menus. The problem here is that even the haptics can't replace the feedback we're used to getting on a regular D-pad. This means navigating without looking at the phone is more difficult.

Sliding the phone open is easy, though with no ledge or anything else to catch your thumb on, you're definitely going to be touching the screen (and smudging it) a lot to get the phone open. The mechanism felt solid and the spring action helped to get it open and shut.

Once open, there is a regular 12-key keypad underneath with three extra buttons, the send, clearn and power/end keys. It has a checkerboard-style appearance, and we found using the keys was easy and intuitive. They felt good as you passed your thumb over them and with their slightly convex shape finding each key was a snap.

There are a number of buttons along the side of the phone. On the left is the volume/zoom toggle and a microphone key. On the right is the unlock key and camera key. The data port and microSD slot are also located along the sides of the phone.

The camera is on the back. No flash, no vanity mirror.

User Interface

Only the navigation portions of the user interface have been altered on the Venus. Sure, some of the menus, fonts and graphics have been updated, but the underlying architecture of the Verizon platform remains mostly unchanged.

With the phone closed, the navigation touch screen lets you jump to a few different applications, including contacts, messaging, the phone and a short cut menu. The shortcut menu brings up six little options in the navigation pane to let you jump to an application or task without having to access the main menu. Depending on which application or menu you are using, the entire make-up of this navigation pane will change and show different options.

With the main menu open, the navigation pane simply becomes a D-pad, with four arrows and a select key in the center and back key in the bottom right corner. Hitting any of the arrows will move the cursor/selector around, and provide haptic and visual feedback to let you know you've made a selection. Similar to the front screen on the Voyager, once you make a menu selection, you can scroll sideways to access other applications. This is also similar to existing Verizon phones.

Using this without looking is somewhat difficult. Even though there is haptic feedback, it is impossible to tell exactly where on the touch screen your thumb might be. What this new navigation system offers is some shortcuts to menu options that might not have been there before. Take the dialing pad, for example. If you dial a number of most phones, you usually can hit the send key to call, and the function keys to access other options. With the Venus, some of these options are already part of the navigation pane, making some tasks, such as adding a number to your contact list, easier.

Applications

The only real integration of the touch screen with the navigation panel is with the camera. Using the Venus sideways, Verizon cooked up a new menu system for the camera application and it works really well. You can use the touch screen to take pictures, to make all the adjustments, and access all the menus and options necessary to customize and manipulate your pictures.

Conclusion

The touch screen navigation system of the Venus sets it above other feature phones in Verizon's line up. With it, you can more easily interact with some of the menus and applications. it is intuitive and easy to figure out after spending about a minute with it, and LG and Verizon worked together to add a few neat tricks as well. As with the Voyager, we wish Verizon had taken the navigation and standard user interface further with revisions. The new fonts and graphics are nice, but putting different sheet metal on the same frame doesn't make it perform much differently in the end.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

You can see a video preview of the Venus. Watch it here:



Or visit YouTube for more sharing and viewing options.

Juke 

The Juke is more MP3 player than phone, and will certainly appeal to its own demographic. It is thin and tiny, and definitely skimps on features for the sake of style.

Body

What can we say, the Juke is unique. It is thin and narrow, and has quite a little chin where its antenna is. It feels very small in your hand, and is easily concealed by closing your fingers around it. You can't say that about too many phones.

The materials are mostly good, though some aspects of the phone are a bit cheap. The most important of which is the click wheel used for navigation. We had a pre-production unit, and it was obvious here. The build quality just wasn't there and the click wheel didn't work as often as it did. Since that is the only button you interact with when the phone is closed, this is sort of a big deal. In the center of click wheel is the selector button. Along with spinning the click wheel around, you can also use it like a regular D-pad by pressing up and down on it. This produced more consistent results when navigation the menus.

You can flick the Juke open like a switch blade to reveal more function keys and the regular keypad. Because the Juke is so narrow, the keypad is absolutely mashed. Despite how narrow it is, the buttons were made to be as large as possible given the space, and this makes up for their lack of width a little bit. The keys themselves were smooth and offered decent travel and feedback.

With the phone open, you also have access to the function keys, and the send/clear/end keys just above the keypad.

The other real failure of the Juke is the screen. It is very small. With its tiny size, reading and interacting with the menus is difficult at best. Composing pictures, text messages or anything else that requires looking at the screen for a long time requires you to hold the screen very close to your eyes so you can see what's really going on. This is not fun. Your arm gets tired after a while.

There is a headset jack, data port (for sideloading music) and lock key on the left side of the phone, and volume toggle on the right. They were all easy enough to find and use.

It does manage to pack in stereo Bluetooth, but because it is limited to 1xRTT data, is not compatible with Verizon's V CAST Music store. This is an oddity for a music-centered phone. It makes up for the lack of microSD support with 2GB of internal memory.

User Interface

The UI of the Juke is loosely based on the existing Verizon UI, but it is cut down terribly to the bare bones basics to accommodate the small screen. Menus are truncated and using the click wheel to navigate is downright miserable on most screens. Thankfully it comes with few features, and this cuts down on the size and number of menus with which you have to interact. In all, it takes a while to get used to using the Juke's combination of hardware and software.

Applications

The camera, in particular, is frustrating to use. It can only be opened and used with the phone open. Because the Juke is such an awkward form factor and because the screen is so small, composing and manipulating pictures is simply not fun at all.

The music application is somewhat better. It can be launched with the phone closed by pressing the center of the click wheel, or through the menu with the phone open. Either way, the phone wants to be closed in order to use the music player and tells you this if it is open. Once running, the music app uses the click wheel to scroll through the menus and make selections. It was fairly intuitive, but the click wheel made the operation a bit clunky.

The sound we heard from the external speaker was good and loud. Some Miles Davis playing on the phone was enough to fill the room.

Conclusion

The Juke is not going to be for everyone. But for those looking for an MP3 player with a phone attached rather than the other way around, it just might be the right pick.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

We also have a video tour of the Juke. You can watch it here:



Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.

Pearl 2 

The RIM 8130 Pearl 2 is an update to the Pearl, which was initially released last year. Some of the biggest improvements are in the area of connectivity. The Pearl 2 has EV-DO data, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth and integrated GPS. This makes it a much faster and more capable handset compared to its predecessor.

Body

The body of the Pearl is almost identical to the original. Perhaps the biggest difference is the keyboard and navigation cluster. The trackball itself has been embedded into the phone just a little bit (this was a failure point of the original), and its sensitivity seems improved. The navigation buttons to the left and right of the trackball are flatter and just a bit bigger. They are easy to use and offer good feedback.

The keypad is sturdier and less mushy than the original Pearl's was. There is more of a contour to the keys and there is less travel between them, which cuts down on the side-to-side motion of the keys. The amount of up-and-down travel seems about the same. Feedback could have been a bit better, but with the SureType system, we were able to peck out some test messages without making any mistakes.

We don't have exact dimensions of the Pearl 2 from RIM or Verizon, but it feels slightly thicker, perhaps a millimeter or two.

Other updates to the body are a 3.5mm headset jack along the side, as well as access to the microSD slot. On the original, the microSD slot was buried under the battery, preventing hot swapping. Now it is on the left side of the phone. All other aspects of the hardware are unchanged.

User Interface

The UI has only slight updates, and they were not very noticeable. For the most part, the Pearl 2 looks like a 'Berry and acts like a 'Berry. It has updated the browser, but we were unable to check this out because none of the Pearl's were activated. Likewise, the messaging center was updated, but we only noticed a minor difference in the way messages appear in the in-box and how they appear on screen.

Rather then just see plain text when viewing messages, there are bubbles (similar to the Gmail client) separating the header from the body of the message, which is framed in a light blue color. According to RIM, there are different fonts, but they looked the same to us.

Conclusion

For Verizon Wireless users pining for the slim and stylish Pearl, you finally get one. It has marked improvements over the original and still looks good.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

We also have a quick video tour of the Pearl 2. You can watch it here:



Or go to YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
Voyager Pre-Order EdR203 Oct 24, 2007, 8:49 PM
Voyager Release date? lindapc Oct 3, 2007, 4:54 PM
Voyager question jskinvest Oct 14, 2007, 8:22 AM
Data port on Voyager Nit515 Oct 5, 2007, 8:26 PM
like i said beeferjay Oct 4, 2007, 9:54 AM
Voyager Screen size = 3' Iphone = 3.5' rb37456 Oct 12, 2007, 3:16 PM
Improvement, but still too Verizon-ish.. sender02 Oct 3, 2007, 9:29 PM
Here are all the release dates jarcher2828 Oct 10, 2007, 1:09 PM
pearl 2 hmmm Oct 10, 2007, 8:23 AM
LG... pennyless10 Oct 3, 2007, 3:16 PM
  • Re: LG... by bkw79   Oct 3, 2007, 3:33 PM
  • Re: LG... by westindianhoney   Oct 3, 2007, 7:39 PM
    • Re: LG... by ijs12fly   Oct 4, 2007, 8:00 AM
      • Re: LG... by carfanatic2   Oct 4, 2007, 8:19 AM
        • Re: LG... by usf   Oct 4, 2007, 11:00 AM
            (more replies...)
        • Re: LG... by gowireless1   Oct 5, 2007, 2:16 PM
            (more replies...)
      • Re: LG... by westindianhoney   Oct 4, 2007, 9:16 PM
  • Re: LG... by donbp   Oct 4, 2007, 6:07 AM
  • Re: LG... by janae27   Oct 4, 2007, 8:27 PM
  • Re: LG... by ChocoTaco369   Oct 5, 2007, 10:55 PM
    • Re: LG... by carfanatic2   Oct 5, 2007, 11:19 PM
      • Re: LG... by JunkNugget   Oct 6, 2007, 12:21 AM
        • Re: LG... by carfanatic2   Oct 6, 2007, 8:33 AM
            (more replies...)
    • Re: LG... by Mordikar   Oct 6, 2007, 12:43 PM
  • Re: LG... by JunkNugget   Oct 6, 2007, 12:27 AM
    • Re: LG... by carfanatic2   Oct 6, 2007, 8:39 AM
    • Re: LG... by yeahright   Oct 6, 2007, 12:57 PM
    • Re: LG... by carfanatic2   Oct 6, 2007, 4:21 PM
  • Re: LG... by radioshacker   Oct 9, 2007, 10:48 AM
Voyager and Vrzn Data Plans EdR203 Oct 6, 2007, 8:44 AM
Why no pics of the internet on the voyager? coolio Oct 8, 2007, 2:31 PM
10th picture of the Voyager? coolio Oct 8, 2007, 2:24 PM
Does the Voyager have any Notepad, Task List or Calendar that... geminiman82 Oct 4, 2007, 6:14 PM
What is the screen size? rb37456 Oct 7, 2007, 11:42 AM
Does the Voyager have an email client? If so what protocol. Stellar Oct 3, 2007, 3:31 PM
Rich/Eric/Eric LordObento Oct 7, 2007, 5:36 PM
Voyager Music Viking8101 Oct 4, 2007, 5:55 PM
Not impressed Wireless Buddy Oct 4, 2007, 2:56 PM
Voyager Internet Viking8101 Oct 4, 2007, 12:48 PM
 
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