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Review: LG Fusic

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Jul 7, 2006, 4:01 PM   by Eric Lin

Our In Depth review of LG's stylish and unique new 3G music phone for Sprint. NEW: Video Tour

Form

Is It Your Type 

For years US users have been forced to make a choice: they could either buy a phone that has up-to-date style or up-to-date technology. The LG Fusic for Sprint no longer forces you to make that choice. The only choice you'll have to make if you get a Fusic is what color faceplate you feel like putting on today. There's a color for almost every mood or style.

The Fusic will satisfy almost every Sprint user from the new subscriber to the power user. It is easy to use, but explore the menus and you will find almost every feature imaginable for a mid-priced, or even high-priced, phone. Plus, LG managed to pack all those features into a slim, sleek and somewhat iPod-inspired form that's easier on your pockets than most other handsets.

Body 

One look at the Fusic and it's hard not to say "iPod." The music playback buttons on the outside are certainly designed to be reminiscent of the iPod's click wheel. When closed it is a thin white rectangle with clean lines and smoothly rounded corners just like an iPod. There are side buttons and other bulges like a small stub antenna, but overall the phone maintains an uncanny similarity to the iPod. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The iPod is not just iconic, it's well designed.

The Fusic is incredibly comfortable to hold. It is relatively small for an EV-DO clamshell, which means it sits nicely in your palm. The sides and corners are all rounded with a gentle radius that lets you wrap your hand around the Fusic without ever being poked by sharp edges. The buttons - both on the outside and inside - are easy to use, but don't stick out in such a way that they make holding the Fusic difficult or painful.

Not even the stub antenna is uncomfortable. Both the antenna and the phone itself are small enough that you rarely notice the antenna is there, except when you are looking at the phone. The Fusic takes up so little space in a pocket that the antenna never pokes your thigh, nor does it get in the way when holding the phone.

Wedging a finger between the two halves to flip the phone open is simple because the edges are so rounded. It opens smoothly, and with the very little effort. But the phone does not open with that high quality "snap" that other models have. It's not because the hinge is flimsy. It feels solid; there is no give between the upper and lower parts. It's just there is no detente that the hinge clicks into to give feedback that the phone is locked open. And that's because it's not. The phone doesn't lock open, it just sort hangs there. If you shake the phone while open, the top half will flap around quite a bit. Although the phone stays closed much more securely, it does not snap closed either.

Keypad

Don't let the external media controls cloud your impression of the Fusic's keys. The media playback keys are the one sour note in what is, overall, a pleasant experience. The play/pause key works well enough - it has a nice action to it. However the surrounding ring of controls is, well, awful. The keys have no click or tactile feedback at all. This wouldn't be so bad if they worked consistently, but instead sometimes they respond to the lightest touch while other times you have to mash the buttons down. Additionally the buttons have somewhat iregular functions. The next and previous track keys work as expected but the arrows do not work as volume keys, they work as next and previous track keys, except that they scroll through the next or previous track in playlist, but don't play the track. Which only serves as a slightly quicker way to navigate through your playlist.

The rest of the keys are excellent. The side keys are each easy to press and have a nice feel to them. They are easy to find without having to look at phone, which makes adjusting volume during calls easy.

The keypad inside is relatively flat, but it provides significant tactile feedback. There is a slightly ridged ring around each key that is easy to feel, and the texture of the keys is slightly rougher than that of the phone's plastic. The keys are fairly large and LG still manages to put quite a bit of space between them. It didn't take long for us to ramp up to a reasonably fast texting speed.

The spacing and feel of the keys even makes no-look texting or dialing possible, but the look of the keypad is so captiving, it's hard to ignore it. When the phone is open the keys glow a gentle blue, except for the send and end keys which glow green and red respectively. The glow is just bright enough to make the keypad easy to use in the dark without overpowering the screen or the phone's aesthetics.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

The internal screen is very crisp, and is bright enough to use in all environments, including direct sunlight. In fact, the Fusic was easier to view outdoors than most other mid-range phones we've tested. Despite its average 176 *220 screen, we never felt like the screen was too small or wished it was QVGA. LG uses the available screen real estate well.

The external screen is large enough to read with a simple glance, and bright enough to see in all lighting conditions.

Signal

Phones with external antennas typically perform well and the Fusic is no exception. It did not lose signal except when in an absolute dead zone. Even when the signal strength indicator had no bars, as long as the operator name was visible, we were able to make a clear call. This is exactly how the Fusic passed the bank vault test.

Sound

When holding the phone to your ear in a conversation, the Fusic is plenty loud. However the external speaker for rings, speakerphone, and music playback is barely adequate. There appears to be a trend of softer external speakers among new phones- it is not just the Fusic, but most phones we've reviewed recently. However, this does not excuse the fact that in order to hear the phone ringing we had to set it to its loudest volume and turn on the vibrating alert for backup. Additionally, the speakerphone and music playback through the speaker are so soft there's no discernible difference between the external speaker and just using the earpiece speaker at maximum volume.

Battery

With normal use, the battery lasts about four days. This includes taking pictures, hopping online a few times a day, about an hour of listening to music over Bluetooth headphones, and a decent amount of calling and messaging. Add in more surfing or some video playback and battery life is reduced to about three days. That's still admirable performance for a relatively slim 3G phone.

Basics

Menus 

Overall, the Fusic's menus are well organized and easy to use, but that pleasant experience does not begin on the home screen. The Fusic is the second phone to allow customization of the home screen and main menu with downloadable themes. The included themes are not exactly attractive, and most the downloadable ones are even worse.

Any dark colored theme or wallpaper, which means most them, makes the soft key labels difficult to read. This is because the labels are thin black letters with a white outline of equal thickness. The thin white outline is not enough to make the black letters stand out. But with a white or light colored background the white outline blends in and everything looks fine. You cannot change the color of the labels or outline. Fortunately menus and labels are very easy to read on every other screen.

The soft keys and D-pad all serve as shortcuts to applications. The D-pad shortcuts can be customized, but the option is hidden deep in the settings menus. The left soft key opens up a "favorites" menu that can be populated with tasks like starting a new message or opening a bookmark in the browser. Unfortunately the shortcuts that can be added are rather limited, making a shortcut to turning on Bluetooth no faster than navigating there using the menus itself (and that requires 6 key presses!). The right soft key serves as a shortcut to the contact list. These are the only two shortcuts that are labeled. Each direction on the D-pad also acts as a shortcut, none of which can be changed or labeled.

Although the themes also affect the look of the main menu, it is always clearly laid out and simple to use, whether you choose to use the icon layout or the list view. As usual, the list view requires scrolling to see the entire list of selections, while the icon view displays all 12 on the screen at once.

Once inside an application, the menus are clear and easy to use. Where possible, LG displays the menu options for an application on screen instead of requiring you to press a softkey. When soft key labels are required, the left always performs the default option and the right summons the options menu. In all cases each choice in any menu is labeled with a numeric shortcut. Once you have repeated the same task a few times, you can use these numbers to fly through the menus and quickly complete any task.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls / Contacts 

Making a call and all calling functions work as expected. Additionally, because the in-call menu is displayed on screen without having to press a soft key, it is easy to find and use advanced calling features.

The contact list also forgoes the need for softkeys and simply displays a list of all contacts with "new entry" as the first entry in the list, and a search bar at the top of the screen. Tapping out a name automatically fills in the search box and starts sorting through your contacts. Once a contact is selected, the options menu is automatically displayed and makes it easy to view or use that contact's entry, or to edit it.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

Composing a new message requires either a trip to the favorites menu or a few clicks through the main menu before arriving at a screen to address the message. You can either select a contact's phone number or email address or enter one manually. You can continue to add more addresses and then compose the message. Composing and sending the message are straight forward.

When a message is received, the text is displayed full screen the next time the phone is opened. After that, it will require a trip to the messaging menu to view the message again. If multiple messages are received and not viewed, they are stored in the inbox, but instead of being displayed on the home screen in sequence, you will merely get a link to the missed alerts dialog where the messages can be viewed with fewer clicks.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Camera 

A quick press on the side button for the camera, or a long press of the keypad button (yes, there are two camera buttons) starts the camera viewfinder, which is ready to snap pictures in just over 1 second. The default viewfinder overlays a few icons on the screen to communicate important data and settings, providing a maximum amount of screen real estate to frame your picture. The picture is even visible beneath the soft key labels.

Unfortunately, the viewfinder is not the same orientation as the camera sensor, so it is not a true representation of the picture you are taking. the viewfinder is in portrait orientation while the camera is in landscape. On many phones you can change the viewfinder from full screen to letterbox to match the camera sensor. Unfortunately on the Fusic, the "full screen" menu option does not do this. Instead it hides the helpful icons and soft key labels from the viewfinder.

The camera has very few menu options- just enough to take a decent picture in most situations. Unfortunately taking pictures in dark rooms is not quite so easy. The flash is very weak; it barely works beyond about 3 feet. There is no simple low light mode to alleviate this situation, but brightness and white balance can be manually adjusted to compensate with some fiddling in the menus. The Fusic actually offers a primitive manual white balance, which allows you to scroll through a rainbow of preset color tints to compensate for most lighting conditions. In decent light, pictures come out well without any need for going to the settings menu.

Pictures are saved automatically after hitting the select or side camera button in about 2 seconds. From the review screen it is easy to send, use, or delete the picture. Hitting the back button will return you to the viewfinder in under a second.

Video

The Fusic has two video modes, one for video mail which limits the length of the video to 30 seconds, and a second long video format which only limits the length to what will fit in available memory. However the phone does remind you that only video of 512 KB or less can be sent or uploaded.

Videos can only be recorded in QCIF (176 *144) resolution. The white balance and brightness controls from camera mode also are available here. Video mode also adds controls for a digital zoom, however you can only adjust it when you are not recording. You can set the zoom by using up and down on the D-pad in the viewfinder before you press record.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Gallery

The gallery is separated into different albums depending on where the pictures are stored. Pictures stored in the built-in memory, on the storage card, and online are each in a separate gallery. You can also create additional galleries to group a specific set of photos together.

Selecting a gallery brings up a grid of thumbnails. While the preview for each thumbnail is being generated, you can select a picture, but you cannot do anything with it until all previews have been generated for that screen. Scrolling requires you to wait for additional previews to load, whether or not they have been displayed before. From the thumbnail view you can either zoom in on a single picture or select one or more photos for operations such as mailing, uploading, deleting and more.

Selecting a single photo will resize the photo to fit the screen, however it does not offer much more. The only additional thing in the single picture view is the ability to add a text caption to a photo which is included when uploading or sending the picture. There is no option to zoom in and see the photo at actual size or make any changes to the photo itself.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures / Videos 

The Fusic scored 20/50 vision on the eye chart. This certainly isn't bad, but it's a bit weak. And that weaknesses is reflected in the soft focus of most pictures. There appears to be a sweet spot about 18 inches to 2 feet away where pictures come out very sharp. Color is good in most situations and lighting conditions. You can see the still life produced very accurate colors. Low light performance is quite poor. There is no low light mode and the flash does not work even when the subject is less than 3 feet away.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Motion in the video appears smooth, but it is slightly wavy, as though it is being filmed through a piece of old glass. The sound is soft, but that also helps to eliminate excess ambient noise, so the subject can be heard once you turn the volume up.

(mac)
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 217 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browse

Like all Sprint phones, it is easy to navigate through Sprint's deck or to any WAP site using the Fusic. The browser is fast and renders pages accurately. The browser offers a small, medium and large font. There is not that obvious of a difference between the small and medium, but the small size does fit slightly more text on the screen. This is helpful since after using a number of phones from Sprint with a QVGA screen, the 176 *220 screen on the Fusic actually felt a bit cramped when browsing.

Customize

As noted above, the Fusic can use themes that change the look and feel of the home screen and main menu. Unfortunately, we could not find a single one that is better looking than the default that comes with the phone. Each of themes, which cost $4, provides shortcuts to content on Sprint's site, but does not provide a good looking, or even unique experience. The menus inside applications can be skinned with one of four colors to best match the chosen theme.

You can select a wallpaper for the main screen, but this only works with the default theme, not with custom ones. When you use a custom theme, and try to choose a different wallpaper for the main screen, the Fusic warns you this can only be done with the default theme. You can assign a separate wallpaper to the external display no matter what theme is active.

The ringtones on the Fusic are divided in different sections for monophonic, polyphonc, and full music ringers, plus additional sections for purchased or saved ringtones.

The musical ringtones included on the Fusic attempt to play up the phone's musical abilities, but didn't really appeal to our tastes. You can purchase additional ringtones from Sprint or use your own. It is possible to add your own ringtones to new Sprint multimedia phones, including the Fusic, by sending an AAC (.M4A) file to the handset over the air. There are third-party web sites to help you do this. AAC files on the storage card or sent to the phone using Bluetooth will not work as ringers.

File Management

All recent Sprint phones have an application to manage most downloaded content, from ringtones and themes to applications. My Content both allows you to use or delete purchased content on the phone, or download new items either from Sprint's store or your online locker. Any other files you load yourself such as music, videos, photos and purchased music are managed in their own applications.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Clock

The external screen on the Fusic displays the time in a font almost as large as the screen itself, which makes using the Fusic as a watch very simple. The screen turns itself off to save battery power, but it is easily lit up again with a short press of either volume key. Inside there are a number of clocks that can be set to fill the home screen. The default is a nearly illegible digital readout on a semi-transparent background, but all of the others are significantly easier to read.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Bluetooth

The Bluetooth menus are buried in the Tools folder. Once you find them, there is no obvious way to turn Bluetooth on and off. That is hidden in a Settings sub-menu. The Fusic supports a wide variety of desirable Bluetooth profiles including dial up networking (DUN) and stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) for listening to music on wireless headphones. Pairing the Fusic with headphones, computers and other devices was fairly straight forward, however the Fusic and our Bluetooth headphones would not always work together right away. Sometimes we needed to switch one or the other off in order for the Fusic to see our headphones and transmit music to them. Later we discovered that the Fusic will only transmit music to the headphones from the media player, not from the music store player. The Fusic supports OBEX but can only send and receive contacts (vCard,) not any other file types.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Java

Like most Sprint phones, the Fusic scores very well in JBenchmark's MIDP 1 test and less impressively in their MIDP 2 battery. The Fusic scored a 4426 in the 1.0 test, well ahead of other mid-range or even high-end feature phones. It scored a 230 in the 2.0 test, which is not nearly as impressive, but still not bad. The Fusic even fared pretty well in JBenchmark's 3D test, matching or beating many far more powerful handsets - at least those without hardware acceleration.

Other Features

The Fusic includes all the typical useful applications expected of an advanced feature phone. There is a calculator, datebook, and notepad. There is also an alarm clock with three alarms that can be set to repeat at various intervals. The alarm will not sound if the phone is turned off.

Where the Fusic goes above and beyond the call of duty is for music. There are two music players on the device. One plays music purchased through Sprint's music store or transferred to the phone (well, the memory card, really) through Sprint's software. For those who choose to use their own music collection and software, there's a second player that plays mp3s and videos saved to the memory card from any computer.

Neither application is multitasking. So if, for instance, you are walking down the street listening to your music and want to take a picture of something interesting, you will need to quit the music player to start the camera. Neither music player saves where you were in playback, making it difficult to resume after you quit. Both applications will pause to take voice calls.

Both applications work with wireless headphones or the included stereo headset. The Fusic also has an FM transmitter that lets you play your music through an FM stereo if there are no Bluetooth stereos available. Unfortunately the transmitter is very weak and doesn't work if it's more than a foot away from the antenna, which is no where near the steering wheel of most cars.

The music offerings are rounded out by a fun little music composer that lets you use your voice as a MIDI controller. You can create a tune by transcribing the music, playing it on a virtual keyboard, or even humming it.

Video 



Or you can check out the full page on YouTube or Google Video for more sharing and download options

Wrap Up 

The Fusic is quite a phone - it grabs your attention with its good looks and keeps it with solid performance. It seems to hit a sweet spot between cost, size and features. (Gary Fisher, a famous mountain bike builder, had a motto "strong, light, cheap - pick any two" on his bikes. Phone manufacturers use a trinity of small, features, cheap.)

The cute white body and small size make the Fusic look very friendly. And even though the Bluetooth and a few other advanced features are not exactly discoverable by novices, the common features used by most people are friendly too. Not only are they easy to find and to use, but they work well. This is a great choice for people who want to dabble in new technology without being overwhelmed by the complexity of a smartphone.

We can appreciates LG's effort and the inclusion of cutting edge technology like A2DP and an FM transmitter, but the Fusic is still not the music phone that Sony Ericsson's Walkman lineup is. Despite the inclusion of not one, but two, music players the Fusic still isn't a great choice for those looking for an iPod alternative in their phone. However for playing a few tracks while on the bus or walking to work, it is a perfectly good option.

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Subject Author Date
Ringtones austin7baker Jul 20, 2006, 1:48 PM
sync contacts with outlook? voltageGSR Jul 22, 2006, 4:19 PM
Phone as Modem? jackdiamond Nov 9, 2006, 1:22 PM
RIngtone Issue kevdon11 Jul 17, 2006, 2:25 PM
Coming to Verizon soon? AwpdsR Jul 7, 2006, 4:34 PM
Custom background image? louz Aug 4, 2006, 1:16 AM
rich's number tmbold Jul 24, 2006, 5:07 PM
Does anyone... Protege Jul 10, 2006, 7:35 AM
phone jack? voltageGSR Jul 20, 2006, 8:30 AM
"2" Music Players? tuolumne Jul 8, 2006, 8:18 PM
bluetooth kevdon11 Jul 21, 2006, 11:08 AM
lol.... motoBOY Jul 23, 2006, 1:22 PM
FM Transmitter Humdizzle Jul 8, 2006, 2:38 PM
What does this guy mean?? (not an ipod replacement) mikk Jul 18, 2006, 7:43 PM
Media Player Volume unzip7 Jul 16, 2006, 1:33 PM
D-Pad is similar to scroll wheel. mboudro Jul 14, 2006, 7:29 PM
Perfect for Two-Device professionals Charlieamerk Jul 11, 2006, 9:17 AM
D-Pad Shortcuts laursifer Jul 7, 2006, 5:01 PM
 
 
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