Sometimes you're the washing machine, and sometimes you're the pants. And sometimes you're the cell phone that's no longer covered by a warranty because it was accidentally left in the pants when they were put in the washing machine.
Not everybody wants to plunk down big bucks for a high-end cell phone. Others, like me, don't have much of a choice. After I accidentally destroyed my Verizon Wireless (VZ) phone earlier this year, I found myself out of warranty and no longer eligible for an upgrade (see BW Online, 1/24/06, "Nokia's Bare Essentials 2128i"). That means I would have had to pay the drastically higher full retail price if I wanted a replacement. Instead I've gone down-market.
NOTHING TO SEE.
So, to find the best phone for the lowest price, I've decided to review what are known as "send-and-end" phones -- handsets that come with few bells and whistles (no cameras or Web access here), but handle the basics. This week I'm checking out LG's budget model, the VX3300. Its full retail price is $180, making it slightly more expensive than Verizon's cheapest phones, which retail for about $150. You can get it free if you sign up for a two-year agreement online.
In short, I was disappointed. The VX3300 doesn't handle the basics well enough for people who just want to make voice calls, and its attempts at extra features feel half-hearted.
The phone's appearance is passable. It comes with two interchangeable faceplates for the front -- one black with swirling blue pinstripes, the other a plain gunmetal grey -- but neither is particularly eye-catching. Flip it open, and it shows a color liquid-crystal-display screen.
The display resolution is pretty crude, and only a small handful of backdrops are available, some of them lame. After scrolling through a picture of a surfer, the Statue of Liberty, and a few generic abstract images, I settled on one that looked like outer space. Kind of. Nothing too exciting here.
It's not all bad, though. The LG VX3300 has a design that fits well in the hand, and the buttons are easy to reach and use (though I may be somewhat biased, since it's similar to other LG flip-phone models, including my last one). It's very easy to change the voice volume during a call, put the phone on speaker mode, or silence it with LG's "manner mode" -- a function that puts the ringer on vibrate and ensures that number keys and other phone functions won't make a peep. The menu screens are fairly straightforward to navigate, and it's easy to execute all of the phone's basic features, such as saving numbers, sending text messages, and setting an alarm clock.
Battery life and voice quality are both pretty mediocre on this model. For a phone with so few extra features, it really should excel in these categories. The phone has 208 minutes of talk time and 165 hours of standby time, according to Verizon.
After doing a spot check on Verizon's page, that's about on par with other flip phones -- most of which have more vivid display screens, Web access, and camera features. Still, it's a full hour less talk time than the Nokia (NOK) 2128i, one of the other stripped-down models that I'm reviewing. Sound quality was so-so, with voices muffled in some cases, but no worse than the average cell phone.
The VX3300 has a few small problems that, in aggregate, made using it a nuisance. First off, there's no display screen on the outside of the clamshell. So every time the phone rang, I had to flip it open to check who was calling, rather than just whipping it out of my pocket and giving it a quick glance. No external display also means that I had to physically open it up to check if I had voice mail or missed calls. (You can adjust the settings to vibrate when there is a message waiting, but the default "low beep" sound is pretty much inaudible.)
In addition, when you open the clamshell, there's a small delay before the internal LCD screen activates. This sounds very minor, but when you're flipping open the phone often, it gets tedious.The LG VX3300 feels like a poor imitation of nicer models that come loaded with cameras, Web access, and Verizon's Get it Now marketplace of services such as games and ringtones. And it doesn't even get the basics right. If you're on a budget and want a good low-end phone, look elsewhere.