The Good: Beautiful, practical music phone with great sound and over-the-air music download capability
The Bad: Doesn't come with a headset, no scroll wheel, and the touch screen is inoperable during calls
The Bottom Line: A great music phone—at half the price of an iPhone
Whenever I hear the word "Venus," commercials for women's razors pop into my head. Now, cell phones do, too, thanks to a flashy new music phone built by LG and introduced by Verizon Wireless.
Although Venus was purportedly designed with women in mind, I'll tell you this much after playing with the phone for a week: If only women love cell phones that are beautifully designed and practical, then Venus is indeed for them. In reality, Venus should appeal to anyone who craves a music phone but doesn't want to pay $400 for an iPhone or doesn't want to switch to AT&T (T), the exclusive U.S. carrier for Apple's (AAPL) phone.
Everything You Need at Half the Price
Granted, the Venus is less capable than the iPhone. The "slider" design features two large screens on the front surface: a 2-inch display on top with sharp, bright colors and a 1.75-inch touch screen below it. Obviously, this touch display is a lot smaller than the 3-inch one on the iPhone, and it doesn't feature Apple's finger-swipe scrolling innovation. The Venus also lacks some of the iPhone's cool applications, such as easy-breezy maps and true Web browsing.
Yet at $200 after a rebate and the purchase of a two-year service contract with Verizon Wireless, it also comes at half the price of the iPhone. (Those who would rather sign a one-year contract can get the Venus for $270.) And unless you're a heavy-duty mobile Web user or plan to do lots of typing that would make a full keyboard useful, this phone has most everything you need, including a 2-megapixel camera and a microSD slot that accepts memory cards with up to 8 gigabytes of storage. The phone also comes with 135 megabytes of internal memory, which isn't a ton but more than some handsets.
With its black-and-chrome finish, the Venus has the same understated, elegant looks that helped turn the iPhone and the Chocolate into best sellers. (Another version is being introduced in a less understated, hot pink—a truly girly color.) Oddly, this music phone does not come with a headset, though perhaps LG and Verizon have accepted that mobile music lovers often buy high-end headsets anyway.
The heat-sensitive controls on the touch screen help avert unintentional commands. For example, if you touch it accidentally while, say, lifting the device off the table, nothing happens. You have to want to press the screen icons for them to work. The screen responds when tapped with a nail (important, perhaps, if you are a female). And the touch buttons vibrate to let you know your press was registered.
Better Than Chocolate
As a mobile music player, this handset easily tops even LG's Chocolate (BusinessWeek.com, 7/20/07), a music phone I've been raving about for more than a year. I do wish the phone had a scroll wheel, though. Without it, you need to scroll through long lists of songs by holding down a control on the screen, a process I found slow and inaccurate.
You can launch the music application from the touch menu or by simply pressing a dedicated button on the side of the phone. Then, kick back and enjoy: The speakers are amazing—probably the best on any music phone I've tried. The sound comes through crisp and clear, almost as if you're sitting right in the recording studio.
Venus also allows over-the-air song downloads over Verizon's wireless network. Most music phones—including the iPhone—don't offer this capability, but buying music this way tends to be much more expensive than purchasing it from iTunes and other online stores.
Another wonderfully convenient, uncommon feature: You can search your song collection from within the music application. Just enter the first letter in a song's title, and the application will immediately take you to the right section of your list. That said, I wish it was a little easier to set modes such as shuffle without creating playlists.
Drawbacks Are Easily Overlooked
The camera software is also top-notch and extremely easy to use, which isn't common. Once the application is launched, you press buttons like "take" and "video" on the touch screen. And when you play a slide show of photos, the phone's display automatically switches to horizontal orientation for easier viewing.
One annoyance with the phone function: Once calls are patched through, the touch screen becomes inoperable. This makes some sense in that you wouldn't want to accidentally push any buttons when the phone is pressed against your cheek. Still, this locking function makes it difficult to access basic phone options such as mute and speakerphone. You need to press a side button first to unlock the phone, then hurry and press mute on the touch screen before it locks up again.
Overall, I've found the Venus's good qualities far outweigh these little inconveniences. The way this music phone sings may be just what it takes to get that lady's shaver out of my head.