The LG Versa from Verizon sets the bar high in terms of demanding versatility from a mobile handset. With the Versa, you can choose between using the phone as a clamshell that opens up to reveal a keyboard, or keep it simple without the accessories and you'll still have a sleek candy bar-style touch screen phone, reminiscent of the LG Dare.
The Versa also boasts an incredibly cool animated Flash user-interface with three customizable home menus. Additional features include a 2-megapixel camera/camcorder with LED flash, full HTML web browsing, built-in multidirectional accelerometer, stereo Bluetooth capability, microSD memory port and access to Verizon's VZ Navigator, VCast video and music services.
With the additional purchase of a game controller module from Verizon, you can also turn your phone into a portable pocket-sized gaming device. Plus, there's the prospect of future modules -- like external speakers and GPS navigation -- that are being developed for the Versa, so that with some crafty accessorizing, you can make your phone fit your individual needs even more.
By and large, this is a phone for people who enjoy mobile messaging, and the Versa definitely provides several ways to get your message across. As with many phones in the touch screen market, there's a small learning curve when mastering the touch-sensitive display. Typing on the virtual touch screen keyboard is fine once you get the hang of it, and there's always the attachable keypad to fall back on if you don't mind the extra weight.
As far as design goes, think of the Versa as the thinner, equally hip twin brother, the Dare. It exudes high style with its modern chrome-framed display and slightly rubberized battery cover. But attach the keypad module, and the Versa takes on a distinctly retro fašade swathed in somewhat outdated brown, pebbled faux leather. Aesthetics aside, the module's vinyl cover should be very good at protecting the handset from spills and scratches. The Versa weighs a relatively light 3.8 ounces, and the attachable keypad module on its own weighs about 2.0 ounces.
The front face has a 3-inch-long touch screen that is similar to the Dare, but slightly narrower. Along the bottom of the display are large icon buttons for Call, Clear/Voice Command and End Call/Power; each one is highlighted in a dull off-white backlight. On the left are some more key components: a 2.5-millimeter headset jack, camera/camcorder shortcut key, side volume keys that also double as a zoom control in camera mode, a sliding latch key for attaching modules and a USB/charger port. On the right is a microSD slot and on the top is a Lock/Unlock key to put the touch screen on standby mode and prevent accidental dialing. To the left of the earpiece is an innovative light sensor that automatically adjusts the brightness of the LCD screen to conserve power and extend battery life. The camera lens and LED flash are located on the back.
When the keypad module is attached, the built-in accelerometer will automatically rotate the screen from portrait to landscape mode when the phone is turned horizontally. Close the module cover and you can answer calls using the external Send and End Call keys located under a petite 0.96-inch monochrome OLED screen that's just big enough to display caller ID, signal strength and battery life. To make a call, you have the choice of dialing on the keyboard or using the touch pad, which includes one-touch keys for speakerphone, voicemail, voice-activated calling and shortcuts to your contact list and recent calls. You can also hit the Save key to copy a contact's new number to your phonebook.
If you feel your current phone is lacking in customization options, the Versa would make a fitting upgrade. You can customize up to three home screens -- one screen with application shortcuts (calendar, tip calculator and VZ Navigator, for example), another screen for your favorite contacts and a separate screen for favorite pictures, videos, songs and Web bookmarks. In addition to choosing wallpapers for each screen, you can use the gear icon on the right of each menu to organize the screen placement of your favorites, or drag and drop old favorites into a virtual trash can.
When a module is connected to the phone, a fourth "module" home screen will appear. For instance, with the keypad module attached, links to text-intensive actions like email, mobile IM appear on its own home screen. These links are non-customizable. To navigate between home screens, simply swipe a finger across the display and the menu will flip to the next screen as if you were flipping over the faces of a cube. At the bottom of each menu are touch soft keys for Messaging, Call, Main Menu and Contacts.
The Versa bears a highly responsive touch screen with tactile feedback that can give you extra reassurance of control. Feedback vibrations can be modified to short, double or long vibrations; low, medium or high vibration; or four sound effects and silent mode.
Typing without the clip-on keyboard can be done the old-fashioned way with an alphanumeric keypad and the help of T9 predictive text software. It also offers handwriting recognition. Just use your finger or stylus to draw on the touch screen and your message will be converted into text. The software can be a bit unreliable at times if not enough pressure is applied to the touch screen. You'll still need to select between uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols mode while you type since the software isn't advanced enough to differentiate between a "g" and a "9," for example.
Messages can also be typed using a virtual touch screen keyboard. To activate it, just rotate your phone horizontally while you're in the "new text message" screen. On both the virtual and module keyboards is a dedicated key for @, .com, and arrow keys. The module keyboard is the ideal size and its plastic chiclet-style keys offer a good tactile feel when typing, as opposed to the somewhat cramped touch screen keyboard which takes a bit more practice and patience to master.
Out of the box, the Versa comes with a battery, keyboard, travel charger, stylus, user guide and quick reference guide. The stylus is covered in the same leather-look material as the keypad module and can be attached to the handset like a cell phone charm or hand strap.
The Versa offers a respectable 2-megapixel camera and camcorder with flash. Creative types will be pleased with the multitude of photo editing options, but photo purists looking for a top of the line camera phone may not appreciate the weak LED flash.
Photos can be taken in varying image resolutions: 1600-by-1200 (default), 1280-by-960, 800-by-400, 640-by-480 and 320-by-240 pixels. In general, the camera takes sharp, vivid pictures with about a 2-second delay and up to 2x zoom, depending on image resolution. You can use the image editor to zoom in, crop, rotate, adjust contrast, sharpen, blur and brighten your photos. Use the included stylus to draw moustaches on your friends or write on top of your images. If that's not enough, you can also add fun frames and clip art to your creations and save them to your photo gallery.
Special camera features include face detection -- to make sure your subject's face is in focus -- autofocus, spot/average photometry, four shutter options (silent, shutter, cheese and ready 123), a self-timer and SmartPic technology, which can enhance images in low-light situations. The camera offers five white balance options (auto, fluorescent, sunny, glow and cloudy) and five color effects (normal, sepia, black and white and aqua).
Video quality on the Versa's built-in camcorder is also just as good. The Versa can record videos up to 470-kilobytes in three resolutions (176-by-144, 320-by-240 and 640-by-240 pixels) in VGA format and uses some of the same image settings as the camera, including brightness, white balance controls and color effects. It can store up to one hour of recorded video and send videos of up to 30 seconds; it can play other video files in WMV, MP4, 3GP and 3G2 formats.
From a megapixel standpoint, the Versa doesn't match up to the Dare's 3.2-megapixel camera. It also does not have a vanity mirror or screen for self-portraits. But touch screen enthusiasts will appreciate the fact that you can swipe the screen to move from one picture to the next, "favorite" and drag your best pictures to the top of your home menu, and use the phone to play image slideshows.
Like many of Verizon's newer phones, the Versa offers visual voicemail, which, for $3 a month, assigns a visual interface to your voicemail inbox, letting you scroll through your voicemail and listen to messages in any order. The Versa also comes with basic features including a calendar, Ez tip calculator, alarm clock, icon glossary, drawing pad, text display in English or Spanish, plus an "extras" button for downloading new applications. To customize your phone, choose from variety of wallpapers and 26 unique polyphonic ringtones. Or entertain yourself with three included demo games -- Monopoly: Here and Now, Need for Speed: Undercover, and Pac-Man. Full versions are available for download.
The Versa can store up to 998 speed dial contacts and 1,000 phonebook entries, each with up to five numbers, two email addresses, and a picture ID. Within the phonebook there are three slots for emergency contacts as well as space to note medical conditions and other pertinent information needed in case of an emergency.
There's hardly a flaw in the Versa's striking 3-inch TFT touch screen display. Using 262,000 colors and a 480-by-240 pixel resolution, the Versa's screen displays sharp, ultra-vibrant graphics and animations that supplement an equally eye-catching "3D" Flash interface and menu layout. The touch screen provides tactile feedback that can be customized for calibration, vibration strength and sound effects.
Turn the phone horizontally, and the multidirectional accelerometer will automatically shift the screen to landscape mode. The widescreen view is ideal for messaging, web browsing, motion-controlled games or surfing through your photos and music album covers.
On the outside cover of the keyboard module, you'll find a second display screen that uses energy-saving Monochrome OLED technology. At 0.96 inches long, this 56-by-120 pixel grayscale display is just big enough to display caller ID, battery life, signal strength, time and date.
After a period of time, the main screen will automatically lock and slip back into energy saving mode. Simply press the unlock key on the top of the handset to resume activity. Screen lighting and backlight time can be changed to suit your preferences. You can also swap menu fonts, dial fonts, display themes, main menu banner, wallpapers and the image that appears while the phone is charging.
Because the Versa comes with a built-in 2.5-millimeter headphone jack -- as opposed to the more standard 3.5-millimeter jack -- you might need a headset adapter or wireless Bluetooth stereo headset to take full advantage of the music playing capabilities on this particular model. The music player can handle MP3, WMA, unprotected AAC and unprotected AAC+ files. Headphones and stereo Bluetooth accessories are sold separately.
You can manage playlists and navigate through songs with the swipe of a finger on the Versa's scrolling display of album covers. Plus, it's easy to multitask while you're listening to music. Just hide the player to send texts, browse the web or edit your contacts. To ignore calls and messages, switch the phone to "music only" mode. Additional audio features include one-touch speakerphone, visual voice mail, voice messages (up to one minute recording time for sending messages) and voice memo recording for up to an hour.
With access to mobile email, instant messaging services and SMS text, video, picture and voice messaging, you'll have no excuse not to keep in touch with your friends. SMS texts can be sent with a maximum 1,120 characters to as many as 10 recipients at a time. It is also comes with 15 preset text messages for when you just can't find the right words to say. If that's not enough, you can also share instant messages via AIM, Windows Live messenger and Yahoo messenger. For mobile email, log-in to accounts from services including Yahoo, AOL, AIM, Verizon.net, Windows Live and Hotmail and receive message notifications even when you're out of the email application.
Take your favorite shows and songs wherever you go with Verizon VCast Video and Music. Starting at $13 per month, VCast Video offers live television programming straight to your phone from networks like CNBC, CBS, Comedy Central, ESPN, Comedy Central and MTV. Download more tunes to your playlist via Rhapsody for $2 per song or $15 for unlimited access. You can also download songs from Rhapsody to your PC, manage and create your playlists, then sync it to your phone. In addition to music and videos, VCast has the latest games, display themes and ringtones available for download at convenient 3G speeds.
Touch navigate your way through the web using the full HTML browser. The Versa is also equipped with RSS feed support, so you can access periodic updates from your favorite web sites, and Adobe Flash Lite for watching YouTube videos or other multimedia content with Flash. It can also open up to three windows at a time when browsing the Internet. The 3-inch screen displays Internet pages in landscape mode. At the bottom of the browser you'll find a navigation toolbar with virtual keys for back, forward, refresh, zoom, home, bookmarks and the main menu. The Versa supports Verizon's super-fast Ev-Do Rev. A broadband network that lets you transmit and receive data at quicker rates than on non-Ev-Do networks. However, the Versa doesn't support Wi-Fi.
The Versa provides an ample 310-megabytes of internal memory for pictures, videos and MP3s. You can record up to one hour of voice memos and one hour of videos, depending on available memory. For additional files, the Versa's microSD/USB port can accommodate external memory cards of up to 16-gigabytes or about 4,000 extra songs. The Versa package comes with a USB cable; however, memory cards are sold separately.
The Versa supports a variety of Bluetooth profiles. It can save up to 20 Bluetooth pairings for headsets, hands-free devices -- like a hands-free car kit -- and dial-up networking, which can allow you to use your phone as a modem for your laptop. It also supports profiles for stereo Bluetooth headsets, phone book access, basic wireless printing, file transfer and object push, which lets users transfer data to other Bluetooth devices. Bluetooth accessories for the Versa are sold separately.
This is a phone for people who appreciate versatility, or perhaps those who simply can't decide between the Dare and the Voyager. In many respects, the Versa has the best of both worlds: it's a slim and sleek touch screen handset that's an impressive device on its own, and with a full keyboard attachment, it can instantly transform into a mobile messaging machine like the Voyager. With and without the QWERTY attachment, messaging is a breeze.
It was difficult to pinpoint any major flaws on this phone. Besides the faux leather keyboard cover and LG's choice of including a 2.5-millimeter headset jack, the downsides are minimal and might come down to aesthetics. Overall, the Versa offers a great combination of smart technology and user-friendliness that everyone can appreciate. ♦
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