LG CU500

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LG CU500 The G3 Phones Are Here!

Dec 18, 2006 (Updated Dec 18, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Durability:
  • Clarity:
  • Portability:
  • Battery Life:

Pros:Great reception, excellent sound clarity, wonderful features.

Cons:Service charge to use many of the advanced features.

The Bottom Line: If you are looking to get into the latest G3 technology the CU500 offers a feature rich phone for not a lot of money.


My wife and I have had service with Cingular for over two years now. Actually this is the second time with a brief, and horrible, stint with T-Mobile in between. As we passed two years in November it was time to think about upgrading our phones. For the past two years we had been using Sony/Ericsson T-637 candy bar phones that have been just OK and have left us wanting for more.

When we started looking for new phones the first thing I decided is that I wanted to go back to clamshell phones as we had a ton of problems with the T-637 even with the number lock in place. This was a problem widely reported but unfortunately not reported until after we had been using the phones for a while. The second thing I decided was that I wanted the new phones to be Generation 3 (G3) phones. Up until just recently all phones in the US had been second generation phones. G3 phones have much faster data transfer rates which can be upwards of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) allowing for things like high quality streaming video.

Looking at our options through Cingular we did a side by side comparison of the Samsung a707 (aka Cingular SYNC) and the LG CU500. In the end we decided on the LG CU500, even though both phones were about equal, due to the CU500 being slightly more comfortable for my wife to hold and for the keypad to be a little easier to read.

Table Of Contents

The Phone
Video Capabilities
Music
Multimedia
Other Features
Our Experience
Our Multimedia Package
Warranty
Price
Inside the Box
About G3


The Phone

The LG CU500 is a full featured multimedia camera phone with G3 technology allowing broadband data transfer speeds. The CU500 weighs just 3.7 ounces and measures 1.95” x 3.8” x 0.76”. The phone features both an internal LCD: 65K Color TFT, 176x220 Pixels, 11 Line display and an external LCD: 65K Color TFT, 96x96 Pixels, 6 Line display. One of the nicer features on the CU500 is a 1.3 megapixel rotating camera capable of capturing both still images and video. The CU500 also has the capability to act as an MP3 player with external controls and the ability to work with Bluetooth headphones. The phone features Bluetooth v1.1 with support for up to 10 Bluetooth pairings. The CU500 will allow for up to 5 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time. The CU500 has an internal antenna making it slightly more compact and easier as a pocket carry.


Video Capabilities

Although the CU500 doesn’t come close to the amazing new Nokia N93’s 3.2 megapixel camera and 30 frames per second (fps) video quality, it still performs very well when compared to our old T637. The 1.3 megapixel camera takes pictures at resolutions of 1280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120, with 1280x960 being the default setting. Compared to the T637’s meager 288x352 resolution this is outstanding. It certainly won’t replace my digital camera but it gives me the ability to take a decent photo when I don’t have my camera with me. The internal memory allows for up to 60 pictures to be stored at the optimal 1280x960 resolution but given that the CU500 has a micro-SD card slot the storage is actually limitless.

Some interesting features with the camera include the fact the camera can swivel allowing you to take pictures of objects in front of you or take pictures of yourself while looking at the display. The camera also has a zoom function with a 4x zoom for still pictures and a 2x zoom for video. Several features I have yet to play with include a multishot adjustment to take up to 9 shots in a row for subjects such as sporting events. I have also yet to play with the customizable shutter tones which allow you to adjust brightness, white balance, color effects, and quality similar to dedicated digital cameras. There is also a built-in photo editor with functions to crop, resize, rotate, and adjust colors. I might use this if I needed to edit a picture before sending it from the phone in a message but more likely I’d just download the picture to my computer and use a standard photo editing suite like Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop. The camera functions also include a timer for self portraits with settings for 3, 5, or 10 seconds. One caveat I found with the zoom that is also supposed to be true with the multishot is that it doesn’t work with the 1280x960 resolution so you will need to sacrifice quality to use these functions. I’m guessing this is due, at least as far as the zoom, to the fact that the zoom is a digital, not optical zoom.

As for video the 320x240 resolution is far from outstanding at half that of VGA webcams that produce grainy ay best video. But then again I’m never going to use the CU500 for a family video archive. Really to me it is most useful for taking a very short video snapshot to send via multimedia messaging service (MMS) one of the two available video modes. In this mode it will record up to 20 seconds of video. Using the internal memory and the ‘General’ mode the video camera can take up to 14 minutes of video (15 fps) @ 176x144 (normal quality) or 5 minutes @ 320x240 (super fine). Again this can be extended greatly using an optional micro-SD card.


Music

Although the CU500 isn’t going to replace your iPod, it does very well for non-dedicated music phone. The exterior controls, graphic equalizer on the external display, and the Bluetooth headset capability really make this a pretty slick music phone. For playback without headphones the CU500 includes two speakers to produce what they describe as 3D stereo sound. The phone supports MP3, WMA, AAC, and AAC+ formats and as with the camera functions songs can be stored on the optional micro-SD cards. One item I’m not really sure about is what Cingular calls their Music ID music recognition service which will identify any song by holding the phone near a speaker for 15 seconds. Like many things there is an added fee for this service and although it might be very useful if a song on the radio inspires you to seek out the album, to me it is just a gimmick.


Multimedia

Of all the capabilities the one I was most excited about was the streaming video. With the T637 if I wanted an update on headline news or game day info I had to deal with text that loaded extremely slowly and often didn’t give me the information I was looking for. With the CU500 the download speeds are excellent at approximately 1.5 Mbps which is faster than cable broadband was when I first started using it years ago. Although at 15 frames per second (fps) the streaming video is far from HD quality it is very good for a phone. There is lots of content available as well including some premium content like HBO for an additional charge on top of a media package. Along with the video there is MobiTV & MobiRadio which allows for TV viewing and radio listening right from your phone. I’m not so sure I’ll ever use the MobiTV feature as there is nothing so important on TV that I can’t TiVo it for latter viewing. But the radio function is kind of cool for sporting events to be able to listen to coverage while attending a game. Beyond video the CU500 takes advantage of Cigular’s enhanced Media Mall to access downloads and information at much higher speeds than before.


Other Features

As with most, if not all, cellular phones the CU500 has IM capabilities supported through either AOL, MSN, Yahoo, or ICQ.

Also, as with most phones the CU500 includes a personal organizer with a calendar w/ scheduler, alarm clock, and task list. There is also a calculator, world clock, stop watch, unit converter, and date finder.

The CU500 features a full duplex speaker phone so that you can annoy your friends and family with that talking in a cave ambience.

As with many of the newer phones the CU500 has the Flight Mode (RF Off) so that it, in theory, can be used in an airplane.


Our Experience

Given that we just got these recently I can’t give you long term use data but I’ve already been using the heck out of my phone as has my wife and I can tell you so far we love them. The sound quality is light years better than our old T637s which may have as much to do with the old phones age as anything. I’ve also been very impressed with the reception which has been, again, much better than the T637.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review we chose this phone over the Samsung a707 in part due to the keypad being easier to read. The CU500 has black keys against a silver background which to me made them pop out more even though the characters on the Samsung’s keys were a little larger. The CU500 is also a little thinner at a depth of 0.76” vs. the 1.02” for the Samsung. Even I agreed with my wife that the LG was more comfortable to hold and I’ve got much bigger hands the she does.

As far as talk time I was a little surprised at how quickly it went given the advertised 5 hours until I found out that the 5 hour time only refers to talk time on GSM networks. When using the multimedia functions it uses the G3 UMTS network and time drops to 3.5 hours. In my so far limited experience I’d say both of those numbers are best case and in reality the actual times have seemed shorter by maybe 10%, although we never let the phones run completely down. Recharging the phone is very quick and within 20-30 minutes they are back at capacity.

The multimedia functions are spectacular. Even though this is not a PDA phone with full internet capabilities the functions it does have are more than enough for our needs. The streaming video looks really good even though the screen is pretty small even when compared to the smallest portable TVs. The internal LCD screen is less than half the size of a video iPod but it is still sufficient to watch a news update from CNN or a sports update from ESPN. And the camera is probably destined to finally get me to take some camera phone pictures once in a while. With the T637 I maybe took a dozen photos in the 2+ years that we owned them. And all those pictures were pretty grainy. With the CU500 the pictures are as good as second generation digital cameras with decent detail. The zoom hasn’t been an impressive feature to me as a digital zoom at lower resolution reduces the picture quality to not much better than my old T637. The video camera I haven’t played with too much so far but the short video I took of my son is recognizable but fairly grainy.

Overall we are, so far, very happy with our decision and would recommend this phone to anyone looking to take the plunge into the world of G3 phones.


Our Multimedia Package

You do not want to use the multimedia functions on a pay as you go plan as the bill will be very high for not a lot of usage. We opted for the MEdia Max 200 Bundle for $19.99/month as this includes unlimited MEdia Net usage including streaming video but only includes 200 text messages per month. Given that we almost never text it made sense for us.


Warranty

The CU500 comes with a 1 year warranty.


Price

The CU500 is listed as $299.99 reduced to $179.99 with a two year contract. As with any cellular phone the price you pay is dependant on the deal offered when you sign up. When we upgraded our phones we paid $79.99 each with a multimedia package and mail-in rebate. Right now Cingular is offering the same phone online for $49.99 with an $80 online discount and a $50 mail-in rebate. These prices change frequently so this may be gone by the time you read this review.


Inside the Box

- CU500 Phone
- Battery
- Manual
- Home Charger


About G3

G3 or generation 3 are the latest technology cellular phones available in the US. They were actually introduced in Japan back in October of 2001 and have been in wide use in certain parts of Asia including South Korea. G3 uses technology that allows for much higher access speeds for multimedia and internet access. In the US these speeds currently average around 1.5 to 2 Mbps but theoretically can go much higher. In order for you to take advantage of a G3 phone you must use a carrier with a G3 network and also be in a G3 coverage area. Given that this technology has so much potential for customers looking for broadband service it should be in most major metropolitan areas in the very near future.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 79.99
Recommended for: World Travelers - Works Anywhere and Everywhere!

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