LG’s first HSDPA phone for the United States gets a full review. The CU500 is full of surprises, drawbacks, and advantages that make it an interesting device worth taking a look at.
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First Impressions, Basic Phone Functionality
The CU500 is the first thin UMTS phone to reach U.S. shores. As such, it’s very impressive to look at, knowing the technology inside. While the CDMA2000 world has had the Samsung A900 for quite awhile now, the UMTS stateside has gone from two-inch thick phones, down to one-inch, and has finally dropped below that marker.
The physical build quality of the phone is excellent, the flip mechanism is extremely strong, while requiring a reasonable amount of effort to flip open. That’s a good thing, since many flip phones are flimsy and prone to break. Not so here, the dual hinges are each very durable.
Voice quality? Regardless of if it’s 3G or 2G, it’s excellent. While reception is potentially not perfect in fringe areas, the perfect signals on W-CDMA and supporting crystal-clear calling well makes up for it. Reception was excellent, in large part to being the Qualcomm W-CDMA dual-mode chipset.
We couldn’t resist shining a spotlight on the Qualcomm 3G CDMA sticker on an HSDPA phone in the U.S…
We didn’t test battery life, for two reasons. First, it varies between GSM and W-CDMA, and second, we were not in a W-CDMA coverage area for most of this review. And yes, that matters even for standby time.
Drop Test Aborted
We didn’t even drop this phone. Why? Because the paint job started to fall apart long before we thought about dropping this phone. In fact, simply resting in the pocket caused it to lose paint. This was accelerated far to quickly by sandwiching the phone with a Motorola RAZR in a pocket. While the combined thickness of the phones are less than that of a PDA, the paint damage was much more shocking.
The paint damage above appears minor, but this was with only a couple of hours of use…
Is it really thin?
Ever since the CU500 was first announced, people have questioned if it is really that thin a phone. Rather than using measurements to prove that it is, here is a photo comparison with a Motorola V3c RAZR and Motorola E815. Clearly the CU500 is indeed a thin phone, albeit thicker than the CDMA RAZR.
Advanced Phone Functionality
Unfortunately, the CU500 has a show-stopping Java bug. When using any internet-based application (such as Google Maps for Mobile or Opera Mini), the application constantly demands permission to access the web… on every single request. Instead of asking once, per use, the application winds up asking each time you load a page, move a map, or any type of transmission which is prompted by the user.
The result? The apps simply are not usable. Hopefully with built-in Firmware Over-The-Air (FOTA) support this will be fixed in the near future.
Music: Better than Mac?
The department which the CU500 shines the most in, oddly, is music. The audio performance in the CU500 is powerful to say the least, and is one of the best music phones out there. The stereo speakers on the CU500 outperform Apple’s MacBook in volume and audio quality. A $280 phone has better audio quality than a $1000+ laptop, but that is just a testament to the CU500’s quality in the music department.
All functions of the music player can be accessed with the flip closed, and the stereo speaker built-in to the earpiece functions well even with the flip closed (and yes, it still is louder than a MacBook). The music player has a real visualizer, not the fake one presented on other modern phones, and is visible on both the internal and external displays. Another feature of the media player that surprised us was it’s support for folder search. Upon inserting a MicroSD card, with music stored in Motorola-organized folders, the CU500 listed all the music on the card as playable.
In fact, the MicroSD support extends to all functions of the phone’s OS. Images and graphics stored on the phone are accessible where they should be, regardless of what folder they’re in on the card itself. Compared to the stance of Verizon to require Windows Media Player, WMP format, and WMP organization, this is a refreshing change.
The CU500 has a lot going for it, but in many ways could be so much better. Having perfect UMTS voice performance is great, but by lacking Bluetooth 2.0, users will be tied to HSDPA for full-speed when tethering.
The phone has excellent physical build quality, only to be marred by poor paint quality. While carrying FOTA, the phone ships with shop-stopping Java bugs. Clearly the CU500 is a phone that is in bad need of a firmware update, and maybe a couple of production revisions.
Pros: Excellent Music, Only Way to HSDPA
Cons: Poor Housing Durability, No Bluetooth 2.0
Final Score: 4/5
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