LG's LX550 "Fusic" music phone for Sprint is one of the most fun, appealing cell phones I've tried in some time. Usually when I get a new phone I take an "impress me" mindset, giving the handset little benefit of the doubt and instead wondering if it'll do anything to set itself apart from the rest of the mobile pack. The Fusic charmed me as soon as I took it out of the box, however, and I instead made myself search for faults with this colorful little flip, lest I wind up writing a review entirely about how "cute" the Fusic is.
While the Fusic isn't perfect, it definitely has a lot going for it as a mobile phone and mobile media device. Between its music player functionality, integration with Sprint's Power Vision Network, and thin, compact form factor, the Fusic represents one of the best phones currently offered by Sprint save their business class smartphones. Will the Fusic replace your iPod? Probably not. But with a few tweaks, its successor just might.
The Fusic feels smaller than its 96 x 48 x 20mm measurements would indicate. Something about the white plastic body, rounded corners, and narrow breadth makes the handset look and feel like a thin handset, even though it's on the average to slightly thick end of the scale for new models. Pick the device up, though, and it doesn't matter - the Fusic feels remarkably good in hand. The narrow body is easy to grip and hold during one-handed operation, the flip is accessible but secure, and the buttons easy to reach. LG did a great job of making the Fusic a device you want to play with.
A flip-style clamshell, the Fusic has displays and controls on its exterior and interior alike. The exterior is dominated by a 1.25" color display and an iPod-esque "wheel" of music player controls. This is actually a central play/pause key encircled by four touch-sensitive buttons. The layout is attractive and the controls logical, but unfortunately the "wheel" buttons are a little wonky - their touch-sensitive functionality was fine, but I couldn't really get used to the lack of tactile feedback.
A fun design feature of the Fusic is its interchangeable faceplate. The phone shipped with a blue faceplate installed, and green, black, and pink plates are also included in the retail box. A host of faceplates with other colors and designs are available via eBay and third-party retailers.
Flipping the Fusic open reveals a chic white and silver interior with a nice blend of matte and mirrored accents. The top half of the flip is almost entirely taken up by a 2" screen, while the bottom features an array of controls including a circular five-way directional pad, four soft keys, and a standard 12-key dialing layout. The dialing keys are flush-mounted, but still provide good tactile feedback. All of the keys feature rounded corners to match the handset's rounded edges. The overall design effect of the Fusic is a blend of high-tech chic and soft, feel-good edges and buttons that make for one of the more attractive mobiles on the market today - so long as you're into fun, and not business conservative.
The back of the phone is a clean slate of pearly white plastic save for the silvery circle of the camera housing (which also bulges out somewhat from the Fusic's body) and yellowish tint of the camera's flash light. An LG logo is discreetly etched into the lower portion of the rear panel, just above the battery eject button. Releasing the battery reveals that the phone's "battery panel" is actually the back of the battery itself - it's all one unit as opposed to a panel that covers a separate battery.
A rocker switch for volume and a voice command key are located on the left side of the Fusic, along with a slot for removable microSD memory cards. The right panel houses a covered headphone jack (2.5mm) and a dedicated camera key. Side-panel buttons are finished in mirrored silver while the covered ports are capped with white rubber plugs that match the body of the phone.
The only bad thing I have to say about the Fusic's design is that I'm not so keen on the stub antenna that sticks out of the handset's back panel. Most mobile phones being released nowadays have a "clean" look resulting from the use of internal antennae, and as such the Fusic's little stub looks a bit dated. However, the phone taken on the whole is a design gem that's generally a joy to use.
The Fusic's main draw lies in its music and media player capabilities. The phone is made to integrate with the Sprint Music Store and multimedia content available on the Sprint Power Network, but also plays nicely with unprotected music files loaded onto a memory card from your computer. LG also built an FM transmitter into the handset to allow for stereo broadcasting of music over your car, home, or portable radio.
Using Sprint's Music Store on the Fusic was the best cellular music service experience I've had to date. Though it's no iTunes, the Sprint interface was easy to navigate, and I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of content available for purchase. While $2.50/song (or three for $5) is more than twice what computer-based online music stores charge, cellular-based music stores are something of a novelty right now and so consumers should expect to pay a premium for the service. Sprint's store is well executed, and while I wish that the files I downloaded to the Fusic were of slightly better quality, each purchase also includes a high quality PC download of the same song available through Sprint's Web site.
Downloading songs was quick (about a minute to a minute and a half per track), and it was a kick to purchase and download a song and then play it over the car stereo via the FM transmitter, all from the passenger seat as my wife drove. I had some trouble transferring music to the phone from my Mac, but the process was a breeze using a Windows PC. The music player itself is fairly easy to use, though not as full-featured as the players found on Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones. Though the software was clearly designed to drive users to the Sprint Music Store, LG and Sprint would do well to update the player with an equalizer and more sophisticated playlist controls if they really want the Fusic to compete as a music player as well as a phone.
The Fusic also works very nicely with Sprint's TV and multimedia offerings. A variety of TV clips, shorts, movies, and custom content is available for purchase and playback on the Fusic via Sprint's EV-DO high speed data network. I rented the movie "10 Things I Hate About You" and watched some of it on the handset with surprisingly good results. While I still think that a 2" cell phone screen is too small a venue for a feature-length film, Sprint's streaming media service worked very well, and so long as I had an EV-DO connection, the movie buffered quickly and played back with nary a stutter. My inner geek was delighted to see that when I flipped the Fusic shut, playback continued on the handset's outer screen, even if the image was too small to watch for very long.
One note worth mentioning is that despite all of these media features, the Fusic is not a smartphone and so can only run one application at a time. So don't expect to listen to music in the background while composing text messages or checking your calendar on this phone.
LG built the Fusic with a 1.3 megapixel camera that incorporates an integrated flash light. The camera's performance was solidly in the middle of the road of 1.3MP shooters, which means more than suitable for viewing on a phone or computer, but not really of printable quality. User controllable camera options include flash, self-timer, a choice of three resolutions, three quality settings, and white balance and brightness controls. Like most cameraphone "flashes," the LED flash light provides little in the way of image enhancement when shooting in poorly lit conditions; for best results, use the flash light on subjects three feet or less from the phone.
A camcorder mode is also available on the Fusic. Videos are shot in QCIF (176 x 44 pixel) resolution, with sound, at 15 frames per second. Video quality was decent - suitable for fun little multimedia messages, but not much else. Videos meant for MMS messages are capped at 30 seconds, while other videos are captured until the phone runs out of available memory.
The internal 2" TFT screen on the Fusic performed very well. Rated at 262,000 colors over 176x220 pixels, the screen isn't as high resolution as those on higher-end handsets from Nokia, SE, and Samsung, but it still does quite well at displaying menus, photos, and video content alike. Having used some phones with stellar displays recently, I couldn't help but wonder how much better the Fusic would be with a QVGA display, however.
The Fusic supports user customization of the home screen wallpaper, as well as basic settings for text style and color, including skinning of menus. The phone also supports themes, though at $4 a pop from Sprint, they don't quite seem worth it - all the more so once I realized that the wallpaper image cannot be customized on any theme except the one that comes installed on the device.
As mentioned, the handset also has a secondary display mounted externally on the front panel. At 96x96 pixels displayed at 65,000 colors, the screen displays a plethora of information related to calls, network status, and the music player. The external display also supports color wallpapers and, as mentioned before, low-res video playback.
I tested the Dual-Band CDMA Fusic on Sprint' network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reception and performance were generally quite good for voice calling. Save for a couple of minor glitches, I was able to hear callers loud and clear and they, me.
Calls on the built-in speakerphone were loud and clear, as were ringtones and other audio alert tones. Though the speaker is not the ideal way to take advantage of the Fusic's music player, it does play audio of all sorts loudly and relatively clearly.
LG packaged the Fusic with both a wired stereo headset and a handsfree adapter featuring an inline mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. While the included earbuds work well for calls and acceptably for stereo music playback, the adapter opens the phone up for use with high quality headphones or even connection to a home stereo or powered speakers.
The Fusic also supports Bluetooth audio devices including the A2DP stereo Bluetooth profile. I was able to easily pair a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good. One note about Bluetooth is that the Fusic will not play protected or streaming music over A2DP - so power music users will do best to load the phone up with their own non-DRM'd mp3 files.
The built-in FM transmitter, on the other hand, didn't prove all that useful. While the transmitter was initially fun for broadcasting music store purchases over my car stereo, it quickly became more aggravating than useful as the phone had to be placed literally right next to the FM receiver to work at all, and even when it did work the sound quality wasn't so great. For enjoyable music playback, the Fusic needs to be connected to a sound system via Bluetooth or an audio cable; the FM transmitter proved more of a gimmick than anything else.
The Fusic has support for SMS, MMS, and Email messaging. My review sample came with a full Sprint Power Vision plan, and it was easy to send any type of message from the handset.
I really liked some things about messaging on the Fusic, and disliked others. On the plus side, the keypad is easy to use and responsive, so actual message composition was fairly easy. The messaging software on the phone also allows you to create a new message and then choose between mobile (phone number) and Email recipients - this was a nice change from the standard "choose your message type first" mobile messaging client interface. It was also easy to add recipients from my contact list as well as manually keying in new numbers and addresses.
On the negative side, the Fusic's menu system is rather clunky overall. Much of this can be attributed to the handset walking a thin line between being a feature-packed mobile device and a non-smartphone incapable of multitasking. I found myself wishing that hopping from feature to feature didn't take so many key presses and "Do you wish to exit this application?" confirmation screens. While this isn't a problem with the messaging application per say, I did notice it on several occasions when I wanted to jump from the music player to composing a new SMS message.
Internet access on the Fusic comes by way of Sprint's Power Vision network. While the Fusic does have a capable WAP browser, Power Vision Internet access is all about Sprint's custom content. The Fusic is well suited to consumption of Sprint's audio and video content, but it's not a mobile Internet device in the sense of allowing wide-ranging access to the Web at large.
That being said, if you're in the market for mobile entertainment, the Fusic is a winner. Somehow despite not having the best display on the market, the Fusic still makes watching streaming video clips fun. Power Vision service is not cheap, and Sprint's TV, Movie, and Music content is - dare I say - a bit overpriced itself. But the experience is among the best I've had with multimedia on a cell phone. The Sprint stores are relatively well designed and easy to browse, and Sprint's EV-DO network makes for high-speed shopping and viewing.
Sprint's online offerings also include games, ringtones, themes, and wallpapers available for purchase, download, and use on the Fusic. Again, this premium content isn't cheap, but it does work very well on the handset.
The Fusic is a dual-band CDMA handset with support for Sprint's EV-DO data network. It only works on Sprint's network. Wi-Fi support is not included on the Fusic.
Bluetooth includes support for audio devices including the A2DP stereo profile as well as file transfer and wireless printing and use of the Fusic as a cellular modem. The phone also comes with a data cable that plugs into the bottom-mounted accessory port and allows for syncing via the included connectivity software, and use of the phone as a USB flash drive with a PC (though placing/receiving of calls is disabled in USB mode).
The Fusic also features a 2.5mm stereo headset jack that works with the included earbuds. A 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter is also included to allow use of any standard headphones with the handset.
The phone has a somewhat meager 23MB of shared internal memory, though that's easily supplanted with the included 64MB microSD memory card.
Sprint has a winner on its hands with the LG Fusic music phone. While the device isn't perfect, it's easily one of the best music and multimedia phones available today. I'd love to see an unlocked GSM version of the Fusic, actually, as some of its strongest music features - including A2DP stereo over Bluetooth - don't work with protected content downloaded from Sprint's wireless music store.
That being said, Sprint's media offerings are quite good, if also quite expensive. And the Fusic handles them well, playing music as well as streaming video content quickly and clearly thanks in dual part to a solid internal display and the speed of Sprint's Power Vision EV-DO data network.To top it all off, the Fusic is small, cute, and fun to use. Save for the unfortunate quirks of its touch-sensitive external music controls and somewhat awkward user interface, the Fusic is as fun to use as it is to look at and hold. If you're looking for a fun, multimedia capable handset for use on Sprint, the Fusic is a good choice. Get yourself a bigger microSD card, load it up with your own mp3s, and plug some high-end earphones in, and the Fusic could become a great on the go phone and entertainment system