LG's VX-8600 is the clamshell successor to their very popular "Chocolate" candy bar phone. This dual-band CDMA cell phone for Verizon Wireless actually packs all of Chocolate's functionality into a sleek flip phone that I found easier to use and more attractive than the VX-8500. Clad in shiny black with silver trim, the 8600 is a thin clamshell packed with multimedia features.
The VX-8600 features a 1.3 megapixel camera, VCAST-compatible media player with external touch-sensitive music controls, and dual color displays. While Verizon doesn't include many goodies in their retail package, the handset is compatible with a number of add-ons to make phone calls and listening to music more enjoyable on this very capable handset. Are the 8600's good looks enough to make it stand out from the crowd in a marketplace packed with multimedia phones? If Verizon's your carrier, then yes, I think so. Read on ...
I love the design of the VX-8600. The black clamshell is sleek, shiny, and light but sturdy-feeling. This handset doesn't at all feel bulky or cumbersome in a front pants pocket, which is my defacto "real world" design test. The glossy black plastic finish is a bit prone to attracting fingerprints, but that's going to be the case with any handset with a non-matte finish.
Measuring 99 x 48.5 x 15mm and weighing in at 93g, the 8600 is both thinner and lighter than the VX-8500 Chocolate, and roughly the size of a Motorola RAZR. Where the RAZR (and it is a testament to the longevity of that phone's popularity that I'm still using it as a reference point) is all about hard, clean angles, however, the 8600 features soft curves and rounded edges set off by chrome-colored plastic trim.
The front panel of the handset features an external display and three touch-sensitive buttons that "disappear" when not in use. Twin LG and Verizon logos frame the display top and bottom, and the sensor for a 1.3 megapixel camera is set in a circular housing at the top of the panel.
Opening the flip reveals a large color display on the top half of the interior and a roomy navigation pad and dialing keypad on the bottom. The navigational controls include a five-way directional pad with a centered OK button and left/right soft keys. Keeping with the phone's overall design, keys are finished in black, flush-mount plastic with silver trim. The flush design of the buttons doesn't provide quite the same tactile feedback as standard buttons, which are more readily delineated by the "valleys" between raised surfaces. While this might create a fear of difficulty during blind dialing, I had no problem with the keys. In fact, I found all of the keys easy to use and being that I have somewhat large fingers, I appreciated the roomy layout.
The left panel of the phone houses a charger/data port and volume up/down buttons. The volume controls are actually located on the top portion of the flip (the display half) and would probably be easier to use if they'd been moved down to the lower half, as that's the portion most people hold while talking on the phone. On the right side of the phone we find camera and voice command buttons and a covered port for MicroSD memory cards.
The back portion of the phone is blank save for logos and stickers. A latch at the very top of the back panel releases the battery, which takes up roughly half of the rear panel.
I have to reiterate how much I like the look and feel of this phone. The VX-8600 is one of the first phones in awhile to make me want it purely for the way it looks and feels in hand, and seems to disappear in my pocket. Generally speaking I'm a sucker for spec sheets and customizability; this LG had be before I even turned it on to see what it could do.
Like the rest of Verizon's VCast-compatible handsets, the VX-8600 is capable of providing you with a host of entertainment options including music, video, and gaming. Nothing comes free in this world, however, and access to online entertainment requires a $15/month VCast subscription.
The built-in digital music player works with music files purchased and downloaded from the VCast music store; songs cost $1.99 for a dual phone/PC download. WMA and MP3 files are supported by the phone, but AAC tracks are not. The integrated music player worked well, though I've always found Verizon's menu system a bit counterintuitive (too many choices are lumped under "Get It Now"). Music playback can be controlled via the internal keypad or three touch-sensitive external music controls. Combined with the full-featured external display, the external controls make for easy use of the music player without the need to open the handset. Track and playlist information and even album cover art is viewable on the surprisingly sharp external display. The only downside is that the external buttons can be a bit "touchy" and accidental brushes of the touch-sensitive controls can lead to inadvertent fast-forwarding or pausing of songs.
Access to streaming audio and video content via VCast requires EV-DO reception, which was generally solid on this phone. Verizon does not include a headset of any sort in the VX-8600 package, which is annoying considering it's a "music-centric" device, but also par for the course from a provider who wants to upsell accessories. Even more frustrating is that the included headset adapter works with 2.5 mm stereo headsets (like the one included in the optional $30 Music Essentials Kit), but not standard 3.5mm earphones. To use those you'll have to spend another $15 for yet another adapter. Why, I ask you, why?
Verizon's GPS-based VZ Navigator service is also supported by the VX-8600. Though I'm not personally a heavy GPS user (I don't drive that much and am pretty used to getting lost when I do), it is a nifty trick to sneak GPS functionality into such a fashion-forward phone. VZ Navigator offers the standard bag of location-based services tricks, including turn-by-turn directions, local search, and maps. VZ Navigator is available as an add-on fee service that you purchase directly from the handset.
The VX-8600 also features standard cell phone applications including a contacts manager with photo and ringtone caller ID and groups support, a calendar with appointment and to-do alarms, and a well executed Voice Commands system. Customization is limited - as is the case on all Verizon phones - but I was able to change the display's wallpaper from the VCast logo to a photo of my choosing.
LG built the VX-8600 with a 1.3 megapixel camera. The camera is fixed-focus and does not have a flash or flash assist light. Spec-wise a 1.3MP camera is "last year's model" at this point, as new mid- to high-end multimedia phones coming out on US carriers are sporting two megapixel shooters. However, unless you're concerned with the printing your camera phone shots, 1.3 megapixels is plenty - it's the quality that counts.
The VX-8600 produced pretty good still images in my testing. While not the absolute best I've seen, photos from the 8600 were solidly on par with those from other camera phones in its class. Shots I took in well-lit situations - particularly outdoors - rendered clear and true, with good color and detail. Predictably, photos snapped in low-light conditions came out grainy and fuzzy. The occasional shot suffered from a blueish cast; again, this happened less frequently outdoors in good sunlight.
The VX-8600 can also take video clips with sound. Video clips are limited to QCIF (176 x 144) resolution at 15 frames per second maximum. Video quality was average for a cell phone, which is to say serviceable as "proof of concept," but not anything you'll want to burn to DVD or share with too many people.
One neat feature to note is that the handset's external display acts as a viewfinder when the phone is in camera mode. Since the camera sensor is mounted just above the display, this makes for a nifty self-portrait aid.
The main display is a 2.2" TFT screen capable of resolutions of 176 x 220 pixels at up to 262,00 colors. Big and bright, the display is easy to read and generally looks great. Watching videos on the handset, however, reveals the limitations of the display resolution - some videos that looked a bit blocky here surely would have benefited from a QVGA (320 x 240) display.
A real treat, however, was the externally mounted secondary display. As mentioned, this screen doubles as a viewfinder when the phone is in camera mode and also provides key information in music player mode. At 1.3" in size and capable of displaying 65,000 colors, the outer screen is quite useful for the aforementioned tasks as well as your basic caller ID, clock, and wallpaper funcitonality.
The VX-8600 also features flash-based user interface menus that are a step forward from the standard Verizon UI we've grown accustomed to. While nothing so sexy as the glitzy UIs recently shown on, say, LG's Prada phone, the 8600's flash animations are pleasing to the eye nonetheless.
I tested the dual-band CDMA VX-8600 on Verizon's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice quality through the internal earpiece was excellent. Calls came through loud and clear on both mine and the other end, and I kept the volume no higher than the middle of the range.
The speakerphone, on the other hand, was noticeably quiet and tinny. While I don't expect much from music playback through a cellphone's built-in speaker, the 8600's speaker didn't do much for voice calls, either, which could be a deal-breaker for users who rely on speakerphone functionality. As mentioned, the handset comes with a 2.5mm headphone adapter that supports optional wired headsets, including stereo earphones.
Bluetooth audio devices are also supported, though stereo over Bluetooth is not. I had no trouble pairing a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good.
Composing SMS and MMS messages on the VX-8600 was straightforward, as was attaching images, videos, and audio clips to MMS messages. The predictive text input system worked well, though this handset shouldn't be mistaken for a "serious" messaging device. On the other hand, tapping out missives on the 8600's keys is much, much easier than on the VX-8500's famously difficult touch-sensitive keypad.
Email is supported through Verizon's optional Mobile Web 2.0 "VZW Email" service, which makes it easy to set up access to an AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! account. Accessing other email accounts is possible through third party WAP-based services. Sending and receiving of email messages is accomplished through the WAP interface, and not an integrated client. Instant messaging, on the other hand, is possible via the built-in Mobile IM client. Again, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo instant messaging is supported out of the box.
Internet access on the VX-8600 happens by way of Verizon's VCast, and Mobile Web 2.0 services, all of which are optional for-fee services. The Web browser on works well with Verizon's "Get It Now" content as well as most WAP Web sites, which load very quickly over the EV-DO data network. HTML Websites, on the other hand, generally didn't load properly on the phone, as they're not supported by the browser.
Verizon's VCast service offers a wide variety of streaming audio/video and downloadable audio content. As a reviewer, it was fun to browse through the offerings, watch a few videos here and download a few songs there to check out. As a paying consumer, however, just remember to keep track of how much all of this entertainment costs - streaming media on your phone is a fun, and addictive, way to kill time while waiting for friends or appointments.
Verizon, along with Sprint, continue to provide the best mobile broadband data services in the United States via their CDMA EV-DO networks. However, access on non-Smartphones is generally limited to Verizon-approved channels and not to the entire Web. If you're addicted to mobile access to your favorite Websites, check with Verizon (or borrow someone's VCast handset) to make sure you can get to them before shelling out for a VX-8600 and Verizon service contract.
The VX-8600 supports CDMA 800/1900 bands and 1xEV-DO data on the CDMA 2000 band. The phone is locked and so may only be used on Verizon's wireless network.
Bluetooth is supported on the VX-8600, and unlike most previous Verizon handsets, it supports file transfers - I was able to move files back and forth between the phone and both PC and Mac computers. The phone also paired easily with a (mono) Bluetooth headset and worked well for voice calling and voice command dialing.
The phone also features a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards. No microSD card is included in the retail package.
In a world of sleek, thin phones, the LG VX-8600 manages to stand out from the crowd on the sheer power of its good looks. I wasn't a big fan of this phone's predecessor, the VX-8500 "Chocolate," as I found the touch-sensitive controls overly difficult to use, the features run-of-the-mill, and the design uninspired. LG's got me hooked on the 8600, however. This slim, light clamshell is light, comfortable, and easy to pocket.
Feature-wise, the VX-8600 is a solid entry in Verizon's VCAST lineup. With dual color displays, external music controls, and a 1.3MP camera, the phone is capable of myriad feats of entertainment. Access to Verizon's speedy EV-DO network enhances the entertainment experience, though I do wish the handset came with a stereo headset (or, better yet, a standard stereo headphone jack).
To me, the VX-8600 and Motorola K1m are the best looking phones in Verizon's current lineup. It's not the king of the spec sheet, but it's a solid performer with great looks. If you can get past the lousy speakerphone performance and want a handset that looks great in use and all but disappears into your pocket when you're done, look no further than the LG 8600. This is what the Chocolate should have been in the first place.