What's Good: Beautiful display; Context-sensitive menus; Extensive feature set; VZ Navigation works very well
What's Not Good: Half a touchscreen sometimes feels gimmicky and frustrating; Touch controls sometimes unresponsive; Poor voice quality with unacceptable hiss on some calls; Somewhat bulky overall
Bottom Line: Venus? half-touch/half-not display is an interesting idea that ultimately frustrated me more than it charmed me. The screens are beautiful and the morphing menus great, but I found myself wanting to touch the entire screen and not just the lower portion. Some won't mind this, though, and for those Venus may be a dream come true: it's a feature-rich slider with a beautiful high-res display and access to all of Verizon's multimedia offerings save VCAST TV.
Make/Model: LG Venus (VX-8800)
Data: EV-DO (1x EV-DO r0)
Carrier: Verizon Wireless (Locked)
Size: 102 x 51 x 15.7 mm
Weight: 107 g
Form Factor: Slider with Half-Touchscreen
Display: 2? Color LCD, 320 x 240 resolution, 262,000 Colors
Memory: 64 MB built-in, microSD card slot
Notable Features: Touch controls with content-sensitive menus; VCAST Music and Videos compatible; 2MP camera
LG is not the world's leading manufacturer of mobile phones but they may just be the leader in consistently bringing super hip, gotta have it cell phones to market. In the past six months or so they've unleashed an armada of eye catching handsets, including the Voyager, Prada, Viewty, Shine, Glimmer, and Vu. Not to be left out is the Venus, a Verizon Wireless slider phone with a unique split-screen display. At first glance Venus looks like a full-touchscreen device, but really it features two separate displays on its front panel: A 2? QVGA screen placed above a smaller touch-sensitive display used for navigational controls.
Venus was launched around the same time as Voyager, as part of VZW's ?Next? campaign. While Voyager is a kind of next-gen enV, Venus is like a next-gen Chocolate. Smaller, lighter, and less expensive and complicated than Voyager, Venus is nonetheless a hi-tech device with a plethora of features. You won't get the larger device's QWERTY keyboard or VCast TV access here, but you will get 3G data including Web, Email, IM, and access to Verizon's music store and streaming video service. You?ll also get Stereo Bluetooth support, something lacking in Chocolate, and a luxurious look and feel somewhat reminiscent of a smaller iPhone, what with its black and chrome styling.
Unfortunately, Venus has some issues when it comes to voice quality during calls. And that split screen half-touch design proved more frustrating than innovative, at least for me. After a few days with Venus I found myself wanting to poke the entire display with my finger instead of being relegated to using what essentially is a touch-control D-Pad on the lower half. Still, Venus has a lot going for it, and it does look pretty snazzy.
Venus looks like the hi-tech luxury item it is. Slightly wider and larger than today's average slider phone, Venus has an eye-catching chrome rim around its display and a grippy faux-leather backside that feels nice in the hand. My review sample was finished in classic black, and a pink version is also now available through Verizon. The back panel houses handset's 2MP camera lens, and also snaps off to reveal the battery slot. Slide the display panel up and Venus reveals its 12-button dialing keypad, with soft-touch plastic keys that are easy to use. Side panel controls include a rocker switch for volume, voice recorder key and headset/charger jack on the left, and dedicated music and camera keys along with a microSD card slot on the right.
Venus? big draw, of course, is that two-headed display. The main screen is a 2? QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) affair capable of rendering 262,000 colors. Beneath that is a smaller touch display that measures about 1.5? across. Both displays are beautiful to look at and VZW and LG did a great job designing Venus? menus to go beyond the standard Verizon look. I had some qualms with the decision to relegate the touch-sensitive functionality to only one area of the display, however, which I?ll delve into in the Usability section of the review.
Venus offers a full array of functionality, including Web browsing, mobile Email and IM access, a media player with microSD memory card slot and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack, access to Verizon's VCAST Music and Videos services, and the carrier's VZ Navigator GPS navigation services. The integrated 2MP camera is actually a little better than the average cameraphone shooter, and can be used to capture short video clips as well as stills. You?ll also find the requisite personal information management apps and decent gaming support (check out my demo of Guitar Hero Mobile III in Unlocked Episode #2). The one problem with gaming on Venus is that the touch-sensitive area isn't as responsive a controller as hardware buttons are - configuring games to use the keypad, where possible, helped.
Venus is an EV-DO device and so takes advantage of Verizon's 3G network for fast data speeds. Web browsing on the handset was only a so-so experience, though, as the browser is capable of rendering HTML Websites but usually does so in a less than pleasing single-column way. A full touchscreen would have made navigating Web sites a lot easier, as well.
A welcome surprise, however, was VZW's choice to leave Venus? Bluetooth capabilities wide-open, something the carrier isn't known for doing. Not only do you get stereo Bluetooth support on this handset, but you also get file and object transfer support - something almost unheard of for a VZW-branded non-smartphone.
I tested Venus on Verizon's CDMA network in the San Francisco Bay Area with less than pleasing results. Signal strength was generally good but voice quality was pretty shaky. Calls often exhibited digital distortion making the person on the other end sound a bit ?robotic? or garbled. In a handful of cases calls came through with enough static that I hung up and tried again. I checked around the Web and noticed that a third or so of the reviews (professional and user-written) I found mentioned similar calling issues, while the majority didn't. So this may be a case of ?your mileage may vary.? In any event, I wasn't so keen on my review sample's performance.
The integrated speakerphone was okay in a pinch but not great, and the phone worked well with mono and stereo 2.5mm headsets (not included). I was able to easily pair Venus with a variety of mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, and music playback sounded pretty good via the internal speaker and very good via stereo Bluetooth headphones.
Now back to that dual display layout. Think of the lower display as a navigational array from the future; it doesn't display any calling/messaging information or media, but rather acts as a combination five-way D-pad and softkey layout. This area changes depending on what you?re doing with the phone. For instance, from the home screen the nav screen shows a round ?Menu? button in the center with Message, Contacts, Shortcut, and All Calls buttons at the four corners. Delve into any of those areas, say Message, and the layout will change to show context-sensitive options. It's a handy system, and the text and icon ?buttons? look great on the little screen - both the main and secondary displays on Venus are top-notch. But what at first seemed like enhanced functionality soon descended into border-line gimmick territory for me.
Venus? morphing menus are super cool to look at, and they do make it easier to learn the phone. And I liked the haptic feedback confirming my virtual button presses. After awhile, however, I really started wondering why LG and Verizon didn't just make a full-touchscreen device like the Alltel Glimmer - also by LG. Between the physical dialing keypad, virtual navigation area, and main display, I was left wanting for a bit more of a seamless experience. That's not at all to say that Venus was hard to use - the morphing menus definitely added a level of user-friendliness not found on most feature phones. Rather, I wanted Venus to go a step further with a fully-touchable display bolstered by a physical dialing keypad, like Glimmer and HTC's Touch Dual offer. With Venus I kept finding myself trying to poke the main display to navigate menus or make selections, and then felt a bit let-down to realize that I had to move my finger off of the main display and back down to the nav. area.
Venus is quite the eye-catcher, as any product with its name should be. I might be a bit jaded since I get to test and write about almost all of the latest handsets, but I wound up thinking Venus suffers a bit from style over substance syndrome. At first glance the handset's sleek slider design and beautiful front panel displays promise a world of interactive menus and enhanced ease of use. And they do deliver on that promise - but only to a point.
Many users may find Venus partial touchscreen more than good enough for their needs. Indeed, I appreciated the changing menus that graced the lower of the phone's two displays, offering up context-sensitive controls that made it easy to know which virtual button to tap in order to trigger the action I wanted whether I was using Venus to make a call, read a message, or listen to a tune. But after a day or two with the phone I couldn't help but wonder why LG and Verizon didn't just go all-in on Venus and make the entire front panel touch sensitive. A slider phone with a physical keyboard and a full touchscreen? Sounds genius to me. Everyone knows Venus the Goddess? beauty was more than just skin-deep. Had Venus the Phone been graced with a full touch display, her beauty would have run a bit deeper, as well.