Review: LG Vu, AT&T's Mobile TV

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Do we really need another reason to rot our brains on the go? Apparently we do because live TV on your phone seems to be the next big thing for U.S. carriers. AT&T’s Mobile TV with FLO (forward link only AKA mobile TV) service coupled with the LG Vu is a match made in couch-potato heaven, so long as you’re running on 3G and not EDGE, but more on that later.

Watching live streaming TV or movies like “The Karate Kid” on the Vu’s 3-inch haptic touchscreen is pretty amazing, but that’s not the only thing the Vu has going for it. The user interface is fairly intuitive and all you’re really doing is pecking away at the screen. The menus are straightforward and even grandma can figure this one out. The 2-megapixel auto-focus camera does a decent job in low light, but if you need flash of any sort you’re SOL—the adjustable EV can only do so much. The video camera fairs just as well. It’s an ultra lightweight phone—a smidge over 3 ounces—and slim enough that you may forget it’s even there. Like many phones today, it’s an MP3 player as well and plays back video. But a paltry 4GB of storage via microSD ensures you won’t be carrying around your iTunes library.

Texting on the Vu’s keyboard is surprisingly easy and the inclusion of a landscape keyboard is a blessing in disguise. Why? Well, it all depends on how big your fingers are and how well you can calibrate the touchscreen. You won’t be able to manhandle this one like you would a BlackBerry or Sidekick, for example. Adapting to the keyboard takes a bit of patience and a little finesse goes a long way. Much like the Prada, the Vu has only three hard keys that place a call, end calls, and take you back a step.

The HTML browser is usable, but the inability to view pages in landscape mode is a bit of pain. You have access to every e-mail account under the sun except Gmail. The other downside to mobile e-mail on the Vu is the loss of haptic feedback when entering your username and password. The standard IM client includes AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo! Messenger.

The Mobile TV service is flawless if you’re connected over 3G, otherwise you won’t be watching anything at all.( Looks like I forgot to edit myself here. MediaFLO works independently from the 3G network and runs over the old UHF band.) There’s virtually no buffering and picture quality on the Vu is crystal clear. There are three different Mobile TV packages to choose from. Included in the $30 package is unlimited Mobile TV, Web browsing and CV mobile video along with CBS Mobile, CNN Mobile Live, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go, Nickelodeon and PIX (Sony Pictures). The mid-tier package at $15 gives you unlimited Mobile TV and the CNCRT channel for a limited time. The basic package includes CBS Mobile, FOX Mobile, NBC 2Go and NBC News 2Go for only $13.

The Good: Simulcast and time-shifted programming on any device with a 3-inch screen and no lag time will have anyone slipping into sloth mode wherever they are. It’s the ultimate time waster.

The Bad: Unless you’re in an area with strong 3G coverage the phone is pretty useless for watching TV. It may be lightweight, but it feels chintzy and unless you have the fingers of a 5-year-old child, the touchscreen will disappoint regardless of the haptic feedback. Did I mention the $299 price tag? Let’s hope the rumors about a $199 3G iPhone are true regardless of the fact that it will be sans Mobile TV service.

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