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Verizon's Voyager

When I first saw Verizon Wireless' V Cast Mobile TV demonstrated, back at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, I remember being a little amused by the need to flip out a little antenna to tune in the signal--as if you were using a 1998-vintage analog cell phone.

But I still saw fit to mention this technology in my show write-up. The service took longer than I expected to come to D.C., but my review is in today's paper (only a few weeks before the 2008 CES).

If you'd like to get more details about Mobile TV, see Verizon's Web site--here, for instance, you can browse the list of programs available. (For a fun exercise, count how often Comedy Central will repeat "The Colbert Report" over the next 48 hours.) More details on the "MediaFlo" technology behind Mobile TV are available from its developer, Qualcomm. (A Qualcomm publicist said that AT&T was moving to launch its own, MediaFlo-based TV system, while Sprint and T-Mobile have also tested this technology.)

Now, though, I want to talk about the phone I tested V Cast Mobile TV on--the $300 LG Voyager. This flip-open model--with a touch-sensitive screen on the outside and a QWERTY keyboard on the inside--drew some early buzz for its surface resemblance to the iPhone. A Verizon Wireless executive followed up with some spectacularly ill-advised trash-talking:

"It will kill the iPhone," Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer Mike Lanman said in an interview.

Riiiight.

The Voyager is not without its merits, but at best it might give the iPhone a hangnail.

On the plus side, the Voyager's large (2.81-in.) screen, physical keyboard and fast Internet connection make it well-suited for use as a mobile Internet device. Its Web browser can display regular Web pages--although it can take a while to finish rendering them. Its support for V Cast Mobile TV and Verizon's VZ Navigator GPS navigation service have no equivalent on the iPhone. You can remove and replace its battery, and you can augment its limited internal memory with a microSD card.

The outer screen is particularly clever, as phone displays go. It not only responds to your touch but touches you back: Like a video-game controller, it vibrates slightly to confirm a command.

But the Voyager is also far thicker than the iPhone and, aside from its ability to send music wirelessly to Bluetooth-enabled speakers, is not remotely competitive with it as a music player. It also flunks one of the basic requirements of a smartphone by not including any software to synchronize your computer's contacts and calendar. Its battery life is nothing special. And its interface suffers from serious inconsistences: The home menu displayed on the inner screen does not provide access to as many programs as the one on the identically-sized outer screen.

The Voyager's designers seem to have bought into one of the more pernicious myths of the technology business: The idea that a sufficiently long list of included features can outweigh any number of usability problems. That's why the Voyager reminds me less of the iPhone than of the Soviet Union's knock-offs of Western products.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  December 13, 2007; 11:21 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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