LG VX9800 for Verizon Wireless

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The arrival of the Motorola ROKR—aka "the iTunes phone"—has triggered a hullabaloo about music-playing phones. Turns out, lots of them do it. This month, Verizon Wireless introduced a couple of phones with stereo speakers that support V Cast news and entertainment, and both of them—the Samsung SPH-a950 and the LG VX9800—play MP3s.

Design-wise, the VX9800 is quite a departure for LG. Instead of a straight clamshell design, it's a candy bar that opens into a little palmtop, complete with QWERTY keyboard, a spacious 2.5-in. screen and two good-sized speakers. Good-sized for a cell phone, that is.

To move MP3s to the handset, you need a MiniSD card. A new kind of memory chip for small devices like phones, it's compatible with standard SD. Since it generally ships with an SD adapter, it will fit into any SD card slot you might have on your computer or printer. (If you don't have one, you can get a USB card reader for around $20.) In goes the card, and an icon pops up, under My Computer in Windows or right on the desktop in a Mac. Drag songs you want to hear to the icon, then slip the card in the phone. In the Get It Now menu, you'll find a misleading header reading Get Tunes & Tones, under which you'll see the clearer My MP3s. It's not a one-touch start-up like the ROKR, but you can do it with just three taps. Once in, you get nothing fancy, just a long list of songs, plus shuffle and repeat.

The music sounds pretty good. You can use a special pair of headphones with a microphone built in (sold separately), but it's best to use the VX9800 as a mini boombox. The clarity of the stereo speakers is much better than expected, perhaps a little tinny with not a lot of midrange, but plenty loud, with no distortion, even at peak volume.

If you're wondering why the keyboard, it's for Verizon's Mobile IM program. Users of AIM, MSN or Yahoo! Messenger can log in and chat with buddies. Your IMs are in the form of text messages, though, so you had better check your plan before Mobile IM-in', or you might be in for a nasty monthly statement. At least Verizon offers a warning as you're loading up the program.

That's not the only warning Verizon shares regarding this phone. Perhaps to avoid the angry reaction to last year's "crippled" Motorola V710 (a phone I still use, by the way), Verizon is quick to point out that while the VX9800 has Bluetooth, it supports it only for wireless headsets and hands-free accessories, not for synching with a PC's desktop.

I don't find that disturbing, though I often hear from people who might. Before we get too worked up about that, here's something we all might find unjust, though unsurprising: You can't use your own MP3s as ringtones, because it would eat into Verizon's ringtone sales. And sound a heck of a lot better.