LG CU500 for Cingular

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LG's new phone is not a RAZR clone. It's just as slim and, like the hot Samsung a900 Blade for Sprint, it owes much of its appeal to Motorola's revolutionary handset. But a clone is an imitation, often a pale one. My instinct is that what Motorola started with the RAZR, other companies mean to finish. The CU500 — the first phone to tap into Cingular's new "High-Speed Downlink Packet Access" (HSDPA) network — is next in a stream of upcoming slim and powerful cell phones.

With its matte and glossy black finish and hints of chrome and brushed aluminum, the CU500 may well be LG's most attractive model yet. Its look and high-tech innards definitely suggest that it's geared towards a fashionable male audience. I liked how easy the CU500 was to use. It has not just a colorful and responsive user interface, but buttons contoured just enough to dodge one of RAZR's ill effects — having to look down to dial. Easy hand dialing is a good thing, although the CU500 lacks the one thing that is even better: hands-free voice dialing.

Music is a big part of the CU500's raison d'Ítre. Like most phones, it plays MP3s loaded onto a memory card (sold separately). There's a sweet program called MusicID that magically names almost any tune it hears through its microphone — even stuff playing on your car radio. Cingular's MobiRadio program is there, however a warning at launch says you should subscribe to an unlimited data plan if you want to use the 40-channel streaming radio service (which itself is $9.99 per month). The CU500's Bluetooth wireless system lets you connect to wireless headphones, a feature found on only the latest phones. It's fun to connect a wireless stereo headset (sold separately), although in my experience, the sound quality of full-sized MP3 files is better with the old-fashioned wired earbuds that come in the box.

The ultimate allure is that the phone lets you access Cingular Video. The jewel in CV's crown is the exclusive HBO Mobile, perhaps the first mobile video service to attempt wireless distribution of full-length TV shows. You donít get the latest episodes of The Wire and The Sopranos for the service's $4.99 per month, but at any given time you do get access to four or five "classics" from the network's various franchises, broken up into easy-to-download chapters. Exciting as it was to catch vintage Entourage, itís only available if you live in a city with HSDPA coverage (check at cingular.com/midtolarge/network). Some cities like New York have only spotty coverage, although Cingular promises to complete much of its high-speed network expansion by the year's end.

As thrilling as high-speed networks are, they do have a downside: they drain batteries big time, especially those of slimmer phones. Like the RAZR that features Verizonís high-speed V-Cast service, the CU500 can only deliver a fraction of its maximum talk time when in the HSDPA network — even if all you're doing is making simple voice calls.