January 13, 2005
By SETH SCHIESEL
AS wireless carriers introduce new services like television
and streaming music, cellphone manufacturers are coming out
with the handsets needed to use them. The devices generally
have larger, higher-quality color screens, cameras capable
of taking higher-resolution still pictures and video clips,
and better sound reproduction.
Carriers are selling most of these handsets for a few
hundred dollars after rebates, contingent on the user
signing up for a one- or two-year service agreement.
But how well do they work? To find out, two Manhattanites,
Phil Potter and Joy Huibonhoa, agreed to put a few of the
new units through an informal evaluation.
Ms. Huibonhoa started off by working her way through the
operating manual for the Sony Ericsson Z500a from Cingular.
The farther she got with the Z500a, the less happy she
became. "The overall ease of use is generally good, but it
feels a bit clunky," she said. "The buttons aren't
finger-friendly and the Internet seems a bit hard to
maneuver and it's slow."
Mr. Potter, who ignored the instructions ("If I need the
manual, then it's poorly designed," he said), agreed that
the Z500a was not stylish and that the unit's sound and
color seemed washed out. He liked the phone's music
capability and contact manager.
The new LG VX8000, offered by Verizon Wireless, impressed
the two. "This is sexy," Ms. Huibonhoa said, holding up the
big screen. "Look at this bright screen. And the sound
quality is great."
She said she enjoyed the speed of the Internet connection
and found it easy to use. While a little disappointed that
the much-hyped video clips took about 20 seconds to buffer,
she and Mr. Potter were impressed with the unit's video
quality. "Frankly, this is a lot better than I expected,"
The sleeper hit of the session was Sanyo's MM-7400 from
Sprint, which inspired a higher level of enthusiasm from
the testers than any of the other units.
"This is very user-friendly," Ms. Huibonhoa said of the
Sanyo. "It's got a clear bright screen, the maneuverability
is good and I don't have to press so hard on the buttons."
Mr. Potter liked the unit's multimedia capabilities, which
include showing television channels (through a service
called MobiTV, which has a relatively slow frame rate) and
video clips, and streaming music from Music Choice, which
provides a similar service over many cable and satellite TV
"It's a phone. No, it's a TV. No, wait, it's a radio!" Mr.
In all, the two were pleased with the overall selection,
but there was one puzzler: the testers noticed that for
some reason almost every phone had preloaded or had the
ability to download the song "Brass Monkey" by the Beastie
Boys. "I don't know what it is about that song," Mr. Potter
said. "But I guess the wireless guys like it."