Highly functional phone without the extra fluff (long review with updated comments)
Reviewed on Sunday October 8, 2006 by kickstop, New York
I was due for a New Every 2 upgrade with VerizonWireless and was interested in replacing my old LG VX4400 with a bluetooth phone (for wireless communication and connectivity). Being a bit oldschool, ...I do not care about video and music playback on my phone. As I often travel through areas with weak digital signal, I wanted to keep with a trimode phone for the analog fallback option. The two trimode bluetooth phones currently available for VZW were the LG VX5300 and the Samsung A870. As I had good luck with my previous LG phones, I decided to go with the VX5300. I got one for myself and another for my mom (replacing her old LG TM510).
FORM: While other phones go for flashy style, the VX5300 has a classic yet sleek silver appearance. Some might find it boring, but I prefer classic looks that don't go out of date in a few months. The unit is quite a bit lighter than the VX4400 and VX5200, but feels well built with tight hinges and no give at the seams. The outside OLED color screen displays quite a bit of information such as time, date, battery level, signal strength, current connections, messages/mail, missed calls, etc. The drawbacks to this screen is 1)it isn't as easy to see in sunlight as a black and white LCD, 2) the font might be a bit small for some people to read comfortably, 3)phone does not show picture caller ID on this screen although it can display wallpaper image. The internal screen is a rather bright 262K color TFT screen that I find easy to read even in bright sunlight. Both screens can be used as viewfinder for the VGA camera, and camera can be used even with phone closed. The antenna on this phone is external and does not extend. The stubby antenna might be a concern for people who pocket their phones or wear it on their front waistline while bending over. I personally haven't had an issue with the antenna poking me while I wear it in a holster even when phone rotated vertically. With the standard battery and cover, the VX5300 is roughly 2/3 the thickness of the VX4400 with standard battery.
Controls: The keypad buttons are smooth, rounded, slightly raised, and give an affirmative click when pressed. The buttons are a bit more slippery than the rubbery buttons found on the VX4400, but I did not have any difficulty with the transition. A great improvement on the VX5300 is that all four shortcuts on the 4 way rocker can be customized (the VX4400 only allowed one direction/shorcut to be remapped). This is great as I can remap the shortcuts so I don't accidently trigger airtime using features like "GET IT NOW" or "Mobile Web" while quickly accessing frequently used features such as the calculator. A handy speakerphone button is centered between the keypad and rocker/call buttons. The volume buttons and a voicedial/cameraflash toggle button reside along the side of phone under a standard 2.5mm headset jack. The voicedial button does not switch between normal and vibrate mode when held down (preventing the accidental silencing of phone while it is in purse/pocket/etc experienced by the VX4400). The camera mode button resides on the other side of phone near antenna. Note that camera can be turned on (external screen as viewfinder) when phone is closed by holding down this button for a couple of seconds.
Reception: I have been using the VX5300 in the Chicagoland area and the San Francisco South Bay area over the past two weeks. I also tested out my mom's VX5300 when I was in SF area. I did not encounter any areas where I could not receive or initiate a call. There are some areas in southside Chicago where my VX4400 (as well as friends' VX4500 and Motorola V710) had problems initiating a call or occasionally dropped calls. I have not experienced this with the VX5300 in those areas.
Sound quality: There have been reports around the net about the VX5300 sounding muffled or echoing. I put both my mom's phone and mine through numerous phone call tests to landlines and friends on various wireless carriers around the country. Neither I or my mom heard any echoing and found the earpiece sound quality to be quite clear and of more than sufficient volume. People on other end of the line report very clear audio quality from phone's mic. The speakerphone sound quality is definitely less than earpiece and tends to distort at higher volumes. My mom's speakerphone sounded a bit less distorted at highest volume than my own. That said, I still found the speakerphone feature on mine absolutely usable in my slightly noisy car when my bluetooth headset ran out of battery power. I can confirm that the VX5300 speakerphone is full-duplex which means simultaneous transmission of incoming and outgoing audio. Think of full duplex as a two lane, two direction road while half-duplex is a one lane, one way road. This is essential in noisy environments because with half-duplex speakerphone the phone is constantly stuck in transmit mode and phone is not receiving audio from other person in quiet environment. Another complaint found on the net is that the volume of the 2.5mm headphone jack is too low. I do notice that the volume level is lower than my previous LG phones when using cheap Sanyo earbud/mic sets, but when used with my mom's Panasonic headset the volume is roughly the same. My mom is able to use her headset while driving without problems with volume level 2 steps below maximum. I think the autogain feature on the VX4400 was what cranked up volume so loud on the earbuds, and since VX5300 doesn't appear to have this feature...the earbuds are quieter. Mind you, that autogain feature on VX4400 made the earbuds so loud it hurt my ears and forced me to direct buds away from ear canal. I just now wear earbuds normally (directed toward ear canal) with VX5300 and find it usable in the car unless I'm driving at high speeds with windows down. It should be pointed out that neither my mom or I have any hearing impairments. People who regularly attend extremely loud rock concerts may have different opinion about volume level. At the same time, I really wished the VX5300 retained the autogain feature that increased volume in presence of background noise.
Battery life: The standard 1100mAh battery is rated by LG for 3 hours of talk time and up to 7 days standby. I find the talk time be actually better than 3 hours on a fully charged battery. I managed to squeeze close to 4 hours of talk time out despite using a bluetooth headset. I find if I talk about 30-60mins a day, a fully charged battery can last 3 days depending on area's signal strength. My mom uses a wired headset and gets longer standby time of 4-5 days with bluetooth turned off. There is a 1700mAh battery available from LG, but it is thicker and requires different battery cover. I am content with the talktime and sleeker look of standard battery. By accessing the services menu, the phone can be set to run only on digital, specifically on different revisions of CDMA digital, specific frequency, or forcing analog mode. When I'm in urban areas with great digital coverage, I force the phone to run digital only to save battery (preventing phone from switching to analog and burning more battery power). For more info on accessing services menu, read posted comments.
Bluetooth Headsets used: Motorola H500, Motorola H850, Plantronics M2500, Plantronics Voyager 510 v.G (greenish gray version with separate windsock), Plantronics Voyager 510 with Windsmart (silver and black version with built-in windsock). Two people reported hearing very slight echo (which they said they only noticed when I specifically asked them if they heard an echo) with Motorola H500 that was eliminated by turning volume down one bar. The H500 mic seemed to pick up background noise quite a bit which made using voice commands difficult to use in the car, but did not hinder actual phone conversation. The H850 had lower max earpiece volume than H500. The Plantronics M2500, and both versions of the 510 had higher maximum volume than the Motorolas. The Plantronics M2500 battery only lasted a bit over an hour of talktime and seemed to have a shorter range than the other headsets I used. Both versions of the 510 had the best outgoing clarity and least amount of background noise. Older 510 vG seemed more prone to incoming audio clipping and static from 802.11b/g networks than the newer 510. Experienced one unexplained dropped bluetooth connection with 510 vG. No drops with the other headsets despite often being connected for a couple of days straight. Generally the VX5300 seems pretty tolerant and functional with the headsets I've tried.
Bluetooth Data: I used my old VX4400 as an internet modem connection for my laptops via USB cable quite a lot when I'm in middle of nowhere without any other net access. I was happy to find that the VX5300 supports this DUN (dialup networking) feature via bluetooth connection. Once paired with my laptops and PDAs, I just choose the Bluetooth Dialup Modem using my previous connection configuration and it worked like a charm with an average of 80-90kbps throughput. Very convenient to pull out my laptop/PDA and access the internet for email/browsing while my phone remains wherever it is (corner of room charging or in my holster). This feature only uses up my plan minutes without added cost(which means unlimited night and weekend time). *I have noticed a quirk that happened a couple of times where the VX5300 reconfigured DUN feature from bluetooth to USB after disconnecting from a headset. I found that turning the bluetooth off and then back on fixed this and prevented this from happening again. I recommend turning bluetooth off and back on when you first turn phone on (or after phone reset) to ensure the phone doesn't reconfigure DUN from bluetooth to USB. If you don't use DUN, you don't need to bother with this as other bluetooth functions aren't affected.*
Misc: The voice command feature of this phone can be quite useful for visually impaired people as it can be set to read out menu/onscreen activity/numbers entered/etc. Heck, it can be helpful for those who don't have their reading glasses(although my mom can read the numbers she dials without her reading glasses just fine with large font option switched on). I have successfully uploaded my own wallpapers and mp3 ringtones using bitpim via bluetooth serial connection. Bitpim doesn't currently have VX5300 officially supported, but I just manually choose VX8300 phone in Bitpim which works fine. The phone has 28MB memory which should be plenty for wallpapers, 640x480 pictures from built-in flash camera, and mp3 ringers. I like the fact that I can choose to have phone vibrate simultaneously with ringing (VX4400 would vibrate first, then ring...which often made me miss a call if I wasn't wearing my phone). Another nice feature is to only have the alarm clock be audible while calls do not ring. This allows use of phone as alarm clock without risk of people calling and interrupting you while you sleep.
Conclusion: After more than 2 weeks of extensive use and testing of two VX5300 phones, I find the model to be a very capable bluetooth trimode phone. It does not have a megapixel camera or fancy multimedia features for anyone looking for that in a phone. For people looking for a dependable communication device with analog and bluetooth capability, the VX5300 should fill the role nicely.
Addendum 09-25-2006: I've been using the VX5300 extensively for about a month now, and here's some additional information that might be helpful. The Plantronics Voyager 510 voice command takes about a second to connect to VX5300 which means first voice command is often not recognized by phone. When the phone asks me to repeat command, the second attempt is recognized perfectly every time even when I'm flying down the road at high speed with windows rolled down about halfway. I think this quirk might have to do with the PLT510 noise cancelling mic taking a couple of seconds to start filtering out background noise, but I am not sure. The VX5300 is definitely not to blame for this, as other headsets do not exhibit this behavior. Despite this, the PLT510 is still currently my BT headset of choice while in the car. I'd rather wait an extra few seconds and have voice commands work. The Motorola H500 which has instant connection but does not work with voice commands while my car is going above 30mph. My new Cardo Scala-700 is currently charging up, and I'll post my experiences using it with the phone when I have a chance.