The $200 LG VX8800 Venus from Verizon Wireless may be the Voyager's little sister, but it's closest in form and function to the ill-fated Chocolate. Unlike the Voyager, which has a QWERTY keyboard and aspirations to be an e-mail and messaging hub, the Venus is a "music phone" with a cool camera feature. Though slightly bulkier than even the current slimmed-down Chocolate, it's one of LG's best looking phones to date, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly who would be happiest toting around one of these shiny little girly-named bricks.
Like I said, it's got a sleek sexy look, with a shiny chrome bezel, a faux leather grip and retro grillwork on the top and bottom to accentuate the speaker and mic holes. It also gets extra style points for a subtle paintjob we didn't notice when we first looked at it: half of the keys are a deep sparkly navy blue, while the remaining keys on the checkerboard are matte black.
Like the Voyager and Chocolate, it's gives touch feedback in the form of a noise and a little vibration. It feels sturdy, and its sliding action is satisfying. If you want a new, funky look and feel, the Venus is a good choice. Just don't slide the lid too much while doing other things: if you close it during an operation, the operation may shut down.
The key feature is the touchscreen that occupies the lower third of its face, exactly where the Chocolate's touch-sensitive solid-state keys used to be. The other two-thirds are a regular, non-touch-sensitive screen.
At first it can be confusing; even now I try to tap stuff on the main screen. It's also pointless in most cases, since the majority of the time the screen is divided up into buttons or a directional pad that would be better if felt. But now and again, the Venus makes real Nintendo DS use of its double screen. In photo and video shooting modes, you get five option buttons with specific tasks, and when you review your still shots, the thumbnails are actually on the touchscreen side. But unlike the menu-happy, iPhone-wannabe Voyager, the Venus' main menu is dry and linear, so much so that a fancy touch interface almost seems like a mockery. (The upside: no new, counterintuitive menu-scrolling technique to learn, like on the Voyager.)
This primarily being a music phone, I was happy to discover that its speaker sounded tolerably well, especially when placed flat down on a table. Even though the grilles on the top and bottom of the face suggest stereo speakers, they are mainly for show. The only speaker is on the back, two slits cut into the fake leather just above the antenna.
Like the Voyager, you can move your own photos and videos off the Venus and move your own MP3s onto it by way of the microSD card slot. But unfortunately also like big brother, the music player was primitive at best. This one had trouble reading the tags of songs ripped by iTunes. (But gee, whoever would think to rip a CD in iTunes? That won't affect much of the target population.)
Higher level stuff like navigation and messaging are really not worth it on this phone. The Voyager's use of VZ Navigator is great (though it's still no match for the cheapest Garmin nüvi). The Venus' VZ Navigator is too small to be of great use visually. See for example the map on the right, and the size of my own thumbnail next to it:
I'm as mixed as I ever was on the Venus, and I think part of that has to do with the name. Venus is an unambiguously feminine name, even though a solar-system motif is supposed to remind boy shoppers of its interplanetary connotation. Venus therefore is a girl's phone. But is it? Hell no. I don't know what LG and Verizon are up to here, but the message is unclear. Would I care more about this phone more if it were instead called the Baretta or the Sphinx or the Turbine? Sad to admit it, but I think I would. [Verizon Wireless]