Day One Review: LG Vu makes cellphone TV watchable

We got our hands on LG's Vu cellphone from AT&T today. It's a sexy number that emulates the iPhone on a number of scores, most notably its touchscreen. The Vu even complements it with some very appreciated tactile feedback — where the screen vibrates just a smidge to let you know you've touched it (Apple, are you listening?). It doesn't flip the display when you turn the phone, but it is much lighter than the iPhone (size and screen comparison in the gallery below). And at $300 with contract, it's cheaper, too… for now.

The big highlight in the Vu, though, is AT&T's Mobile TV service, set to debut on Sunday and made possible by MediaFLO tech. Is this the gadget that finally makes portable TV a must-have gadget? Our impressions after the Continue jump.

TV at Hand
Before you start watching, you have to sign up for AT&T Mobile TV service, with a basic package costing $15 a month. Sounds good, until you realize that gets you only a dozen channels. At least you get some nice major ones, like the networks (no ABC, though) and MTV. And there are no commercials. Oh, wait, there are? WTF?

Video quality was actually not too shabby, with images coming in steadily (here in the middle of Midtown Manhattan) at somewhere south of 30 fps (MediaFLO's supposed max). That's no iPhone, but it's watchable, unlike lots of other cellphone-TV attempts. Big plus: It didn't drop out on me once.

Another welcome surprise was that pixelation wasn't too bad… at least until there was rapid motion onscreen, which would lead to edges getting shook up. Watching The Karate Kid on the "Pix" channel, some of the kicks in the final tournament scene looked like something from an Atari 2600 video game. Another annoying quirk: the aspect ratio. MediaFLO's channels are all 4:3, while the Vu's display is widescreen. It doesn't even let you zoom. Not a deal-killer, but lame.

Good Guidance
The touchscreen definitely makes the experience more pleasant, though, letting you motor through the program guide with ease. It's so reminiscent of a cable-box guide (and infinitely more attractive than Cablevision's) that I wished it had DVR capabilities. What do you say, guys — TiVo in my phone? Maybe next version?

Would I pay for AT&T's Mobile TV? As part of a larger data package, sure, and fortunately that's available ($30 a month with unlimited Web). It's still too much to pay for on its own, though, considering the number of channels you get for the price. And those commercials have to go. But it's still one of the best executions of cellphone TV I've seen.