LG Fathom (Verizon Wireless) Review

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$149

Pros: Snappy 1-GHz processor ; Comfortable keyboard ; Works overseas ; Loud speaker

Cons: Struggles with multiple programs open ; Need stylus in certain apps ; Relatively small, occasionally unresponsive screen ; No multitouch support

Verdict: Can a good keyboard and fast 1-GHz processor save this Windows Phone from its lame duck OS?

While the LG Fathom is positioned as an office in your pocket, the last time we checked road warriors didn't want a stylus as part of their mobile arsenal. That's right, without an extreme touch makeover like the one HTC performed on the HD2, you'll occasionally need that little piece of plastic. The Fathom isn't all bad; it sports a pretty good slide-out keyboard, its 1-GHz processor handles e-mail and documents like a champ, and it operates on both CDMA and GSM networks (which world travelers will appreciate). Unfortunately, LG has done very little to make this Windows Phone stand out. With stiff competition from BlackBerry and Android, and the much slicker Windows Phone 7 expected around the corner, perhaps the Fathom should just be called the Phantom.

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Design

The LG Fathom is relatively compact compared to other smart phones, yet has a sturdy build quality. At 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and 5.3 ounces, it looks like a Windows Phone version of the Android-powered LG Ally, with some subtle differences. The LG Fathom has squarish corners with harder edges. Instead of going with all black like they did on the Ally, LG seems to have tailored the Fathom to its business audience with a serious dark blue color with a brushed metallic face.

Like the Ally, the Fathom sports a 3.2-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. Beneath the screen at center is a Windows key, which is flanked by two phone control buttons that let you answer or end a call no matter what application you are using. Pressing and holding the answer call key brings up voice control. The right side has a microSD Card under a small cover, a removable stylus, a dedicated camera key, and a dedicated task manager button. The left side has a volume rocker switch and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Under an attached cover on the left side is the reset button and the USB port, which is used for charging and data connections. Several of the buttons can be reassigned in the settings menu.

The top of the Fathom has a power/lock button. On the back of the device is the 3.2-megapixel camera and a speaker.

Sliding up the display while the phone is in a landscape orientation reveals the generous backlit QWERTY keyboard alongside a d-pad. The sliding mechanism felt well built, and the action was fluid (unlike the stiff Motorola Droid). There is also a dedicated e-mail button on the keyboard, which is very handy for quick checks.

Display

The Fathom's 800 x 480 resolution display may be in line with the latest crop of smart phones like the HTC Evo 4G, but the its 3.2-inch screen seems tiny compared to the iPhone, Motorola Droid, or the HTC Droid Incredible. Still, it was bright and crisp, and showed good color saturation when viewing photos and videos. Text in Word documents and websites also looked good. However, given this display's high resolution and relatively small size, you will still have to zoom into webpages and should expect a lot of scrolling around longer documents.

Too bad the touchscreen was inconsistent. Sometimes a hard press was necessary to get the device to respond. Worse, some items, like scroll bars, were difficult to manipulate without using the included stylus.

User Interface

While LG had a light touch when it came to skinning Android on the Ally, its approach on the Fathom was even more hands off. And that's not necessarily a good thing. Don't expect an enhanced interface like HTC has created. This is stock Windows Mobile 6.5, which is outclassed by the touch-friendly Sense treatment HTC's HD2 received. There is also no multitouch or gesture support on the LG Fathom, so forget about pinching and zooming and reacquaint yourself to double-taps, menus, and sliders.

Windows Mobile 6.5 features a Today screen that allows you to quickly get a glance at how many messages await you, and also gives you fast access to favorite contacts and applications. The Today screen is mostly text-based and is reminiscent of the Zune UI. While it may be pretty and very usable, clicking the Windows key brings up the real Windows Mobile 6.5 experience. Icons are arranged in a cluttered honeycomb pattern. All applications and folders are represented as icons on one long page, requiring you to scroll up and down until you find what you are looking for.

When you press on-screen items, the phone vibrates. Unlike Android phones that offer targeted haptic feedback, the Fathom does not vibrate directly under your finger, but the phone itself vibrates to give the user some feedback. In case you find this feature annoying, it can be turned off in the settings.

When the QWERTY keyboard is out, the Fathom automatically rotates the display to landscape mode. Unfortunately, the screen can get quite cramped in this setting. The keyboard cannot access all of the options shown on the screen even with the d-pad, so you will have to use a combination of touchscreen controls and the QWERTY keyboard to use some apps. For example, when we were typing a document in Word Mobile (a keyboard-heavy affair), we often had to tap on the screen with our finger--or, more often than not, the stylus--to access menus and formatting options.

The LG Fathom also has voice-control software (powered by Nuance) that failed to pick up the subtleties in our voice. Dialing worked best when calling a contact with a very common name. Even in a quiet room, trying to check the battery life via a voice prompt made the phone attempt to check the balance of minutes remaining. The voice control option is always welcome, but this execution was far from perfect.

Keyboard

The LG Fathom has a full QWERTY keyboard with a dedicated row of number keys and a d-pad on the right. An oddity about the Fathom's keyboard is that the keys are evenly placed in a grid. This gives it a bit of a learning curve, as many keyboards, including the one found on the very similar LG Ally, offset the rows of keys. However, the Fathom's keyboard is very roomy and typing on it is a breeze after getting over the layout.

Don't even bother with the on-screen keyboard. In portrait mode the keyboard is cramped, and typing on the touchscreen was troublesome without using the stylus. In landscape mode, the device will not show an on-screen keyboard.

Specs and Performance

Inside the LG Fathom is a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, so launching applications was snappy. There was also very little delay when switching between Outlook Mobile, the web browser, and Office Mobile. However, we encountered several incidents where some apps had to be closed in order to open another thanks to the paltry 256MB of RAM. When we attempted to load a page with plenty of Flash Lite content while having several Office apps running, we tried to use the camera or GPS application--the phone overloaded. Needless to say, the dedicated Task Manager button came in very handy for closing apps.Still, one could argue that its very existence on this phone is a reminder of why this aging OS is on its way out.

The LG Fathom comes with 256MB of storage, but can support an additional 16GB via microSD Card.

Web and 3G

Internet Explorer is the preloaded web browser on the LG Fathom, but there are other options available via the Marketplace. Navigating websites was sometimes a frustrating experience. Attempting to click a link caused the page to move, but that probably is the touchscreen's fault rather than the application's. As mentioned, there's no multitouch support: double-tapping areas of a site provided some zooming capabilities, but the Fathom will not display an entire webpage unless the site fits within the screen's resolution. To get a bird's eye view of an entire site, such as the NYTimes.com, an on-screen slider control must be accessed via a menu.

Using Speedtest.net, the Verizon network's 3G average speed clocked in at 1.7 Mbps for downloads and 0.5 Mbps for uploads. Over 3G, both the NYTimes.com and CNN.com took about 35 seconds to load, while Laptopmag.com came in at around 33 seconds. Average Wi-Fi speeds were faster. Speedtest.net showed an average of 4 Mbps down and 2.4 Mbps up. Checking the usual websites, the NYTimes.com took 20 seconds, CNN.com was ready to go in 20 seconds, and Laptopmag.com loaded in 19 seconds.

E-mail and Messaging

Like most Windows Phones, setting up e-mail is simple on the Fathom. Inputting our username and password for Gmail was all that had to be done to set up our account, and Exchange is obviously supported. Verizon also includes the Mobile Email app, which can handle Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and others. Oddly, Mobile Email does not work over Wi-Fi, so we'd skip it.

The text messaging app looks similar to the mail application, but adds tabs to the top of the interface to quickly get to drafts, sent messages, your outbox, and deleted messages. Conversations are not threaded. Verizon includes an application called Mobile IM that offers access to AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. Unlike Mobile EMail, Mobile IM works fine over Wi-Fi.

Camera and Camcorder

The 3.2-megapixel camera can be launched using the touchscreen or the dedicated camera key. The volume rocker acts as a zoom control, although zooming is not possible when the camera is set to take 3-MP pictures. The still camera application has a great deal of customization options; brightness, white balance, and effects are easily accessible using the touchscreen controls. Default settings made certain subjects appear to glow, but that is easily fixed. Otherwise, the camera does a competent job of taking pictures. A panorama mode guides you to take three pictures to build a panoramic image. When you reduce the resolution to 640 x 480, the camera can also take six consecutive images in a continuous shot mode.

The camcorder shot decent 640 x 480 video in daylight, but fast motion, as well as quick pans, resulted in wobbly images. For example, when shooting from a moving car, buildings appeared slightly slanted. Pictures and video clips up to 1 minute in length can be shared via MMS, e-mail, or Bluetooth. However, there's no option in the camera app to share multimedia via social networks.

Apps

The LG Fathom comes preloaded with Office Mobile, a productivity suite that lets you view and edit OneNote, Word, and Excel documents; PowerPoint presentations can only be viewed. The preinstalled Adobe Reader LE application lets you view PDFs, but we had trouble using it without the stylus.

Also preloaded is City ID for displaying detailed caller ID information, VZ Navigator for directions, Verizon's Mobile Email, Verizon's Mobile IM, Bing for searches, RSS Viewer, Visual Voicemail, and Microsoft My Phone. There is also a folder for games which houses only one title: Solitaire.

If you're looking for an app-centric phone, this isn't it. When we searched through the Windows Marketplace, we found a little over 1,000 apps available, 340 of which being games. That pales in comparison to even the second-largest app store, Android Market, which has more than 50,000 apps. While there were popular apps such as Facebook, Shazam, Weatherbug, and WinMoSquare (Foursquare for Windows Mobile), we could not find a free Twitter app,

Furthermore, Windows Mobile apps will not run on the upcoming Windows Phone 7 OS, and we don't imagine developers dedicating resources to this dying platform.

GPS

Verizon's VZ Navigator is pre-installed on the Fathom to handle turn-by-turn directions. When the GPS worked, it worked well; the app found our location within one house number, and it spoke street names loudly and clearly.It took about 30 seconds to initially link up. Once that connection was made, route calculations were a quick 5 to 10 seconds.When connected to a Wi-Fi network, we had problems getting a GPS signal on the Fathom. Turning off the Wi-Fi radio fixed the problem.

Music and Video

Windows Media Player is the default music and video player. The Fathom does not have any dedicated media buttons, so the only controls for media are on the display. The on-screen buttons seem small in the landscape orientation, and were more usable in portrait mode. The interface is a little clunky to use by touch, but the stylus definitely helps. The built-in speaker was nice and loud, and music sounded good via headphones. Oddly, Verizon's V Cast apps are not included.

Accessories

Because the Fathom is aimed at business travelers, it comes with power adapters for Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Pricing and Value

The starting plan on Verizon ($59.99) gets you 450 minutes of talk time plus unlimited messaging. Unlimited data costs $29.99 per month; that means it would cost a little under $90 per month (before taxes and fees) to use the LG Fathom in the U.S.

When using the LG Fathom internationally, fees range from 69 cents to $4.99 per minute. However, the per-minute fees may decrease if you sign up for a Value Plan, which costs $4.99 per month. Global texting costs 50 cents per message per address, and 5 cents for each message received.

Call Quality and Battery Life

On a noisy train, even at full volume, it was difficult to hear another caller, but our call partner reported that it was easy to hear us. The speakerphone is very loud when the volume is at its maximum; in a quiet room, you can hear the phone well from about 10 feet away.

Verizon Wireless rates the phone for 6 hours of talk time; the LG Fathom easily lasted throughout the work day. We made several phone calls, sent and received a number of text and e-mail messages, occasionally played music, surfed the web intermittently, and even installed an app or two over the course of 10 hours, and the battery still had 57 percent remaining. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on whether you tweet every minute or if you only use a phone for voice calls.

Verdict

At $149 after a $100 rebate, the LG Fathom is a hard sell. There are a number of Verizon Wireless phones that are better in terms of design, feature set, and price. The Motorola Droid's keyboard is relatively lackluster, but it runs many more apps and has a bigger screen and better browser. The HTC Droid Incredible has the same CPU, a brighter AMOLED screen, the powerful Android OS, and Exchange support. Need a world phone? Get Verizon's BlackBerry Tour 9650, which will likely last longer on a charge (even though it has a mediocre browser). Although this device has some things going for it, like a solid keyboard and fast performance--at least when you don't have multiple apps open--the aging Windows Mobile 6.5 OS makes the Fathom difficult to recommend unless you're a die-hard Windows Mobile fan.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor QWERTY Slider
Operating System Windows Mobile 6.5
Networks GSM Dual Band 900/1800, GSM Quad Band 850/900/1800/1900, GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
Data EV-DO Rev. A
CPU 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650
RAM 256MB
Internal Memory
Memory Expansion Type microSDHC
Display (main) 3.2 inches/800 x 480
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Camera Resolution 3.2 MP
Audio formats supported WMA
Audio formats supported MP3
Video formats supported MPEG-4
Video formats supported 3GP
Video formats supported 3G2
Video formats supported WMV
Photo formats supported TIFF
Photo formats supported PNG
Photo formats supported PNG
Photo formats supported JPEG
Photo formats supported GIF
Talk / Standby Time 6 hours/20 days
Ports microUSB
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Size 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches
Weight 5.4 ounces
SAR Rating (Head) 0.77
SAR Rating (Body) 1.15
Company Website http://www.verizonwireless.com