Dialing Up TV on Your Cell Phone


LG’s Voyager and Samsung’s Instinct

This cell phone TV skeptic turned addict compares Samsung's Instinct against LG's Voyager.

Sep. 26, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Recently I was on a bus heading home when the person next to me was watching a live news report on the horrendous traffic jam in the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City. She was using a Samsung Instinct with Sprint as the carrier. 

She could have been listening to the all news station on her MP3 player with FM radio…or sent a text message to her friend to check the status of the tunnel…or just called someone. But when she realized that the jam was going to take at least 45 minutes to clear, she started watching live videos from MTV and a financial news show live from Wall Street and then nicely let some of the regular commuters on this bus in on the latest market news, gossip and sports scores.

I’ve said streaming TV on a phone is nearly unwatchable, but I’ve changed my tune. Following that terrible ride home, when I also left my favorite Jack Finney book in the office, I started to examine several mobile phones and service providers that offer TV on a cell phone.

I’ve now used a LG Voyager via Verizon and a Samsung Instinct through Sprint’s network and got terrific home videos and even cable-like TV, just like the advertisements say.

And yes, I’ve used the iPhone to get to YouTube, but despite its advanced features, the Apple product does not offer live TV. And, considering some of the devices I just tested, and now that I’ve used most of the alternatives, I don’t understand all the fuss about the Apple product ….but that’s for another column.

While a number of serviced providers offer different kinds of video applications on their mobile phones like downloading music videos, transferring home videos or maybe getting a portion of YouTube, for me and many others, if you are going to watch TV on your phone, it should be live!

And, if you are a Blackberry addict (there’s video available on some of those devices, too), you might not know that Samsung, LG, HTC and even the venerable Palm Corporation are making devices that make pretty compelling live and on-demand TV. Those brands also make products for AT@T mobile service, unfortunately from what I hear; Ma Bell is so inconsistent in some parts of the country, that Mobile TV may look worse than those choppy early TV on a PC features.

With devices using Sprint and Verizon you get a pretty decent choice of TV stations, video features and, if you are also interested in business uses, you are getting a super high-speed way to get your email and web viewing….and live from Wall Street reports (if you can stomach them).

I particularly like the Sprint-based Samsung Instinct because, without any fanfare or learning curve, I was watching TV on the touch screen-based device. Ironically, it worked fine in an area of New England where regular terrestrial TV is hard to come by.

In addition, the Instinct, which many experts compare to the iPhone, had another feature that I thought I would never use - an instant point of interest GPS locator. So, while I got CNN talking about the takeover of Wendy’s Hamburger chain, I immediately got in the mood for semi high quality fast food. 

All I had to do while watching the news was hit a button on the side of Instinct, say fast food and voila, another screen opened on the device listing about a dozen fast food locations and the directions to get there. Since this area of New England does not contain lots of fast food locations, the Instinct’s directions still gave me choices of restaurants in a 15 mile area. (Back home, near NYC, it gave me 50 choices in a five block area and even had a description of the menu.)

My Verizon-based LG Voyager also carries a GPS, but it was strictly for directions and didn’t have voice activated points of interest.

While some industry wags have unfavorably compared the Instinct’s touch screen to the iPhone, I thought it was actually a bit more responsive than the iPhone, especially with my hockey ravaged fingers. I also liked some the Instinct’s other non TV features. The Instinct screen uses a sliding icon to answer a mobile call while watching TV or using the web…maybe the easiest touch screen feature I’ve seen.

While the movement back and forth from the home screen to the feature screen to the phone screen was not “Instinctive,” it was fast so you wound up at the feature you wanted. This same non-instinctive feature also made text messaging a bit troublesome in that you had to find the new message button which is not clearly marked….nor easily identified on the main screen. The Instinct also uses one of the best mini browsers in mobile phonedom. The built-in camera was quick and decent and the music player was also de rigueur.

The Voyager also has some nice TV-on-phone features. Once you get past the still horrible Verizon VCast interface, the quality of its high resolution screen is pretty decent for sports highlights, movie trailers and its live TV (fewer channels than Sprint) is still very clear and sharp using real 32 frames-per-second speed…very easy to see with these old eyes.

Other non TV features for the Voyager are: large capacity storage (up to 8 gigabytes of micro-SD) for your photos, digital music, digital video and data. The trusty, relatively easy but laborious slow Verizon main menu does get you where you want to go….but the “Tools menu” is still confusing, especially if you are new to feature laden mobile phones.

Obviously, these devices are arguably as good as or better than the iPhone for viewing digital photos, downloadable or home videos and playing or purchasing and playing your favorite digital music. Both the Samsung Instinct and the LG Voyager do eat up battery life when you watch long videos or live TV for more than 45 minutes. But the Instinct comes with an extra battery.

But of course, if you are stuck in traffic on a bus or a stalled train, you should be reading a book or magazine, lest you get some eye strain.

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