Technology

The Mobile Sound of Muziq


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Editor's Rating: star rating

LG's new superphone, an improvement over the Fusic, hits mostly sweet notes. Is it a worthy adversary for the iPhone?

Many will remember one of the first truly music-centric phones to hit the U.S. market: LG's Fusic from Sprint (S). Though popular, it was a bit lacking in the design department, from a clunky antenna that jutted out to a blue-and-white color scheme more suited to teens than adults.

Now comes Muziq, a next-generation Fusic that will become available through Sprint starting July 15. The phone will sell for $99 with a two-year contract or for $249 without. It's a major improvement over Fusic, which was already pretty good.

With this new clamshell device, LG comes closer to perfecting the combination of design, features, and user interface—an all-important factor in the brave new world of Apple's (AAPL) groundbreaking iPhone.

Easier Music Controls

The Muziq retains many of its predecessor's looks, though it's slicker and slimmer. As with Fusic, there's an external display and a round control pad so the device functions just like a music player when the clamshell is closed. But this time around, LG axed the external antenna and chose black casing for a more sophisticated look that, unfortunately, reveals more smudges than the old color scheme.

LG also has enhanced the music controls. The circular pad on the outside now features haptic feedback, giving a slight vibration to let users know a command has registered. I found this feature convenient. There's also a dedicated button on the side of the phone that launches the music application. This came in handy with the phone flipped open, eliminating the need to scroll through menus to find the music application. One note of caution, though: This side button is located right next to the one for the camera, and so I accidentally opened the photo application several times.

Muziq brags it has other enhancements over the Fusic, such as an improved FM transmitter to broadcast music from the phone to a car radio or nearby stereo. Fusic also had an FM transmitter, but it could only broadcast those songs you loaded onto the device from a computer, not those you purchased over the cellular network from Sprint's music store. The Muziq can transmit side-loaded, as well as wirelessly downloaded, music to a radio. Sprint says it's the only phone on the market to do so.

Musical Multitasking

A few other music-related features worth noting: Unlike Fusic, this phone has a music-only mode in which it won't take calls, making it handy on a long flight. The battery is billed as providing up to 10 hours of music play, vs. four hours of talk time.

Another feature I loved was the multitasking, a capability not yet available on most phones. Multitasking lets you listen to music while using certain other applications, such as e-mailing, instant messaging, or playing games. Music Composer was another instant favorite. This feature lets you create your own ringtone by humming a melody or using the phone's dial-pad to press virtual piano keys to record notes. You then choose from musical genres, such as a dance ballad or a guitar solo, and the phone arranges the notes into a melody. Somehow, no matter which crazy combination of keys you press, the results sound so good you'll feel like Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Some Shortcomings

A few gripes: The vast majority of music phones have little internal storage, and Muziq has just 70MB of memory. That's nothing compared with the iPhone, which comes a choice of 4GB or 8GB of memory—and some people say that's not enough. As a result, you'll have to store your songs and photos on microSD cards with up to 4GB storage (which is an improvement: Fusic could only take microSDs with up to 2GB of capacity). That can work. But I prefer a phone with more internal memory. A tiny microSD card is easy to lose. Plus, I don't like switching cards to get to the various songs in my music collection.

Another shortcoming: When watching Sprint TV video clips, the phone's screen would dim after only a few seconds to save battery power. I had to tap a key to wake the phone up. That got old fast. But that's nitpicking; overall, this is a good phone.

Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.

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