There's no simple way to describe the new service launched by Verizon Wireless in Seattle this week. For the tech-savvy crowd, it's known...

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There’s no simple way to describe the new service launched by Verizon Wireless in Seattle this week.

For the tech-savvy crowd, it’s known as EV-DO; for those paying some attention, the name 3G could ring a bell; and for the rest of us still figuring out text messaging, the plainest way to say it is that Verizon Wireless is offering DSL-like speed on the mobile phone.

Still, speed is hard to grasp.

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Having a fast Internet connection on the laptop which 3G also enables — is a no-brainer, but there is no difference in call quality when talking on a faster speed network. Zero. Zilch.

So why would anyone need a 3G phone?

To find out, I tried out the service for a couple of weeks on a phone made by handset maker LG, the VX8000 model.

Verizon Wireless 3G


Verizon Wireless launched a 3G network in Seattle this week.

Speed400-700 kilobits per second.

Coverage area In at least 37 cities, including the greater Puget Sound area.

Phones The new service can be accessed by the LG VX8000 for $149; Samsung a890 for $149; and the CDM8940 from UTStarcom Personal Communications for $99. All prices are after a $50 mail-in rebate and require a two-year customer agreement.

PC cards Kyocera KPC-650 for $69 and Novatel V620 for $49. The prices include a $100 mail-in rebate and two-year customer agreement. The cards enable laptops to connect to Internet at high speeds.

Services The phone service, which includes V Cast, is available for $15 a month. The service available through the PC card connection, called BroadbandAccess, is available for $79.99 a month for unlimited use with a one- or two-year customer agreement.

I’m like most Americans. My cellphone is mainly for one thing: talking. But Verizon Wireless’ 3G is much more than chatter, as much of the rest of the world has come to know since network upgrades have come much faster overseas.

The phones Verizon Wireless is offering, for instance, come loaded with V Cast, an entertainment service that offers television clips; arcade-quality video games; live music concerts; music videos; children’s programming and stand-up comedy routines.

Using the phone’s menu of options and the keypad, 3G also lets me handle basic things such as surfing the Internet, including Google searches. It also lets me check Yahoo! and Hotmail Web e-mail accounts quickly and easily (although replying to e-mails would be tedious because it requires clicking on each number button a few times to get corresponding letters).

Other things I could do: sample and buy ringtones without a wait; shoot photos and e-mail them to friends; upload the photos to a central Web site to create photo albums.

One more thing: If I chose to, I could use a 3G PC card, sold separately, to connect a laptop to the Internet at broadband speeds wherever there’s coverage (37 cities and growing).

It’s all cool stuff, to be sure. But it’s in the early stages.

Those attracted to it will be people who can swing the cost of the phones (or PC cards) and service charges or those who simply have to have the coolest and latest. Anything more widespread would take a cultural change for Americans to think of a phone as more than a device to make calls.

Outwardly, the first thing I noticed was the size of the phone. Although they’ve slimmed down from a year ago, the phone’s advanced chips and large color screen make it chubbier than the average flip phone.

During two weeks’ worth of testing, I was able to dive much deeper, clicking on every feature without concern for the fees that can rack up. Games cost $2.99 to $4.99 for a limited subscription. Television programming made for the mobile phone is 99 cents. And that’s just for 60 seconds of fumbled and awkward intern experiences in short skirts (depending on the demographic, that could be worth it).

Within a couple of hours of play time, you can easily rack up $20 of additional charges. That’s on top of the $15 monthly subscription for the 3G service itself. Before you get too wound up over money, however, there’s plenty of stuff that doesn’t involve anything above the $15-a-month charge for the service. And the content is decent, much of it from cable television you pay a lot more for at home.

You can keep up with shows from CNN, ESPN, Nickelodeon and MarketWatch. There are even short clips from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and celebrity news from E!

Content for mobile phones

Beyond the TV renditions, there’s content made specifically for the mobile phone, including soap operas and silly sitcoms. Weekly episodes, called mobisodes, have titles such as “Love and Hate” and “Sunset Hotel.”

Viewers can also watch music concerts of such acts as the Gipsy Kings — live at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston — without buying a ticket. Three songs are available for any one concert.

The video quality is not perfect, but it’s decent. Technically, V Cast offers half the quality of broadcast television. TV on average displays 30 frames a second; V Cast is 15 frames.

Video games were the surprise. Called three-dimensional for their quality, they look close to arcade quality.

“Asphalt Urban GT” ($2.99), a car-racing game, is a good example. With a scene from Paris in the background, including the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, cars hit lampposts and phone booths when an erratic driver goes off the track. It’s PlayStation 2 in the palm of your hand.

Network upgrades

The reason 3G is happening now and not earlier is because Verizon is continuing to spend millions to upgrade its network, a trend already well in progress worldwide.

Other U.S. wireless carriers are following, too. AT&T Wireless launched a 3G service last year in Seattle and other markets, but Cingular Wireless has not actively marketed it since acquiring the company.

If it weren’t for these upgrades, tasks done on the older networks would be jerky, pixilated or not work at all. Add to that an older phone with a small grayscale screen and forget about having a good experience.

Most of these shortcomings are taken care of with Verizon’s new EV-DO service. But other hurdles still exist.

A big one is ease of use. 3G is like the Internet’s early days. Buffering takes awhile and it’s a little difficult to remember where you went to get to what site.

As an example, one of the more useful applications gave me the ability to store my photos taken with the LG’s 1.3 megapixel camera to Kodak EasyShare servers. It’s a great feature because it gives me access to the photos on my computer as well.

But the process was difficult. I had to download the Kodak software. Then, I had to remember an e-mail address, change pages and enter the address using the phone’s keypad to send a photo. It’s possible I didn’t figure out the shortcuts, but from my experience EasyShare is only in the name.

Another possible limitation is battery life. There was more than enough juice if the phone was recharged overnight every day. Surfing and downloading for an hour or two drained the battery only by half until the nightly charge. But making a lot of phone calls might present a problem.

Looking back on the experience, I found the entertainment fun for a little while but it would take lower prices and a bigger selection of content or business applications for me to upgrade.

But with advances occurring every day, these shortcomings likely are temporary. The United States is destined to follow the rest of the world’s adoption curve, so listen up.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com