Review posted September 28, 2006 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
With the enormous marketing effort pushing the LG Chocolate phone, you wonder if everyone walking down the red carpet at movie premiers will have one in their Channel bags. Is this phone just another pretty face or does it have some meat on its sexy bones? Considering that LG has sold 1 million Chocolate (VX8500 in LG’s model number) internationally outside of Korea, it must have some substance. And it does – for folks who are looking for a stylish phone that’s in fashion, great phone reception and EVDO support, stereo sound quality, rich music features, a nice camera and Bluetooth integration. It’s not a smartphone at the top of the Verizon’s line up, but for $149 with contract you get a sweet set of features in addition to the good looks. The Chocolate also has a touch sensitive keypad, which is new and different.
Design and Ergonomics
As its name hints, the LG Chocolate phone has a smooth and silky look, like a bar of fine dark chocolate. Nothing rises up on the front face to break the smooth surface, except the jog-wheel keypad that has a slightly raised rim and some texture on the wheel itself for better control of the keypad. The silver LG and Verizon branding and the wheel rim compliment the shinny black cover elegantly. You will need to open the slider to use the number keys and when the slider is open, the keypad on the front face lights up in blood red, revealing the touch sensitive control buttons. While the smooth and luscious surface is very attractive, it doe show fingerprints like crazy which tarnish the shinny look.
When talking about the Chocolate, one must mention the touch sensitive keypad controls which are the first we have seen on a cell phone. The touch-wheel controls look much like a smaller version of the iPod click-wheel, but they’re much more sensitive than those found on iPod (though you can change the sensitivity level) and will require more practice to master. The 5-way navigation circle is large enough to control with your thumb comfortably. The 4 directional pads have some texture compared to the smooth center OK button. The circular navigation controls go very well with the circular on-screen menu layout instead of the usually grid menu layout. The Left and Right Soft keys, the call Send/call history and CLR key surround the navigation circle. These keys are touch sensitive keys hiding underneath the smooth cover plate. This design gives the Chocolate a clean and modern look, but makes it easy to hit the keys accidentally and dial a number or cancel actions unexpectedly. So when handling the Chocolate do take care where you put your fingers, especially when the slider is open at which time the key lock is off by default. When you open the slider, you will see a number keypad that has roomy keys and good tactile feedback. The number keys have white backlighting and you will find short cuts to phone settings such as vibrate mode and key lock embedded among the keys on the number keypad.
One the left of the Chocolate you will find the volume up and down buttons and the Voice Commands key on the upper slider and a small proprietary charging port on the lower half of the slider. The camera and music launcher buttons live on the right side of the phone along with the Call End /Power on/off button on the upper slider and the MicroSD slot on the lower half of the slider. The Call End button lost its place on the front face of the phone no doubt thanks to a design that tries to keep the front clean, but it takes some getting used to for folks who expect to see Call Send and Call End buttons in their more common location on the front of the phone above the number keys.
You have access to the battery, the loudspeaker and the camera lens with self-portrait mirror (when the slider is open) on the back of the Chocolate. The battery is integrated into the battery door and is secured by a latch. Hold the latch to left to open the door and lift the battery up.
Phone Features and Reception
The LG Chocolate is a CDMA digital dual-band phone that operates on Verizon’s 800 and 1900 MHz networks. If you are a data junky you’ll be happy to know that the Chocolate supports Verizon’s EV-DO high-speed data network. The Chocolate phone gets great reception on EV-DO here in North Dallas area, beating out the Samsung SCH-a990 by quite a bit and the LG VX8300 slightly. The phone has a maximum of four bars to indicate reception strength on the EVDO and 1xRTTvoice networks respectively. We are in a small pocket where Verizon coverage is below-par and the Chocolate gets 2 bars on EVDO consistently (sometimes jumping to 4 bars) and 1-2 bars on 1x for voice. That’s the best reception on Verizon among the recent phones we have tested. If you are in an area where Verizon has good and great coverage, then you will see full bars on the Chocolate. Call quality is very good and volume is loud. Incoming voice is full and rich, and it sounds great through the loudspeaker thanks to the 3D sound support which will be very useful for conference calls.
Data transfer on the Chocolate is plenty fast enough for a feature phone. Accessing Verizon’s V Cast service to download music tracks and video seem faster than on the Samsung a990, but not by much. Where you will see the fast speed is getting messages and accessing web sites. The Chocolate has SMS/MMS and web-based email support. The Verizon mobile web portal where you can access your web-based email sites such as MSN Hotmail, ALO Mail and Yahoo! Mail loads very quickly. You can of course access other web-based email accounts by going to the URL directly. The web browser, though a WAP browser, has a few nifty features such as clearing the cache, cookies, history and security features such as encryption. WAP browsers can’t usually give us meaningful DSLReports speed results, and the Chocolate’s WAP browser is no exception. But you don’t get that laboring feeling when the browser is loading a non-WAP page. You still won’t get a close-to-desktop browsing experience on the Chocolate as you would on a smartphone such as the Treo 700w or the Motorola Q or the great browsing experience on the Nokia S60 3 rd Edition phones such as the N73 and the N80, but if you are used to the limited features in some older WAP browsers, the Chocolate will give you a pleasant surprise.
The Chocolate performs most all tasks at a decent speed. Applications launch fairly quickly and V Cast videos play at a good speed. The Chocolate has 50MB free internal memory after loading up 17MB of applications and data. For more storage space, take advantage of the MicroSD slot on the Chocolate which supports the newest SanDisk 2GB MicroSD cards.
Display, Gaming and Multimedia
The LG VX8500 Chocolate has a 2.2” QVGA screen that’s capable of displaying 262K colors. That’s a large screen for a feature phone. The display is crisp and color saturated which makes the Chocolate a great device for showing off photos and video.
The Chocolate doesn’t come with any games but the large display, good number keypad and the good quality loudspeaker actually make the phone a very decent gaming machine. Current hot games such as Ratchet &Clank: Going Mobile, Super KO Boxing and Dig Dug all run well and are enjoyable to play. For more games use the Get It Now app on the phone to purchase games in the library.
The biggest star on the Chocolate in the entertainment department is the music. The phone comes with a feature-rich music player that has not only basic features such as playlists, shuffle, repeat but also some advanced settings such as effects including Rock, Concert Hall, Jazz, 3D Surround and more. The music player can play MP3 and WMA files and you can use your music tracks as your alarm clock alerts. If a call comes in when music is playing, the Chocolate will gracefully pause playback automatically and the call will route to your headsets directly. When the call ends, the music will automatically resume playing from where it stopped when the call came in. Very smooth operation! To get music you can either rip it from CD or buy it from Verizon’s V CAST service. If you rip a lot of CDs, it makes sense to buy the V CAST essential kit from Verizon as it comes with the software for ripping CDs and the USB cable which makes transferring songs to your phone a breeze. It is super easy to buy music from Verizon’s V CAST and you can build a large music library quickly if you have the cash to buy the tracks ($0.99 per song if you buy from a PC or $1.99 over the air to your phone directly). V CAST has a preview feature that plays snippets of tracks before you buy. The 3D sound quality is very crisp and loud by phone standards with good track separation and full bass. Even the loudspeaker on the phone sounds pretty decent for music playing. To store music, you can take advantage of the MicroSD slot that supports up 2GB capacity cards. We did experience one bug though: when you have tracks on the memory card they will show up on your playlists; but if you take the memory card out and try playing the tracks stored on the card from the playlist it will crash the phone every time.
The video quality is good on the Chocolate as well. V CAST videos are watch-able and generally play in better quality than MobiTV. Video and audio are still out of sync in most cases, but the performance is above average among EVDO feature phones.
In addition to a music phone with good looks, the Chocolate serves up another great feature: a very good 1.3 megapixel camera. The Chocolate camera can’t compete with the Samsung SCH-a990’s 3.2 megapixel quality, but it leads the 1.3 megapixel camera phone pack. It shows LG’s great camera phone heritage and images are similar in quality to those of the LG VX8300. The photos are sharp by 1.3 mp camera standards with rich color saturation. Outdoor shots have good brightness and color balance though the color tone is slightly warm. Indoor shots show some artifacts and noise, but they’re minimal for a camera in this class.
The camera offers 5 resolutions for photos (1280 x 960, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 176 x 144 and 160 x 120) and 176 x 144 resolution for video. Hold the camera button on the right side of the phone to switch between photo and video modes. You can also set white balance, effects; use self timer and night mode for the photos. Since the camera doesn’t have a flash, the night mode gives it the added brightness for dark and night environment, but be aware that it also adds more blocky-ness and noise in the shots. For videos you can set the length to take either 15 second video to send as MMS or longer videos (as long as your memory permits) for viewing on the phone or on a desktop.
The LG Chocolate has integrated Bluetooth v1.1 that supports Bluetooth headsets and car kits with both Headset and Hands-free Profiles. Handy feature when you don’t want to mess with the touch pad and just want to make phone calls via headset. Bluetooth on the Chocolate also supports Serial port profile, Dial UP Networking (DUN) which enables you to use the phone as a modem and take advantage of the EVDO high-speed data (Verizon has an additional charge for this feature), and Object Push profile for pushing vCards only (other file types not supported). One pleasant surprise the Chocolate gives us is the A2DP support in its Bluetooth profiles. This means you can pipe stereo sound to Bluetooth stereo headsets wirelessly, a feature very few phones in this class currently have.
We tested the Chocolate with the Cardo’s scala 700 Bluetooth headset and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth stereo headphones. They both paired with the Chocolate with ease and both had great sound quality with the phone. Voice was clear and loud through the scala-700 and range between the Chocolate and the scala is one of the best we’ve seen (over 20 feet). Listening to music through the Plantronics Pulse 590A wireless stereo headset is a joy as the quality of the music is great and volume loud.
Bluetooth doesn’t use much power on the Chocolate and didn’t drain the battery significantly. Of course you will always have longer battery life if you keep the Bluetooth radio off, but that’s a trade off worth making in this case.
The Chocolate comes with a standard 3.7v Lithium-Ion battery (model: LGLP-AGKM) that’s 800 mAh in capacity. The battery is integrated with the battery door and is secured by a latch that makes taking the battery in and out very easy. 800 mAh seems like a reasonable and common capacity for an EVDO feature phone, but the battery runs down faster than we expected and cripples the phone a bit as a great music and multimedia phone. The battery drained 3/4 of its power when playing music only with screen shut off for 5 and ½ hours. If you make calls for 10 minutes, play music for 20 minutes, take 8 photos and 1 short video and view the images and video for about 20 minutes, your battery will do down 25%. That’s not great battery life, but not too atrocious. If you use the Chocolate to connect to V Cast and browse the music selections, download tracks and watch video, the battery goes down really fast. Should you need extended runtimes, get another battery or buy an extended battery that’s 1200 mAh from Verizon for about $50.
The Chocolate comes with the basic PIM applications including Contacts, Calendar and Notepad. The address book can save up to 500 contact entries and each entry can store five numbers, two email address, a photo ID but no street address fields. You can also assign up to 98 speed dial entries. The calendar offers monthly view, weekly view and event view and alarm and repeat options for each appointment. In addition to the PIM apps you will also get Voice Command, Calculator, Alarm, World Clock and more.
For messaging, the Chocolate has support for SMS, MMS (PIX and FLIX in Verizon lingo), web-based email and mobile IM which utilizes test messaging and offers easy sign in to Yahoo, MSN and AIM.
Aside from the applications on the phone, you can access a variety of services offered on Verizon’s web portal. Anything from getting news, traffic and weather to reading online magazines, getting stock quotes sports scores and even directions from the VZ Navigator service. Most of these info and services are free, but advanced services such as VZ Navigator which allows you to enter address/POI and gives you turn-by-turn directions via voice and visual will cost you money. There are also downloadable applications other than the entertainment content, but the selection of these business and utility apps is still small compared to the huge library of music, video and TV clips V CAST has to offer.
The LG Chocolate is a serious fashion phone with great music capabilities. It’s not a smartphone but it does a great deal more than some other fashion and feature phones such as the Motorola RAZR. Its smooth look and the innovative touch-sensitive controls should earn LG some credit on design and the ability to take a chance at doing something new and different. If you are in the market for a cool looking feature phone, give the Chocolate a shot.
Pro: Attractive design that will turn heads. Great EV-DO reception in all levels of coverage areas and voice calls have nice quality and great volume. Nice screen and good 3D sound for multimedia that’s enhanced by the V CAST services. Reliable Bluetooth connectivity and A2DP support is a big plus for a music phone. The MicroSD card allows for an ample 2GB of memory expansion which isn’t something you can say about every feature phone.
Con: The touch-sensitive controls will take some getting used to and the Call End button separated from Call Send button will throw off some long-time cell phone users. Battery life could be better, especially for a music phone.