LG's New Chocolate Phone Gets a Sweet but Minor Update
At a Glance
When it first launched a year ago, LG's Chocolate phone made a splash with its slick slider design--which included touch-sensitive buttons on the phone's front face. The VX8550, latest phone in the Chocolate series, still looks as tasty as its predecessor, the KG800. And thanks to some design tweaks, it's easier to navigate, too.
The shiny, piano-black unit looks similar to earlier iterations of the Chocolate phone (first released in black, and later released in colors). Many of the basic specs, in fact, also remain the same.
The VX8550--available from Verizon for $250 with a two-year contract--has one obvious difference from the KG800: This model eschews a button-oriented navigational ring for a navigational wheel. The mechanical wheel spins around so you can scroll through items; you can also press on the wheel's four points (left, right, up, and down) to navigate through menus.
In my usage, I found the wheel a mixed blessing: It could simplify navigation in some menus, and made it more onerous in others. Sometimes, I simply preferred pressing along the wheel's four-point axis, to navigate up/down, left/right; you need to figure this out intuitively, though, since the phone's face lacks any indication that the wheel can be used for directional navigation, too. In the middle of the wheel is the select button.
Beneath and Around the Surface
The top half of the VX8550's slider design moves up to reveal the phone's keypad. In addition to the standard alphanumeric keys, LG has added an extra row of buttons at the top of the keypad; these buttons--send, camera, and end/power--were absent in the previous iteration of the Chocolate.
The change is a positive one: It puts standard cell phone buttons--send and end--where you'd expect them. However, relocating the power button there means that to use the phone for other functions--such as playing music--you have to first push up the slider so you can power the phone up. It would have been nice if LG allowed the music button on the phone's right side to power up the phone; today, the music button wakes the phone from sleep mode (if applicable), and then go straight to the music features.
The voice controls button is along the left side of the phone; you'll also find a standard 3.5mm headphone jack--a welcome addition. Here, you'll also find volume controls, and the accessory charger port, which is protected by a sturdily constructed flap.
On the right side of the phone, you'll find a handy glider that acts as a no-fuss way to lock and unlock the phone's buttons. You'll also see the microSD card slot; the slot handles 4GB high capacity cards; the earlier Chocolates topped out at 2GB cards. Like the accessory charger port, the slot is also protected by a sturdy cover.
Same as It Ever Was
Otherwise, much remains the same: A 240-by-320-pixel, 11-line display with 262,000 colors; a 1.9-GHz CDMA PCS, 800-MHz CDMA (Digital Dual-Band) radio; high-speed EvDO support; a 1.3-megapixel camera/camcorder that has serious shutter lag, but is surprisingly capable under tricky lighting conditions; and stereo Bluetooth. The phone supports Web-based e-mail and instant messaging.
The physical design is mostly the same, too: The new phone has literally shaved just a bit off its profile. It measures 3.85 inches by 1.87 inches by 0.67 inches, as compared with the 3.8 inches by 1.88 inches by 0.69 inches of the earlier KG800. The new phone's weight has dropped by about half a gram.
Likewise, this phone's usage is very similar to the earlier version's. I found audio quality to be very good in my informal tests. The phone sounded clear, even when in adverse, windy conditions on a local street corner.
The new Chocolate also still has its four capacitive touch buttons on front. The buttons light up when you turn on the phone, and include (1) speakerphone (a major improvement, given that the first Chocolate lacked a dedicated speakerphone button); (2) clear (to back out of menus or delete characters); and context-sensitive (3) right and (4) left soft keys. The buttons turn off automatically during a call; to activate the speakerphone, for example, you must first unlock the phone's soft keys via the slider at right. This model adds a vibration feedback whenever you invoke the touch-sensitive controls--nice, though I worry this might sap battery power over time. (PC World's battery tests are pending; when we complete our tests, we'll update this review.)
Like M&M candies, the new Chocolate comes in black, as well as Black Cherry Red and Blue Mint. Sadly, the lights behind the touch-sensitive buttons don't change. The Black Cherry model is easy on the eyes, but the phone still has red LEDs beneath its touch-sensitive front buttons, a less-than-ideal color that makes a poor contrast to the phone's maroon veneer.
On the back of the Chocolate, like the earlier version, you'll find its speakers. Slide up the phone to reveal a 1.3-megapixel camera and camcorder; press the dedicated camera button to activate the camera. Video recordings can run up to 30 seconds (for sending); for saving, the video size is limited by the storage capacity. Verizon currently is running a promotion that includes a 4GB microSD card; and you'll surely want the extra space if you intend to take advantage of the phone's multimedia features.
The V Cast Music service still is included with the phone; you can download music from Verizon to the phone for fees that start at $1.99 per song. You'll also be charged for airtime minutes for the download, unless you step up to the VPak music and video service, which cost $15 per month; the service provides hundreds of video clips, sports highlights, news updates, e-mail and Web access, and more.
The phone is clearly capable of multimedia, but whether you'll want to do lots of multimedia--or lots of messaging--will depend upon you. The lack of a keyboard makes texting difficult, at best; and the music playback interface lacks the finesse seen in newer phones, such as the Nokia N95.
Bottom Line: The LG Chocolate remains a sleek phone for those who want more than the basics. While I'd have hoped for further changes to the Chocolate, this upgrade marks an incremental improvement over an already sweet thing.
LG Chocolate VX8550
This rev of the popular LG Chocolate phone has plenty of multimedia options, but still is only a slight update to the original.
Price when reviewed: $250 (with two-year contract)
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