Review: LG Chocolate 3
LG takes its Chocolate music phone in a whole new direction with the new Chocolate 3. See why it managed to stay on course and get lost at the same time. With video tour.
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If you're a music maniac, but are looking for something less flashy than some of the other multimedia phones on the market, Chocolate from LG has always been a tasty option. It is sort of liking comparing a complicated dark chocolate to good old milk chocolate. The former may offer a more complex taste, but its not something you can eat every day. Similarly, the new Chocolate 3 may not have quite the rich appeal that previous Chocolates had, but its simplified use, stylish package and new flip form factor make it more appetizing for daily use.
The Chocolate 3 is a definite departure from the previous two models. Where the Chocolates 1 and 2 were sliders, the 3 is a clamshell. It does retain the scroll wheel on the front face, though, which is how you interact with the phone when it is closed.
The C3 is a nicely sized phone. It's not too big, not too small, and is the perfect weight (which is to say, it's light). It rests comfortably in your hand when closed or open, and the soft touch paint job on the back gives it that extra bit of grip so you can hold it securely, even with sweaty hands.
The front face of the phone has a generously sized display, below which is the scroll wheel. I am not a fan of scroll wheels, and the C3's does nothing to impress me. It feels cheap and plastic-y. Granted, it works better than others I've used (meaning it is more responsive), but I just can't get over the Fischer-Price feel to it. The scroll wheel doubles as a D-pad, and since you can do so much with the phone when it is closed, you'll be using it a lot. The center select button inside the scroll wheel feels slightly better than the scroll wheel itself.
On the left side of the C3, you'll find one of the most welcome changes for this music-oriented phone: a 3.5mm headset jack. That means you can use your regular headphones with the C3, something you couldn't do with previous versions of the phone. It comes with a little rubber pin to protect the jack, but I promptly lost it. Below the jack is a volume toggle. The button is easily found, but I thought the travel and feedback felt a little cheap. Below that is the microphone key for recording memos. Last up is the hatch protecting the microUSB port. It is easily opened by your fingernail.
Focusing on the right side, the lock/unlock key is the top-most key. It is easy to find, and travel and feedback are good (much better than the volume toggle!). Just underneath that is a dedicated music key. LG was smart to put this key on the side of the phone. This way, your music is only a key-press away when the phone is both open and closed. It also has good travel and feedback. At the bottom of the right side is the hatch door for the microSD slot. Inserting and retrieving cards was not a problem.
With the phone open, you can use the C3s standard keypad, which is much improved over previous Chocolates. Where the keypads on the C1 and C2 were cramped, the C3's keypad is generously sized. They keys are easy to reach, have good travel and feedback and there's just the right amount of material separating each key so they are easier to find without looking.
Above the keypad is a regular D-pad, which is surrounded by a bevy of buttons. The D-pad itself is about the size of a quarter. All four directionals, plus the center button, work well and have good travel and feedback. At the 11 and 1 o'clock positions are the two soft keys. At the 9 and 3 o'clock positions are the speakerphone key and camera key. At the 7 and 5 o'clock positions are the send and end keys. And at 6 o'clock you have the clear key. All the keys are large and usable, presenting an equal amount of travel and feedback.
In sum, the C3 may not have the slick appearance and touch-capacitance features of the C1 or C2, but it is a much more usable chunk of Chocolate.
The C3 has two displays. The exterior display is reasonably bright and has high enough resolution that the icons and other information look smooth. It doubles as a camera viewfinder, and when used thus, it looks very good. The smudge factor is pretty high, though, which gets in the way of visibility when used outdoors. The interior display looks fantastic. It has QVGA resolution, and it shows. Images look crisp and sharp, and colors look great. Depending on the theme you choose, it can be read easily in the sun.
The C3 didn't have any problems making and receiving calls, though the signal indicators appeared to have no reflection on actual strength. In areas with one bar, calls came in with no problem and were not dropped. Other times, we'd have three bars, but receive missed call notifications even though the phone never rang. So, the signal indicators on the C3 my not be a perfect representation of the phone's actual connection to the Verizon network, which we know is strong in the metro NYC region.
Ringers can be made sufficiently loud, though some might wish it could be louder. With the phone set to its highest ringer volume and placed in another room, I barely heard it over an AC unit in my office. Earpiece volume was decent, but also not great. Talking while in a car (in the passenger seat, obviously) could be problematic, depending on how noisy your car is. The speakerphone was just fine, no complaints there. Sound quality was superb on calls. Very little noise or interference of any kind.
The battery did pretty well. Standard use (some calls, some texts, some browsing) let it run for 4 days. Adding in music playback, though, drops battery life faster. I used the C3 every day for about a week as my MP3 player when going for walks, and the battery level indicator was typically one notch lower after 45 minutes of playback. The C3 did match LG's published talk time of 270 minutes. It died at 273. Not bad.
There are two menu systems on the C3, one for the exterior display and one for the internal display.
The menu system for the external display is truncated to just the multimedia aspects of the phone, meaning the music player, the camera, your gallery, and it also throws in your calendar and messaging inbox. For what it is, this exterior menu is nearly perfect. You use the scroll wheel to zoom around to the option you want, hit the center select button and away you go. The music menu is the most extensive of these five options, but they each give you just enough tools to scroll through your images, easily take pictures, access playlists and check your inbox and calendar items. Whatever you have open on the exterior display aurtomatically comes up when you open the phone up.
The menu system for the interior display is your basic Verizon Wireless menu. It has a standard grid view when first opened, but once you click on any of the icons, it switches to the tabbed menu we've seen from Verizon for years on end. You can shuffle sideways from tab to tab, each of which has a numbered list below it.
It doesn't take too, too many clicks to get to what you want, but it isn't super speedy, either. We're impatiently awaiting for Verizon Wireless to update this menu.
Nothing really sets the C3's calling or contact features apart from the competition. Because the C3 uses Verizon's standard UI, all the same features and functions are here.
If you want to see your recent calls list, hit the green send button. Scrolling up and down the list to select a number to call is as simple as can be. I liked that missed calls have a bright red "X" next to them, and calls you've made have a bright green arrow. You can glance at these icons and know exactly what sort of call you're looking at, whether it be dialed, missed or received.
From the home screen, hitting the right soft key takes you straight into the contacts menu. The default action is to add a new contact. If you want to view your contacts, you have to scroll down. Each contact lets you add 4 numbers, 2 email addresses, a photo and fax number. You can't add notes or a web address.
In all, there's nothing confusing about making calls or searching through your contacts.
As with other Verizon phones, the messaging center of the C3 can be accessed a couple of different ways. The menu system takes you there, as does the left soft key on the home screen.
Once in the message center, the default action is to initiate a new message. With a new message, you have to choose which type first, be it a text, picture or video message. Once in the messaging tool, entering numbers, text and selecting pictures of videos is easy enough.
In this menu, you'll also find email, mobile IM and chat. The email option fires up the Web browser and takes you to Verizon's WAP email portal, which provides access to Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc. The IM application plays with AIM, Yahoo IM, and Windows Live Messenger. Signing into and using the IM services is no different than on any other phone. The Chat option is another selection that takes you to Verizon's WAP portal.
Typing out messages using the C3 is pretty simple. If you want to find the C3's version of T9 or the symbols, you have to use the left soft key to access that menu. I thought the dictionary of the T9 word predictor worked really well. It almost always guessed at which word I was typing.
For a music phone, the Chocolate 3 does a darned poor job of it. Rather than offer a new player or any real new functionality, the Chocolate 3 is hampered by Verizon's infuriating menu system and file structure requirements.
But first, a few positive comments.
With the phone closed, you can easily jump into your music library and start playing songs or playlists. You can access nearly all of the player's functions from the exterior screen. This is good.
You can also use the phone's main menu with the phone open, though the fastest way is always to use the dedicated music key on the phone's right side. Pressing it brings up the main music menu. From here, you get the usual choices: Artists, Songs, Genres, Playlists, and so on. You can also choose to shop. One nice addition is the FM transmitter. Even in the crowded NYC radio market, we were able to find a free frequency and listen to the tunes on our phone in the car. You can fine tune in the 88, 96 and 106 MHz channels with a digital controller. Not too shabby.
You can choose from a few equalizer presets, though none of them really did anything for me. The treble and bass boosters made the music sound lopsided. The concert hall setting added too much reverb, and the vocal booster just messed up the sound completely.
Using the main menu, you can set up your tunes, and then exit to the home screen and perform other tasks. Not all Verizon Wireless phones allow you to do this. Incoming calls pause the music, which resumes once the call is completed. Jumping around does, however, interrupt the music from time to time, so listening and multitasking is not going to be perfectly seamless.
Here's one hitch. If you set up your music with the phone open, and then close the phone, you get a nice graphic in the exterior display that will light up when the lock key is pressed. If you need to silence the phone quickly, however, you're pretty screwed. From this screen, you have to unlock the phone, then select the music player, then and only then will you be able to pause the music. That's torture. It's far easier to just open the darn thing and hit the "end" key until it shuts up. Of course, if you do that, you lose your place in the song.
Now, about syncing. Verizon phones that use this platform demand that your music be placed into a folder on a microSD card labeled "my_music". If you want to sideload music directly into that folder, make sure the song files are loaded separately, and not in another folder. If you drag and drop an entire album into that folder, the phone won't see the songs. If you drag and drop each song by itself, the phone can find them. This makes transferring music a real pain, because you can't simply grab entire albums and transfer them at once.
The C3's camera uses the standard Verizon Wireless software and is launched via the dedicated camera/video key to the right of the D-pad, or by hopping through the menu system. If you hit the camera button, it boots in a quick 2 seconds. Framing pictures in the screen is simple.
Even though the phone is held vertically, the pictures are shot in a landscape orientation, meaning they are wider than they are tall.
Once you've framed your shot, hitting the center of the D-pad takes the shot almost immediately. The image pops up onto the screen and you have to choose whether to send, save or erase it. Saving it takes about 2 seconds before you can take another picture.
Hitting the D-pad up or down will increase or decrease the brightness level in half steps, this action is duplicated by the volume toggle. If the camera is set to full resolution, you cannot zoom in or out. If, however, you dial down the resolution setting a bit, pushing the D-pad to the left or right lets you zoom in and out.
While in the camera mode, the left soft key takes you to the gallery application. The right soft key lets you access all the user-adjustable settings. They include the usual items such as resolution, timer, brightness and how the camera measures and balances the light . The color effects lets you adjust between normal, sepia, black & white, and negative images through the viewfinder.
The one frustrating aspect of the options system is that it assumes you only want to make one adjustment at a time. Once you make an adjustment and hit the "set" key, rather than going back to the menu of options, it takes you back out to the camera UI. If you want to make multiple adjustments at once, you have to keep jumping back into the options menu. For many, this may be a non-issue. I found it to be time-consuming when I wanted to change a number of the camera's settings at once.
The C3's camera does to one really cool thing. You can turn it on when the phone is closed. Since the camera lens and viewfinder face you simultaneously, this really only makes it useful for self-portraits, which I found myself taking quite a few of (I know, I am vain, what can I say?). Because the viewfinder is so bright and so large, it is really convenient for taking a picture of you and your significant other when a third person isn't around to help you out.
The C3's video camera has two resolution settings, as well as several white balance and duration settings to choose from. As with the camera, you'll need to keep returning to the options menu to fiddle with each one. When shooting a stationary (or nearly stationary) subject, the video camera captures images with no jitters and the action is fairly smooth. Panning the camera around in video mode didn't baffle it too much, and it kept most objects sharp, with little smearing or ghosting. Panning across bright objects when in dark environments did prove to be somewhat nettlesome. Bright light sources, such as windows, could completely wash out the C3's video camera for several seconds before it was able to adjust to the new brightness level.
The gallery application is unchanged from other phones that use the Verizon UI. The gallery is locked to a two-column view, and was able to scroll down through images quickly. When viewing the gallery, hitting the right soft key brings up the expected set of options for moving, renaming and otherwise interacting with your pictures.
Opening up each picture is as simple as hitting the center of the D-pad when the picture is highlighted on the screen. Once open, the right soft key opens an editor tool and lets you do all sorts of things with the pictures, such as cropping, zooming, adding frames and so on.
Even though the C3 updates the camera to a 2 megapixel shooter, picture quality doesn't look all that improved. In fact, in many different lighting situations there was a haze or film visible in the final picture, especially on or near light sources (yes, I removed the sticker, and yes, I made sure the lens is clean). Essentially every indoor shot, even ones that were supplemented by a lot of ambient sunlight, were filmy, soft, and the white balance was off.
Outdoor pictures were markedly better. They were clearer and sharper, though still not perfect. Color was also more accurate with outdoor shots. The one thing to keep in mind is that 70% of all pictures are taken indoors. So, if you think pix of l'il Suzi's birthday party are going to be framed and hung on the wall, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Especially since the C3 doesn't have autofocus, nor a flash.
Video quality was not all that great. As we mentioned, the C3 didn't deal with drastic changes in lighting all that well, which results in washed-out videos. Action was relatively smooth, but there was some serious grain evident. The video also suffers from the same film issue that the photos are marred by.
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 232 KB
Verizon has altered the way you get to the Browser of the C3 a little bit. It is found in the Media Center (used to be Get It Now) folder. When you select the browser, you are greated by a carousel of different options. The Openwave WAP 2.0 browser is the default choice. You can scroll up or down to select from other options such as Get Channels, Search, Showcase, News, Music, Games, Tones, Community, etc. These are essentially shortcuts to the pages found on the Verizon Wireless home page, just in carousel form. The carousel itself is a little slow and ridden by lag.
Otherwise the browser software is the same that's been on Verizon's phones for what seems eternity. I will say this, the C3 is one of the fastest phones I've ever browsed the mobile web with. Page loads, even things like mobile CNN — complete with images — were nearly instantaneous. This was true even in areas with only one bar of EVDO service.
You can make the expected set of adjustments to the C3 to make it a bit more yours. You can adjust the appearance of the main menu, and the C3 comes with a couple of preloaded themes that alter the coloration of the menus and icons. You can adjust the size of the dialing fonts, messaging fonts, and menu fonts; set the clock format, add/remove wallpapers at will, set custom ringtones and so on.
In speaking specifically about the fonts sizes... The dialing fonts can be set to small, medium, large. The difference is quite big. Set to small, it will fit 10 characters across the screen, medium shows 5 characters, and large shows 4. The difference in size between normal and large for the menu fonts is not as significant, though it will reduce the number of items that appear on any given menu.
The C3 has access to Verizon Wireless's Get It Now catalog of BREW applications. The options to download games, utility and other programs are vast. None are preloaded, not even any trial apps.
The C3 easily paired with just about everything. It's almsot like the phone was deserate to make a connection Wall-E style with another machine. Regular and stereo Bluetooth headsets were not a problem. Sound quality in both was excellent. Pairing with computers was also easy, and file transfers were a breeze.
The C3 suffices as a watch replacement. Press the lock key, and you can easily read the time on the exterior screen. The clock on this exterior screen can be set from three different options, including 24-hour time. The interior clock can be two different analog clocks, as well as four different digital clocks, made small or large.
The C3 has all of the standard tools on board, such as a calendar, calculator, voice commands, notepad and so on.
Here is a video tour of the LG Chocolate 3. You can watch it here:
Or go to YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
The Chocolate 3 is an easier phone to use on a day to day basis than the Chocolate 1 or 2. The clamshell form factor alone contributes a lot to this. Also giving a lending hand is the nicely proportioned keypad and D-pad nav controls. The scroll wheel on the outside of the phone may not be perfect, but it is more responsive than other scroll wheels we've tested.
Unfortunately, the music player doesn't live up to the billing of this phone. It just isn't as intuitive to use as it should be, nor does it make what should be simple tasks — such as loading your music — a breeze. We do have to give LG kudos for at least including a 3.5mm headset jack this time around.
The C3's other failings are more Verizon Wireless's fault than LGs. If you like the standard Verizon menus, you'll feel right at home, but if you're like me, you may find them outdated and irritating.
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This won't do
Going to a claimshell and removing touch screen is the wrong thing to do. Now it just looks like any other phone. If I want a slimmer phone I'll get a razor. What's so special about it now?
There are phones out there with touch screens and easy to type on keyboards that flip out. I was expecting chocolate to take the next leap to iphone type functionality. Instead it went backwards in terms of taking risks and pushing design.
Anyone else agree?
And what makes it different from the RAZR? It's not garbage! And I don't think it was a step backwards at all. The Chocolate was never more than a mid-range phone, LG is keeping it that way...