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Review: LG Chocolate

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Aug 11, 2006, 11:03 AM   by Eric Lin

An In-Depth review of LG's sleek new VX-8500 Chocolate slider music phone for Verizon Wireless. NEW: Video tour

Form

Is It Your Type 

There's no denying it, the sleek black form of the Chocolate is sexy. With a gloss black finish, and a solid black keypad, it bears little resemblance to its edible namesake, but it still shares all the same looks and features as the Korean model that somehow took on this moniker.

Like most phones that put an emphasis on looks, the Chocolate asks you to give up a little in performance and usability for the privilege of carrying a phone that everyone will fawn over. The sacrifices aren't so great for most users, but the select few expecting high tech features that work flawlessly on their high-tech-looking phone might want to wait for a software update or a second generation.

Body 

Though it is called the Chocolate, the VX8500 does not come in dark brown or creamy white like the Korean version, and looks more like a black iPod than a Hershey bar. Since we have never seen a glossy black chocolate bar in our lives, we will refrain from making any dessert or cooking related puns when discussing this phone.

When closed, the Chocolate looks less like a phone and more like an iPod knock-off. The only control visible on the sleek black rectangle is the circular D-pad, which is meant to look like the iPod's click wheel (though it doesn't act like one - more on that later.) The only indication that it might be a phone is the Verizon logo beneath the somewhat hidden screen.

The Chocolate is a rather narrow rectangle with gentle curved edges. The back of the phone is actually smaller than the front, so it sits deeper and more firmly in your hand. Between the narrow sides and the way it is designed to sit in your palm, the phone is easy to grip and easy to hold on to. Despite the fact that the Chocolate is incredibly glossy, it is not slippery at all.

When the Chocolate is closed and the keypad is locked, it doesn't look like much. The screen is dark, the lights that indicate where the capacitive (touch-sensitive) "buttons" are off and no camera is visible. But a press of a side key or sliding the phone open and the phone comes alive like the dashboard of a luxury car as it's being started.

The slide mechanism is spring assisted, so there is some resistance when starting to open the phone. Once you make it past that critical point, the Chocolate pops open - not violently, but smoothly and quickly. It sits just as comfortably in your hand open as it does closed since there are no harsh edges or protrusions. Since you can't grip the phone as tightly when it's open, it does feel like it's going to slip, but it hasn't fallen out of our hands yet.

Once the Chocolate is open, it springs to life. The crisp screen turns on, the lights that indicate where the buttons are light up and the camera - normally hidden behind the slide - is ready to use. Slid open with the keypad active, the Chocolate looks much more like a phone than when closed. But no one will ever say "that just looks like all the other phones," even when it is open.

Keypad

The face of the phone is packed with touch-sensitive buttons (using capacitive technology), though `buttons' may be the wrong word. Other than the circle and dividers which denotes the directions and select key of the D-Pad, there is no physical indication of any buttons. Believe it or not this is still an improvement over the original Chocolate, on which the only button physically marked was the D-Pad select - not even the direction keys could be felt out. The buttons, as well as the D-Pad are touch sensitive spots embedded in the hard surface of the phone, so they do not click or give you any other tactile feedback to let you know you've pressed one.

Though the D-pad is an improvement on the original design, it is still a disappointment. Verizon called the D-pad a clickwheel in some of their marketing materials, and the concentric ridges and certain interface elements - especially in the main menu - would indicate that you are supposed to run your finger around it like you do on an iPod. However it does not work like this at all. It works perfectly fine as a D-pad, but adding elements that give both tactile and visual cues that it is more is misleading. Every person who picked up our Chocolate and tried to use it, started using the D-pad as a scroll wheel. They were each confused when at first they saw the main menu moving, and then noticed it was only moving back and forth between two selections.

Around the D-pad are two soft keys at the top, and send and clear keys below. The send key actually looks like the end key, since it shows a receiver pointing down, or hung up. Thus one might mistake the futuristic looking C of the clear for the send key. When we asked novice users to try the Chocolate, many were confused by this. They were especially confused to find out the the end key is a side button, and a difficult one to find without the new on screen labels included in this latest version of the Verizon software. However once you start using the Chocolate, you find yourself rarely needing the end key. You will almost always end a call by shutting the slide, so about the only time you need to use the end key is to jump immediately back to the home screen.

There are six side buttons - 3 on each side and they are positioned symmetrically, so the buttons are directly across from each other in clusters at the center of each side. Because of the way they are positioned and grouped together, it is nearly impossible to hit a key on one side without hitting a key on the other. If you do not hit the key you wanted first, this will often prevent you from actually accomplishing the task you set out to do. Many times we accidently hit a volume button attempting to start the camera, only to find ourselves stuck in the volume adjustment screen missing an opportunity to take a picture.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

The Chocolate's screen is hidden behind the dark tinted plastic that makes up the front of the phone. While this looks pretty cool, it makes the phone difficult to use in direct sunlight. It is difficult to see any color on the screen when viewed in sunlight with the backlight on. Once the backlight goes off, it is impossible to see the display at all. Viewing the screen with the backlight off indoors works slightly better. Once you are inside and the display is lit up, you can see how sharp the screen really is. It's actually quite good, which makes browsing pleasant.

Signal

The Chocolate has separate indicators for 1x and EV-DO signal. This not only indicates whether EV-DO is available in an area, but also whether it's better to hop online or stick with voice calls. Despite Verizon's rather thorough coverage of San Francisco, our Chocolate rarely showed a full four bars of 1x or EV-DO. While this probably is not an accurate reflection of Verizon coverage, it was an accurate reflection of the Chocolate's reception. This phone had a difficult time holding on to a signal. When signal strength was good, calls were still choppy. When it was bad, the phone dropped calls quite consistently. Although the phone initially showed a signal in our bank vault test, it could not make a call and when attempting to do anything else the indicator bars quickly disappeared.

Sound

The ringer volume of the Chocolate is rather soft. We had to keep the volume at medium-high just to hear it in our pocket, and even then it only sounded like a ring coming from somewhere near us. At full volume the ringer was loud enough. In order to get the phone to vibrate all the time, you must use the ringtone customization menu. Otherwise it is only available when the phone is set to silent. We strongly recommend adding vibration to your ringtone regimen if you'd like to use a softer volume.

The speaker used for calls is, conversely, quite loud. Even in loud outdoor settings we rarely needed the volume over about the halfway mark. And often times any volume setting higher than that was too loud. In a way the loud call volume was a good thing because the Chocolate does not have a speakerphone, so turning the volume way up can be used to emulate one.

Battery

Even with a fair amount of use, the Chocolate lasts 3-4 days per charge. Leaving Bluetooth on does not seem to impact battery life much unless it's constantly connected to a headset. Although browsing or taking pictures does not drain the battery too much, music playback does. Once you start regularly using the Chocolate as a music player, battery life decreases by at least one day - more if you use Bluetooth headphones to listen to your tunes.

Basics

Menus 

The Chocolate, like all phones sold on Verizon, uses an interface and menu system designed by the carrier - though some of the development work has been done by LG and others. The Chocolate uses a new version that has a few improvements over past versions, but also introduces some new bugs as well.

On the home screen the most notable difference is the labels for side buttons. Instead of having to turn your phone to the side to find buttons, you can now look at it straight-on and see where the camera or voice recognition buttons are. These labels are small enough that they don't crowd the home screen, and they only run up the sides, where they won't conflict with any other information on the display.

The Chocolate is one of the new Verizon handsets that uses Flash Lite to customize the look of the main menu, and the chosen theme also affects the home screen to some degree. Each theme has a specific status and menu bar that it displays, though many of them are quite similar.

In addition to the standard Verizon main menu, which instantly starts at the Messaging menu, there are two new main menus - Rock N Roll and Jazz. Jazz is a bit like the Sidekick main menu, with a semi-circle of icons that you can cycle through. Rock N Roll is the default menu theme and one of the prime causes for people confusing the D-pad for a scroll wheel. It is composed of a ring of icons, which you rotate through. The current selection is displayed in the center of the ring.

Because the interface is a ring, and the D-pad is a ring, and the D-pad has concentric ridges that guide your finger around it, you're like to try to spin through this menu configuration. Verizon must have noticed people making this mistake and put subtle fast forward / reverse icons on either side of the top of the menu ring to indicate you should press those instead of spinning around the ring.

Whether it was originally because of space constraints or in an effort to simplify things, the Verizon menu only has 6 options - most phones have 9 to 12. This means that sometimes tasks that deserve their own icon are actually hidden under something totally unrelated. For instance the camera and photo viewer are in the "Get It Now" menu, where they are difficult to find since most people familiar with Verizon think of Get It Now as their mobile internet options.

Once beyond the main menu, each application menu works as before, presenting a list of choices or applications, each with a numerical shortcut. Once inside an application, the left soft key and D-pad select each are assigned a task, and the right soft key opens the options menu. Like all other sub-menus on the phone, the options menu has numerical shortcuts for each item. The clear key can always be used to go back a step when navigating the phone's menus. The end key will always quit the current task and return the phone to the home screen.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls / Contacts 

Each contact entry can hold 4 phone numbers, two email addresses and a fax number. You can also select a photo for caller ID and custom ringtone in the entry. As an interesting addition, you can also customize an alert for text messages from each contact.

Other than the lack of speakerphone, calling features work as expected. When receiving a call, sliding the phone open answers it. Or if you want to work a bit harder you can unlock the keys and hit the send button. During a call the left soft key acts as mute while the right opens an options menu. To end a call you could find the end button on the side, or more likely, you can just close the slide. If you answer a call with the phone closed, you do not need to unlock the keys to hit the end key.

When using a bluetooth headset, even if you open the phone to make a call, you can close it without ending the call, so it can stay tucked away in your pocket.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

While there no direct shortcut to a new message dialog, tapping the left soft key brings you to the messaging menu where hitting select starts a new message. As with nearly all CDMA phones, you are asked to address the message first, and then you can compose the text. Since your recipients and menus are displayed while you type your message, the compose window is only a small portion of the screen. Creating a picture message is almost as simple as text messaging, which is impressive.

When receiving messages, an alert is displayed with the sender's phone number and name if there is a match in the phone book. You are given a choice to view the message now or later, but not shown the message in the alert. If you choose to view it immediately, you are taken to the message in the inbox. If you choose to view it later, a message icon is shown in an alert bar directly above the soft key labels.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Camera 

The Chocolate's camera is hidden behind the slide, so the phone must be open to take a picture. Once open, a quick press of the camera side button starts up the viewfinder in about 2 seconds. It takes just as long to start the viewfinder from the menus, but you have to get there first, which involves a number of clicks. Even though `new message' tops the messaging menu, `new picture' ranks sixth in the pictures and video menu.

The viewfinder has a large status bar that shows the current resolution settings and whether the camera is in still or video mode. Although there is space for more icons in this bar, additional icons (such as the one for night mode) are overlaid on the viewfinder or not displayed at all.

The brightness can be adjusted by hitting up on the D-pad. All other adjustments including white balance, night mode, and resolution are accessed through the options menu.

You can use either the camera side button or the select button to take a picture. If you use the side button, the picture is automatically saved and you are quickly returned to the viewfinder. However if you use the select button, you will need to either choose save or send from the review screen in order to keep the picture. If you close the phone or take any other action first, the picture is deleted.

Pictures and video are all saved to the phone's internal memory. There is no setting to save them to the memory card instead. However once inside the gallery application, they can be moved to the card rather easily. They cannot be sent to other devices using Bluetooth.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Picture Viewer

When launched, the gallery application quickly builds thumbnails for all the pictures in the phone and on the memory card and displays them together in chronological order.

From either the thumbnail view or the single picture view, you can move, rename and delete photos. In addition you can also choose to view a picture in zoom mode, which will allow you to zoom pretty close (although not to 100% on a 1 megapixel shot) and pan around the picture.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures / Videos 

The Chocolate's camera has 20/50 vision, which is fairly average. Colors are quite accurate in the pictures as long as they aren't too light. The Chocolate has a habit of over-exposing the light areas of a scene, bleaching them out the details in parts where there's too much white or light colors.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The video quality was disappointing. Motion is pixelated and hard to make out, even the still subject (my bicycle) in the foreground isn't sharp, and sound was garbled and choppy despite it being a rare, windless day.

(baseball)
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 189 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browse

Browsing Verizon's portal on the Chocolate's QVGA screen finally feels right. The screen displays a large amount of information at once without the need to scroll - or to squint.

Not only can you browse outside of Verizon's portal, but the browser now has an option in the menu to enter a URL. You no longer need to browse to a specific page on Verizon's site to leave.

Customize

The home screen can be customized nearly completely. The wallpaper can be customized with any picture or movie stored on the phone or memory card. The network banner can be changed, and you can pick from a variety of clock readouts. Additionally, themes that use the original menu system allow you to choose from one of 6 colors for the status and menu bars.

It is difficult, but not impossible to put your own MP3 ringtone on the Chocolate. However you can only use one of your own custom ringtones at a time. So you cannot keep a library of your own ringtones available to customize the ring for different callers. Verizon, of course, offers a large library of ringtones for sale. Unfortunately not even purchased music can be used as ringtones, let alone MP3s on your memory card.

File Management

Downloaded applications and phone customizations are managed from the Get It Now menus. You must find the file or application in its appropriate sub menu (Get Going, Get Extras, Get Tones, etc.) in order to delete it or do anything beyond selecting a wallpaper or ringtone. Pictures, videos and music are each managed from within their respective player applications.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Clock

Although the default clock on the home screen is easily viewable, a much larger digital readout can be selected to make it even more obvious. Other choices such as an analog mode or dual time zone display are also available, but not nearly as clear.

Checking the time when the phone is closed and the display is off is as simple as a quick press on the voice dial button. Or, if you'd like to show off, slide the Chocolate open to turn everything on and garner some attention while you check the time.

Bluetooth

Pairing with and using a Bluetooth headset and Bluetooth stereo headphones worked flawlessly. When we connected with our stereo headphones, the Chocolate automatically knew to make that our headset too. It connected to our headset instantly and consistently every time we tried to use it.

Our Bluetooth experience outside of headset usage was disappointing. The Chocolate cannot send any files by Bluetooth, and can only receive contact vCards. However upon receiving a vCard, the Chocolate mangles it when importing it into the phone book. It was enough effort to correct the mistakes, that we found it easier to just enter contacts by hand rather than correct the errors necessary to make our contacts searchable and usable.

Previous LG phones from Verizon have not demonstrated this problem, so it's clear that this was overlooked when fine tuning the software on the Chocolate.

Other

The Chocolate comes with the usual helpful suspects: an alarm clock, calculator and more - all buried in the Settings menu, of all places. The alarm is easy to set but only works if the phone is on.

You can still load Verizon's music player with Windows Media files using their PC software, but the new version adds support for MP3s, which you can copy to the card with any card reader. Unlike many other CDMA phones with MP3 players, the Chocolate will read the ID3 tags and allow you to sort MP3s or Windows Media files by artist or album. However the player only gets the song title correct for Windows Media files. For MP3s, it uses the file name as the title.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video 

We illustrate many of the issues discussed in this review in the following video. You can watch it here...



Or you can check out the full page on YouTube or Google Video for more sharing and download options.

Wrap Up 

Many people will buy the Chocolate based on its looks alone, and for those people, it's probably a perfectly good phone. It is an excellent performer in many regards - battery life, Bluetooth usage for calls and music, and messaging.

But those who are power users like us will experience a great number of frustrations after the short honeymoon of unpacking the Chocolate from its little box. With some practice and effort, we learned to work around most of the software and design limitations. Even so, this is not a phone for power users.

The Chocolate is a good phone for those who do many common tasks - messaging, browsing, music on their phone and want to take those to the next level.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
is it supposed to? fortherecord Jan 5, 2007, 8:29 PM
No FM radio but can I??? joey301 Aug 29, 2006, 3:09 PM
quick question- or two... scape111 Aug 25, 2006, 4:07 PM
Do the Euro and U.S. Chocolates have same measurements? soysaucedreams Sep 5, 2006, 11:55 PM
POS Where it Counts Most CoreyTheGent Aug 11, 2006, 2:01 PM
ringtones for the chocolate Jags Aug 25, 2006, 8:47 PM
lg chocolate II (korea) justinokang Aug 14, 2006, 12:29 PM
Basic Question for New Chocolate Phone rza Aug 11, 2006, 12:36 PM
I can't find it!!!!!!!!!!!! NikkiC Aug 24, 2006, 1:38 PM
Stay away from it gjh1978 Aug 11, 2006, 2:56 PM
I'm going to get it AwpdsR Aug 11, 2006, 12:32 PM
Video Review - YouTube ThrustinJ Aug 16, 2006, 10:06 PM
Saving Pictures to the memory card klay Aug 16, 2006, 9:59 PM
One good this about this phone... r0yeah Aug 12, 2006, 4:42 PM
It Doesn't Look THAT Good kevo214 Aug 13, 2006, 5:38 PM
Good review Roadkill Aug 11, 2006, 1:33 PM
This phone + Me = Bad A$$ motoBOY Aug 11, 2006, 6:57 PM
 
 
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