LG of South Korea is starting to make a name for itself in the mobile devices arena with new devices that break the standard cellphone mould. Thereís the much-talked about LG PRADA phone for instance, which isnít available yet; however, the 3G upgrade to the LG Chocolate is here now, and itís a phone in a similar fashion vein that also goes by the less-memorable KU800 brand moniker.
Design and construction: 8/10
Small, black and with tasteful chrome detailing, the LG Chocolate has won design awards in its earlier GPRS incarnaction. It looks great closed, but gets better when you activate it by sliding it open: the touchpad on illuminates with nine red LEDs and a two-inch LCD with 65,536 colours and 320-by-240 QVGA resolution lights up. However, the numeric keypad at the bottom slider isnít backlit, probably to save battery.
The phone feels well put together, and passes the ďscrunch testĒ easily: there is no creaking when used, and the keypad buttons have nicely smooth, positive action. Apart from the keypad for dialling numbers and the touchpad on top for navigating the phone functions, there are three smaller buttons on the right-hand side of the Chocolate. These select the Music, Menu and End Call/Cancel functions of the phone respectively.
On the left-hand side, you have the Micro SD or TransFLASH memory card slot, two more buttons for volume/menu navigation, and a combo connector for USB, charger and headphones.
All cables are provided for the phone, ditto a headset with remote control Ė full marks there to LG. However, the phone doesnít recharge via the USB cable, only through the recharger which is a miss. It means you canít connect to it via the USB cable and recharge it (or listen to music on it) at the same time.
At a mere 98 gram, 95 by 46 mm square and only 17mm thick, the Chocolate is very unobtrusive. Some people may find it too small in fact, but I have large hands and found the phone easy to handle nevertheless. The small size does have the distinct advantage of making the phone very portable indeed Ė you can put it into your pocket without people asking if youíre happy to see them.
The LG Chocolate is a good looking phone, no doubt about that. One slight miss is the shiny plastic chosen for the cover: it shows up fingerprints like anything, and spoils the appearance until you wipe the phone clean again.
Despite the petite size, the LG Chocolate comes with a decent range of features:
* Quad-band GSM/UMTS (850, 900, 1900 and 2100MHz) for voice and data
* USB connection
* 2Mpixel camera with white LED light at the rear, VGA resolution camera at the front for video calls
* 60MByte internal memory (shared with the OS)
* Micro SD card memory expansion slot
* T9 Predictive text entry
* MP3/AAC audio player
* 3GP video format player
* Software bundle with file manager, media player, PC synchronisation and modem drivers (Windows only)
The Chocolate may be aimed at the more fashion conscious, but that doesnít mean itís all form over function. While itís missing key corporate phone features like remote wiping, you get Outlook synchronisation and can use the Chocolate as a 3G modem either via Bluetooth or the USB cable.
Thereís even an email client included that works OK, but unfortunately only supports un-secured POP3 and IMAP4 access, even though it understands SMTP AUTH and APOP. It would be good if LG could add at least secure IMAP here.
Other than that, you have all the standard features like a Contacts database, Organiser, Java games, and the phone I had was set up for Vodafoneís network, with access to the Live! portal even though thereís hardly any LG Chocolate-specific content at this stage.
LGís software bundle for the Chocolate isnít bad by any means, but thereís no documentation for it in the otherwise good manual. Also, on top of the USB modem drivers, you get no fewer than five separate applications: the LG Desktop, Sync Manager, Media Player, Phone Manager and Internet Kit. Some functions are duplicated across the applications and I still havenít figured out quite what the Sync Manager does, only that the other apps need it. LG would do well to roll the separate apps into a single program. Oh, and the software doesn't work under Vista either and there needs to be a Mac OS X version too.
Also, itís easy for the apps to stop working, with cryptic error messages. Thereís no documented fix, but I saw a brief message flash by on the phone about quitting other applications. It seems the multi-tasking OS sometimes leaves stuff running in the background on the phone, and if so, the PC apps canít connect. What you do in that case is to reboot the phone by taking out the battery.
In Use: 6/10
Call quality and reception were both good on the LG Chocolate. I live in a hilly bit of town in Auckland, where Vodafoneís network sometimes doesnít perform at its best but even so, the LG Chocolate didnít drop calls and remained in UMTS 3G most of the time. I noticed the phone became fairly hot when playing back video.
The screen is good indoors, OK outdoors and video clips are watchable for short lengths of time. I thought the sound was on the weak side though: youíll want to use the supplied earphones for playing back clips or making video calls, as otherwise you canít hear the sound unless in a quiet room. Due perhaps to the weak sound, thereís no speaker phone on the LG Chocolate. Bit more oomph in the audio department would be welcome.
In terms of ergonomics and ease of use, the Chocolate is a mixed bag. The touch pad doesnít work if your fingers are too dry and you canít use the phone if youíre wearing gloves. Likewise, you donít want to get any liquid on the touchpad. I spilt a drop of water on it by accident, and watched the menu system go haywire.
The menus themselves take a bit of time to get used to, and the hierarchy could be more logical with easier access to frequently used functions. For instance, you canít look up a contact on the phone and make a call to the person, only manage the information which is awkward. Not the worst system Iíve seen, but definitely not the best.
Pairing the LG Chocolate over Bluetooth with a laptop and a mono headset worked without issues, but I donít know if the phone supports AD2P for stereo headphones.
The 2Mpixel camera takes OK pictures and 15 second .3GP video clips. Itíll do at a pinch, but donít expect anything too great from it, especially at night.
With only a 1,000mAh battery, I thought the Chocolate would need recharging every day. However, it appears the battery is holding up quite well; I only charge the phone every two-three days, despite using it a great deal on the 3G network.
Final verdict: 8/10 for fashionistas, 6/10 for the functionality freaks
With sharp looks and a good range of features, thereís plenty to like about the LG Chocolate. Vodafone NZ charges $799 for the phone retail, but the up-front cost goes down if you sign up for contract plans (which are not yet up on the web).
Youíd probably buy the Chocolate because you like the design and are prepared to live with some user interface annoyances; itís aimed at a style conscious target market that will probably never bother to use geeky features like email anyway.
Pictures of above target market attached, one with some red coming out of her ear, and another doing something funny with a bag while holding the phone (from LGís press kit).