Technology

Easy Listening on LG's Chocolate


Lg_chocolate_110x100
Editor's Rating: star rating

The mobile phone opened in the U.S. to mixed reviews. We like its user-friendliness and excellent music quality

LG's Chocolate mobile phone was preceded by its reputation when it became available in the U.S. in July, exclusively from Verizon Wireless(VZ). The music-playing handset was a hit in Asia (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/19/06, "LG Chocolate: Will This Cell Phone Hit The Sweet Spot?") But on this side of the Pacific, it left a bad taste in some reviewers' mouths. For instance, Chocolate "doesn't quite live up to the hype," quips ZDNet.

After trying the phone for myself, I respectfully beg to differ. Many manufacturers have tried to come up with a winning music phone design. Many have failed. (Anyone seen the Nokia 3300?) LG may be a notable early exception.

This device manages to capture some of the sleek elegance of an Apple (AAPL) iPod, especially when the slider-style case is closed. The cover slides open to reveal the dial pad on the front and camera and camcorder features on the back.

Chocolate's buttons, many of them on a touch screen, are intuitive and easy to understand, but some of the touch features took getting used to. I had to push some buttons a few times before getting a response. Others were too sensitive.

On one occasion, my finger lightly grazed a button as I was operating the camera, and the phone started dialing the last number I called. And this was on the "low" touch-sensor level. The buttons become even more sensitive at higher levels. I was able to make the touch pad work well once I got used to its quirks.

THE TIME IN JAPAN.

Dialing numbers is a cinch, especially thanks to a button that lets you correct dialing errors by erasing the last digit entered or deleting all digits depending on how long you leave it pushed. You can also use separate keys to mute or ignore a call. The phone has different options for answering a call, letting the user push side buttons to answer when the dial pad is covered, though I found the side buttons less convenient than the dial pad or touch screen.

LG's Chocolate boasts several features found on most other phones these days, such as voice commands, texting, Web access, and a calculator. For as many as 500 contacts, Chocolate can store five numbers, two E-mail addresses, and a picture ID. I especially loved the nifty world clock, which let me scroll through a list of cities in other countries to check local time.

But a main reason for buying the phone is downloading and listening to tunes. Chocolate demonstrates just how far handsets have come in this area. The phone has memory slots so you have access to as many songs as you could store on an iPod. Playlists are easy to compile and manage. Even if you've never owned a digital music player, you'll figure out how to use Chocolate's music capabilities in no time.

SOUND OF MUSIC.

Another handy feature is the ability to download music wirelessly. V Cast Music, the music download service from Verizon Wireless, was fairly easy to use (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/5/06, "What's That Ringing in iPod's Ears?").

I downloaded a song by Paris Hilton (I had to hear how she sounds), and it took maybe 20 seconds and cost $1.99. Sound quality without a headset was decent, and with a headset, great. And syncing music from the phone to my PC was no problem. As for Hilton—let's just say it's a good thing for her this isn't a music review.

The handoff between the digital music player and the phone worked like a charm. When I got a call while listening to a song, the track paused. Then, I could either choose to take the call or to press a button to ignore it. When I did the latter, the phone began playing the song exactly where it left off.

VIDEO STAR.

I also downloaded a five-minute Madonna music video, for $3.99, through V Cast's video service. Once Chocolate was connected to the service (and that took a while), the video download took about a minute and was interrupted several times (in fairness to the carrier, it's possible I was in an area that didn't have seamless coverage, though this does highlight one of the drawbacks of downloading music and video wirelessly). But once I downloaded the video, the color screen's quality was quite good, as was the sound.

Another useful capability: creating your own videos. The camcorder can record up to one hour of footage, though my clips ended up looking smudged. Its 1.3 megapixel camera allows for 2X zoom and brightness adjustments. The device also has a self-timer. For the vain, there's a tiny mirror, located on the back of the phone by the camera—helpful for taking photos of yourself.

For a phone this packed with features, battery life was long. I was able to play with the various capabilities for hours without the battery going out. Getting the phone to charge fully took about an hour. The battery is supposed to last for three and a half hours of music and video usage, or up to 16 days on standby.

If you're hungry for a cell phone that plays music and a lot more—and looks good doing it—this is one model well worth a nibble.

Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.

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