As a brand, the LG Chocolate is one of former glory, living fondly in our memories alongside the Motorola Razr and the Sony Ericsson Walkman series. The New Chocolate is a vastly different product in terms of how it looks and what it does, but we're not convinced LG has shaken off the ghosts of the past and embraced the concept of the mobile phone as we know it at the end of 2009.
This is bound to be a contentious value judgement, but in our opinion the New Chocolate is one of this year's best looking mobile phones. LG has taken an unorthodox approach, designing a phone significantly longer than it is wide, but we love it. It feels great to hold, slides easily into the pockets of tight jeans, and the 4-inch display does open it up to some interesting and innovative applications — like a dual-screen mode which we'll explore in detail later.
The screen sports an impressive (if unusual) 345x800 resolution, and the image displayed is as good, if not better than phones featuring AMOLED displays, like the Samsung HD Icon. At the launch of the New Chocolate a representative from LG explained that this is achieved by having the LCD immediately below the glass, unlike most phones which have a small recess between glass and panel. You can see this up close when holding the handset at an angle, and the LCD seems close enough to touch. Strangely this doesn't translate into an excellent touchscreen; in fact, the New Chocolate is surprisingly unresponsive. Though it is a capacitive display, you have to touch the screen very deliberately to get the response you want.
This gorgeous looking screen is complemented by a sleek design around the handset as well. A stainless steel trim runs around the edge of the New Chocolate, with external controls, like the camera and volume buttons, being raised dimples in this trimming. On the back, only the 5-megapixel camera and flash break up the glossy black plastic finish. The New Chocolate also has a 3.5mm headphone socket for plugging in third-party headsets located on the top of the phone and a microSD card slot under the battery cover.
Though its price suggests otherwise, the New Chocolate isn't in fact a smartphone like the iPhone or HTC Hero. It's what we call a "feature phone", meaning that it has features beyond basic phone functionality, but it doesn't run on a smartphone operating system — in other words, no apps store. While the truly tech savvy will shy away from a phone that they can't install apps to, most phone users will be looking for features which are included in the New Chocolate, like web browsing, the camera and media playback.
On paper the New Chocolate has these tasks covered, it sports HSDPA for web browsing, and Wi-Fi for connecting to local networks. It has the aforementioned Schneider-Kreuznach 5-megapixel camera with flash and auto-focus, and it supports an excellent range of media, including DivX and XviD video files and support for Dolby Mobile stereo playback.
Email is also well supported by the pre-installed software. The New Chocolate natively supports Microsoft Exchange accounts, as well as the full gamut of web mail services. Email is one of a handful of apps that takes advantage of the New Chocolates dual-screen capabilities, allowing you to view your inbox on the left-hand side of the screen and the selected message on the right side simultaneously.
The New Chocolate has a lot going for it. If you can get past the fact that for AU$999 you're not getting a smartphone, then at this point the New Chocolate must be looking pretty attractive. But as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving, and it's our duty to identify the New Chocolate as one of the worst phones at this price point, and all due to unforgivable clumsy performance.
Absolutely every time we touched this phone, whether to open a menu or select an application, we experienced some measure of lag. For some processes this may only be a second while the phone loads the next screen, but for other apps the lag can be seriously patience-testing. Web browsing is one of the major culprits, not only do you have to wait for the browser to load, but then the connection to the network takes forever. In the time it takes the New Chocolate to load a web page you will have had the opportunity to locate an internet cafe, log-in at the front desk, take a seat and start browsing the web at an acceptable speed.
The blame for all this woe lays solely with LG's own S-Class UI and the proprietary platform it runs on. This system is as sluggish as it's attractively designed. All of the menus and settings look fantastic, but using them is sure to have you muttering "iPhone" and wishing you spent your money elsewhere.
Media playback is better, but only because videos look so great on this beautiful screen and audio is markedly better with Dolby Mobile activated. Navigating the media menus is still troublesome, with its Cover Flow-style album art being nearly impossible to use accurately with finger gestures. The camera is one shining light in this murky quagmire of stinky mobile. The shutter is pretty slow — 1.6 seconds with auto-focus, but the pictures are lovely, and the low-light images are surprisingly sharp and noise-free.
The LG New Chocolate is a major disappointment, and we can only hope this is the final nail in the coffin for LG's S-Class UI which has hampered LG's entire 2009 high-end range with tedious performance and counter-intuitive controls. The New Chocolate should be a great phone, as it breaks the mould of current design, its dual-screen feature is truly innovative, and the screen is a stunner. But we can't recommend a phone that makes all tasks so much more difficult than they should be, even simple ones like calling a contact in your address book or replying to an SMS. We know it's only in its infancy, LG, but it's time to put S-Class out to pasture and to embrace a smartphone OS with the functionality and usability that people really want, especially for AU$1000.