When you think of LG as a mobile phone manufacturer, what comes to mind? A silver 3G clamshell sold by 3? Perhaps a slightly thinner version with a few upgraded features, also sold by 3? While LG has sold a few GSM handsets in the Australian market in the last couple of years, its image has been predominantly boosted by Australia’s 3G pioneer, 3 Mobile.
Well, it’s safe to say that the shiny black rectangle sitting on my desk is hardly what I expected LG to provide me when expecting a handset from them. It’s sleek, it’s polished, it’s slim (did you hear that Motorola?) and it’s downright cool. I’m talking about the LG Chocolate phone, also known by its model code, KG800. Possibly its most successful phone in its home market of Korea (where it’s sold in CDMA form), LG was confident it could repeat its success in the rest of the world, so here we have a GSM version of the same handset. Equipped with a 1.3 megapixel camera, Bluetooth and a large amount of internal memory, it also doubles as a decent multimedia device.
Read on for the review.
This slider phone is the trend setter’s gem – it looks cool, it makes funky sounds and doesn’t have any buttons on the outside of the phone. Instead, there are touch-sensitive buttons – you simply touch the surface of the phone where an icon is, and it detects your press (through a heat sensor) and performs the function. When the ‘buttons’ are activated the icons depicting them glow red, so you know that you can push them. When the keypad is locked they go out, and when the screen turns off too nearly all the top face of the phone turns black, adding to the sleekness of the Chocolate phone. The number pad uses traditional buttons though.
But apart from the sleek design, the Chocolate does have some good technology in it. It’s got a 1.3 megapixel camera with an assisting flash LED, 128 megabytes of internal memory and an MP3 player to take advantage of that space, even though it’s a bit small for that kind of thing. There’s also Bluetooth, Java MIDP 2.0 and a big two inch colour screen, so the KG800 is well equipped too.
All of this in a light, slim and compact package. It might be thicker than your typical chocolate bar, but for a modern phone the KG800 is a well balanced package.
The phone’s design and shape is its best feature. Black all around except for a silver frame on its sides, the Chocolate is a slim slider phone with no external antenna to mess up its look (the antenna is internal). It’s made of a glossy plastic throughout that easily catches finger prints – possibly the only disadvantage of its design. However because it’s black, you’ll only notice finger prints in very bright light, so this wasn’t a great problem for me. At 83 grams the Chocolate is light, and its glossy plastic is smooth and comfortable to the touch. Official measurements for the phone are 95 x 48 x 15.2 millimetres.
Further examining the phone, on the front you’d be forgiven for thinking there was only a screen and nothing else. Surrounding the silver square at the bottom are the touch buttons, which shine in red when they’re activated and available for use. Above them is the two inch colour LCD, while further above that is the speaker, used for voice calls and for all other sound purposes (like ringtones). There’s nothing on the bottom and top of the phones, probably because of the phone’s slimness. On the left are volume adjustment keys, while on the right is the end call key and a shortcut button for loading the camera or MP3 player. The end call key is on the side because LG decided that a delete key was more important on the front of the phone, placing it where the end call key normally is (it’s depicted by a capital C). Also on the right hand side is LG’s new multi-function data socket. This connector accepts chargers, headsets and data cables, replacing the set of connectors LG used in its older phones. On the phone’s back is the battery, which is something of a nightmare to remove. The battery is so well locked into place that it takes a lot of pressure on the release button to pull it out, to the point that there’s already plenty of nail scratches on my test handset’s button now. Once you do remove the battery you’ll find the SIM card socket underneath.
The Chocolate’s slider mechanism is spring-loaded, so it only takes a bit of pressure to open or close it before the slide jumps into position. There’s not much to see when the phone is opened though – all you get is the 12 button number pad. That’s because the main set of buttons are on the top of the phone. On the top you’ll find two soft keys, an arrow pad with confirm button, a dial button and delete key as mentioned earlier. These are of course the touch-sensitive buttons I mentioned earlier. The buttons are all clearly labelled and shouldn’t’ cause any confusion, except for the delete key taking the place of the hang-up one, which was moved to the side of the phone instead.
User interface & display
Also, the main menu icons go as follows (from top-left, going to the right): Profiles, Call Register, Tools, Organiser, Messages, Multimedia, Browser, My stuff, Settings.
The main display measures two inches in diagonal length and can display 262,144 colours. Its resolution is 176x220 pixels and it’s an active matrix TFT display, much like most mobile phone displays these days. For a two inch screen the resolution is respectable and the average across the phone industry today. The screen can be adjusted between four levels of brightness (40%, 60%, 80% and 100%), and on the brightest setting the screen can be viewed anywhere, even in bright sunlight. It will fade out like any other screen, but it’s still clearly visible. Up to eight lines of menu items can be displayed at once, as well as eight lines of text when composing a message. Depending on your chosen font size, you can see between six and 12 lines of text if you choose. But font size settings are per message rather than a global setting, so you’d have to change it for each message you compose.
The user interface hasn’t changed much from other LG phones. The main menu uses a 3 x 3 grid of nine icons, and in the next level of sub menus you can scroll left and right to move between the main menu functions, saving you the trouble of going back to pick a different main menu function. The interface is quick to respond and there’s no feeling of waiting forever for an action to be carried out. There are themes, albeit only two of them – Black and Silver. Black suits the phone better and features a background visible throughout all the menus, while Silver is LG’s traditional menu skin and is quite boring. I preferred to keep Black turned on. You can turn the display of the operator name on and off, meaning you can have an unfettered view of your wallpaper. Fantastic – why don’t all phone manufacturers offer this in their phones? We all know who we’re connected with, so I was pleased that I didn’t have to look at the name of my operator all the time. You can also display a line of your own text on the bottom of the standby screen. Finally, the arrow keys act as shortcuts to commonly used functions on the standby screen as follows:
Favourites (Shortcuts) Menu
Making and receiving calls
The KG800’s primary function is to make voice calls, and here it does well. Call quality is very good regardless of your connection method: the phone itself, the included stereo handsfree earphones or a Bluetooth headset. They all worked perfectly, including my Bluetooth test headset the Motorola HS801 – the only point of concern being a bit of crackle audible in the headset. My caller could hear me clearly, and I could hear him too.
The stereo handsfree included in the retail kit is special in that it comes in two pieces. There’s the actual earphones themselves, which end in a 3.5mm headset adaptor that can be connected to any portable device. Then there’s the small control box with music controls for play/pause, stop, fast forward and rewind, as well as volume switches and a answer/hang up button. Very concise. There’s also a clip on the back to attach it to a shirt or jacket. The earphones plug into this control box, meaning that essentially, you can use whatever earphones or headphones you like with the Chocolate phone. The sound played by the included earphones is clear and can be set loud enough to hear even in a noisy room.
Reception was good, getting a few bars in most places I tested including the nearby shopping centre, which is typically a mobile phone black hole for me. The phone was tested on both Telstra’s and Vodafone’s GSM 900/1800 MHz networks.
The phone book in the Chocolate can store up to a large 1000 contacts and each entry is customisable to an extent. You can attach three numbers (a mobile, home and office number), a fax number, an email address and a picture, as well as assign it to a group. You can’t add any other details though. Incremental searching of the phone book is supported (typing more than one letter to search for a name), although the Chocolate is a bit slow to respond to multiple letters. One frustrating point about the Chocolate is that you can’t tell it to look at only the phone’s contact memory or only the SIM’s contact memory. It always displays both of them in the one list. I normally prefer to store my contacts on the handset and ignore the SIM card’s ones, so this was particularly annoying for me.
The KG800 is awash with a number of ringtones – 44 in all. They include 20 preset digital ring tones, three of them known tunes (Over the Rainbow, A Whiter Shade of Pale, James Bond Theme), as well as 24 older tones – 10 of them monophonic and 14 polyphonic – and they’re all classical or well known old music pieces. I have to say I haven’t seen a more complete set of ringtones than what I found in the Chocolate – even the original preset ringtones were great. People are sure to find at least one tone in the phone that they like.
However, in a huge surprise, there’s only four boring preset tones that can be set for messages, and you can’t use any custom ones. This is disappointing, and I hope LG will fix this in future phones.
Three standards of messaging are supported by the Chocolate – SMS, EMS and MMS. They’re all bolstered by the inclusion of T9 predictive text software, although entering text in the Chocolate could be faster. If you type too fast the phone will miss key presses, causing you to mistype certain letters and messing up predicted words. There’s custom dictionary support for you to add words not already known by the phone, and the phone will prompt you to do so if you enter a word that it doesn’t know.
I have two more complaints with the typing system. The first is the stiffness of the number pad buttons – they’re very stiff. It takes a lot of effort to push them, slowing down the speed of typing. I don’t know if this was done deliberately because the typing system can’t keep up anyway, but nonetheless it takes a lot of effort to type with these buttons. Second – entering numbers. In most T9 equipped phones you can hold down a number key for more than a second to enter the number itself rather than a letter. This isn’t supported by the Chocolate, so you have to switch input modes to number mode to enter one. This is slow and tedious because of the slow nature of the input system – you have to press the # button several times to get to number mode, then a few more to get back to the typing mode you were in.
Entering symbols such as $, %, or # is particularly speedy. You press the right soft key to bring up an insert menu, and from there you select Symbol. Then you can just push a number button to ‘shortcut-select’ your symbol, and you can select a number of them together before inserting them into the message.
So, back to the messaging standards. There’s SMS support for up to a huge 1530 characters (10 linked messages). You can insert simple pictures and monotone sounds, as well as change font colour, size and alignment – all of these things will convert the message into an EMS one, taking up a number of bytes of message space in the process. If you want to attach more advanced multimedia files you need to use the MMS standard, which allows the attachment of photos, digital/polyphonic sound and contacts data up to 100 kilobytes in size. You can’t attach videos though, although slide support lets you attach more than one type of attachment in each message, as long as you’re below the file size limit.
A note here – worldwide versions of the Chocolate phone also have the ability to send and receive emails through POP3 and SMTP servers. However, it seems that this function is disabled on Australian versions because the three GSM carriers here don’t run any email service. As such I was unable to test email functionality, and Australian users won’t be able to use it anyway.
The KG800 Chocolate phone works in most countries as it supports tri-band GSM on the 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz bands. As well as that, internet access works at dialup speeds through use of GPRS – speeds of up to 48Kbps. The KG800 is loaded with all of Australia’s GSM operator’s data profiles, so changing operators won’t stop you from using MMS and accessing their WAP portals as you can just activate a new data profile easily.
Locally connection options are a bit more limited, with USB and Bluetooth the only way to connect to local devices. They can be even further divided – USB is best used with a PC to transfer and synchronise contacts data, copy multimedia data and use the phone as a GSM modem for the PC to access the internet. Bluetooth on the other hand works best when used with devices other than a computer – whether to talk wirelessly, copy data or let the other device access the internet through the Chocolate. Bluetooth can be used with the synchronisation software on a PC, but only sporadically and if you’re technically minded with a PC. I was able to synchronise contacts data over Bluetooth only once – other times I could not get the phone to connect. So USB is the most reliable way to go here.
Everything about the Chocolate phone is built solidly. Think about how hard it is to break real chocolate after cooling it down in a fridge, and you should get an idea of how durable the Chocolate is. No loose parts or connector covers, and the slider mechanism is firm and only goes up and down, not left and right too. The spring inside also doesn’t show signs of wearing out (yet), while the battery cover is so firmly fastened that it’s literally painful to remove. The Chocolate should last for years to come.
Battery life is a different story though. Despite the rather large 800mAh capacity of the normal battery, I only managed to get one and a half days usage out of the phone with 20 minutes of calling each day. It’s a big surprise because the Chocolate is designed with a lot of power saving techniques in mind – for example, after closing the slider, the screen switches off five seconds later. It switches off quickly during a call too. Maybe battery power melts as fast as real chocolate does? That may be why it’s no surprise that LG also includes the extended 1000mAh battery in the retail package. However because of it’s larger size, I never thought of using it – the battery bulges out of the Chocolate’s back, ruining its image.
Official power figures are up to two hours talk time and 200 hours standby.