Verizon serves up Chocolate phone

LG's skinny slide phone comes to U.S. with 1.3-megapixel camera, GPS navigation--and lots of music and video. Photos: Sweet 'Chocolate' phones

Verizon Wireless has brought LG Mobile Phones' Chocolate handset to U.S. shores, offering a mix of video and music features that it hopes digital-media junkies will find tasty.

Not to be outdone by the likes of youth-oriented cell phone service Helio, Verizon has snatched up the latest addition to the arsenal of trendy, media-heavy cell phones. LG Mobile Phones' Chocolate is already a hit overseas, with more than 1 million sold since its international launch outside LG's home base of South Korea.

Verizon's American version has extensive music and video capabilities tied to its V Cast media store, which promises instant downloads and a catalog of more than 1.3 million songs in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Songs downloaded to a Chocolate phone will cost $1.99, copies of which will be automatically sent to the user's PC. If the song is downloaded to the PC from V Cast's Web site, however, the fee is only 99 cents. The song can then be loaded onto the phone at no extra cost.

Sweet 'Chocolate' phones

There's a caveat: V Cast service is compatible only with PCs running Microsoft Windows XP and Windows Media Player 10. Downloaded music, however, can be played on any portable device that can handle WMA files. Additionally, any WMA or MP3 files can be loaded onto the Chocolate regardless of origin.

V Cast also provides access to a variety of video clips, ranging from newscasts to music videos, and games like "3D Mini Golf Castles" and "Midnight Bowling." These features are available only to V Cast subscribers who fork over an additional $15 per month. Music purchases were available only to subscribers as well, but Verizon axed that requirement Monday as part of the promotion for the U.S. release of the Chocolate.

The Chocolate's storage memory is expandable through the use of SanDisk's MicroSD memory cards. The phone itself does not come with a memory card, according to Verizon spokesperson Brenda Raney, but SanDisk cards ranging in price from $29.99 (with 256MB of memory) to $99.99 (2GB) can be purchased along with it.

In addition to the downloading perks, the Chocolate comes equipped with Verizon's VZ Navigator GPS service and a 1.3-megapixel camera that can snap photos or record up to an hour of video.

Cell phone manufacturers and service providers have been making big moves to eat into the field of portable digital media, dominated by Apple Computer's iPod. But there are still hurdles to overcome. After the tepid response to the Motorola Rokr--the product of a partnership with Apple for iTunes software--companies like Sprint have tried to improve on the model of a media-rich phone by offering the capacity for more songs, faster downloads and better compatibility with PCs.

LG and Verizon take a different marketing path, playing up the Chocolate not as a phone that plays music, but as a device that's "part MP3 player, part phone." Indeed, the handset, with its click wheel interface, bears a conspicuous resemblance to an iPod when closed; the keypad remains hidden until the phone is slid open.

The Chocolate by LG is priced at $149.99, after a $50 rebate and with a two-year contract agreement.

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