One of the most hyped cell phones last year was probably the LG Chocolate (also known as the LG VX8500). Even if it didn't have such a succulent name, the slim and sexy slider took the mobile world by storm, and its unique touch-sensitive controls seemed almost magical. With such hype, the eventual letdown was almost inevitable. Even though we liked the beautiful design, we thought the touch-sensitive keypad and controls required too much of a learning curve, and the initial lack of speakerphone disappointed us. With the second iteration of the LG Chocolate, however, it's clear that LG was listening to all the complaints. The LG VX8550 Chocolate still maintains the sleek profile that made the original famous, but its controls are now far easier to use plus it's a little slimmer and shinier than before. Add that to its extensive multimedia feature set, and it's clear that in the LG Chocolate's case at least, sequels can indeed be better than the original. The LG VX8550 Chocolate is available for $99.99 after a two-year contract. The LG VX8550 Chocolate can also be purchased as part of a Music Set, which comes with a microSD card and USB cable. The Music Set costs $249.98.
The LG VX8550 Chocolate is definitely a luscious-looking handset, with a design that doesn't stray too far from the original. It retains that familiar chocolate bar shape; a rectangular chassis clad in a glossy surface and silver accents reminiscent of candy wrapping. At 3.85 inches tall by 1.87 inches wide by 0.67 inch thick, it's a little taller and wider than the original Chocolate, but not by much. You slide the phone open by pushing the bottom of the phone, which can be done easily with one hand. The slider mechanism moves up and down easily, and the phone feels pretty solid in the hand and when held next to the ear. The phone's glossy exterior does make it really prone to fingerprint smudges however.
The main 2.2-inch diagonal display is simply stunning. It shows 262,000 colors at a 240x320 pixel resolution and supports 11 lines of text. The graphics and animation looked razor sharp, and the bright colors added to the phone's overall flashy appeal. You can change the backlight time, the dial font size, and the clock format, but nothing else. Also, the display's glossy look makes it hard to see in direct sunlight because of glare.
Probably the biggest design change in the LG VX8550 Chocolate is the navigation controls underneath the display. Gone is the annoying touch-sensitive navigation toggle, and in its place is a mechanical scroll wheel with a middle confirmation key that can be pressed--similar to that of an iPod. This is an extremely smart move on LG's part, as it substantially lowers the learning curve for navigating the phone. Both the wheel and the middle key have a brushed-steel feel, and surrounding the wheel is a trace motion light that lights up when the wheel is turned. You can also set the trace motion light to flash differently when there's an incoming call. The wheel scrolls very smoothly and easily; in fact, we sometimes found it was too smooth and would almost prefer more resistance so that we could get a more solid grip. The wheel can also be pressed in four different quadrants (up, down, left, and right) much like a traditional cell phone toggle. Each directional click can be set as shortcuts to four user-defined functions.
But alas, the LG VX8550 Chocolate did not do away with touch keys entirely. All the other navigation keys surrounding the scroll wheel are still touch-sensitive. They consist of two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone key, and a Clear key. As with the original Chocolate, the keys are pretty sensitive, and need only be tapped lightly for it to activate. Thankfully, the sensitivity of the buttons can be changed. Though we're still not huge fans of these controls, LG has thankfully added a vibration feedback setting that provides a slight vibration whenever the keys are pressed. This definitely provides enough tactile feedback so that we know exactly when a key has been activated. That said, we still prefer the tactile feeling of real keys. Also, the keys light up in a bright red when the phone is active, but when the backlighting is off, they go completely dark.
The navigation array locks up when the phone is closed or when you're on a call, but fortunately, LG has incorporated a handy hold/lock switch on the right spine. The volume rocker, headset jack, voice command key, and charger jack are on the left spine, while the microSD card slot, the aforementioned hold/lock switch, and a dedicated music key is on the right. Slide open the phone and you'll finally find the Send and End/Power keys, a dedicated camera key, plus the alphanumeric keypad. This is a big improvement over last year's model where the End/Power key was on the right spine. Even though the keypad seemed crowded, the keys are actually quite tactile, as they are raised above the surface, and we could dial by feel as well. When the phone is slid open, the camera lens and self-portrait mirror appear on the back of the front cover.
Continuing the Chocolate's stylish trend is its choice of menu themes. Unlike the much-maligned standard Verizon menu design, the LG VX8550 Chocolate sports two Flash-based designs--Rhythm and Blues or Rock 'n' Roll options--that arrange the menu options in a circle. With the circular arrangement, the scroll wheel makes so much more sense, and we could scroll through the options easily.