Fortunately, the Chocolate offers menu themes beyond the standard Verizon design that is now commonplace on the carrier's phone. The default "Rock n Roll" option uses a Flash-based design where the menu options are arranged in a circle. With this arrangement, our initial instinct was to use the touch pad much like an iPod scrollwheel in order to get to the choice we wanted. Yet we learned quickly that our instincts were wrong, and we had to use the left and right keys to turn the circle instead. Options in the secondary menus are arranged in a simple list format, which is scrollable using the up and down directional buttons but not the volume rocker. We like that you can navigate sideways through secondary menu options. The LG Chocolate comes loaded with multimedia options, but we'll get the basics out of the way first. The phone book holds 500 contacts, which was below our expectation, but each entry holds five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can organize callers into groups, assign them a picture, or pair them with one of 13 polyphonic ring tones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice command and dialing, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, a tip calculator, and support for e-mail and instant messaging. Bluetooth is onboard as well and, though in typical Verizon style most object exchange profiles aren't supported, you can use the Bluetooth to make calls, send a wireless business card to another Bluetooth device, sync your contacts and calendar with your PC, or connect to a PC for modem calls. And even better, the Chocolate does have a stereo Bluetooth profile, which is still too rare on most phones today. Yet for all that hands-free functionality we were extremely disappointed to learn that the Chocolate does not have a speakerphone. Since even the most basic handsets on the market today, such as the LG C1500, have a speakerphone, its omission on the Chocolate is perplexing and frustrating.
Verizon is pushing music as one of the core components of the Chocolate. Like all Verizon phones compatible with the carrier's V Cast Music service, you can download tunes directly to the phone. Most of the same restrictions and costs apply here as well: songs downloaded to a PC are 99 cents, while simultaneous downloads to a PC and the phone are $1.99 each. Also, while the integrated digital music player supports both WMA and MP3 formats, any files transferred from a PC must be converted to WMA format first. The music player interface is similar to those on other V Cast Music phones, and we like that you can activate and turn off the player via the spine-mounted shortcut buttons. Navigation through the round touch pad was easy enough, but the other keys proved tricky for the reasons we mentioned earlier. Features on the player include shuffle and repeat modes and an airplane mode. And as previously mentioned, the stereo Bluetooth support is a great touch.
Besides downloading music wirelessly, you can transfer it from a PC using a USB cable and Verizon's software, or you can load tracks on the phone from a Micro SD card. None of these items comes with the phone, however, so you'll need to shell out an additional $30 for the Music Essentials Kit, which includes the software, a USB cable, and a stereo headset for making calls and listening to music. Unfortunately, the only in-box accessory with the Chocolate is an adapter for using your own 2.5mm wired headset (the Chocolate uses a proprietary plug). A Micro SD memory card is also a good investment, since the phone's internal memory caps out at 62MB for music and 66MB shared for other applications.
As part of its 3G, EV-DO support, the Chocolate is also compatible with Verizon's V Cast streaming video service with the full range of content offerings. Also on the visual side is the 1.3-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in five resolutions: 1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, 176x144, and 160x120. Camera options include a self-timer, brightness and white balance controls, a night mode, five color effects, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). There's no flash, but there is a self-portrait mirror and a 2X zoom for use at the lower resolutions. The camcorder takes 3G2 videos in one resolution (176x144) with sound; editing options are similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you can record up to an hour depending on the available memory. Photo quality was quite good in our tests, with sharp colors and distinct object outlines. In bright conditions, the lighting was a bit washed out. Videos were decent but nothing special as they tended to be grainy and pixelated.
You can personalize the LG Chocolate with a variety of wallpapers, alert sounds, and display themes. If you want more options or more ring tones, polyphonic or MP3, you can download them via the WAP 2.0 wireless browser. No games or special applications are included on the phone, but a variety of options are available for purchase from Verizon's Get It Now service. Be advised that gameplay through the touch pad is a bit difficult. We tested the dual-band, dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) LG VX8500 Chocolate in San Francisco using Verizon's service. Call quality was decent overall, and we had no problem getting a signal. There was little static or interference, but at times, callers sounded a bit harsh and robotic. Callers could tell we were using a cell, but they had little trouble hearing or understanding us in most conditions. We were able to pair the Chocolate with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset and enjoyed reasonable call quality.
EV-DO coverage was admirable, and connection speeds were sufficiently speedy. Game downloads took less than a minute, and browsing was hassle-free. On the other hand, streaming video quality on the Chocolate wasn't very sharp. There was heavy choppiness and pixelation, and the sound didn't match the action. What's more, clips paused for rebuffering on more than a few occasions and at times even froze completely.
We were impressed with the music quality overall and found it to be Verizon's best-sounding music phone to date, surpassing the LG VX8300 and on a par with Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones. You can listen to music without the headphones, but your tunes will sound much better with them. Yet we didn't like the phone's proprietary connection, which didn't fit very securely. Keep in mind, the music player won't provide the full range of bass and equalizer options as you'll find on a stand-alone MP3 player, but it will do the trick for short to moderate stints. V Cast Music takes a few seconds to access, and song downloads take just over a minute. Check back soon for a full report on Verizon's Music Essentials software.
The Chocolate has a rated talk time of 3.5 hours and a promised standby time of 10 days. However, our talk-time tests came up short at just 2.5 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the LG VX8500 Chocolate has a digital SAR rating of 1.13 watts per kilogram.