The LG VX8500 Chocolate phone arrived in the public arena with much fanfare and plenty of advertisements touting its luscious design. Our expectations were understandably high, but we were soundly disappointed when we discovered it wasn't all it was hyped up to be. The biggest problem with the VX8500 Chocolate (as well as with its GSM cousin, the LG KG800) was that the touch-sensitive keypad required too much of a learning curve to master. Not to mention that its features simply did not live up to the hype. However, LG may have learned its lesson with the LG VX8600, the flip-phone version of the Chocolate. The external music controls are still touch-sensitive but the keypad is decidedly not; this makes menu navigation much easier even though it is still hampered by a flat keypad. And while the feature set is the same as the VX8500, at least it now comes with the speakerphone built in. The LG VX8600 is available for $179.99 at retail but you can get it for $129.99 with a 2-year service agreement from Verizon Wireless.
The wide and flat clamshell design of the LG VX8600 does not really lend itself to the "Chocolate" moniker, unlike that of the original slider versions (the VX8500 and the KG800) that resemble (albeit vaguely) the size and shape of dark chocolate candy bars. It measures 3.89 by 1.93 by 0.58 inches, making it wider and fatter than the VX8500 Chocolate. However, it still retains the Chocolate's trademark glossy black finish, and it remains quite slim as flip phones go. We think it's very elegant and sexy, rivaling that of the Motorola Krzr K1 in style and design. The one downside to such a glossy finish is that the phone is extremely prone to fingerprint smudges--it was unavoidable. The phone's lightweight 3.26 ounces felt really nice in the hand, and we thought it felt pretty comfortable when held next to our ear. Opening the phone was pretty easy; just one push of the thumb would do it, though closing it is more of a two-handed operation.
On the face of the phone is its 65,000-color, 1.3-inch diagonal, external screen. It displays signal and battery strength, the date and time, photo caller ID, and the current track if the music player is on. The external screen also acts as a self-portrait viewfinder when you activate the camera, which sits above the display. Below the screen are the red touch-sensitive music player controls (that are lit only when the phone is activated.) When the backlighting is off, it seems as if there are no controls at all, but you can activate them again by pressing any of the buttons on the sides. We were a little more forgiving with the touch-sensitive music player controls on the VX8600 as opposed to the touch-sensitive navigation pad on the previous Chocolate handsets; since these controls are only for the music player and are therefore not as much of a liability. That said, they still can be a pain. Once the touch-sensitive music player controls are activated, they take just three to four seconds to turn off. If you happen to brush the controls accidentally during those three to four seconds, you might accidentally skip a track or stop a song. There appears to be no way to change this lag time, and the phone doesn't have a hold switch.
The left spine of the top flap is home to the volume rocker, while its right spine is home to a dedicated camera button and a dedicated voice-command button. These buttons are a little too skinny for our taste; it would make more sense if they were on the sides of the bottom flap, which is slightly thicker. The charger jack is on the left spine of the bottom flap, and the microSD card slot is on the right.
Flip open the phone and you'll find a beautiful 2.2-inch, 262,000-color, TFT (thin film transistor) display that is as gorgeous as the screen on the previous Chocolate handsets. Graphics appeared rich and detailed, and images were saturated with color. You can alter the settings of the backlight timer and the clock format, as well as the size of the dialing font. We were a little disappointed that you couldn't alter its brightness or contrast, but seeing as how brilliantly sharp the display was, we'll let that one slide. Verizon offers a few different menu styles to choose from, so you're not stuck with the tedious Verizon Wireless interface. We especially liked the Arch theme that arranges all the menu shortcuts into a wheel-like design.
The navigation array lies underneath the screen, and thankfully the controls are not touch-sensitive like those on the previous Chocolate handsets. There's a square four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, the Talk and End/Power buttons, and a Clear control. Each direction of the toggle also doubles as a shortcut for the Web browser, Verizon's Get It Now Internet service, the calendar, and the picture/video menu. While the array is spacious and user-friendly, the numeric keypad doesn't follow suit unfortunately. The buttons are flush with the surface of the phone with very little delineation between them, so they're not very tactile, and it is pretty difficult to dial by feel.
While the VX8600 is certainly a very design-centric phone, its feature set is pretty impressive, too. It has a 500-entry phone book, and each entry can hold up to five numbers, 2 e-mail addresses, a picture ID, and 1 of 17 polyphonic ring tones, as well as be assigned to a group. Basic but essential features include text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging, speed dialing, a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, voice recording, voice commands including voice dialing, e-mail, a wireless Web browser, a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, and a tip calculator. The VX8600 also has stereo Bluetooth support so that you can use stereo Bluetooth headsets to listen to your music, and VZ Navigator support, which turns your phone into a GPS navigation device.