LG's most well-known music handset is probably the LG Chocolate, which was introduced way back in 2006. There have been a number of updates since then, including the latest LG Chocolate 3. The Chocolate 3 didn't wow us, though; we expected something that would showcase the music player portion of the phone a little more. But there's another LG music handset, dubbed the LG Rhythm, and it looks like the handset the LG Chocolate 3 should've been. It has the mechanical scroll wheel and slider design of the previous Chocolate handsets, plus a much-improved music player, along with equalizer settings designed by none other than Mark Levinson himself. The LG Rhythm is only available from two major regional carriers; Alltel and U.S. Cellular. Pricing is around $120 from either carrier.
The LG Rhythm looks a little like previous LG Chocolate handsets, the LG VX8550 Chocolate in particular. Both have mechanical scroll wheels, a slider chassis, a sleek, streamlined design, and touch-sensitive navigation keys. The Rhythm measures 4.06 inches long by 1.93 inches wide by 0.64 inch thick, which is not much bigger than the VX8550. The Rhythm is slightly more curved than the Chocolate, though, with a glossy surface on the front, silver chrome trim, and a textured back cover that feels a bit like faux leather.
The Rhythm has a fantastic main display, which measures 2.0-inch diagonally and supports 262,144 colors and 240x320 pixels of resolution. Colors look bright, and we love how it shows off the colorful menu interface. Instead of the grid or list style, the default menu interface has the menu icons laid out in a semi circle, which corresponds nicely with the round scroll wheel when you're scrolling through the menu options.
Underneath the display is the aforementioned mechanical scroll wheel. It has a trace motion light around it that lights up in the direction the wheel is turned. If you want, you can change the motion light color or turn it off altogether. There are tiny little bumps all along the scroll wheel, which makes it easier to grip. The wheel can be pressed in four different quadrants (up, down, left, and right) for navigation. They also act as shortcuts to the Bluetooth menu, U.S. Cellular's easyedge browser, the My Menu folder, and the calendar. The My Menu folder is where you can list shortcuts to your own favorite applications. The wheel scrolls smoothly without much resistance.
There is one big design feature that sets the Rhythm apart from most other slider handsets, and it lies in the middle of its scroll wheel. Instead of a regular Menu/OK button, the Rhythm has a small 1-inch circular touch screen. The image on the touch screen changes depending on what application you're in, and it corresponds to a particular function. For example, on the standby screen, the touch screen says "Menu," and when you press it, the menu interface pops up. And if you're in the music player, the touch screen will show a Play or Pause icon instead. The touch screen has haptic feedback, which provides a slight vibration whenever it's pressed. This provides enough tactile feedback so we know when we've activated it. Though a bit gimmicky, we actually rather like the touch screen--it makes navigation easier, and it's nice to see a different user interface every once in a while.
Surrounding the scroll wheel are four touch-sensitive keys that lie flush to the surface of the phone. They are the two soft keys, a dedicated music player key, and the Back key. As we've said before, we're not usually big fans of touch-sensitive keys like these, but in the case of the LG Rhythm, it's not too bad. don't need a lot of pressure to be activated; a light tap will do. Like the circular touch screen, they also have vibration feedback so you know when they're pressed. When the backlight is off, the keys seem invisible, but when the phone is active, the keys light up in red.
All of the touch-sensitive keys are locked when the phone is closed (to prevent accidental presses), but you can easily unlock them by pressing the hold/lock switch on the Rhythm's left spine. Also on the left spine are the volume rocker and charger jack. A play/pause key and the dedicated camera key are on the right spine, while the microSD card slot and 3.5mm headset jack are on the top. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the back.
Slide the phone open and you'll find a surprisingly tactile keypad. Slider handsets usually have very flat keys, but this one is an exception. The keys all have a nice curve and bump to them. The top row consists of the Talk, speakerphone, and End/Power keys, and the rest are the number keys. The keys are well-spaced and are raised above the surface.
The LG Rhythm has a 1,000-entry phone book, with room in each entry for five numbers, two e-mail addresses, and a memo. The entries can be organized into caller groups, assigned a photo for caller ID, or paired with one of 30 ringtones or one of six message tones. Other features include a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, voice command and dialing, a calculator, a tip calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a unit converter, a world clock, a notepad, and a vibrate mode. More advanced users will like the wireless Web browser, mobile Web e-mail (with support for Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL Mail, and Gmail), instant messaging, and stereo Bluetooth support. Do note that you can only use the e-mail and instant messaging within U.S. Cellular's easyedge browser. The Rhythm also comes with EV-DO, which makes Web surfing a lot faster.
The music player on the LG Rhythm is one of the best implementations of a mobile music player we've ever seen. It has a great user interface and is decked out with features you would normally find on a full-blown MP3 player. The songs are categorized into artists, albums, and genres, and you get to play the music in either full view or list view, plus you can choose whether you want to view the album art or see the music spectrum when the song is playing. Other music player settings include the typical shuffle and repeat modes, the ability to create and edit your playlists, highlight animations, and whether you want the music to keep playing in the background.
Most impressive of all are the preset equalizer settings programmed by Mark Levinson, a designer of premier high-fidelity audio equipment. The settings are Natural Sound, Flat, Live, Virtual Bass, Comfort, and Clear. The Rhythm also boasts 3D sound, digital signal processing, and stereo speakers. As we note in our performance section below, this makes a huge difference in the sound quality of the music. Another cool music player feature is that it comes with a built-in FM transmitter, which you can set to any FM band you want. Select a band, tune your car or home stereo to it, and your phone's music will be transmitted over the airwaves. The Rhythm also comes with a microSD card slot to store your songs.
The LG Rhythm comes with a simple 1.3-megapixel camera. It's not the greatest camera we've seen, but it is OK for simple snapshots. You can take photos in five resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, 176x144, and 160x120), three quality settings, five white balance presets, and six color effects. Other camera settings include a night mode, multishot, a self-timer, the choice of four shutter sounds plus a silent option, a brightness setting, and up to 10x zoom (You can't zoom in at the highest resolution, though). Photo quality was good, but nothing to write home about. Images looked a little blurry, though colors appear fine. The built-in camcorder can record up to two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) in two different times (15 seconds for MMS and up to 1 hour for saving). As expected, video quality is low and shaky, but it's fine if you want to just capture something quick to show to a friend.
You can personalize the Rhythm with a variety of wallpaper and alert tones, plus you can always download more options via the easyedge store. The Rhythm does not come with any games preloaded.
We tested the LG Rhythm in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming service. We were very impressed with the call quality. Callers said we came through crystal clear, as if we were talking on a landline--no static or crackling at all. The same goes on our end as well. Speakerphone quality was also surprisingly decent. Our callers couldn't hear much of a difference when the speakerphone was on.
Audio quality overall was great. As we said earlier, LG did a great job in making the Rhythm sound like a real music player. There's digital signal processing, 3D sound, and a surprising smooth bass. We definitely still recommend the use of a headset for the best listening experience, and luckily for us, the Rhythm has both stereo Bluetooth plus a 3.5mm headset jack so you have the choice.
We were impressed with the EV-DO speeds; Web pages loaded fast and downloading applications took a mere second or two.
The LG Rhythm has a rated battery life of 3.3 hours talk time and 7.5 days standby time. The tested talk time is a tad longer at 4 hours and 5 minutes. According to the FCC, the LG Rhythm has a digital SAR rating of 0.798 watt per kilogram. The LG Rhythm satisfies the M3/T3 rating in hearing aid compatibility.