The LG Chocolate 3 is more than a mere upgrade, This time around, LG ditched the slider design for a clamshell one and improved the external music controls. You get a built-in FM transmitter for streaming tunes to a car or home stereo system, whether they're tracks you've ripped from a CD or tunes you've purchased from Rhapsody. There's even a snazzy new Flash interface for instant info and entertainment updates. At $129, the Chocolate 3 is a solid handset that offers good call quality, decent battery life, and a fun multimedia experience.
Chocolate 3 Design
The LG Chocolate 3 looks quite similar to theMotorola RAZR2 V9. Our unit has a black metallic lid (light blue is also available) and a large 1.8-inch, 220 x 176-pixel resolution display on the outside, a 2-megapixel camera on the front cover, and an enhanced navigation wheel that doubles as a 5-way directional pad. The 3.4-ounce phone feels a bit too large when opened, so those with small hands might want to look elsewhere.
The left side of the handset has a 3.5mm headphone jack, replacing the 2.5mm one found in previous models, as well as a micro-USB charging port, volume controls, and a voice-command quick-launch button. On the right side of the unit is a key for locking the front display, a music quick-launch button, and a microSD slot which supports cards with capacities of up to 8GB.
The keypad is spacious and easy to use, but since it's rather long, it took a few days to get used to sending off SMS texts with one hand. At the top are a 5-way directional pad, two soft buttons, Send, Clear, and End buttons, and two quick-launch buttons for the camera and its speaker. Above the keypad is a large 2.2-inch, 320 x 240-pixel resolution display, which was bright and easy to read during our tests. We were able to view and read text messages easily at arm's length.
Refreshing User Interface
Unlike the standard Verizon Wireless menu system, the Chocolate 3's user interface has a bit of pizzazz. Nine icons inside the main menu give access to your Contacts, Games, Media Center, Messages, My Music, Recent Calls, Settings, V CAST Video, and VZ Navigator. Each icon is white, and a selected icon turns red. We appreciated the simplicity and clean look.
Music and Video
Through Verizon Wireless' music store, you can easily download tunes over the air for $1.99 a pop. We appreciate the new partnership between Verizon Wireless and Rhapsody, which gives users a second copy of their over-the-air downloads as DRM-free MP3 files, but still find $1.99 per song a bit steep. We definitely recommend loading an 8GB microSD Card with your own DRM-free MP3s and playing them on the phone instead of buying them over the air for twice the price. If you like the idea of all-you-can-eat music, the Chocolate 3 is also compatible with the Rhapsody subscription music service, which costs $14.99 per month.
You can easily sync your music with your computer by clicking the right soft key inside the music menu that corresponds with Sync while the Chocolate 3 is plugged into your PC via a USB cable. We chose to update our songs manually via Windows Media Player. We downloaded John Mayer's cover of "Free Fallin'" in 1 minute and 17 seconds, which is on a par with other phones that support Verizon Wireless' Music store.
The Chocolate 3's speakers didn't sound too good at the highest volume, but the audio quality was quite good when listening via a 3.5mm headset. John Mayer's guitar strums were clean and crisp, and his voice balanced well with the instruments overall. You can let music play in the background and pause/play it directly from the phone's home screen.
The phone also supports V CAST Video, which streams from Verizon Wireless over the air. We watched a CNN clip, the quality of which was acceptable, but the audio was unclear at higher volumes.
Like the earlier LG Fusic from Sprint, the Chocolate 3 features an FM transmitter, which you can access inside the My Music menu. This feature lets you play your music over your car or home stereo speaker system. You simply need to pick an empty frequency on your stereo, and the same channel on the phone. The FM transmitter worked very well: We walked 16 feet away from our car and the music still came through. That means the kids can control tunes from the back of a large SUV or minivan. However, the range was only 11 feet with the phone closed, so we suggest leaving the clamshell open for a cleaner sound. Audio sounded as good as a stereo FM station.
When you're in FM transmitter mode, the music pauses when calls come through and resumes after you hang up. We loved that the Chocolate 3 let us save three favorite stations, so if one station cut out, we were able to quickly switch to another that we knew worked in the area. Unfortunately, the transmitter function is limited to music and doesn't work for voice calls or VZ Navigator directions.
We were able to pinpoint our location easily with the Chocolate 3 using VZ Navigator Version 4.1.1, which offers live traffic updates. You can also use VZ Navigator for local search, and we searched for Pizza near Manasquan, N.J.; it accurately picked up a host of places but didn't find the most famous one within a quarter mile of us: Gee Gee's Pizza, which has been around for more than a decade. The closest pizza place the program found was a mile away.
We then used the Chocolate 3 to navigate us around town; While it was accurate as long as we followed directions, when we veered off course, VZ Navigator took longer than we'd like to reroute us; we had to pull over for the application to catch up. Once, VZ Navigator failed and had to retry its connection. Still, we appreciated that the program told us how far the distance was to our next turn both on-screen and through voice.
When we launched Mobile Web, we were presented with Verizon Wireless' Dashboard, which is enabled by Adobe Flash Cast technology. Here you'll find 13 channels that offer personalized information, including standard choices like Mobile Web and Search but also Comedy Central, Fox Sports, MTV News, Business, Weather, and more. CNN.com loaded in 10 seconds over the phone's EV-DO Rev. 0 connection, and ESPN.com in 16 seconds, which is acceptable but on the slower side. We don't like how Verizon Wireless requires you to navigate back to its own WAP page just to enter in an address; it adds an unnecessary step in the Web browsing experience.
We were disappointed to find that we couldn't load YouTube videos from m.youtube.com. When we tried, the phone said "Error: Malformed URL." Considering that other handsets such as theSony Ericsson Z750a, a $29.99 handset, can load the site, we expect a phone more tailored to multimedia to load it as well.
We were able to log into our AIM account easily, and we appreciated that it ran in the background and that we could view our entire buddy list. You can also sign into Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo.
Mobile e-mail will cost you $5 per month unless you have the Nationwide Premium Plan (starting at $79.99 per month). We downloaded the Mobile E-mail application in 19 seconds and found that we could sign into Verizon Wireless' standard e-mail services, which include AIM Mail, AOL Mail, Verizon.net, Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and "Other." The Other option let us log into our personal Gmail account. You can set the Mobile e-mail application to alert you to new messages and even set a schedule of when the phone should alert you (e.g., only between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.).
The 2-MP camera took very good shots outdoors and decent ones indoors, although with less light, the pictures were blurry. In one shot of our kitchen table, we could hardly make out the titles of our books. Outdoors, however, a shot of a beach house across the street was crisp, and although it wasn't crisp enough to count the neighbor's flower petals, we could at least identify the type of flower. The colors were slightly washed out, unfortunately. You can record 30-second video clips formatted for MMS texts or longer 1-hour clips.
Call Quality and Battery Life
We didn't experience any problems with call quality during our tests from New York City and at the Jersey shore. Most calls were of landline quality and we didn't experience any audible pops on the line or dropped calls. The phone is rated for up to 4.5 hours of usage time and 14.6 days of standby time. During our tests we were able to actively use the phone to surf the Web, download and listen to music, and make calls for a day and a half before the battery needed a charge.
Overall, we're impressed with the performance and quality of the LG Chocolate 3. It's a bit expensive, but for $129 you'll get a very good phone that can easily double as a fully functional music player. If messaging is more up your alley, check out theLG enV2from Verizon Wireless for just $99.99, which offers similar features but lacks a 3.5mm headset. But anyone looking for a clamshell with a few extra features, such as an FM transmitter for the daily commute, will really appreciate the LG Chocolate 3.