LG’s PR machine seems to have been in overdrive for the last few months with adverts for its various TVs, phones, and other products regularly appearing on commercial TV. Perhaps the biggest push, though, has been for its latest premium phone, the BL40 Chocolate, which I’m reviewing today. Can it possibly live up to all the hype? Read on to find out.
Since seeing all the adverts and promo shots of this phone we must admit to being somewhat unimpressed. The idea of an ultra widescreen phone just had gimmick written all over it. However, now that the device is in our hands we’re in the process of munching our way through a hefty humble pie – this is one seriously nice bit of kit!
Yes, at 128 x 51 x 11mm, it’s rather tall so will struggle to fit in the tightest of tight jean pockets but it actually feels very nice in the hand and perhaps more importantly it should have no problem squeezing into a designer handbag. The key, though, is that LG hasn’t skimped when it comes to build quality. The front is finished in a single sheet of glass and both the screen and its surround are finished in black. As such when the phone is off the whole front looks like a seamless slab of black, and nothing says cool like glossy black.
The finish of the back mirrors the front, though this is glossy black plastic rather than glass so will scratch more easily. Finishing the look off are the flashes of red on the top and bottom, and the thin strips of chrome around the edges into which the phone’s various buttons are incorporated. All told, we like that LG has made an effort to distinguish this phone and we think it’s one of the nicest looking on the market.
It’s not just the aesthetics of the BL40 that please us, there are some practical considerations too. We’ve already mentioned the glass front, which not only looks good but will keep scratches to a minimum, but the cover over the micro-USB data socket also impresses with its pop-up and slide-out mechanism, as opposed to the usual plastic cover that hangs off to one side on a bendy bit of plastic that invariably gets in the way or breaks off. We also like the subtle red light next to this socket that glows red when charging but is otherwise hidden from view. The presence of a proper headphone socket on the top is also something we’re glad to see, especially as it produces very good quality sound, and a microSD slot (that can accommodate cards up to 32GB) hidden under the battery cover means this phone is off to a good start as a multimedia playback device – something its screen suggests it should excel at.
As for those buttons on the side, you get the camera button and volume rocker on the right edge while the left is home to the button that launches the music player. The power button is incorporated into the top along with the headphone jack and finishing off the external features is a 5-megapixel camera on the back that has an LED flash above it.
Turning the BL40 on and those superlatives already flying around from talking about this handset’s design continue unabated when it comes to seeing the screen in action. Obviously its 4in size and 21:9 aspect ratio immediately make an impact but just as important is the quality of the screen. Packing in 800 x 345 pixels, it’s incredibly sharp and, thanks to its AMOLED lighting technology, colours positively leap from the surface. Blacks also look truly black while brightness can be astounding when called for.
It really is a pleasure watching videos on this phone, though we wouldn’t necessarily say it’s any better than watching them on any other decent quality large screen handset. Indeed, ironically, because many non-blockbuster films are actually shot in 16:9 ratio, you actually get black bars either side of the video, which you may prefer to black bars above and below but is ultimately still a waste of space. Things only get worse when watching programmes made in TV-sized 4:3 aspect ratio. Still, for those big budget widescreen films, you have the perfect screen.
The camera is another feature we were distinctly impressed with. Using the ultra wide display to full advantage, LG has flanked the viewing screen with the controls for the camera and thanks to the very sensitive screen they are effortless to manipulate. The camera has plenty of features, too, including manual focus and exposure and continuous and panorama shooting modes. Sadly, manual focussing is controlled by an onscreen slider rather than simply touching on a subject in the scene to bring it into focus. Image quality results aren’t actually that impressive, though they’re above average, and the flash range is limited. However, thanks to the easy control system and good shot to shot time, the overall photo taking experience is a good one. Unfortunately, I managed to accidentally delete the normal outdoor shots I take so don’t have them for comparison.
Video is also available and it can shoot at up to 640 x 480 at 30fps, which is ample for short and silly clips. As you can see from our sample shot, the white balance can be thrown out quite easily though.
This is a fully up to date 3G phone so you get HSDPA up to 7.2Mbps, GSM, EDGE connectivity and quad-band support. There’s also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and A-GPS onboard. We found it performed admirably as a phone, keeping a strong signal and providing clear audio both to and from the handset.
All told then, on a hardware front, the BL40 is an impressive handset. Unfortunately, LG remains seemingly incapable of making a decent phone operating system.
Starting with the home screen, rather than a simple set of sliding pages upon which you can add shortcuts and widgets, LG has seen fit to make the pages appear like they’re on a rotating cuboid. It’s just slow, cumbersome, and utterly akin to a broken pencil – pointless. Next is the awkward menu system that eschews a simple vertical list of words or icons and instead uses horizontal scrolling icons arranged into four sections. This is odd in and of itself but the fact that the icons don’t scroll smoothly across as you’d expect just makes this a confusing and unintuitive system. Thankfully you can switch to a tabbed layout with a fixed grid of icons that is much easier to use.
Once you actually get to the programs you want, most of them are functional but hardly impressive and the lack of an app store with which to add functionality means it’s severely limited compared to many smartphones. More pressing is the basic lack of capability in the web browser that, like all LG phones we’ve looked at recently, throws up an ‘out of memory’ error when trying to view the TrustedReviews home page.
There are some plus points to the software, though. The keyboard is very nice to use with a clear layout and fast response, there’s support for copy and paste, the camera controls are worthy of praise, and the browser is nice to use (apart from its problems with our site). However, for a premium phone that, in terms of price, is coming up against some very capable smartphones, its functionality is lacking. That said, if you’re not an avid mobile emailer/web browser/Facebooker, the core functionality is still perfectly acceptable.
The LG BL40 Chocolate is a stunning phone in terms of hardware design. It’s solid glass front, long and slim profile and superb quality screen all combine to make a device that is nice to hold and look at. It also does all the basics without issue. However, a smartphone this certainly isn’t and, compared to phones of a similar price, its severely lacking in some areas.
Score in detail
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||4.01in, in|
|Talk Time (Minute)||300m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||370hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||1.10 GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||5 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||Yes Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||Yes|
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