LG BL20 New Chocolate review: Bittersweet Noir
The retail box: unimpressed
The retail box is big, but you won't find anything out of the ordinary there. Along with the handset itself, you get a charger/data cable combo, a two-piece headset - with a 3.5mm jack at the bottom and a CD with PC software.
That's it. It would have been nice to have a memory card in the package, but it seems that's asking too much.
LG BL20 New Chocolate 360-degree spin
The BL20 New Chocolate isn't the slimmest among slider phones but LG were probably keen to stay as close as possible to the original Chocolate styling. The LG Secret by the way, was built around the same concept of a touchpad-navigated slider. The Secret however had more elaborate finish and notably slimmer body. The New Chocolate isn't as sophisticated perhaps but does meet what looks like its top objective - to look like a real chocolate bar.
Measuring 106.9 x 50.8 x 12.3 mm, the handset is still quite pocketable. The weight of 115g is just right to give the BL20 a comfortable hand feel.
It's only when you slide up the Chocolate BL20, that you may notice it's somewhat awkwardly tall. One thing we miss from its predecessor is surely its compactness.
So, LG have themselves two brand new chocolate bars to serve to different customers. The touchscreen bar obviously will be selling off the top shelf and the 3G-enabled feature slider may as well thrive on carrier-subsidized sales. Regardless of the different price bracket though, the two are so consistent in design that if you squint, it would be impossible to tell them apart.
Design and construction
The BL40 made sure the New Chocolate series don't get blamed for blatantly bringing old stuff out of the freezer. The S-Class touchscreen interface and the one-of-a-kind 21:9 wide display made it a unique handset. The BL20 in turn takes a more literal approach and suffices to simply bring the original Chocolate up to date with 2009.
The BL20 New Chocolate is the real sequel and it's not ashamed to show it. The Chocolate genes are all there and we can safely safe the styling is duly updated to be in touch with the times. The BL20 is a complete replica - in a different form factor - of its noble sibling, the BL40. From the piano black gloss, to the thin metallic side lining and the red accents top and bottom.
Those glossy plastics just love fingerprints though, and the BL20 looks messy all the time. It takes quite longer to clean the phone, than the mere seconds in which it's all covered in smudges. After a few hours of just normal use it will easily accumulate enough smudges to make a whole CSI unit happy for a week.
The touchpad up front is no news for Chocolate, and LG on the whole. The touch controls are absolutely invisible when the phone is locked - for those sweet chocolate bar looks - and come alive in warm, radiant red when in use. What we liked quite a lot is the response and precision of the touchpad: it's way better than the LG Secret's. Haptic feedback is spot on too. There's no customization for it but the touchpad vibrations are very sharp and accurate.
There's quite a bunch of touch sensitive buttons down there - two context keys, a direction pad with confirm action, as well as a Task Manager and Widget launcher.
The touchpad is large enough, so all the buttons are well spaced and comfortable to hit. Good feedback and precision, the New Chocolate is absolutely comfortable to navigate with the touchpad.
At the top is the earpiece, which also serves as a loudspeaker.
The rest of the BL20 New Chocolate front panel is taken by the 2.4" TFT display, which looks too small for the phone's measurements. Thanks to the thicl bezel around the screen, the closed BL20 looks very much like a fashionable music player than a mobile phone. The display on the BL20 is decent - we wouldn't expect anything above QVGA in a midrange feature phone, albeit a striving fashion icon.
Anyway, the New Chocolate screen has lively colors and good contrast. Things are not so good in direct sunlight, but the display still manages to remain visible. Backlighting is excellent though and the screen looks cool in the dark.
Next on the list is the alphanumeric keypad, which now contains an extra three buttons - Call and End keys, and a Clear key. It's not a conventional layout, but we don't mind it.
The keypad is quite spacious with large keys for extra comfortable typing. It's a flatbed keypad with no tangible bordering between keys (the thin metal lines between rows are more of a design accent), but spacing and tactility are near perfect. The flat buttons have great press feedback and overall, it's a very comfortable keypad.
The keypad backlighting is solid white, which, combined with the vibrant display, make it a pleasure to look at and work with in the dark.
The only thing to note on the left side of the BL20 New Chocolate is the micro USB port, while on the right that would be the volume rocker and the camera key. The volume controls and shutter key are very peculiar buttons. They are tiny buds that need not be pressed but touched instead. Bit don't let that fool you - they are regular keys. It's just that confusingly enough, they provide no press feedback whatsoever and their performance tends to be quite random.
The lightest taps on the volume rocker will sometimes be registered, while at times you will end up pushing with all your might to no avail. With time we got the hang of it and mastered the exact quick and firm taps needed to turn the volume up or down. But it's not a user-friendly solution anyway.
The shutter key works along the same logic. It takes a tap to launch the camera - but it will take you a few taps more often than not.
When shooting, a tap will lock focus and keeping your finger on the key will capture the shot. But you'll never know you're doing it right before you here the shutter sound. It takes some time getting used to, but in the end we mastered focusing and capturing. The peculiar shutter key will even let you skip the shot after locking focus - if you need to reframe or just walk away.
The top houses only the lock key, while the bottom is completely plain apart from the microphone pinhole.
The back of the LG BL20 New Chocolate hosts the 5 megapixel camera lens and LED flash. There is no lens protection whatsoever, and what's even worse is that the lens slightly protrudes and will be the first thing on the rear to suffer any kind of damage.
Under the battery cover is the 960 mAh Li-Ion battery compartment, as well as the SIM and microSD card slots. The memory card is hot-swappable despite being hidden here. The BL20 didn't have any problem handling our 16GB microSD card. The only problem here is the slow initiation of the microSD card and the frustrating refreshing of the thumbs every time you open an image folder.
Since the phone has almost nothing that could easily drain the battery, the LG BL20 New Chocolate did quite well. It took four days of file and web browsing, shooting, calling and playing games for the battery to die completely.
The build quality of the LG BL20 New Chocolate is commendable. We didin't hear any disturbing noises or noticed any potential build issues for the time of our reviewing. The phone is well done - smooth and solid slider action, very good keypad, nice and responsive touchpad - and looks hot.
If any of the original Chocolate users should have waited this long for an upgrade, they won't be disappointed with the looks and feel of the successor.
The chocolate finish has its dark sides, we admit. The inevitable fingerprints are a major issue for the glossy plastic but that's the price we guess, for a gadget that looks like it's about to melt in your hand.
The only thing we'd wish for is for the BL20 to be a tad more compact - more in tune with its predecessor. When you slide the New Chocolate up, it gets quite tall - even in a man's hand.