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While the bar form factor isn't anything close to revolutionary, the LG BL40 New Chocolate proportions certainly are what makes it stand out of the crowd.
The few hardware buttons on the LG BL40 New Chocolate make a nice job of blending in with the styling of the phone - especially those on the sides. The power/lock button on top is a little more prominent but it's also probably the most used physical button.
With touchscreen bars, the front is usually dominated by the screen, but here even "dominated" sounds like an understatement.
Beside it the front panel hosts the earpiece, the videocall camera, proximity and ambient light sensors. Since the camera and sensors are not very noticeable, the screen seems to be the only thing at the front.
The screen is of course the centerpiece of not only the front, but also the entire phone. While 21:9 aspect ratio is common in cinema and relatively rare in TVs, in mobile phones it's one of a kind. And along with the regular functionality, the BL40 New Chocolate screen also offers multitouch, thanks to its capacitive touchscreen.
The 4-inch display is a real treat - the touch sensitivity is top-notch, registering even very light taps. And the sunlight legibility, which has been a problem of earlier LG handsets, is a great surprise - provided there aren't too many smudges on the screen it performs excellently under direct sunlight. The screen has probably gotten some new sort of coating that improves the things by far.
The LG BL40 New Chocolate may not be iPhone-good in direct sunlight, but it's close. Not to mention it has quite a few more pixels on screen than the iPhone. The colors are vibrant - the picture quality makes watching videos a nice experience.
The left side of the LG BL40 New Chocolate has a single key, which opens the Call history (its need dictated by the lack of any call keys whatsoever). The microUSB port is on this side as well, and it's got the same latch cover as LG Crystal - it's probably the most convenient microUSB cover introduced by any handset manufacturer so far.
The right side of the BL40 New Chocolate houses the volume rocker and the shutter key. While the other keys on the side are as thin as the silver strip lining running around the phone, the shutter key is wider and round, making it easier to use.
The top hosts the 3.5mm audio jack and the Lock/Power key. Both are easy to access and nice to use.
The bottom looks like a mirror image of the top from a distance, making the phone symmetrical. It's not however - it's plain, save for the mic hole. Still, at times you will find yourself wondering which way is up.
The back follows the same "cleaner is better" mantra as the front. The 5-megapixel camera is here alongside the LED flash and a hole for a second microphone - this allows the BL40 New Chocolate record better audio for your video clips.
The Schneider-Kreuznach logo is right next to the camera of course, a testament to its pedigree. There's nothing to protect it from scratches so you'd need to be careful with it.
The back cover comes off easily - just slide down to open it. It's very solid and has no wobble or creaks to it. Opening it reveals a 1000 mAh battery, the SIM card slot and the microSD card, which unfortunately is hidden here but can still be accessed without removing the battery istelf.
All that glossy plastic on the back however comes at a price. There isn't a fingerprint that it won't catch and the screen isn't any better. Taking the BL40 New Chocolate out in the sun reveals smudges all over, and if you don't compulsively wipe the phone every time you take it out, you'd better start because this is a phone that needs to look its best.
The BL40 New Chocolate feels heavy in the hand but not unpleasantly so. It will take you some time to find a convenient hand-hold position, in which the four corners on the screen are within your thumb's reach and you're not risking the phone tumbling over due to its higher center of mass.
In the next stretch of the preview (pun intended), we take a look at the new shiny S-Class UI that makes this phone tick. Jump on!