"The shape of the future" is what LG is promising us with the LG Chocolate Touch BL40. The device was presented as the newest accession in the Black Label family last September.
The 4 inch screen of 800 x 345 pixels certainly gives it an interesting appearance. Since other manufacturers are following this trend it's about time we put the device to the test.
Because of its unique characteristics it's difficult to identify its direct competitors. Non-smartphones, like the Samsung S8000 Jet and LG GC900 Smart Viewty will probably be the most fierce competition.
Besides the device the box contains a 1000 mAh battery, a white in-ear headset, a USB cable, a manual and a CD-ROM. The headset is of good quality, although the white colour of the headset seems somewhat strange. The headset is pleasant to use and has a 3.5 mm audio jack plug. The device has no microSD memory card and that's rather strange, since this device supposedly is the trophy of LG. Why safe money on that?
The front of the LG BL40 – which has no buttons - is covered by hardened and scratch-proof glass. The top of the screen has the speaker, the secondary camera and a proximity sensor. The top and bottom of the device are coloured red. At the bottom you will find the microphone and at the top the connection of the headset and the button to switch the device on or off or to (un)lock the screen.
On both sides of the device you'll find a silver line with buttons. The right side of the device contains the volume and camera keys and the left side has a music key to take you to your tracks. The left of the device also has a micro USB slot.
The rear is completely covered by a shiny battery cover with an opening for the camera and flash. The battery cover must be removed first in order to place a memory card or placing/removing the SIM card.
p> The sides of the BL40 are somewhat round and it therefore feels comfortable in the palm. The camera is excellent and there are no strange gaps to be found. The design is quite stylish with a glossy back and nicely hidden buttons. The shiny back is great, but it is a magnet for greasy stains. The measures of the device are quite large and the device does seem a bit like a TV remote. Nevertheless, during calls the phone feels pretty comfortable.
With intensive use the LG BL40 - with a full battery - can last for about two days. During the test period the brightness of the screen was set at 100% constantly. The brightness can be switch to ‘automatic' and there is also a power saving mode.
We had some different experiences when using the LG BL40 during calls. The device seems a bit volatile when it comes to the voice quality. Most of the time the sound was clear and, but a couple of times we weren't good to hear and sometimes the other person couldn't even hear us at all.
Starting a conversation can be done in two ways. Under the screen you find two green buttons, one with a phone icon and one with a silhouette of a person. With the phone icon you activate the numeric keypad. The numeric keypad does not able you to show your contact list in alphabetical order. If you want that then you'll have to open the contact list with another button.
During calls the standard features are available. Moreover, the proximity sensor causes to turn off the screen automatically when you hold the device close to your ear.
The LG BL40 does not have an ordinary display. The large 4.0 inch TFT screen can display more than 16 million colours with a resolution of 800 x 345 pixels. The aspect ratio is 21:9. You can only change the brightness of the screen, but the colour and contrast are sharp enough. In general, you can read the texts on the screen well, although it does attract stains so easily.
The auto rotate function of the device can be used at many places, but reacts slow and sometimes even poorly. Sometimes for instance you have to turn the device again. This is quite a pity for the device that is mainly getting fame for its width. We find the measures and proportions of the display not so successful, since most of the time it's rather awkward than an improvement, especially compared to displays of other touch screen devices. For example, the menu in the display is too narrow, but too long to control it with just one hand.
With the phone comes the trailer of the movie Avatar. When playing the trailer you finally see why the device has these kind of measures: it feels like having a mini cinema screen!
The LG BL40 uses the S-Class Touch user interface that we already know from LG. Central in the user face is the cube that has a basic screen on every side with its own theme. These themes are: widget, contact, browser and shortcut. At the widget screen eight out of ten different widgets can be placed, but the added value of most of these is limited. Your favourite contacts can be shown in a grid. The browser screen makes small images of your favourites in of a maximum of twelve pages. At the short cut theme nine short cuts to applications can be placed. Switching between these four screens goes quite slow and not so fluently as we had hoped.
In the menu you can find programs divided into four groups, namely ‘communication', ‘entertainment', ‘organizer' and ‘adjustments'. You only see three icons next to each other in the vertical position and scrolling horizontal is quite difficult. All the icons will be shown when you have turned the device, although smaller. Sometimes you have to search for icons, especially since they have no titles.
When we puss the status button in the menu a small window appears that allows you to open or change the adjustments of Bluetooth, WiFi, alarm, music, events and the profile.
In the lock screen you can open applications with the so-called gestures. By drawing a question mark you can change which gestures apply to which application. There are twelve gestures for nine applications.
The combination of the touch screen and the software of the BL 40 is not that successful. It's poorly in terms of accuracy and sometimes it's not responding at all when the device is indeed producing a slight vibration. When you're scrolling it sometimes happens that applications open when they're not supposed to.
When adding a new contact you can save the name, last name, nickname, five phone numbers, e-mail, favourites and groups. With one press of a button you can also add a ring tone, vibration, homepage, private address, company name, job function, business address, birthday, anniversary and memo. You can save up to 100 contacts.
A new message can be made in vertical position only with the numeric keypad and in horizontal position only with the QWERTY-keypad. In both cases the keypad is responding slow and inaccurate and the positive added value of the T9 dictionary is minimal.
A MMS can be made by adding an attached file by clicking on the paper clip in the right corner or on the option button in the top left. For your email account you can choose between Microsoft Exchange, that requires you to add your e-mail, server address and domain, or for ‘other', that only needs your e-mail and password. HTML-messages can not be shown.
If you turn the device sideways the messages list is shown in dual screen with both a list of your received or send messages and a place to read your messages.
Bluetooth and WiFi can be enabled through the status bar, although a new Bluetooth device has to be added through the menu. After doing this file sharing becomes very easy. When WiFi is enabled you can choose between different networks. The device remembers the previously used WiFi network, but it does not automatically reconnects with it. You can choose from mass storage, music storage, PC Suite and iSync when making connection through a USB.
The browser of the BL40 is not exactly a sign of perfection. We found it very annoying to work with. When opening the browser – and you're connected with WiFi - it will always ask to choose between WiFi and mobile internet. It takes a long time to load pages and zooming and scrolling is unclear. Moreover, it is quite a task to be able to read one page on the screen. Also, there is no support for Flash. During scrolling it keeps on reloading parts of the page. Although you can work with multiple windows it is not possible to open a link in a new window.
The LG BL40 is equipped with a 5.0 megapixel camera with a lens of the renowned Schneider-Kreuznach brand. This led us to have fairly high expectations that unfortunately the BL40 could not life up to. Even with the right contrast ratios the camera has trouble making clear pictures. Nevertheless, the pics are quite sharp, the colours look good and the flash is delivering a noticeable contribution to the quality of the pics.
At the left of the search bar you'll find a bar where you can set the mode, flash, macro and quality. In the settings you can use a virtual dial to change the camera, size, colour effect, white balance, timer, picture mode, ISO, memory, stabilization, autofocus, shutter sound, raster and geotagging.
In both the photo and video mode you can use the two slider buttons to zoom and set the brightness level. The right of the device has a bar with a button that will shut the camera off, a button to switch between video and photo and one to open the photo gallery.
In the search field of the video mode you can set the mode, flash, recording mode and call quality and at the camera settings you can change the camera, video size, colour effect, white balance, memory and audio.
Although BL40 is filming with a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and 30fps you do not notice this in the results. The video camera has great difficulty with moving images and the result is choppy and blurry.
The gallery is in vertical position not really special, but horizontally it looks better. Files are sorted vertically by date and you can scroll horizontally through the various pictures and videos taken that date.
Although the BL40 is no smart phone, it is pretty complete in terms of its applications. The available programs are: media library, music, film producer, FM radio, alarm, organizer, memo, world time, voice recorder, FM transmitter, calculator, stopwatch and converter. The Google button enables grouped shortcuts to Google Search, Google Mail, YouTube and Blogger.
The music library and music player are nicely integrated. The music player opens when you select a song. In the horizontal position the music player fills the whole screen. Through the multi tasking option you can also do something else while you are listening to your songs.
The LG BL40 is equipped with various kinds of games. Under the button ‘games & applications' we find games like Asphalt 4: Elite Racing, Vol2 Stress Management Brain Challenge, Bubble Bash, Monopoly World and Tetris. These are all demos so only good for very limited fun.
Moreover, the button also entails a file that is called ‘nice things'. This file entails the games Racing Time 2, Dual Match, Music World, Hidden Catch Wide, Real Motion Fishing, Serene Bubbles and Musical Instruments.
Like many other mobile phones Google Maps is installed on the LG BL40. The application uses the built-in GPS receiver and is neatly displayed on the big screen.
Besides Google Maps the BL40 is also equipped with Wisepilot for LG navigation software. This is a complete navigation package and looks nice. The application offers among others navigation with voice guidance, traffic and weather information and warnings for speed cameras. Unfortunately, this trial version is only valid for one month.
What's rather strange is the fact that both applications are placed quite far away under ‘games and applications'.
LG has once again succeeded in developing a striking mobile phone. The BL40 is slim, unique, and stylish, but as far as we are concerned the BL40 is not ahead of other producers when it comes to the design of mobile phones. The unconventional dimensions of the screen do not provide sufficient improvements in daily use to have other producers following LG. Just as with the transparent keyboard of the Crystal LG has again come up with a nice gimmick, but that is all it is.
If we look beyond the display we come to the conclusion that BL40 is a very nice phone that does not really stand out with its performance, but is also not disappointing. The device is a nice companion in everyday life. The slightly redesigned S-Class interface looks nice on the screen but is quite slow and inaccurate. The unique design of the BL40 can be for some the reason to buy the device, whereas for others the flaws weigh more heavily and will choose for another device.