One of the most controversial discussions regarding LG’s new addition to Black Labels Series phones is how will the new shape of the BL40 perform? Thanks to LG who recently sent us the new Chocolate BL40 for a review, we’ve been able to test it out. For those who like a reminder of what the BL40 is technically capable of. The BL40 boasts an innovative new TFT capacitive touchscreen which supports up to 16M colours, the new design allows it to boast 345 x 800 pixels. Connectivity wise, there is quadband, HSDPA, bluetooth, WiFi, GPS and micro USB. Uncommonly found in all LG phones, the BL40 does have a good internal memory capacity of 1GB, there is also support for microSD of up to 32GB. Camera wise, the BL40 has a five megapixel camera allowing you to take photos of up to 2560 x 1920 pixels, this is equipped with Schneider-Kreuznach optics, autofocus and LED flash.
The candybar shape of the new LG Chocolate BL40 will no doubt get compared to its previous generation which was a slider. At 10.9 mm thick, the BL40 isn’t the thinnest phone available however this was not an issue for us. The BL40 is a very sturdy, well made phone to hold. The weight of 129 g was very reasonable, in fact, a few grams lighter than the iPhone 3GS and alot lighter than the new HTC HD2, just some of the phones within the similar budget range. The long elegant body of the BL40 largely made up of its 4.01-inch scratch resisting, 21:9 aspect ratio touchscreen display however makes the phone look alot like a TV remote. It may in fact just be a cm or so short of being as long as one. While this intriguing design may put some people off, when the BL40’s display gets its opportunity to play videos / movies, hardly anyone would have doubts on how well it performs.
Buttons on the body of the BL40 are well organised and all placed logically along the metallic chrome line along its sides. Apart from volume keys, there is a camera key, as well as a music player launch button. The mini USB port hides elegantly behind a folding door, what we did not like though was again the location of its microSD slot, its behind the backcover! This appears to be an ongoing thing with LG, it feels as though the LG designers worry about placing the microSD slot on the outside as it would make the phone look cheap, but this was very inconvenient in our view.
The BL40 has a 3.5 mm audio jack which means you can choose to use your own headphones should you decide, it was obvious that LG had put an effort into making these as it was very high quality made. The BL40’s headphones also functions as a microphone with a button for answering calls like the iPhone’s and as a radio antenna.
S-Class User Interface
The S-Class UI on the new LG BL40 is in the best version we’ve seen thus far. When it was first launched with the LG Arena, the S-Class was functional but was not as smooth as it is now on the new Chocolate. In addition, LG has not only got the 3D cube, but has also added to every widget icon in the S-Class further 3D dimensions.
These tiny bits and bobs may just be appearance but sure does come a long way when it comes to presenting a phone that’s meant to be glamourous. Like we commented in our recent GW520 review, we enjoy the “Status Summary” function of the S-Class, its simply a quick and easily accessible menu that lets you to take control of connectivities of the phone such as WiFi, Bluetooth, change profiles or quickly take a look at the upcoming appointments you had in your calendar.
We’ve never been a huge fan of widgets on LG phones, these work in a similar fashion to those on Samsung phones as well. You simply drag an icon towards the center of the screen to activate it. Widgets available include calendar, weather, FM radio, alarm, memo, international times, calculator and “fun stuff”. It is all dependent on whether you will find these useful, it is not possible to install new widgets.
The S-Class of course boasts elastic menus, a feature that is expected in all smartphones these days. Menus also run nicely with the BL40’s accelerometer so that you can browse applications, text and surf the web in horizontal mode, making use of that panoramic screen!
LG has enabled the BL40 to multi-task. Its multi-task menu can be accessed by tapping on the left button at the bottom of the screen, as you’d expect this can be accessed anywhere apart from when you’re in fullscreen in the browser for example. We would say that LG has given multitasking a good try, it doesn’t work brilliantly though. We found functions / applications began to close itself on its own when we opened more than three or four in order to conserve memory. If it doesn’t manages to close in time, it would prompt us “Memory full”.
As a Phone
The LG BL40 afterall is a phone, so the most important feature in this context is its dialer and phonebook. The phone dialer works with an on-screen standard numpad. The green history shortcut is available on the dial pad and takes you to the call log. It turns into a green receiver key as soon as you punch some numbers. You can also access the call history from the main menu. The on-screen keys as you can see were nice and large, not even the largest of fingers should have problems pressing the right numbers.
LG’s phonebook feature has never been a let down for us. The contact list has tiny separators with the corresponding alphabetical letter. The phonebook displays every contact with a picture, name and a green call button for quick dial. Tapping on a contact will take you to a next screen with details and Call/Text buttons. What was rather disappointing was the BL40’s smart dial function. The smart dial implementation on the New Chocolate only searches for contacts whose numbers contain the digits you’ve typed in the dialer. In other words, this seemed pointless, as I don’t know of anyone that would remember the numbers that they want to dial and still use smart dial.
The BL40 supports SMS, EMS, MMS, Email. Conveniently there is also Microsoft Exchange support for those who require a device that allows them to check university or work email accounts. The messages are neatly organized in a standard list view and sorted by date. You can choose a filter – SMS, MMS or notifications. Naturally, the Inbox is the default location when you enter the Messaging menu, but you can change it to Outbox, Sent, Drafts or My Folders. There is also a threaded view option. Its messaging interface has not had any major changes.
Though if you were to type texts or emails using its on screen keyboard vertically, you would need to be extra patient with its alphanumeric keypad especially because the phone is only 51 mm in width. All this changes once you turn the BL40 on to its horizontal position, as the messaging interface takes up the whole of the four inch display.
You then get a full QWERTY with large keys that are widely spaced out. Each symbol you tap is clearly marked by iPhone-style pop-ups. The huge screen has allowed for larger Favorites and Contacts shortcuts on the SMS screen, which have replaced the small square buttons from the past.
Using the Photo Gallery
With the improved, 3D S-Class UI, the BL40 also has had an upgrade to the way photos and images are browsed in its gallery. Like previous LG phones with S-Class, the gallery is highly sensitive to movements detected by its accelerometer.
You can of course, browse through items within the phone, in the external microSD card or both at the same time. In vertical mode, flickering through images is smooth, quick and elastic. If you’ve got a large image however and its in your microSD card, it may take it a tiny bit more time to generate a thumbnail.
In horizontal mode, you get a coverflow like presentation of the galleries and images available. In addition to what you would expect for those of you who have used Apple’s coverflow feature, you can also flick images up and down. This movement allows you to browse across all the galleries available but is not for browsing a particular set of pictures.
As the BL40 does support simultaneous multi-touch, it is possible to zoom in and out of photos using two fingers just like on the iPhone. However we were not convinced that this was particularly well done, it was not always responsive, laggy and when it finally manages to zoom in on a photo it would take quite awhile for its resolutions to be adjusted (especially if you used larger photos).
With support for MP4/DivX/XviD/H.263, and that 21:9, four-inch widescreen, there should theoretically be no better device than the BL40 for watching movies, films or any videos while you’re on the go. From our tests, most of the DivX/XviD movies at or below D1 resolution were played just fine, no drops and lags. We particularly liked the 21:9 ones that matched the screen ratio and these looked great.
Though one problem which we repeatedly encounter again was the lag you get if your video file was in your microSD card. It seems obvious that most who will be watching videos on the BL40 will be storing their files on an external memory source as there is only 1GB available internally. This lag was particularly apparent when you want to tap the screen to reveal its menus, it would also lag behind when playing / pausing. We found that if your videos were stored internally you wouldn’t have these problems at all. Unfortunately copying a 850 MB video file into the BL40’s internal memory took well over 15 minutes.
In addition to what you’d expect from a video player, LG has also equipped with it a screen capture function which was found to be quite useful. You can also send the video to someone else as a part of a message, email, or via bluetooth or directly to YouTube. For those fascinated by the “Use as” menu, that will let you set the video as a voice ringtone or a video ringtone. The BL40 does not have separate speakers for playing music or videos, which we felt disappointed about this especially because LG has boasted this to be an all-round entertainment phone.
The internet browser on the LG phones have always been the same and lacked response and stability. For the new LG BL40, LG has given it the same browser but added more functions. Of couse, the browser has too been given a new 3D look.
In addition to basic functions such as bookmarks, rss reader, saved pages and history. The BL40’s browser has been given the ability to browse multiple tabs.
There is no doubt that the browser and web pages look great and comfortable to the eyes thanks to its four-inch bright widescreen but looks can be deceiving. We came across a minor bug in which when you are in landscape mode, the websites it suggests from your history isn’t clickable. In other words when I type in “bb” and it suggests bbc.com, I would still need to type the rest, ie “c.com” as its suggestion was unresponsive to tapping.
The BL40 ran into problems and prompted us “Memory full” when we opened the third tab. It was extremely laggy by that point, at least by four seconds between each tap before it could register the first tap. Yes, the browser will allow you to view webpages in full all the way across its widescreen unlike any LG phone in the past but the only way we could maintain smooth browsing was to use fullscreen and not use any tabs.
The BL40 sports a five-megapixel camera with a Schneider-Kreuznach certified lens and a LED flash. It’s capable of taking photos with maximum resolution 2560 x 1920 and features image stabilization, geo-tagging, face tracking, blink, smile detection and panoramic shot mode.
[photos via CNET]
The BL40 comes with a most welcomed improved camera interface, resembling that on the Viewty Smart. You can conveniently access all camera settings via the left taskbar in the viewfinder. There you get virtual buttons for scene mode, flash, focus mode (auto/macro), advanced settings and homescreen button. Because you have the benefit of such a widescreen, its probably the best interface from LG we’ve ever used. The only disappointment is that LG has decided not to equip the BL40 with an eight megapixel camera or else that would have been perfect.
Overall, LG’s latest smartphone to be added to its Black Label series is highly appealling. There are definitely many who considers the design of the phone to be more important than its functions. If the design of a phone is what matters to you the most, then the Chocolate BL40 is worth considering. Its unique look and body length may not fit comfortably in everyone’s jeans however, it would fit elegantly in any ladies’ purse. The unique form factor may not catch on with you at first, but it definitely has an excellent design, reasonable weight and superior build quality. As highlighted, there are numerous tiny areas where the BL40 can be improved and perfected. While the BL40 is not what we would consider as the ultimate phone or entertainment device, the BL40 boasts specs and qualities that are within its price range (higher end) for most users.
- Good quality build
- Glossy, elegant and fashionable design
- Appealling 21:9 scratch resisting touchscreen
- S-Class UI
- Neat “fluid” style gallery
- Boasts many common features that you’d expect to see from a smartphone
- Lack of physical hardware keys for quick exit to homescreen, answering or disconnecting calls
- microSD card slot built internally, difficult to access
- Disappointing browser stability
- Camera only boasts five megapixels, however recently launched LG phones such as the Renoir and the Viewty Smart both have an eight-megapixel camera
- Laggy video player
- Speakers were not ideal, no bass, simply just volume