It’s thinner, it’s lighter, and it has a new keypad. But does the VX8550 Chocolate stand out from the older model? Read more to find out…
First Impressions, Basic Phone Functionality
The VX8550 Chocolate immediately stands out from its predecessor with its keypad. Sure, it’s slightly thinner, and slightly more rounded, but the one thing that makes you realize this is a different Chocolate is the keypad. That’s not a bad thing, considering that the keypad on the original Chocolate is considered the single greatest failure on the device.
The new keypad functions in a couple of ways. You can use it as a traditional directional pad (up, down, left, right), but, you can also use it as a track-wheel, a la iPod. Well, okay, first generation iPod. But, that’s probably a good thing, just about everyone asked for a Chocolate that didn’t get bogged down with touch sensitivity. And, the new directional pad works great. And, just for effect, the track wheel has a light wheel of LEDs that surround it, so you get a visual response whenever you spin the wheel around.
From our experience though, you won’t do a lot of spinning… the wheel is ineffective versus tapping the down arrow key.
Also, the touch sensitive soft keys (two softkeys, speakerphone, and clear keys) have been upgraded as well. They now feature haptics, providing a brief vibration when you press one of the keys. Had the original Chocolate featured haptics, there probably wouldn’t have been a complaint about the touch-sensitive keys to begin with.
Still, there is room for improvement. The touch-sensitive keys respond to accidental presses, in a couple of ways. For example, when in a call, if you toggle the speakerphone, and then place the phone against your head to talk on it… your face sets off the touch sensitive soft keys. Sliding the keylock on the side doesn’t respond properly when this happens, you usually have to gripe to the person on the phone… then pull the phone away from your head, and finally, slide the keylock a few times until the touch sensitive keys lock again. In other words, speakerphone becomes an acrobatic maneuver to control while in a call.
A lot of this could be resolved with a proximity sensor (similar to Apple’s iPhone). Another room for improvement is to require electro-conducitivity (human touch) for key presses. The touch sensitive keys aren’t necessary for use, and can be set off easily in a pocket.
The VX8550 also improved on the original VX8500 with new Theme support. The BREW UI on both phones supports Adobe Flash for effect. However, the VZW UI theme on the VX8550 has now gotten the flash treatment as well. We find the other themes on the phone to be not intuitive, and immediately head into settings to set the phone to the “Classic” (VZW UI) theme. And what a difference Flash can make. The VZW UI Classic theme is now actually bearable.
Still, we cannot help but think how nice this phone would be if Verizon gave us an off switch, and let us use LG’s user interface… but since Verizon refuses to do the right thing on any of their devices, we can’t fault the Chocolate for Verizon’s poor decision making in this regard.
Advanced Phone Functionality
One of the great things about the new Chocolate, is that it’s a tour-de-force of Verizon’s data offerings. Folks with Motorola phones don’t realize that Verizon now offers things like free Song ID. The VX8550 has every last data service (other than Verizon’s MediaFLO-based V CAST TV service). And, thankfully, it takes advantage of all these offerings to the fullest.
In addition, the VX8550 also has support for Verizon features like Verizon’s new Mobile Email application (something Verizon customers have been asking for since Sprint released a similar application for free, though Verizon only offers it for free to those with expensive America’s Choice Premium.
All the other services (VZ Navigator, V CAST Music, V CAST Video) all performed just as well as on the previous Chocolate. And while Bluetooth 1.1 with A2DP is nice, it’s also not improving… we would have liked to see Bluetooth 2.0 in the device. This will make the Motorola V9m RAZR2 have yet another one-up on the VX8550 (and we’ve heard things like Song ID and Mobile Email will be on the RAZR2 as well).
The best way to put it, is that the VX8550 makes the best of a bad situation. Verizon is hindered, but at least you have a phone that can take advantage of what Verizon lets you use.
The VX8550 also makes other various, minor changes. For example, it is the first LG phone to formally add support for charging over USB, so you can charge your phone while tethering or transferring data from your PC. Also, newer firmware and hardware supports 4 GB microSD cards (up from 2 GB on the original Chocolate).
This change has allowed Verizon to start bundling 4 GB microSD cards with some VX8550 sales, and Verizon is using this phone as their answer to Apple’s iPhone. But, is the VX8550 a true iPhone competitor. Yes, and no. The VX8550 lacks a true web browser, its mobile email is much less limited, it has poor text entry, and of course, very difficult to sync videos. Music is still hampered by Windows Media Player, which is still hit-and-miss to pull a sync off.
However, the VX8550 has A2DP, and the same amount of storage as a low-end iPhone. And, iPhone lacks GPS navigation as well as Song ID. In short, it’s not a tough decision. If web access and email are your priority, you’ll go with the iPhone. If you put GPS navigation and Stereo Bluetooth as your priority, the VX8550 is a more attractive option. But, these two devices, despite Verizon’s attempts to equal the playing field, are too different for Verizon to really pull off the VX8550 as their answer to iPhone. Thankfully, they’re only trying to convince store reps… Verizon doesn’t plan to promote to consumers the new Chocolate as the next iPhone.
The LG VX8550 appears to have an almost identical camera to the LG LX570 MUZIQ (which we just reviewed). Overall, it’s a very good CMOS camera, but it’s still a 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera. We’d pay an extra $100 to have a reliable CCD camera on the back of the phone, as the night shot below will demonstrate.
Click to enlarge…
The Drop Test
As usual, we drop our phones from pant pocket level, onto sidewalk. Durability is a key factor to any phone, and we analyze the crash data for you to consider before buying… and dropping the phone.
The phone fell flat on its display. We saw the LEDs light up as the force of impact hit the keypad. We can see a couple of small, half-centimeter scratches on the display area, both are noticeable. However, other than that, the phone only has a scuff-feel along the side. In short, this is not the scratch-proof like classic phones such as the Sony Ericsson S710a, however, it certainly didn’t break on impact, like glass-bearing phones such as Apple’s iPhone.
The VX8550 Chocolate fixes our primary complaints about its predecessor. In fact, aside from not raising the bar with Bluetooth 2.0, we can’t find anything to complain about with the VX8550. Sure, we can monologue all day about how Verizon neuters their phones, from the user interface, to the software you can run, to how you can use it with your computer.
However, those aren’t flaws with the VX8550. The VX8550 works, works well, and does everything it advertises. Considering that it not only triumphs at what it says it can do, but also runs all of Verizon’s touted services, we’re giving it our highest score possible.
Pros: Excellent keypad, addresses problems of previous model.
Cons: Lacks Bluetooth 2.0, not extremely competitive with upcoming RAZR2.
Final Score: 5/5