LG BL40 Chocolate Touch hands-on

LG's latest Black Label device, tastefully titled the Chocolate Touch, caused quite a few gasps and swoons around the Engadget mansion when it was first spotted, and subsequent photo shoots have not diminished our admiration. The gorgeous 4-inch, 21:9 display promises a whole new way to experience web browsing and video playback on a mobile phone, and we've been salivating for an opportunity to try it out. Finally, that day has come, so follow along as we get our fingerprints all over a final production sample, and bring you pictures, video and our thoughts on the functionality that lay behind that tempered glass screen.

We headed off to the London Design Museum this cloudy and muddy afternoon with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, as promising as it may look, we still knew very little about the BL40's usability, and there was at least the shadow of doubt in our mind that perhaps LG would rely on the unique form factor (128 x 51 x 10.9mm) and attractive display to woo people into buying otherwise unremarkable hardware. So it was both a delight and a relief to confirm for ourselves that this is by no means a gimmick phone.

The construction of the Chocolate Touch exudes both luxury and longevity. Yes, that reads like it's been lifted from the PR sheets, but it's true nonetheless. With the screen well protected and a generally minimalistic external design, it should be able to withstand the ocassional drop without much trouble. We commend the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone, and there's a usable, if not spectacular, 5 megapixel camera on the back.

The S-class UI will be familiar to users of the Arena, as it remains largely unchanged. We're not exactly huge fans of it, and the main menu comes with an overwhelming number of difficult to distinguish icons to work through, but it's still functional and probably a lot more intuitive once you've spent some time with it. The good stuff includes a virtual QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode (though it takes up most of the screen), and the all new dual-screen UI, which lets you look at two different menu items when in your email, messaging or schedule apps. Another neat addition is the ability to use gestures on the screen as shortcuts to particular apps. So if you draw an S shape on the locked screen, you will be taken directly to, say, your video gallery. These would all be meaningless, however, without a responsive handset and the BL40 duly delivers. We found menu navigation snappy, multitouch pinching and zooming was excellent, and rotation between landscape and portrait modes was near instantaneous. This should be no surprise though, as the processor running things is a slightly slower version of the ARM CPU found inside the iPhone 3GS.

With support for DivX, Xvid and MPEG-4 video, WiFi and HSDPA connectivity, and one of the most daring designs we've seen for a long while, the Chocolate Touch looks all set for success. The interface may prove too unwieldy for some, but overall the phone makes a very positive first impression. The BL40 has already cleared the FCC hurdles to making it to North American markets, so while the rumored August 23 launch date hasn't materialized, we don't expect our American readers to be left out in the cold for much longer.

P.S. - You can change the font, in case that flamboyantly ugly one isn't doing it for you.