The original LG Chocolate KG800 charmed us effortlessly with its innovative touch-sensitive direction pad, but an awful lot of water has passed under the technological bridge since its release way back in 2006. Can this updated version -- meant as a cut-price alternative to the widescreen LG Chocolate BL40 -- achieve similar success four years on?
The LG Chocolate BL20 can be purchased for around £110 on pay as you go, £100 on pay-monthly or SIM-free for £300.
Sweet like chocolate
Like its stablemates, the BL40 and the original KG800, the Chocolate BL20's most obvious selling point is its lush appearance.
With its eye-catching, glossy exterior and smooth, rounded edges, the BL20 is a device intended to turn heads. The famous touchpad makes a return, illuminating whenever you slide the phone open. Granted, the impact of such an interface is considerably less in these days of touchscreen smart phones, but it still feels incredibly accurate and highly responsive.
Although the BL20's display is a modest 63mm (2.4-inches) and boasts a rather underwhelming resolution of just 320x240 pixels, the brightness and contrast are both excellent. Because it lacks a touchscreen, there's actually little need for a larger display. Although, when placed alongside some of the 4-inch behemoths currently hitting the market, LG's phone looks obviously outclassed.
The inclusion of a physical keypad is another element that makes the BL20 a little antiquated. In saying that, it's actually quite pleasant going back to actual buttons after using touchscreens for so long. The spacing between the keys is acceptable and the degree of travel -- not to mention the satisfying click when you press a button -- is agreeable.
Push my buttons
Other physical controls are secreted around the edges of the handset and are a little less pleasing. The lock button -- located on the top-right corner of the phone -- is small and often hard to access, especially when you're using the phone in its 'open' configuration. The volume and camera controls lack any kind of tactile feedback, making them awkward to use.
In the case of the camera button, this can prove to be a real headache, because it's difficult to determine how hard you need to press to engage the autofocus before taking your snap. This results in lots of botched shots, which is a shame, because the BL20 is capable of capturing some impressive images. This is largely thanks to the high-quality 5-megapixel Schneider-Kreuznach lens.
Although static pictures look great, the BL20 doesn't have the power to capture moving images at an acceptable standard. At 15fps, movies look jerky and the quality is dire. The resultant clips are fine for sending as compressed MMS attachments, but anything beyond that is pushing it.
In terms of software, the BL20 intentionally keeps things basic. LG's much-hyped S-Class interface is replaced by a solid, if uninspiring, menu system. It's easy to navigate and keeps all major functions within a few key presses.
An iPhone-style main menu is present and handy shortcuts can be assigned to each of the d-pad's directions. It's even possible to switch between open and recently accessed apps with a dedicated button -- something that comes in handy if you're listening to music while browsing other elements of the device.
On the whole, the BL20's interface is smooth and responsive, which is no doubt a by-product of its straightforward system. Downloadable Java applications help spruce things up a little, but don't go expecting the same amount of customisation offered by the more advanced iPhone and Android platforms.
Middle of the road
Due to its mid-level origins, the BL20 lacks some key features. The most frustrating is the absence of Wi-Fi connectivity, which means you're stuck with 3G or Bluetooth for all of your data needs.
This alone might be enough to dissuade business types and heavy data users. To make things worse, the communications potential of the phone is also lacking. Although the BL20 supports email access, it's certainly not intended for heavy use, and the downloadable GoogleMail Java app is a pain to use.
Another bugbear is LG's decision to exclude a 3.5mm headphone jack, instead opting for a proprietary connector. Granted, the on-board music player is hardly accomplished enough to encourage you to replace your stand-alone MP3 hardware, but having to carry around an additional adaptor just to use your headphones is incredibly annoying.
It's also hugely disappointing to note that, although the BL20 comes with a MicroSD slot capable of housing cards up to 16GB, LG has rather cruelly decided not to include any external media with the phone. The paltry 60MB of on-board memory is likely to be maxed out with photos and music within days of purchase, so you'll want to invest in some extra storage space as soon as possible.
The BL20's lack of technological clout does offer one positive bonus, however. The battery life is far superior to most smart phones. You can expect to get two to three days' worth of moderate usage before you have to hook it up to the wall charger. So, if you're exasperated by the unreasonable power demands of cutting-edge phones, this could represent a viable alternative.
By the way LG has positioned the BL20, it's pretty obvious the phone isn't gunning for the top end of the mobile market. This is a mid-level proposition aimed squarely at those who don't want to be saddled with massive data bills, a barrage of confusing options and a phone that sucks its battery dry within the best part of a day.
With a solid construction and pleasing interface, the LG Chocolate BL20 is likely to find considerable favour with casual mobile users -- the one sector of the market that's more willing to forgive the lack of ground-breaking functionality. If you've set your sights on something a little more modern, however, we'd recommend you look elsewhere.
Edited by Emma Bayly