LG BL40 Chocolate £399.95

3rd Sep 2009 | 23:38

LG BL40 Chocolate

LG's new Chocolate is the latest addition to its Black Label line. But is it any good?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A solid effort and probably LG's best phone so far. Might not appeal to all but definitely a step in the right direction.

Like:

Great looking chassis; High res and contrast screen; Improved touch accuracy; Sleek and glassy design; Decent camera

Dislike:

Poor battery life; Dual screen UI not used enough; Slight lag in the UI on a number of occasions; Menu and back button layout is frustrating

LG BL40 Chocolate: Overview, design and feel

Update: read our LG Chocolate BL20 review.

LG has brought another edition to its Black Label line, this time in the shape of the LG BL40 Chocolate. The world's first full cinematic screen mobile, the new Chocolate brings LG's richest feature set yet.

Given there's no phone out there quite like the BL40 Chocolate, it's hard to see who this phone is aimed at. LG maintains it's one for the fashionista, thanks to the Black Label tag, yet a full 21:9 (cinematic) screen is definitely one for the hardcore PMP lover.

LG bl40 chocolate

You can tell by the styling that this phone is meant for the user who likes to enjoy looking at his or her phone as much as using it. The chassis is a combination of metal and glass, with vibrant red plastic at either end, with the top housing the 3.5mm headphone port and the power/lock key.

LG bl40 chocolate

The left-hand side of the LG BL40 Chocolate has a dedicated music key to take you straight to your tracks, which needs to be held down for a while to get it working. It's embedded into the thin metal stripe running around the outside of the chassis, and is a nice look for the phone. There's also a hinged microUSB slot here as well, with a very solid-feeling cover, similar to the one seen on the LG Crystal recently.

A similar system is on place on the right-hand side too, where the volume up and down buttons are built into the chassis like a kind of wave, and the camera key is a raised, metallic ellipsis. It sounds very fancy, and to be honest, it very much is.

LG bl40 chocolate side view

What's odd is there are no touch sensitive keys, like those we saw on the original LG Chocolate. It's basically a fully black front, save for the LG logo, the speaker and a small video camera.

LG bl40 chocolate rear

The rear of the LG BL40 Chocolate is the equally shiny, but this time plastic, solid black cover, again very minimalist, with the LG logo, a small amount of lettering to let you know the lens is Schneider Kreuznach and the 5MP camera with LED flash. Overall it's a very well laid out phone (if not a little bit odd looking) and in the hand it works rather well.

LG bl40 chocolate in the hand

The depth of 10.9mm feels very comfortable in the palm, and despite the early worries from some, fits fine in the male pocket. We're not sure if this is meant to be a phone aimed at the ladies yet, but if you're a guy hankering after a 21:9 phone, then this will fit you nicely.

LG BL40 Chocolate: Interface

The interface is again the S-Class UI from LG, and thankfully this time it's been overhauled to work a lot better than before. The LG BL40 Chocolate brings a capacitive screen which is a lot more responsive than efforts from the likes of the Crystal or the Arena, and that's a welcome relief after being frustrated by LG for so long.

The 'wipe-ability' of the screen on the LG BL40 Chocolate is actually very impressive, with minimal lag on the whole from the phone and a decent zip about it. For instance, the lock screen requires just a gentle swipe upwards to open up, and from that moment on we were impressed with how intuitive the LG BL40 Chocolate's UI was.

The lock screen also brings something similar to Samsung (shocking, we know) in the shape of gesture unlocking, where you can draw a shape onto the lock screen and open up an application. Think an 'M' for messaging, a circle for the browser and so on, with a huge range of applications and shapes on offer for each.

LG bl40 chocolate screen lock

The nice thing about this is that you can actually see the shape you're drawing, where on the Samsung version you just had to blindly fumble around the screen like a myopic teenager on his first female encounter.

The menu system has been tweaked, rather than overhauled, and the S-Class spinning cube is still in effect. We're still not convinced that it's necessary, as you can simply swipe left and right on the home screen to look at contacts, bookmarks, widgets and the like anyway, but if LG wants to put it on there, we're not going to stop it.

LG bl40 chocolate menu

The cool new thing about the spinning cube is that it actually updates with what's on the screen, whereas before it was a set picture on each side. It's not of massive importance, but it brings an extra touch of cool to the whole interface.

LG bl40 chocolate menu

It has to be said that the screen on the LG BL40 Chocolate is absolutely stunning. We're talking an 800x345 resolution (which is apparently 'true' VGA, according to LG) but we still can't believe that it's not an OLED screen under there, as the colours are just so vivid and the black so deep.

We've always found it strange that LG doesn't use OLEDs in its mobile phones, especially when it's one of the world's largest producers of them, but there we go, here's a TFT LCD that apes an OLED's performance (except in terms of battery life).

LG bl40 chocolate browser s-class

The overall interface is much faster than before, although it's still woefully sluggish in places. Opening up the memory card or the contacts folder brought the 'loading' screen with a spinning icon far too often, and we can only hope and pray that LG brings out a firmware update soon to rectify this.

LG bl40 chocolate s-class contacts

The size of the phone is a bit of a hindrance to one handed operation too, as there are necessary buttons at the top and the bottom of the LG BL40 Chocolate. The home screen and multi-tasking buttons are at the bottom of the device, and are nice and easy to hit.

But if you're not using the phone in landscape mode then the menu and exit buttons (located at the top) are much harder to hit, with you having to perform a fair amount of adjustment in the hand to get to them.

LG bl40 chocolate

The multi-tasking button is an odd choice as well, as we're more used to accessing this by long pressing one of the physical keys. Why this had to be placed at the bottom as a virtual key rather than assigned to something like the volume button we don't know.

But the upgrade in touch sensitivity is a real boon for the LG BL40 Chocolate, and means things like swishing through the menu are much easier than ever before.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Calling and contacts

Calling friends on the LG BL40 Chocolate is a much more pleasant experience than before; with the length of the phone raising call quality somewhat.

The phone dialler has the older version of smart dial, where it will recognise the number coming up and offer phonebook options containing that combination. That's an OK option, but when we've seen the likes of the Nokia E52 bringing the name up based on the predictive text combination of the keys, we're a little nonplussed by this method now.

LG bl40 chocolate dialler

With the lack of dedicated call/terminate keys, the phone dialler is an odd experience, with virtual keys needed to be pressed to bring up things like the call history.

A nice touch on the LG BL40 Chocolate is the fact you can view the call history of a given contact within that person's entry - icons at the top let you choose between the two.

Network coverage was pretty good on the LG BL40 Chocolate too. It may have struggled to regain signal when on the train, moving in and out of coverage, but on the whole it's pretty good.

LG bl40 chocolate contacts list

As we mentioned above, the contacts list has been nicely enriched to allow you to see all the conversations between you and your friends from the contact listing, as well as being able to make them your favourites and add them to the home screen.

When doing so, they can either be arranged in a grid or a scroll wheel - once again the improved touch interface makes this a whole lot nicer to use, with a greater degree of ease when spinning it to get to your favourite.

LG bl40 chocolate homescreen contacts

From the favourites menu you can access the basic functions you need when calling - ie voice and video, editing and so on. The same things are available from the main listing too, but with more settings to play with, such as moving the storage location.

When searching for a contact from the list, you can either scroll through manually, use the side tab to move or enter the friend's name into the search bar. Annoyingly the virtual keypad is shown automatically, so 99 per cent of the time you'll have to shut this down before you can properly use the contacts menu.

Video calling is nothing exciting, and we doubt it's going to be a huge application for the LG BL40 Chocolate. You get to see your face and the other person's in quite good detail, as you'd expect from such a massive screen, but the quality's not too great throughout the call and the speakerphone is a bit too tinny for our liking.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Messaging

Messaging on LG's S-Class line up has been something of a hindrance for nearly all the phones, and thankfully the LG BL40 Chocolate performs a lot better than its predecessors. Having said that, it still suffers from a number of the same problems, but the improved touchscreen is the saving grace.

The text input on the Arena, Crystal and Viewty Smart is woeful in landscape mode, and with the others, horrifically inaccurate in QWERTY mode.

The LG BL40 Chocolate's portrait mode is still the same as before - when using the predictive text, you have no virtual key to scroll through the choice of words with.

LG bl40 chocolate portait messaging

This is fine most of the time, with the auto-correcting words very accurate we found, but should you want to add a comma into a sentence, you have to move your finger up from the pad to the message and strike the drop-down menu. Then you have to manually scroll through to find the comma and, given this is a tiny menu, it's a pretty tricky task.

We get annoyed when our messaging flow is broken for a mere millisecond - throw in a few seconds here and we're getting pretty irritated.

As mentioned, texting in the landscape mode is a much better experience, if a little cramped with the phone not ideal to hold between two hands.

What is annoying is the amount of text you can see when you're writing, with it limited to just the single line of the message. We understand the thin screen isn't conducive to reams of text, but it would have been nice to see a little bit more of our inane witterings on the screen.

LG bl40 chocolate qwerty

The QWERTY keyboard is good and responsive though, meaning texting this way is a doddle. However, the bad news is that for many occasions where text input isn't for messaging (such as entering information into a field) there's no option to use the QWERTY method, which means you have to mess about with the portrait mode again.

Weirdly you can 'cc' people into the conversation in messages, which is a novel idea for a text. Adding an element in (through the drop-down menu in the corner) will automatically turn it into an MMS and, of course, there are email opportunities a-plenty on the LG BL40 Chocolate.

The most impressive of the lot is being able to have push email from a variety of web sources, such as Hotmail, Google mail and Yahoo Mail. It sadly is built on top of the Java platform, so it's not too tightly integrated with the phone, but it happily runs in the background.

LG bl40 chocolate

However, setting it to run in the background is actually very hard - we eventually worked out the only way to do it was to open multi-tasking and then head to the menu before navigating to the home screen.

Messages that were being pushed also took around a minute to arrive after they had appeared in our Google mail inbox online, which is a little tardy for such a service.

LG bl40 chocolate

But at least it's better than the in-built email server, which asks you to do all manner of things before not managing to pull down new email. You need to enter the user name, password, email address, SMTP and IMAP/POP settings before you even get to downloading mail.

And despite only having 400 messages in our inbox (and setting the pull limit to 1,000) the mailbox on the phone still didn't recognise new messages, and wasted a huge amount of data pulling old messages down that were no longer relevant and deciding to stop at the start of the year. We had more luck when switching from POP to IMAP forwarding from our Google mail account, but we doubt many fashion-phone lovers are going to want to do the same thing.

LG bl40 chocolate

One of the big things promised by LG with the BL40 Chocolate was the ability to have a dual screen UI - basically it's so wide that you can see two programs open at once.

Well, messaging was the only time we saw this little trick, and even then it wasn't that exciting. You basically opened a message, turned the phone to landscape and the inbox with all the messages showed on the left, a message preview on the right. It's good, and we hope LG makes more use of it with future firmware updates.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Internet

The internet browser on the LG BL40 Chocolate was as good as you'd expect it to be, browsing in full HTML swiftly over Wi-Fi and HSDPA connections.

Not only are we treated to some intelligent smart-fit technology, but there's the now standard LG pinch-and-zoom. It might not be quite up to the level of the iPhone 3GS, but it's certainly a lot closer than it was before, with more accurate touch recognition.

LG bl40 chocolate bookmarks

HOMESCREEN BOOKMARKS: The LG BL40 Chocolate brings thumbnail bookmarks to the homescreen

Web browsing might be fairly speedy in terms of navigating from one site to another, but the rendering of the heavier sites, particularly those with Flash, caused the LG BL40 Chocolate to slow down quite considerably at times, even to a freeze at one point.

However, pressing links worked better than it has done in the past with other S-Class devices, although it lacked the easy precision of the Android range or the iPhone, which seem to almost instinctively know which element of the page you're after.

LG bl40 chocolate browser

One thing we do like is the visual history, with each page laid out as a thumbnail to be scrolled through, meaning it's easy to find the page you were browsing last week or similar.

RSS feeds, so often included in mobile web browsers yet so hard to use most of the time, were much easier to use on the LG BL40 Chocolate, with the phone automatically discerning any present on the page.

LG bl40 chocolate rss

BASIC RSS: The LG BL40 Chocolate has an average but functional RSS reader

All you have to do then is choose to add it, and you can view those feeds via a menu item on the browser when you fire up the internet.

Another cool trick the LG BL40 Chocolate brings to the table is the notion of being able to save pages and view them later, like the offline files you can use on your PC at home. This is particularly useful for the common commuter who goes underground and out of signal regularly, as they can set up regular pages to be looking at when in signal.

LG bl40 chocolate landscape internet

Overall, we were mostly impressed with the browser. It renders quickly for most sites, is easy to flick around a web page with and generally shows more of the page thanks to the widescreen view.


It's still not the most accurate under the finger though, and if you're zoomed out of any web page, forget about trying to hit any fiddly bits like drop-down menus as it simply isn't happening.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Camera

The camera on the LG BL40 Chocolate is a decent 5MP effort with a single LED flash, and the de rigeur Schneider Kreuznach lens set.

It's actually a decent snapper for a phone that's aimed at the style conscious, with a good range of photo options for a variety of snapping scenarios.

LG bl40 chocolate camera

We're never going to be convinced by the use of a beauty shot mode for helping make your friends look a bit prettier, but there are some useful things in there to help out.

The phone seems to want to automatically put the photo grid on at the start of any photo - we tried to remove it, but the BL40 Chocolate was having none of it.

Changing modes is as easy as ever, and the wide screen makes it much easier to hit the virtual scroll wheel to change the settings (such as increasing the ISO or messing about with the white balance).

Here's how the LG BL40 Chocolate compared with our Olympus SP565-UZ 10MP prosumer camera.

Shooting a variety of colours in shot is a little tricky for the BL40, with a washed out appearance compared to the Olympus:

LG BL40 Chocolate:

LG bl40 chocolate

Olympus SP565-UZ:

LG bl40 chocolate

The Chocolate struggles in bright light too, with the foreground almost completely obliterated:

LG BL40 Chocolate:

LG bl40 chocolate

Olympus SP565-UZ:

LG bl40 chocolate

We were surprised to see the digital zoom worked so well - it actually rivals the optical effort on the Olympus for short zooming in:

LG BL40 Chocolate:

LG bl40 chocolate

Olympus SP565-UZ:

LG bl40 chocolate

How LG has done this, we don't know, but it's managed to make the flash on the Chocolate a little brighter than the sun. The following picture is the best we could do - others were almost impossible to see any detail in at all:

LG BL40 Chocolate:

LG bl40 chocolate

Olympus SP565-UZ:

LG bl40 chocolate

The LG BL40 Chocolate also takes some nice pictures with the inbuilt modes, the art shot being one of the weirdest, as it seemed to simply blur out the edges, rather than fading in and out:

LG bl40 chocolate

The auto shots function also works very well with varying light levels - we were just shooting randomly around to see what came out and we were pleased with this photo:

LG bl40 chocolate

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Media

We were probably most excited to try out the media player on the LG BL40 Chocolate, mainly because anyone that's ever seen a movie played on Philips' 21:9 TV will know true widescreen is just breathtaking.

We weren't disappointed by the video player on the LG BL40 Chocolate either, giving high resolution options with a variety of video playback formats. Most of the options we dumped on the phone were AVI and MP4 files, but it can also handle DivX and Xvid according to the spec sheet as well, so it's a fully functional PMP as well as a cool mobile.

LG bl40 chocolate

If your video is in the normal 16:9 aspect ratio, you can choose to stretch it out by simply double tapping to fill up the screen. Some videos will look better than others in this mode, but it's cool to have the opportunity anyway.

You can watch videos in both portrait and landscape modes, with the former obviously a lot worse than the latter for seeing the action in sharp detail. However, one glitch we noticed was the phone would un-pause itself when moving between the modes, so if you sat down or stood up, music would suddenly start blaring out of the speaker or your headphones. It seems like a little problem though, and something we anticipate LG fixing shortly.

LG bl40 chocolate gallery

The gallery function is interesting, as you can view your content in a 3D list when you're flicking through it in landscape mode. Not only that, but you can move the view around to see the icons from the side or above, which is pretty cool.

However, you can't see the filenames, which means you have to be really familiar with the thumbnail of the movie or song you want to use, as otherwise you'll just be blindly stabbing in the dark.

LG bl40 chocolate

The 3.5mm headphone jack is obviously a nice touch for such a slim design, and is well complemented by the addition of Dolby Mobile, which adds a nice amount of improved sound quality to proceedings.

We found that Dolby's sound improvement worked better on videos than for music for some reason, adding a somewhat unnecessary amount of bass to the tunes (although we're being picky here - the sound quality is more than adequate for day to day listening).

LG bl40 chocolate music

There's only 1GB of storage onboard the LG BL40 Chocolate don't forget, which is fine for a few albums but you'll need to buy a separate memory card if you're going to extend this further with a few films.

We're not great fans of the way music tracks are laid out with the LG S-Class system, but that's changed slightly with the new LG BL40 Chocolate.

LG bl40 chocolate lock

LOCK NOTIFICATIONS: You can see which song is playing even when the phone is locked

You can look at them in the boring old list mode, or you can use the vertical cover flow to spin through you albums as well.

If that's not enough for you, flipping the phone into the landscape mode will bring up a spinning dial with all the discs laid out for you to browse through too. It's not going to change the way you listen to music, and to be honest, there are easier ways to find your music. However, this is a cool way to do it, and for a phone that's already embraced the unconventional, such design ideas make sense.

LG bl40 chocolate fm radion and transmitter

The FM radio needs a headset to work, but we are treated to a spot of RDS and of course that cool scroll dial to look for new stations. Again, it's a nice feature to have but hardly a deal breaker, although the sheer amount of stations you can add is a pleasant positive, especially as it doubles as a transmitter too.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Applications

The LG BL40 Chocolate is chock-full (sorry) of cool applications and games to be getting on with when you're bored when out and about. Admittedly, you'll tire of most of them quickly and then not know what to do, but some are really cool and all make use of the phone's capabilities.

For instance, there are a whole host of options under the Games and Applications icon, in the 'Fun Stuff' section. We're talking about things like Bubble Breeze, where you have to blow bubbles by blowing into the microphone. Apparently there's some kind of game to it, but we actually fell off our chair at one point because we got so light headed (sadly true).

LG bl40 chocolate bubbles

There's a variant on arcade favourite Bubble Bobble, a spot the difference game that gets far too hard too quickly in our opinion, and the coolest of the lot, a piano that you can play using the touchscreen.

Admittedly, some of these aren't super accurate (such as the piano - sadly) but they're still very much worth messing around with in idle moments... although we suggest you steer clear of Bubble Breeze in public.

LG bl40 chocolate

LG has decided to put a very good racing game in the LG BL40 Chocolate, Asphalt Elite 4, then another one, presumable of its own making, called Racing Time 2. The former is very cool - the latter is very slow paced and akin to walking round a race track and throwing your arms left and right to steer.

Monopoly, Tetris and Brain Challenge are all there too, although these are all only available as demos, which is why you can see the reasoning behind LG putting a load of fun little games in there too.

Other applications include the full Google Mobile suite under an icon in the menu, with Mail, Maps and Blogger all available, with YouTube also present, although this is merely a link to the recently upgraded YouTube Mobile.

LG bl40 chocolate piano

WisePilot for LG is also included, and serves as a pretty good mini-sat nav when Google Maps fails you. The GPS signal is found very quickly considering (just over a minute from being switched on, and much faster after that) and there are points of interest, directions and more onboard for the average lost-in-the-woods scenario (we're assuming you're lost in woods near to a town, as that's what would likely happen to us).

LG bl40 chocolate google suite

There's also the Movie Maker application which LG has insisted on putting on its phone for years now. It's basically the chance to cycle through a load of pictures to a musical track - can somebody please tell LG this isn't a movie maker, it's a glorified PowerPoint on the mobile?

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Battery life and Organiser

Battery life on the LG BL40 Chocolate is sadly very poor. The screen might look very pretty, but it must absolutely drain the power source, and these days 1000mAh batteries aren't big enough for this kind of device.

Using the internet on and off for an hour drained the battery down one bar, having the Push Email running in the background did the lifetime of a single charge no favours, and the video player really ate into the power too.

LG bl40 chocolate

It seems that to fit everything into such a slim frame, LG had to decide what to shave off, and power management must have been high on that list. It's not a twice-a-day charge job or anything, but it came close on occasion for us during our time with it, and that's us only having it for a week.

There are ways of helping it out, such as turning off auto-brightness and sliding the brightness of the LG BL40 Chocolate right down (it's not that bad). Colours might not look as vivid, but at least you'll still be able to call people.

LG bl40 chocolate

The Utilities section of the phone is as well stocked as you'd expect from a feature phone such as the LG BL40 Chocolate, with things like memos, calendar, multiple alarms and world clock all in attendance. Other than that, the calculator, timer and stopwatch all do exactly what they promise to do and not a lot more.

LG bl40 chocolate calendar

The LG BL40 Chocolate is well stocked when it comes to connectivity, and brings a few things you might not expect.

Of course there's the normal range of options, Bluetooth with A2DP 2.1, Wi-Fi connectivity, 3.5G HSDPA. We were also very pleasantly surprised to find an FM transmitter on board as well, meaning you can pump your tunes or add in some real time surround sound to your videos if you've got speakers hooked up to a radio.

LG bl40 chocolate wi-fi

The GPS chip, ably helped by a little aGPS number, works well, as we mentioned before. It starts up quickly and integrates well into the applications on board (WisePilot and Google Maps) with a good strength of connectivity holding on even in covered portions of the outdoors.

LG bl40 chocolate dlna

DLNA is also covered by the LG BL40 Chocolate, so if you've got yourself a home media network you'll be able to both discover and share media across it, although this can be a little bit tricky to set up. Our tip - make sure you've got the latest version of Windows Media Player running on a PC somewhere and you've set to allow sharing in the options panel.

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Hands on gallery

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Official gallery

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LG BL40 Chocolate: Verdict

We're torn over the LG BL40 Chocolate. It's a very different phone and the most important thing is to commend a company for trying something different. These days all we see are iClones hitching rides in people's pockets, but LG has looked at the humble remote control and said: 'We could make a phone out of that.'

We liked

There's a lot to like on the LG BL40 Chocolate. A lot. Firstly, the high resolution and very vivid screen is exquisite and the capacitive element is very responsive (especially compared to other options in the S-Class family).

For movie watching, we particularly like being able to see things in 21:9. It's not essential, but then again this phone isn't anything other than a luxury device. The styling is very pretty, with the minimalist front and back flanked nicely by stylised buttons - we don't know if it's aimed at men or women, but both can appreciate it.

The interface is much improved as well, with the 3D navigation something that we really liked to have a play with and show off to friends.

The camera isn't too bad quality either, with the 5MP effort taking some decent photos and using the limited hardware on offer to good effect.

We disliked

We're still not fans of the S-Class UI, and we're starting to wonder if we ever will be. The LG BL40 Chocolate is essentially a phone that works pretty well with a glossy skin over the top - there's nothing massively wrong with it exactly, it just doesn't float our boat.

The battery life is far less than we're looking for on a mobile phone of this calibre, and it will be interesting if LG manages to sort this out with future batches of the phone thanks to internal tweaking.

The OS lags a bit too much for our liking at times, and the audio could be a bit better on some occasions, considering Dolby Mobile is in there powering things. The internet is a bit clunky too, and the overall design of the software and hardware means you have to constantly keep re-adjusting your hand to get to the controls.

We'd also like to see the email system sorted out soon - it seems to us there might be an easy fix to get it running very smoothly and effectively, it's just not there yet.

Verdict

The LG BL40 Chocolate is a great and bold step to be admired. There are some gripes to be had, mostly with the OS and battery life, but they're minor in the grand scheme of things.

The phone will certainly appeal to those who want to make a statement with their mobile and aren't afraid to use a little bit of tech now and again. If you can get your head around the multiple camera modes, are willing to fork out for a bigger memory card, want to watch a bit of video and are happy to learn to navigate the internet in a new fashion, then this phone should definitely be on your watch list when it comes time to renew your contract.

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