LG Chocolate for Verizon Wireless

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If you've ever wondered whether the carrier or phone maker has more control over the cell phone in your pocket, let me make it clear: it's the carrier. Last week, I reviewed an LG phone that Cingular launched to run on its high-speed digital network. This week, I looked at Chocolate, the hyped-up LG phone Verizon Wireless introduced in order to draw more attention to its V Cast Music service (LINK). Both phones are very slick in entirely different ways, highlighting the priorities of the carrier. Chocolate is as much Verizon's as it is LG's, and although it's a happy partnership, it is not without some bumps.

Chocolate has gotten early buzz for being "iPod-like" — by that, the buzzers mean that it has a circular touchpad with an "OK" button in the middle. In truth, that's where the phone's resemblance to an iPod ends. Four more touch buttons around the touchpad come and go as needed during a call or when a menu has pop-up options. It takes a while to get used to the fact that parts of the phone's face can suddenly become buttons, but it's so cool that I could deal with it.

The Music button on the phone's right side is a stroke of convenience. Unlike other quick-access buttons I've seen, this one allows you to toggle. You quickly access and then hide tunes, allowing them to play in the background as you go about your business. Taking its cue from the circular touchpad, the animated main menu lets you swirl through options. It is a major aesthetic improvement over Verizon's current standard menu system, and key features, such as the phone's Bluetooth networking capability, are easier to locate.

In addition to quite a few Bluetooth wireless capabilities (stereo headset, dial-up networking, etc.), the phone has built-in GPS. You can download the VZ Navigator turn-by-turn GPS program — it's free to try but if you like it, there's a monthly fee. The phone has a tiny slot for a MicroSD memory card, formerly known as TransFlash. The good news about MicroSD is that it means Samsung, LG and Motorola are in agreement on a single format, one that is mercifully compatible with the standard SD format used by most digital cameras. A 1GB MicroSD card will cost you $70 through Verizon Wireless (though cheaper elsewhere), and you'll need at least that if you want to use the phone as an MP3 player.

That's where I feel the situation with Verizon and its media partner Microsoft make things a little bit rocky. Don't get me wrong — it was very easy for me to preview and download a new Tom Petty song right over the air, and even move it to the removable MicroSD card. However, when I went to install the V Cast Music software on my PC, in order to load songs to the phone, the software refused to install. It turns out I had Windows Media Player 11, but the V Cast Music software can only run on Windows Media Player 10. I was miffed, in part because a newer Windows Media Player should be as compatible as its predecessor, and in part because I wasn't even allowed to uninstall the newer Windows Media Player.

Why am I sharing the nasty details? In order to demonstrate that when it comes to Chocolate, there may be too many cooks in the confectionery. It's a great show-off phone, especially for people who want the V Cast video service and have the need — and budget — for instant gratification in the form of over-the-air music downloads. But to use the phone as your primary MP3 player, it will cost extra money (not just the memory card but $30 for the required "music essentials kit") and, in all likelihood, some troubleshooting time, too.