LG BL20 review

3.5 out of 5
Dependent on contract

For

Stunning design like the BL40 for a fraction of the cost, it also happens to fit in the pocket a lot better and has a very good camera too

Against

Clunky software, no Wi-Fi, slightly disappointing video camera, generally feels a touch dated

With the mobile world gripped with mini-version fever, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that LG would bring out a sister handset to the New Chocolate, but somehow it did. The new new Chocolate, or LG BL20, keeps the same colour scheme and finish as the super-wide BL40, but with a slightly stumpier form factor at 106.9 x 50.8 x 12.3mm. It's a good 50% thicker than its sibling but that's because, this time, it's a slider.

You see, whereas the New Chocolate was a premium smartphone, the BL20, although high-end, is what the industry now refers to as a feature phone - possibly because you're stuck with the features on the handset as you bought it. There's little real internet access on this phone - a very basic browser you'll tire of in seconds and never bother with again, a clunky email service stuck onto the SMS messaging centre and no Wi-Fi access anyway. There is 3G for those that wish to persevere, but most who want that level of function in the first place will have already traded this in for an iPhone.

Typically, the rest of the software on the BL20 is not good. The OS is LG's most basic and looks like something out of 2005. It takes time to learn where simple functions like putting the handset onto silent are found, but there is at least the mercy of a 3 x 3 icon grid for the bigger applications. That said, once you master it, you'll find some decent shortcuts on the touchpad on the front face.

Software aside, it's actually a very nice piece of kit. It's got a top LG mobile camera complete with 5-megapixel sensor, Schneider-Kreuznach glass, an LED flash and a decent set of WB and exposure settings to play with. It's a bit of a shame that the ISO only goes up to ISO 400, that there's no scene modes and that the zoom is a no-no at full resolution, but there is an excellent Text Read mode which makes it great for taking pictures of both typed and hand written diagrams and copy. Admittedly, there isn't a world of application for that kind of feature but it's the kind of thing that'd make you love the phone when it finally comes in useful.

Curiously, the excellent camera does make you realise how tiny the screen is. There's just 2.4 inches to play with and a matching QVGA (240 x 320) video capture available too. It does seem a little short-sighted not to have doubled that up to VGA, particularly as you get given a stills resolution that's far greater than the screen is capable of showing. Why not allow users something a bit better, at least with enough resolution for a reasonable YouTube watch?

On the plus side, the screen is nice and bright and, although it's mildly smudgy to the touch, it's easy to read in bright light conditions too. The glass of the of display is actually part of one large piece covering the entire length of the phone which appears entirely black and uniform until you slide the handset open and reveal both a red keypad and red-lit touch controls that were on the top surface all along. These touch buttons are beautifully calibrated with gorgeous haptics that let you know you've hit your mark which we guarantee you will every time.

There's both a widget hotkey and a multimedia touch control which are pleasant but slightly pointless given that there aren't really enough good applications to ever need two running simultaneously. Besides, the widgets are probably just as slow and clunky a way to access your notes, calendars and contacts as riding the menus anyway.

Ultimately, though, it's not the software you'd buy this phone for - it's the looks, and it's easy to forget how stunning and distinctive the New Chocolate style is, especially when you've been test driving the BL40 just a few weeks earlier. However, take the BL20 out of your pocket in public and people will turn their heads and ask you what this sexy handset your holding is, because sexy is what it is. So, provided your willing to spend £160 on a love affair, then you won't mind that there's little here in the way of substance.

 

Verdict

If you want good looking on PAYG, then there's few prettier than the LG BL20. It may not have the exotic shape of the BL40 but it still oozes class. The camera is excellent, the choice between the smooth touchpad and the expertly designed small squared off keys is a real luxury too, but there's little else here to get you excited about.

If you just like a phone to be a phone, then go and buy a Nokia Classic of some sort. It'll be a better, more compact workhorse of a gadget. But if you're willing to sacrifice some of that ease of use for a big dollop of wow factor, then you'll be perfectly happy with the BL20. It fits in your pocket, it makes calls, it looks cool.