LG leapt ahead of the pack recently with the UK’s first ever dual-core smart phone, the Optimus 2X.
But while that handset reaped all the attention, it also rather quietly sneaked out a high-end single core handset in the shape of the Optimus Black, which runs Android 2.2 and includes a 5 megapixel camera and NOVA screen technology.
Design and build
The Optimus Black is indeed, erm, very black, but then so are 95 per cent of today’s smart phones. Fortunately, it’s also has a fair bit of minimalist grace to it, with the front entirely covered by a single sheet of glass, and the sharply tapering sides at the back.
It’s very thin and lightweight at 122x64x9.2mm and 111g and includes the four standard Android buttons beneath the 4in screen while on the top are a power/sleep button, microUSB power/sync port with a sliding cover and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the sides are a slimline volume rocker and a gesture button (more on that later).
The Optimus Black is the first phone to feature LG’s new NOVA display technology. The 4in screen is exceptionally bright – a little too bright perhaps, though you can turn it down to suit your taste and save your retinas. The brightness does however make it more visible in sunlight, searing through potential screen glare and it looks good from an angle too. Colours are vivid and rich, while text appears pin sharp and clear.
So much for the look, but in common with other LG screens we’ve seen, it’s not always as sensitive as it could be, and we occasionally had to resort to several presses to make a command happen. It’s not disastrous, but it’s a problem that happens much more rarely on phones from Apple or HTC for instance.
Interface and OS
The single-core 1GHz processor is supported by 512MB of RAM – not bad but there are faster handsets around, though there’s little in the way of outright lag. Android 2.2 Froyo isn’t the very latest version (that would be 2.3 Gingerbread) but it’s only missing a few features that have yet to really take off in any case, such as NFC (Near Field Communication) for phone-based payments, SIP calling and video chat (via the web, not networks). In any case an update is planned over the next few months.
LG’s S-Class interface has its own take on the usual Android shortcuts and widgets, including the Social Feed, which brings together your social networking updates. LG also has its own keyboard designs which are a bit of an improvement over standard Android, with useful symbols like @ and .com on the primary keys. The apps menu can also be sorted into sections, which makes it easier to keep track of.
The 5 megapixel camera isn’t in the same league as the 2X’s 8 megapixel model but it offers perfectly fine image quality with sharply defined edges and fairly accurate colour balance, though the brightness of the screen tends to show everything off at its very best. Features include face-tracking, digital zoom, a macro mode and manual as well as automatic focusing.
There’s also the option to record video in 720p HD, which looks fine, with very little jerkiness, and there’s a 2 megapixel camera on the front for video chat, which you’ll be able to make use of after the Gingerbread update.
Apps and browser
That gesture button on the side activates the phone’s motion sensor and enables a variety of gesture-based controls. You can flip between the seven home screens for instance by pressing the button and tilting the phone left or right.
You can also tilt it up or down to scroll through web pages and if you press it while you’re looking at a picture, it will automatically zoom in and you’re can tilt the phone up, down or sideways to move around the picture. It’s not necessarily a better system than simply brushing your fingers across the screen, though it’s easier to do one-handed.
Media and connectivity
The screen was made for watching films and sure enough they look extremely vibrant with all that brightness and richness of colour. There are two options for stretching the picture to help it fit the screen (the biggest stretch can look a bit extreme in some cases). The speaker on the back offers the option of Dolby Mobile surround sound, which broadens the soundstage a little, though it also tends to sound curiously muffled.
The sound is however considerably better than it is through the front-facing speaker used for phone calls, which is a bit rattly and voices tend to sound a bit tinnier than they should.
There’s no HDMI slot, but you can play your films back through a networked TV using LG’s SmartShare DLNA capability.
The music player is enhanced by a 21-setting equalizer to help you find the sound you like. The settings are noticeably different, which can’t always be said for phone-based equalizers, though the bass boost option sounded a bit anaemic. The supplied headphones turned out to be a bit better than expected though, with a full sound, small and comfortable in the ear with noise-isolating plastic grommets.
There’s an FM radio on board which worked fine when we could get a signal – unfortunately though that wasn’t always possible as it seemed quite poor at picking up stations.
Performance and battery life
There’s 2GB of memory on board for storing your films and sounds, plus you can add up to 32GB via microSD card.
The battery didn’t appear to suffer too much from the intensity of the screen, though it didn’t particularly stand out either, delivering a good solid day of fairly heavy use.
- 4in Nova touchscreen
- 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording
- Gesture controls
- Not the latest version of Android
- Touchscreen could be more sensitive
- No HDMI connection
Verdict: The LG Optimus Black is a good-looking handset with a cracking looking screen that’s only let down by its lack of sensitivity.
More info: LG Optimus Black spec
Price: From free on contract; handset only £400