LG Optimus Black 3 Stars

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LG’s Optimus Black was first shown to the techie world in Las Vegas in January at the CES. At the time it was said to be the slimmest handset in the world and the first to feature LG’s new NOVA technology – bringing something like the iPhone 4’s Retina screen. Since CES two phones have appeared sporting more slender dimensions (the Samsung Galaxy II and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc) but we were still fully expecting to be impressed by the phone’s display and other features.

Power hungry

We rather liked the look of the Optimus Black when we first saw it – with that lovely 4in screen and glossy black finish. But when we turned it over we saw a slightly less attractive view – a plastic-looking Teflon cover that looks like it comes off a less-expensive handset. Plus, the reverse is actually more dark grey than black. It seemed even more odd because we definitely had the impression that LG had created the Optimus Black to be the eye-catcher, while its dual-core processor handset the Optimus 2X was the power horse.

Oh, and by the way, the Optimus Black also comes in white. Weird.

Screen star

So were we bowled over by the screen with its NOVA technology? Sure, it is really really bright – and we loved the way the home screen icons really stood out on it. LG makes some power-saving claims about its new screen, saying that it can slice your power usage by half, in comparison with an LG display. This may well be the case, but we still had to charge the phone at the end of the every day.

But where the screen really impresses is in daylight. The handset boasts an onboard light sensor, which can calculate the light levels and change the brightness of the screen according to the ambient light levels. We tried it out for ourselves by moving a hand over the phone – the screen instantly brightens. You can also change the brightness manually if you so wish – on full brightness levels it’s pretty blinding. It can’t quite compete with the super AMOLED Plus display on the Samsung Galaxy II or the Retina display on the iPhone 4, but it is impressive nevertheless.

Buttons

Below that fantastic display you’ll find four touch keys for settings, search, home and back.  They reward you with a heavy pulse to acknowledge your action. These light up once the screen has been wakened (to do this press the power/lock key on the top of the handset). To unlock the handset itself, you need to swipe the display.

Froyo

Where the Optimus Black does fall behind is in its operating system. It sports Android 2.2 Froyo, while both the HTC Sensation and Samsung’s Galaxy S II are already running Gingerbread. There is an update in the pipeline, but anyone keen on the latest of everything will be put off by this. But on the plus side, you can play Flash video, and when Gingerbread comes on board you’ll be able to make video calls thanks to the 2-megapixel front-facing snapper.

LG has added its own skin to Android in the shape of its S-Class UI, which turns out to be somewhat fiddly when trying to customise menus – we had to do rather a lot of pinching and pulling to change the order of programs, rename or add categories.

Preloaded LG apps for Facebook and Twitter are rather limiting and we reckon you may as well just get the full apps direct from Android Market.

Camera and web

We were reasonably impressed by the camera – particularly if you take the time to tweak settings manually rather than choosing auto settings – this was especially so when taking macro snaps. Anyone who wants to tweak images before or after they’re taken has plenty to keep them amused – but video shooting was not so impressive. Our movies were blurry and we could make no adjustments – not even zoom – once we were recording.

Browsing the web was hit and miss too – on the new screen the web pages look impressive and really crisp, but they took such a long time to load, even with that 1GHz chip on board. It may be that we have already got used to phones with dual-core chips under the hood. It was a shame that the Wi-Fi connection also seemed unreliable – it could have been our hotspot, but we experienced no problems with any other devices.

While we’re talking about Wi-Fi, there is one clever feature that the Optimus Black has – called Wi-Fi Direct. This enables you to send content – at a rate faster than Bluetooth – between Wi-Fi devices. And the process works if the devices are up to 656ft away from each other. Mind you, it’s not vastly useful until other manufacturers put the technology on their devices.

 

‘G’ force

Something really innovative on the handset is gesture control. You’ll see the ‘G’ key on the left of the phone – hold it down and you’ll discover that you are able to slide between home screens just by tilting the device. Double tap and you can answer a call. Sure, maybe it’s a bit gimmicky, but we still like it. It’s just a shame that the volume buttons are so close to the G button, because we found ourselves hitting the wrong key in error. We’re not sure why it wasn’t placed on the right side of the handset, which is empty.

We were also excited that there is a gesture to let you fire up the camera from the lock screen – we are always bemoaning the lack of a hard camera key on Android phones. However, before you can do this, you need to wake up the phone with a push to the power button, so it’s not really the quick-start camera we’d hoped for.

Our conclusion

When we first saw the Optimus Black announced in January we were impressed and excited by it – but quite a lot can change in a short time when it comes to mobile phones. Having had a play with the Optimus Black now, our excitement has dwindled – sure the display is impressive, but when you’re shelling out around £400 you expect a lot – and there are more powerful devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, iPhone 4 and Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc on offer.

Pros:
The NOVA display is impressively vibrant and is easy to see even outside.
Cons:
Android 2.2 is out of date, loading webpages is slow; unreliable Wi-Fi.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 3 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 3 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 3 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice