The LG Optimus Black is a slim, light smartphone, running on Google’s Android. It arrives in shops just after another Optimus, the 2X. It may be pitched at a lower price, and it’s got the looks. but how does the rest of the phone compare to it’s high-end dual-core brother?
What we like
It’s a phone that’s very satisfying to hold; the sides of the phone are tapered on the back, and this means that it’s easy to hold but still lies prone on a flat surface.
The back of the phone is plastic, but fits rigidly to the casing, there’s no squeak or creak, and we prefer the matt finish to the fingerprint-grabbing glossy paint-job found on other smartphones.
The buttons are also suitably understated, coloured the same as the rest of the phone.
A four-inch touchscreen display occupies most of the front of the phone- we’d admit aside from the LG logo and Android buttons, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone.
The screen is LG’s own NOVA display, and it’s a beautifully bright one. We find it really hard to believe this is just an LCD.
Included with Android Froyo (2.2), LG has included several original widgets and apps. Widgets like the clock and weather offerings are similar to those seen on HTC or Sony Ericsson phones, but it’s nice to see them here too.
LG have ensured that the Optimus Black can generally handle everything you throw at it. It may not be as swift as the Optimus 2X but it didn’t let us down, either. Our music library apps, DoubleTwist and AirSync both worked effortlessly, as did several games, camera apps, and online radio players.
There’s also an FM radio tuner. Now, we’re not sure whether it was our brand of headphones, or where we were, but the radio tuner was the best we’ve used so far. Reception was generally good, with barely any need to fiddle with our headphones to reduce static.
Android Market continues to go from strength to strength, and Google’s updates to the Android Market website will soon arrive on the phone’s market app. This will make it much easier to get to popular apps, or to explore new releases and find new favourites.
The ‘gesture’ button found on the side ties-in with several extra features; shake the phone whilst holding the g-button and it’ll accept any incoming calls. Similarly you can tap the sides of the phone to move the text cursor. LG have also borrowed some tricks from HTC, and you can now mute your phone by turning it over, and this works on your alarm too.
Another nice touch is the ability to access received emails and messages from the lock screen, by sliding them upwards. If you want to keep your phone secure with a pass-code or Android “pattern” you’ll lose this cool touch.
The rear-facing camera can record high-definition video, while there’s also a two-megapixel front-facing cam for video-calls and checking your hair.
What we don’t like
Sadly the camera doesn’t fair as well on stills. Although there’s a five-megapixel sensor, we found it wasn’t very good at detecting light changes, and photos in dark conditions were poor.
Although the LG widgets are generally helpful, their attempts at making their own Twitter and Facebook apps fall flat. This isn’t a massive issue as we could easily download the official ones, or choose from the plethora available at Android Market.
Not everything found in Google’s Android Market will work on the Optimus Black, either. It’s running Android 2.2 at a time when the majority of new handsets arrive with the very latest flavour of Android; version 2.3 (Gingerbread). While there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the two, we’d expect the latest stuff on the latest phones.
We also had a minor incident where the touchscreen got a little crazy, sensing phantom movements, effectively locking us out of the phone. We had to take the battery out to solve this problem, but it only happened once during testing.
The miniUSB port at the top of the phone comes with one of those irritating sliding covers. We get the thinking behind it- keeping it nice and clean, and protecting it from damage, but most Android phones seem to cope without it- and it seems to get in our way.
Although we liked the monolithic stylings of the Optimus Black, it may not be to everyone’s tastes and may attract jeers of being, ‘just another iPhone clone.’
But the Optimus Black is a solid smartphone, and it gives a solid performance across apps, email, internet and phone-calls.
It may not stand up against fastest smartphone, given the recent batch of dual-core smartphones; there’s no HDMI-out, no full high-definition video recorder. But these are minor niggles that only some people need, the Optimus Black is still a first-divison phone.