By August 8, 2011

LG Optimus Black review

OptimusBlack-Main LG’s Optimus Black has put itself in a crowded market. This phone is boasting some high end specs, with its NOVA screen technology and slim profile but can it stand out from the crowd? We’re looking beyond the flash PR box that was sent to us and comparing it to some other top spec phones.

 

 

The 10 Second Review:

  • Device: LG Optimus Black
  • Price: From free on contract or £318 off contract
  • Summary: A very good smart phone however it is let down in some key areas
  • Best of: Screen, speed & LG’s custom skin overlay.
  • Worst of: Battery life & build quality
  • Buy it now from: Clove
  • Also consider: HTC Desire S or Motorola Atrix

 

LG Optimus Black (P970) specification:

  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 1700 / 2100
  • Dimensions: 122 x 64 x 9.2 mm
  • Weight: 109 g
  • Display: NOVA LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches
  • Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
  • Touch-sensitive controls
  • 3.5mm jack
  • Memory: 2 GB storage, 512 MB RAM
  • microSD: up to 32GB
  • WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Bluetooth: v2.1 with A2DP, EDR
  • USB: microUSB v2.0
  • Camera Primary: 5 MP, 2592 x 1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
  • Video: [email protected]
  • Secondary: 2 MP
  • Android OS, v2.2 (Froyo), upgradable to v2.3
  • CPU: TI OMAP 3630 1 GHz processor
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Colors: Black, Pink, Silver, White, Brown
  • GPS with A-GPS support
  • Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1500 mAh

 

Looking around the device

On the top we find a 3.5mm audio jack, and lock/power button and a micro USB port covered by a sliding cover. It’s quite unusual to have the USB port on the top as it is here.

OptimusBlack-top

 

On the right we find nothing making a smooth side.

OptimusBlack-right

 

On the bottom there is a small indentation which allows the battery cover to be removed.

OptimusBlack-bottom

 

On the left lies the volume rocker and a small ‘G’ button.

OptimusBlack-left

 

The front has the 2 MP camera and speaker toward the top, below is the 4.0″ NOVA display. The bottom holds the four usual Android capacitive buttons of; menu, home, back and search.

OptimusBlack-front

 

On the back we find a small speaker grill and the 5 MP Autofocus camera with flash.

OptimusBlack-back

 

 

Review

The LG Optimus Black was announced back in January and released in May alongside a few other devices. LG obviously want to back this device judging by the hoorah that was the PR box that was sent to Matt.

Weight

When first picking up the device, the most obvious thing is the extreme lightness of the device, weighing in at only 109g. However this lightweight design has both it’s good and bad sides. The up side is that when actually using the device it makes the strain on your hands, especially over long periods of time, greatly reduce. On the other hand, a problem which out ways in my opinion the good, is that it can seemingly disappear into your pocket sending you into a wild panic, patting every pocket until you find it, which, to say the least, is a little annoying.

Thickness

Similarly noticeable is the extremely slim profile of the Black. At only 9.2 mm thin, LG are claiming that it’s the slimmest smart phone in the world, however in places; the Samsung Galaxy S2 is thinner. However LG have not optimised, Pardon the pun, the slimness of the device because when your actually holding the device, it feels uncomfortable because of the tapered edges which go the way you would not expect, going outwards instead of inwards which would fit the natural curvature of your hand.

Looks

On a brighter side, when you first see the device, you will notice it’s a very good looking device, as with most devices these days, it looks very similar to the iPhone, with its square aesthetics and very little to see on the front. This is mainly due to the capacitive buttons are barely visible when the device’s screen isn’t on. It’s also worth noting that when the devices screen is on and you actually ‘press’ one of these buttons it turns blue! A very nice feature. Not only does this look pretty amazing, it lets you know that you’ve pressed it and not missed it, a common problem I find with these capacitive buttons.

Build Quality

The LG Optimus Black is, unfortunately, made out of fairly cheap feeling plastic, which for a high end phone, is pretty bad. The device may not creak when you apply pressure but still I would be very careful when removing the wrap around battery cover. Also I would take extreme care not to drop this phone as I feel it will literally disintegrate, especially the screen as there is no magical Gorilla Glass to protect it. It’s also worth noting that on our device the speaker seems to have broken, but this device has probably been battered around from shipping. A case, could probably solve these issues, but I’m not a fan of cases, I like to feel the phone itself and with the HTC alternative’s having impeccable build quality it seems this could be a crucial error that LG have made.

OptimusBlack-back-off

 

Screen

One thing the people at LG can be very much proud of is the screen; its NOVA technology really comes to light is with the colours. They really pop out of the screen making logos, for example, the Tracey and Matt’s website logo stand out with the mix of blue’s and green’s which on a normal screen would be washed out and just not as nice to look at. However where the LG Black stands out the most is its white. They are whiter than white, its really noticeable when you compare it to a different phone, I compared it, side by side, to the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 which made the Sony look like its ‘white’ was yellow. LG claim that its better for outdoor use, reducing glare, i personally didn’t notice this, but I imagine this NOVA technology does something clever to slightly improve it. The only way I could see them improving this screen is by increasing the resolution as its stuck at 480 x 800 pixels but this is not a problem really. It’s also worth noting that LG claim that this NOVA technology make the battery life up to 50% longer than other devices but as I will mention later, i don’t know what these device are but i imagine that they are bricks with no batteries.. as the LG’s battery life is dreadful.

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Processor (Speed)

The LG Optimus Black is using a Texas Instrument processor running at 1 Ghz Single Core which is pretty good but most other devices coming out at the moment are bringing Dual Core to the table. It may be single core, but the Black is very speedy, I have very rarely seen lag from the device which is a promising sign, however what must be mentioned is the ‘delay’ that often comes when your using an application that uses the accelerometer such as the game Doodle Jump, meaning the character can jump all over the place, however its not seen as much when your simply rotating the device. Videos also load fairly quickly on the device leaving a pleasant experience, in my opinion, unless your an extremely heavy phone user, require many applications at the same time, a dual core processor is not a requirement. A Quadrant Standard test reveals a score of 1255, which for a single core processor is good showing that this device is not, in any way, slow. It’s also worth noting that when using the browsers ‘pinch-to-zoom’ feature it copes very well.

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Connectivity

The Wi-Fi connection is very good, beating my normal device by a whole bar. However this is when it’s connected, it can often disconnect when you don’t use the device for a say half an hour and it goes into sleep mode, I don’t know if this is a deliberate feature to save battery that cannot be turned off, but I know it can be very frustrating. In terms of signal strength on my carrier, Orange, it’s very standard achieving full signal in most of my area, which is to be expected.

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Camera

The LG Optimus Black boasts a 5 MP rear facing camera with a single LED flash and a 2 MP front facing camera mainly designed for video calling.

To start with, we’ll take a look at the main camera (the rear facing one). With its pretty standard 5 MP specs, it’s not going create amazingly impressive photographs; however, it produces bright and usually clear photos which are fine for uploading to Facebook or Twitter. The auto-focus does a great job of making the image that little more clear, but you have to touch the screen for it because, unfortunately, there is no dedicated camera shutter button, which in my opinion, should be a crime. On the other hand, the benefits of not having a dedicated button is that as you just have to press the on-screen button, the time it takes to actually take the picture is quicker, this is also aided by a very fast shutter speed, which if a phone has a slow shutter speed, you are almost guaranteed to miss the moment your capturing, so it’s good that this one is fast.

The front facing camera is mainly designed for video calling, but you can also use it to take pictures or even as a mirror although there is no dedicated application for this on the LG unlike there is on the HTC models, which is a shame. As the front facing camera is only 2 MP it’s not as good as the rear facing camera so really would only be good for video conferencing and i would not recommend taking pictures with it, as they usually come out a little washed out and out of focus. Although, on most phones the front facing camera is usually VGA quality, so to have 2 MP camera, is a bonus.

LG boasts 720p HD video capture, which is now becoming the standard but never-the-less its still very good. The video it actually produces is very good, with it being extremely clear and actually one of the best i’ve seen however it’s let down in some areas. The audio can often be heavily distorted, with the microphone seemingly picking up a nonexistent wind, even indoors. (No it’s not my breathing either). Additionally when viewing the video back, it seems as if I’m running with device because of the shake, when actually in standing still, which can make the video at some points unwatchable.

The camera software itself is actually very good because of its simplicity. To the right contains just the capture button, a slider between video and image capture and small preview of your last image. This gives you a generous area to actually view what you’re taking, which i know has been a problem on other devices. A tap of the screen brings up of the options such as flash and different resolutions.

All of this adds to a very usable and pretty good camera, allowing you to take, and easily share your photos with friends via Facebook or Twitter.

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Android UI and LG’s Custom Overlay

When you turn the device on for the first time you will go though the standard Android set up procedure which involves setting up Wi-Fi, Facebook, Date & Time etc but it takes, but a moment. After completing this you are met with seven screens containing various widgets, shortcuts and applications:

It’s worth noting that straight out of the box you will find a fairly un-offensive sky wallpaper, however many other wallpapers, including live wallpapers, meaning they move with things such as a spinning galaxy, most of which being a standard Android implementation.

The LG Optimus Black runs Android 2.2.2, which is far from the latest version of Android, but LG are promising an update to 2.3 as soon as possible which should bring a few extra features but if i’m on honest, nothing substantial. With millions of Android devices circulating around the world, a lot of manufacturers will customise the software with various features, usually making the software a little more user friendly, and a lot better looking. LG has not bucked the trend. LG’s customisation to the Android software is quite subtle compared to say HTC sense, but this is actually a good thing as it doesn’t bog the phone down with bloat-ware. LG’s custom over lay adds thing such as an improved unlock screen, a couple of applications which will be mentioned in more detail later and an overall smoother user experience also, it adds a function where you can change the standard font that displays on the phone which could be useful for some people, but not for me personally.

LG have added a fair few widgets which; most are very welcome and useful. A couple of examples are the music widget, email widget, and clock and weather widget. However the most impressive is the data watch widget, allowing you to keep an eye on your data usage.

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Text Entry and Keyboards

As with most Android devices, there are three ways to input text on the LG Black. Firstly and most commonly used, is the portrait keyboard which is similar but not identical to the Android standard keyboard. It features a full qwerty keyboard, with nice spacing and good, clear letters. However I do not see the need for a ‘hide keyboard’ button as this makes everything on the bottom row slightly out of place meaning you will often hit the full stop instead of the space bar. Secondly, you can use the landscape keyboard which is essentially the same, but wider, allowing a faster typing speed. Alternatively you can use the voice input, where you speak what you want to say, however this isn’t always accurate.

 19 20

Browser

Basic but functional are keywords that sum up the browser. The web browser itself only has the address bar and a favourite icon next to it allowing you to quickly link to your favourite websites. After loading, which usually is fairly quick but notable not as fast as its big brother the LG Optimus 2X, with its dual core power, this bar and icon will disappear making a good clean space to view the web page. As the device is Android 2.2, it has Adobe Flash which allows it to be basically a PC like experience, which is very good thing, however it can be a little slow at times, in particular, on the BBC iPlayer site.

The pinch-to-zoom feature can come in handy allowing quick zooming but alternatively you can use the tabs in the bottom right corner, however the browser doesn’t have a text re-flow feature, meaning it doesn’t automatically adjust the text to your zoom level.

A very unique, but useless feature is the use of the ‘G’ button on the side, as it uses the g sensor to scroll down a webpage whist pressing and tilting, however it’s not very sensitive meaning you need to tilt the phone a significant angle away from you meaning you now can’t see the screen, I would much prefer to see this button as a camera shutter button as this would be much more useful and appreciated.

Finally; the browser also offers you the ability to add multiple windows, making the most of Android multi tasking abilities, and bookmarks.

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Media

Unlike most custom UI’s, LG’s does not offer the media functionalities, of gallery, video player and music in one place, although this isn’t really a massive issue. Instead they’re in two completely separate applications, image viewer and video player being combined;

The music application offers four types of filter; Songs, Albums, Artists and Playlists in a very aesthetically pleasing way making it easy to find your desired song. When the chosen song has been selected, a large image of the album artwork appears with the name appearing above it. Also available is the shuffle and repeat functions. Its notable saying that this software is extremely similar to the iPods music software, but the screen makes this seem actually more visually attractive.

The Gallery is a very standard Android affair; it offers you different folders meaning you can more easily find the photos or videos that you desire to find. You can see the photos in a grid view or list view, in a chronological order. A slideshow viewer is also available, which is neat.

As with every other Android device, the YouTube application is great. In my opinion, its much better than it iOS alternative. You can look for videos via a number of different categories, and of course there is a very good search bar. There is also the availability to view channels in a more basic form but never the less, a very nice feature. The video quality differs greatly between poor and excellent depending on whether your watching in high quality or not and load times tend to depend on whether your using Wi-Fi or 3G. The video can be viewed in portrait as well as landscape but landscape is the full view rather than a small box. It’s worth taking into account that as this device runs flash, it can use the normal YouTube website as if you were at your PC.

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Social Networking

Out of the box, the LG Optimus Black comes with the three main social networking applications; ‘Facebook for LG’, ‘Twitter for LG’ and ‘MySpace for LG’, which are effectively the same as the normal Android applications that are usually found pre installed on android devices.

The Facebook application is fairly basic, at the home screen it offers options to go to the news feed, profile, friends list and photos which is really the standard requirements, it’s clear that chat is not available or to view events which would sway me to use the native Android application, available for download from the Android Market. The news feed is rather frustrating because you can only use half the screen because of the status bar and requests.

On the other hand, the Twitter application is very good. It easily shows the tweets of the people you follow in a s smooth fashion, a filter option is also available. The home page shows multiple options and everything you’ll need. A surprising function is that it’s actually customisable; you can add direct links to your friends at this point and add the option to upload a photo, a very welcomed addition.

Personally, i thought only bands use MySpace these days but clearly LG disagree with me, so for this I had to make an account as I have only ever listened to music on MySpace before! The application is very easy on the eye and encompasses a lot of features. The home page shows; Activity Stream, Status, Photos, Profile, Top Friends, Friends and Inbox meaning it covers everything. I did notice that the MySpace application uses a lot of battery, noticeable more than the Facebook and Twitter.

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Google Applications

The LG Black comes with a lot of pre-installed standard applications, most of which haven’t been altered by LG in anyway.

The calendar application comprises of four tabs; months, weeks, days and agenda. This structure allows easy navigation and makes the calendar a lot more useful. The text is clear, and is very similar to that of a calendar you would find on your wall in terms of layout. It also has good links to your Gmail account so it can automatically send out reminders of events.

The Alarm clock, Calculator and Memo applications are all small but crucial applications that every phone needs, all with clear text and no confusing feature, simple yet effective.

Google Maps also comes with the device which could be one of the deciding factors between this and an alternative platform such as iOS, mainly due to the fact your getting the sat nav free, effectively saving 70/80 pounds on a full device. It mainly uses the GPRS to find your location which is usually extremely accurate, down to the last metre. You can view your location in a choice of layer, for example, satellite or an OS map which can come in handy. Traffic is also available to use but requires a strong internet connection. The navigation software itself is, firstly, a huge battery drain, but mainly very good, you type your destination and you’re off! It even offers voice guidance, which is nice to have, but vaguely annoying at times.

The market application is where you can download more applications for your device, there are thousands on offer! Its very simple to use, there’s three categorise; apps, games and my apps, meaning its easy to filter down items until you find that perfect application.

The FM Radio app is a welcomed edition to the handset. It comprises of a small dial to change the frequency and an option to automatically scan for stations. However the quality is usually rather bad, and the automatic scan only ever goes to Classic FM which isn’t my cup of tea.

The LG Black also comes with two native email clients; one for Gmail and one for other email addresses. The Gmail application has good features but lacks visual appeal in my opinion. There is the option to have multiple accounts and you can view the inbox outbox and drafts which is very good as it contains the vital ingredients that are needed when you’re on the go. The other email application is for general email applications. After a frustrating set-up, it leaves you with the option to add more accounts, view your inbox, outbox drafts and junk, however I would recommend that you turn push email off, as this can seriously drain battery.

 

LG Custom Applications

With the device comes a few applications that LG have made or already installed for you:

The news application is very good, it’s just two tabs, All and list by topics meaning there’s no messy controls. The news itself comes from Yahoo but again, this can actually drain the battery if you leave it to automatically update itself.

What’s New is a feature which gathers all your messages together into one place in a stream of recent goings on, it’s very useful but I feel it would be much better if it was integrated into the messaging client.

Car Home Setting

In most countries its now illegal to use your phone whilst driving, and on the LG Optimus Black has got an application to allow you to use your device hands free, therefore not distracting you from the serious matter of driving. It utilises the speech capabilities of android as you have just have to speak what you want to do; for example, call home phone or navigate to town centre or even play music and shuffle. This allows you to change the music whilst driving, and the good thing about this is it actually works very well, providing you have a phone holder for the LG so you can place it on the dashboard.

Conclusion

The LG Optimus Black may have a few drawback such as its poor build quality and bad battery life but overall I feel that for the price it’s simply an amazing device. A fast processor and an amazing screen is what sets this device out from the rest of its single core rivals; all I wish is that LG will update the software to Android 2.3 meaning it can bask in the full glory of the latest Android software. Although saying this, for a little more money, I would get the Black’s better, bigger brother; the LG Optimus 2X, mainly because of its dual core power and better build quality. Finally; I hope in future, LG will never use this cheap plastic that the LG is made from but definitely carry on with the NOVA screen technology.

 

Review by: Charlie

[ Post Tags: LG Optimus Black, LG P970, Android, tracyandmatt.co.uk, unboxing, NOVA LCD ]

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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