LG Optimus Black Review – NOVA Display Is Pure Awesomeness

By Cosmin Vasile on July 8th, 2011 19:31 GMT
The first smartphone to embed LG's innovative NOVA technology for mobile displays, the Optimus Black breathes pure elegance and arouses Android fans' interest through a minimalist look and powerful enough hardware.

Built around the large mobile display, the Optimus Black offers users the same level of functionality as the last year's high-end Android smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Desire.

It would be unfair to put the Optimus Black against the latest Android devices that are powered by dual-core processors, but we should take notice as this is one of the phone's downsides.

On the positive side, this is the phone that features the brightest display with an image quality that could match some of the best mobile display technologies available on the market.

Even though the phone's main focus should be the NOVA display, it appears that the manufacturer's wish was to offer users an all-round experience, so expect the Optimus Black to perform well in all aspects.

Announced back in January, at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, the Optimus Black was introduced on the market several months later, in May 2011. The handset is available in five color schemes: Black, Pink, Silver, White and Brown.

Thanks to a partnership between LG and the Keith Haring Foundation, Optimus Black owners will be able to purchase specially designed Keith Haring back covers for their devices.

The unlocked version of LG Optimus Black can be purchased for around 350EUR (about $500), but the price may vary depending on your location.

Design

The Optimus Black features the same level of elegance that LG has put in all of its upper high-end category of smartphones. Although this is not a Black Label product, LG's designers did a great job with the phone's look.

Given the phone's slim silhouette, one may think that Optimus Black is very fragile, but the truth is that the device feels pretty solid and compact when held in hand. The construction of the phone is pretty simple with with only a few external buttons and less bezel around the screen, which gives it a minimalist look.Below the 4-inch display there are a set of four touch sensitive keys that help users control the phone: Menu, Home, Back and Search. All four are haptic-enabled, but only two of them have double-functionality. Upon a long press the Home key launches the task switcher, while the Search key opens the Voice Search feature.

Above the display there are the usual proximity and ambient light sensors, as well as a secondary 2.0-megapixel front facing camera. The left side of the phone features the volume rocker and a dedicated gesture button. The right side has been left bare, while the topside of the device include a 3.5mm audio jack, a microUSB port that is coveniently covered by a sliding plastic stripe, as well as a power on/off button.The 5.0-megapixel camera on the back of the phone lacks any protection lenses, instead it features a small LED flash next to it. On the upper left corner of back cover there's a very small loudspeaker that can be used when listening to the music.

The back cover is made from a cheap plastic, which scratches pretty fast even if the phone is treated with care. Fortunately, the amount of smudge and fingerprints is close to zero.

Under the back hood there's a standard 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery and a microSD card slot for memory expansion. Even though you will need to pull out the back cover to replace the memory card there's no need to pull out the battery as well.LG Optimus Black measures 122 x 64 x 9.2 mm and weighs 109 (battery included), which makes it one of the lightest smartphones with a 4-inch display.

Overall, LG Optimus Black is an extremely attractive and very well built handset that will sureley appeal Android fans.

Display and Camera

The Optimus Black's 'pièce de résistance' is the 4.0-inch NOVA display, which is touted as one of the brightest on the mobile market.

The Korean handset maker is proudly stating the display consumes 50% less energy than other mobile displays and is capable of emitting 700 nit (candela per square meter). In comparison, the iPhone's Retina display only emits 500 nit, while the original Galaxy S only 300 nit.

Furthermore, LG Optimus Black features an IPS LCD display, which offers far superior image quality and color matching in comparison with TFT displays.

For those not familiar with the term, IPS stands for In-Plane Switching Display and is a new innovation in LCD displays. Some of the devices available on the market that features this kind of technology include Apple's iPad and the Nook Color.

The IPS technology aligns each liquid crystal horizontally, which covers more of the screen and offers better coverage, as well as much better viewing angles.

However, while the TFT displays requires one transistor that is meant to twist the crystal to create an image the IPS displays use two transistors for every single pixel, one for each end. Obviously this means that the power consumption of the screen is doubled for IPS displays.

The Optimus Black display is perfectly visible in strong sunlight, while the viewing angles are good enough, but there's room for improvements. The only thing that NOVA technology seems to fails is the black color, which is not particularly deep in comparison with other displays.

On the other hand the contrast and the colors rendering are awesome, though this is due to the excellent brightness of the display.The 5-megapixel camera on the back features autofocus, LED flash, as well as face and smile detection. Unfortunately, there's no dedicated camera button which makes it a bit difficult to take pictures when you're in a hurry.

The physical button was replaced with a touch key that can be accessed within the camera's interface. The interface is quite comfortable with all options at only two clicks away. This is a great improvement compared to Symbian smartphones.The maximum resolution that can be used to take pictures is 2592 x 1944 pixels. The interface is pretty advanced with more than plenty settings to be used.

Users have a wide range of settings at their disposal, including White balance, Scene, ISO, Shot Mode, Colors and Effects, which can be used to improve the quality of the pictures. In addition, the camera features four kinds of autofocus: Macro, Continuous, Face tracking and Manual. When it comes to video recording, the Optimus Black is indeed capable of shooting HD 720p@30fps clips. However, the results are unimpressive due to the fact that the camera messes up with the aspect ratio.

In terms of quality, Optimus Black 5-megapixel camera is definitely not one of the best out there, but it's on par with the one included with the original Galaxy S.

Menu and Software

LG Optimus Black is delivered with Android 2.2.2 on board, which has been a bit customized by the manufacturer. It's a pity that the smartphone does not feature the latest version of Google's mobile platform, but hopefully, LG will deploy the Gingerbread software update by the end of the year.Furthermore, the Optimus Black comes with LG Home launched and the Gesture 2.0 UI, which makes the interface more appealing. Users can choose any of the three available layouts to arrange the main menu: Category, Page and List. The four shortcuts docked at the bottom of the homescreen cannot be modified in any way: Phone, Contacts, Messaging and a Home/Menu button.

There are up to 7 homescreens available, but you can delete any unused pane by simply pinching on any of the homescreens. This will zoom out all panes just like the HTC Sense UI.With the Gesture UI you can tilt the phone to place item on any of the homescreen panes, or you can turn-to-mute and turn-to-snooze by simply turning the phone. Using only gestures you will be able to pick up and end calls, control music and video players, pan when inside gallery, browser or camera, or you can even launch the camera from the lock screen by simply shaking the phone.

The notification area features quick controls for Profiles, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and Data transfer. Just below there are a set of controls that allows you to operate the music player. The Optimus Black comes bundled with lots of useful applications such as: App Advisor, Car Home, Facebook and Twitter clients, Finance, Latitude, LG World, MySpace, News & Weather, places, Polaris Office, Remote Call, Voice Recorder, Voice Search, Weather, SmartShare and YouTube.

One of the most important is Polaris Office, which, as the name suggests, allows you to read, edit and create Word, Excel and Power Point documents. However, the application offers a wide array of editing options, including text style, paragraph formatting, bullets, or tables. In addition, the application can also be used as a file manager (sort of).The App Advisor allows you to view lists of Android apps that are recommended to you by LG. It appears that the handset maker updates these recommendations regularly, but you can also select any application found on the older lists.

The phone features an excellent portrait and landscape QWERTY keyboard, which is the only input method that can be used with the LG Optimus Black by default. If you want something else than the LG Keyboard, you must install it yourself.The phone's Gallery looks particularly cool with 3D effect and transitions, but this is Android Froyo and not the work of LG. You can do just about anything with a picture, crop, rotate or share it via Facebook, Twitter, Picasa or Bluetooth.

When it comes to Social integration, LG Optimus Black offers a complete solution, as both Facebook and Twitter contact can be displayed in the phonebook. As we already mentioned, the Optimus Black comes with separate Facebook and Twitter client, which appear in the notification area the moment you get a new message.

Communication

The LG Optimus Black offers a wide range of connectivity options, including GPRS and EDGE, HSDPA 7.2 Mbps and HSUPA 5.76 Mbps, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP and EDR, as well as microUSB 2.0, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot and Wi-Fi Direct.With Wi-Fi Direct one can connect to another device via Wi-Fi without the need of a Wi-Fi hotspot. While this sounds hard to believe, the new standard is kind of new and was already included with the Galaxy S II. Unfortunately, the technology is not yet ready to be deployed on a mass scale, but it is most certainly the one that will replace Bluetooth transfer between Wi-Fi enabled devices.To use the DLNA function of the smartphone you can start the SmartShare appliction from the main menu, which will let you control a DLNA network. This function allows you to play media from other devices on your phone and viceversa.

The integrated browser WebKit does a good job and allows users to take advantage of the multi-touch gestures to quickly zoom in/out. The browsing experience is one of the best embedded into a smartphone, including support for Flash. It supports double tap zooming and text reflow, which make it extremely easy to read even longer texts on the phone display.The smartphone is compatible with all email clients and protocols (POP3, IMAP) and can be synchronized with Microsoft Exchange. The device is also compatible with SMS, EMS, and MMS text features. Instant-messaging options include Google Talk, but other IMs can also be installed. The built-in GPS receiver and digital compass work together with the Google Maps 5.0, Navigation (only for supported countries), as well as Places. The GPS is extremely accurate even when indoors, but if you're not looking for exact pinpoint you could use Cell-ID and Wi-Fi networking position to save some battery.LG Optimus Black is a quad-band GSM (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900) handset that is also compatible with HSDPA 900/1700/2100 networks. The in-call sound quality is decent enough, but a bit distorted when is set to maximum. The GSM signal is also very good, even in areas with poor network coverage.

Processor and Memory

The Optimus Black is powered by a single core TI OMAP 3630 processor clocked at 1GHz, complemented by a PowerVR SGX530 GPU (graphics processing unit). By the look of it the Optimus Black is rather under-equipped when put against modern smartphones that feature dual-core CPUs.However, the Optimus Black was not built for raw power, instead it is a balanced smartphone that offers a taste from everything.The smartphone embeds only 512 MB RAM and 2 GB of internal memory. The storage space can be expanded up to 32GB through the microSD slot card that has been placed under the back hood. The sales package also contains an 2GB microSD card.

Multimedia

The Optimus Black features a music player that can also be used as a widget directly from any of the seven homescreens. The same widget is also placed by default under the notification area.

You can filter the music by album or artist, or you can search alphabetically or user the regular search to find a specific song or artist. If the album or song you're listening features an art image it will be displayed in the Now playing screen. You can swipe left and right to browse between albums.Unfortunately, the audio quality is mediocre at best, which a bit of disappointing coming from LG. This seems to be the quietest LG phone, as the loudspeaker performs well below normal. When using the headphones we noticed that the sound becomes distorted when the volume is set close to max, but there are cases when some songs sound distorted regardless of the volume setting.

The same goes for the FM Radio with RDS, but the audio quality is a bit better. You are required to use some kind of headphone when using the Radio function, as these are also act as antenna. LG Optimus Black also features an excellent video player that features a basic interface can play videos from the Gallery. Besides the standard 3GP and MP4 files, the video player recognizes DivX and XviD videos as well, but only supports 720p videos. Subtitles are supported as well, as long as the subtitle and video file names are the same.

Battery

The Optimus Black comes with a 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery, which is rated by the manufacturer for up to 375 hours of standby time or up to 6 hours of talk-time mode. Even though our test unit was nowhere near the official numbers, the Optimus Black has a decent battery autonomy. We were able to 'survive' for about 2 days with full use of Wi-Fi connectivity, around 20 minutes of phone calls, a bit of music playback and gaming.

Impressions

If you're attached to the LG brand and don't have the budget to purchase the Optimus 2X, the Optimus Black is a decent alternative. In fact, it's the only alternative for the moment, if you don't prefer Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform. The Optimus Black is an all-rounder with some pluses for the amazing NOVA display and stylish design.

The Good

Obviously, the strong point of the phone is the NOVA display, along with the elegant look. However, this is not everything that the phone can offer. I would also like to mention the LG Home launcher 2.0 and Gesture UI 2.0 that adds a personal touch to the stock Android Froyo interface, the DivX/XviD video support, as well as Wi-Fi Direct technology.

The Bad

The most disappointing aspect of the phone is by far the audio quality. In addition, the mediocre camera and the out-dated operating system may also be among the negatives.

Sales Package

LG Optimus Black handset
1500 mAh Li-Ion Battery
Compact Charger
Manual
Stereo Ear Microphone
USB Data Cable
2GB MicroSD Card
LG Optimus Black
110 photos
   LG Optimus Black

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