Dressed in a sleek black shell LG’s Optimus Black exudes poise and quite a bit of sex appeal. Taking its cue from big brother, the Optimus 2X, this lower end variant just could do better. After putting it to the test, here’s what I have to say.
It’s a good looking piece of hardware no doubt, but far from sturdy. A light drop (unintentional I assure you) from a height of about 3 feet, actually chipped off a part of the bezel, but leaving the Gorilla Glass display unscathed. The phone is not designed to be a rugged handset so I wasn’t required to throw it around – the drop was accidental. Aside from the slight chip, the Optimus Black still looked pretty good with its 4-inch NOVA display, which is an IPS (In-plane Switching) capacitive touchscreen display keeping colors as true and images as sharp as possible. It sports a 480 x 800 pixel resolution with 16 million colors. I found the legibility to be quite high even in direct sunlight and comfortable to view in pitch darkness with the ambient light sensor on.
Slick but slightly flimsy
At just 9.2mm in depth and weighing in at just 109g the Optimus Black is easily one of the slimmest and lightest Android phones around. A Gesture button is located on the left side of the handset just under the volume rocker, while the 3.5mm handsfree port, micro USB connector (neatly hidden by a slide back panel) and power/screen lock key are placed on top. A secondary 2 megapixel camera is located in front for video calling or taking your own picture when you feel like it. What I was unable to activate or find for that matter was an indicator LED for missed calls or unread messages for when the handset is in sleep mode.
'G' stands for Gestures
A hot-swap microSD card slot is located under the rear panel. The Optimus Black supports up to 32 GB via this external source but also comes with 2 GB of internal memory of which 1 GB can be used for apps and other data.
Features and Performance
The Optimus Black is equipped with a 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor and comes unfortunately with Android 2.2 aka FroYo out of the box. This is probably the biggest disappointment with the handset. LG has also loaded the device with their Optimus UI 2.0. Along with the UI, gesture controls like flip-to-silence, double tapping the sides to change tracks and images and shaking the handset in sleep mode to activate the camera, do enhance the overall functionality of the handset. What is a bit of a flaw in this system is one has to first get the handset off sleep mode then keep the “G” button (on the side) pressed and then shake the handset to switch on the camera. It’s a bit too much work. Like the Galaxy S II, you can press and hold an icon/widget on the hone screen and tilt the handset to move the background desktops for placement. Unlike the Optimus 2X, I found the Black’s overall UI handling to be quite fluid and comfortable to use.
Easy to manage menu set up
The UI allows you to create sections so you can categorize your apps. The sections can also be “folded” up to view others but it doesn’t stay that way requiring you to scroll down to view what’s below. Not really an issue either ways but quite handy nonetheless. You can also switch to a page or listing view if you prefer. One annoying little gltch I feel I should mention is that initially when the auto-rotate setting was active, the orientation would easily swithc to landscape but the handset had to be shaken to swicth back to portrait. I had to reset the handset a couple of times for it to start functioning properly. If any of you Optimus Black users out there are facing the same issue, please do let me know.
We also ran a set of tests to try and get an idea of how well the phone's various sub-systems performed. To get an idea of the performance of Flash memory interface, we used J Disk Benchmark. We ran the test on the SD card with a 50MB data set. We recorded read speeds of 3.68MB/s and write speeds of 3.23MB/s. This might not seem like a lot but it's certainly fast enough not to be a bottleneck for apps installed on your SD card as well as any kind of media on it.
J Disk Benchmark Results
We also used Linpack which would test the processing power of the phone. The Optimus Black scored a total of 16.18 MFLOPS. The performance based on synthetic scores isn't anywhere close to some of the dual-core processor phones to have released in the market. Then again, the Optimus Black isn't priced in the same league.
I loved the audio output that the handset was able to deliver. Music playback is crisp when it comes to the higher frequencies and there’s a resounding bass line that keeps it all in balance. The EQ presets are helpful and with the added boost of Dolby Surround, the stereo comes alive. With regards to video playback, the Optimus Black was able to easily playback 720p video files coded in both DivX or XviD formats. The colors stand out and the black levels looked quite impressive. The FM radio also performed well enough although there was static when travelling by train.
Being a 3G enabled device, Internet speed issues is not a problem if you’re on the service. Do keep in mind it takes a heavy toll on the battery. Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi with Hotspot capabilities to share connections, DLNA support for media streaming with compatible devices (LG’s Smartshare app makes it simpler to do this), Bluetooth with A2DP +EDR and of course USB 2.0. ANother major selling point that makes the Optimus Black look pretty good specs-wise is Wi-Fi direct whic hallows you to connect to compatible devices for transfer of data, printing etc. though a Wi-Fi connection without having to join an office or home network. Think of it as perhaps a speedier form of Bluetooth. With Flash 10.3 support the native browser does a good job both visually and functionally while web surfing. For social networking LG’s Facebook, MySpace and Twitter apps for the device work just fine and a widget that integrates all three makes it simple to stay connected and receive updates.
A whole lot of connectivity going on
For navigation purposes, although the Optimus Black is equipped with a GPS module, it doesn’t however have navigation software except for Google Maps and all that go along with it, namely – Places, Navigation and Latitude. A weather and news reader apps are also thrown in. With LG World, LG’s App Advisor and the native Android Market all accounted for, there are plenty of choices in apps to help beef up the devices functionality.
LG has integrated social networking quite well
There’s really not too much provided in terms of “special” or miscellaneous features that you would not find in other Android devices. Polaris Office for saving MS document files on their cloud service and then viewing them on the handset is on board, a memo pad for leaving notes with the ability to attach images to the file is also provided and standard mobile features like an Alarm clock, calculator, calendar, voice recorder etc. are available. A Finance app to track stock market information and a Remote Call app are also counted in as extras in this case and are available with the Optimus Black.
The LG Optimus Black is equipped with a 5 megapixel autofocus camera that has an LED flash for low light images. A slew of handy features and settings that include Face detection, manual focus, plenty of relevant scene modes, ISO levels up to 800 and plenty of shooting modes that include omni-directional panorama are available. The lack of a camera shutter release key may not be such a big deal for some, but I, like a few others, found it to be disappointing.
Well focused images even in low light
Image quality was quite good. Although the depth of colors was just a little off putting on the whole, in low light outdoor conditions, image sharpness was good for a mobile phone camera sensor.
Manual focus engaged
Although the Optimus Black’s camera is capable of video recording up to 720p resolution there seems to be a generic issue with the playback of these videos. While capturing video, all looks good on the screen - playback is however a whole other story. For some reason captured video plays in the most ridiculous format that looks like a standard 16:9 video that’s been squashed down vertically to look like 21:10. Even after two resets, the issue persisted. Hopefully a Gingerbread update will fix this glitch if it happens to be generic. Do let me know if you’ve used the handset and faced the same issue. With regards to recording quality though, it seemed clear enough but there was always a hint of a jittering every now and then even while watching playback on the PC.
After using the handset for a few days and running a few controlled tests on the 1500mAh battery, I have to say I was quite impressed. In a real life test I was able to squeeze a little over a day and a half of usage. This included - EDGE services from email to social networking updates always coming in, about 2.5 hours of video and at least an hour’s worth of calls and messages (including chatting on Whatsapp) combined.
Gestures do a little somthing to the overal feature set
Non-stop video playback with nothing else running in the background, yielded 5 hours and 10 minutes worth of battery life. A second round consisted of a loop where we ran a video for 2 hours, audio for 2 hours, web services for 2 hours and 30 minutes and talk time clocking in at one hour. After this one loop I was still able to get one hour and 15 minutes of video. Stand-alone talk time averaged in at about 4 hours and 45 minutes and that’s not bad at all.
The Bottom Line
With an affordable price tag of Rs. 19,990, I have to say, the LG Optimus Black is a handset to beat in this range. It’s a well-designed albeit slightly flimsy but extremely capable smartphone. It’s a pity LG launched it with FroYo and not Gingerbread but hopefully we’ll see an update soon, and hopefully, it will resolve the weird video camera problem as well. But to cut to the chase, if you’ve got Rs, 20,000 to spend on a Smartphone and style is a big factor, then the Optimus Black is the phone for you. Just make sure you get a good case for it to prevent damage if you’re the clumsy type. But if you’re looking at full functionality with no video recording glitches, then go with the Samsung Galaxy S that competes quite well in terms of media and even display quality.
Take a look at the video review here -
LG Optimus Black Reviewed
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