May 07 AT 1:12 PM Russell Holly 27 Comments

Hands on with the LG Optimus Black

LG is in the middle of what appears to be a rapid transformation. Here we have a company who has taken a back seat in the Android ecosystem, despite being a member of the Open Handset Alliance from day one, who is now putting out top of the line devices all over the world. In the States, the LG Ally was something of a failure, and yet now we’re seeing the extremely powerful G2X starting to make waves over on T-Mobile, and there’s now an Optimus variant on every major US carrier. In the UK, the O2X is starting to cause the same commotion, but there is another LG device lurking on UK networks. Today we’re going to take a look at the LG Optimus Black, and share some of its truly unique features.

In a mobile market that is dominated by specs, the Optimus Black appears to come up short. After all, it’s a single core phone with 512mb of Ram and it only comes with 2GB of storage. It’s running Android 2.2.2 with LG’s very TouchWiz-looking UI skin, and it’s not even 4G! While that laundry list is enough to make the hardcore gearheads turn their nose up at this device, what the Black actually delivers is more than enough phone for any user.

For starters, the phone gets amazing battery life. I quickly pasted a copy of Tron: Legacy to the phone and let it play three times back-to-back-to back with the brightness turned all the way up. At the end of this 6 hour burn in, the phone was still packing 41% of its battery. During my day-to-day use, the phone didn’t live up to the “24-hour battery” that LG claimed, but the phone certainly offered me more than a sun-up to sun-down experience with its mere 1500maH battery. I would love to say that I have used ANY dual core phone that could offer me the same experience, but I’ve yet to come up against one yet that didn’t disappoint when it came to battery life, so huge points to the Black for having great battery life.

LG’s goal with the Black was to create an ultra light, ultra thin phone without compromising the usability of the phone. They delivered. The 4″ phone weighs in at 109 grams and is one of the thinnest phones on the market. Despite how thin and light the phone is, it still has a sturdy feel in your hand, largely due to the battery plate wrapping around the device and creating a very tight fit. This design makes removing the battery plate feel like you’re going to break it the first time you try, but it comes off very easily and gives you access to the battery, SIM, and microSD slot. Snapping the plate back on is a breeze, and the casing snaps flush with the screen bezel very smoothly.

When it comes to the screen, the LG Nova display is, with absolutely no doubt, the best display on any cell phone right now. Utilizing the second generation of the tech behind Apple’s beloved “Retina” display, the Nova screen works just as well in broad daylight as it does indoors, and its light sensor is smart enough to switch so quickly that you don’t even notice the change when moving from indoors to outdoors. The Nova display generates brilliant colors and deep blacks, producing an all around terrific experience.

The Black handled gaming great as well – playing everything from Angry Birds to Backbreaker HD with the same grace and power as the G2X. The overall performance of the Black is great. There’s no lag when navigating or scrolling, and the load time for apps is much faster than you’d expect from a device that is so much less than the G2X or the O2X on paper. Flash performance was more than adequate, and loaded pages with the same speed as the Nexus S.

The coolest features to this phone is the G button. The G button, when activated in settings, is the trigger for LG’s innovative gesture control system. I don’t mean gestures like drawing a symbol on the phone, either. Holding the G button down and engaging the accelerometer by shaking the phone, leaning the phone from side to side, or simply flipping the phone over, will generate a response. On the home screen, holding the G button and leaning the phone left will cause the phone to react as though you have just swiped to the next home screen. Shaking the phone with the G button engaged will open the Camera app. Tapping the G button while browsing will cause the browser to zoom in as though you had just double tapped the screen. It’s a unique way to experience your phone, and I applaud LG for this outside the box thinking.

LG Optimus Black Android phone side

Of the many apps that come pre-installed, the ability to create a private network for file sharing is easily the most impressive. This app is separate from the portable hotspot capability, in that it allows you to create ad-hoc networks in between devices for the purpose of file transfer. It’s remarkably easy to setup, and supports WiFi or Bluetooth from within the app, allowing you to transfer data from multiple devices to any of the devices on this ad-hoc network. The app worked with just about everything I tried to pair it with, the only exception being an HD7 (we’ll just assume that’s not LG’s fault though).

I wish I could say I liked the rest of the software. LG’s UI is a little too much like TouchWiz and not in any good sense of the phrase, if one exists. The modifications that have been made to the camera make taking pictures awkward, and at one point the shutter engaged a full 20 seconds AFTER I pressed the button to take a picture. LG’s launcher organization, separating stock apps from downloaded apps is annoying, and difficult to correct. The elements of LG’s skin that you can’t get around is just a symptom of a larger problem, though. The stock experience offered by the G2X seems much more popular than LG’s skin on any phone so far.

The more I used this phone, the more it felt like the Black was a strange amalgamation of things that were successful elsewhere. The specs give nearly the same benchmarks as the Droid X, the screen is a second generation “Retina” display, and as many commenters pointed out during the unboxing, looking at it head-on it’s a little round button away from looking like an iPhone. The UI really is enough to cause some UI developers at Samsung to squirm in their seats, and the placement of things like the micro USB port and more are even a little “Samsung-y” in design. This phone feels like LG took what was observed as the best from all of the successful phones at the time of its design, and just sort of copied and pasted. When they had a phone, they strapped some creativity to it with the G button and called it a brand new phone. Mind you, I don’t see this as a negative commentary on the phone. Its ability to deliver performance, battery life, and a unique user experience are what makes this phone so great.

I write things.

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