LG Optimus Black review

With it's 4-inch NOVA screen is this LG's best Android phone yet?

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The lightest, brightest phone steps out to battle the big boys

LG has been working hard to craft a range of high-end phones that entice customers away from the glitz of an iPhone and the cool Android stylings of HTC and Samsung's range.

The Optimus Black (or P970) is a phone that attempts to fight on two fronts – it's the lightest handset out there at 109g, and super slim with a solid feel, so will impress a few fashionistas. But with its 4-inch NOVA display, it's also one for the tech-head looking for market-leading screen technology. Review continues after the video.

LG Optimus Black: Android

LG, in its efforts to get off to a sparky smartphone start in 2011, decided to release its new Optimus range running only Android 2.2, rather than the more up to date Gingerbread. It doesn't affect operation too much, and the new firmware is apparently coming relatively soon, but it's still irritating for users not to get all the new features they could out of the box.

LG has plonked its LG Home overlay on top of Google's OS, meaning a tray of icons at the bottom of the home screen and a menu system that separates inbuilt apps and downloads. This can be altered to a more simple mode, as can the number of home screens, and the flick under the finger is mostly snappy and pleasingly responsive.

LG Optimus Black: Controls

The Optimus Black is, for the most part, standard Android, meaning simple access to notifications from the drag-down bar and several home screens to chuck a variety of widgets at. Like the Samsung TouchWiz overlay on the Samsung Galaxy S2, LG offers a music control widget and connection control from the notifications bar too, allowing easy management of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and data connections.

The other novel feature on the Optimus Black is the gesture button. Hold this down and shake, twist or flip the phone in different scenarios and you can control the camera, move between home screens or pause video without a single touchscreen tap. It's fun rather than functional, but play with it for long enough and you might find some time saving shortcuts.

LG Optimus Black: Features

The Optimus Black is relatively feature-filled with on-board applications – some, like LG World (which is a downloadable app offering themes and wallpapers) are less useful, but items like WiFi Direct, which connect devices in Bluetooth fashion in a faster and more secure way, are genuinely decent additions.

SmartShare, LG's DLNA offering for the Optimus Black, is also pretty handy if you want to connect a PC to a TV via the power of magic wireless signal. However, while the set up of the DLNA is pretty straightforward if you have a Windows 7 PC, it's annoying that you can't play back the files on the phone using the app, thus making it pointless if you don't have a connected TV.

Facebook and Twitter for LG are included but pretty pointless too – their official counterparts proved to be faster and more intuitive... and the less said about MySpace's inclusion on the phone, the better.

LG Optimus Black: Screen

One of the big selling points LG is touting with the Optimus Black is the power of its NOVA display, which is meant to be one of the clearest LCD screens on the market. It certainly looks crisp and sharp when you switch on the phone for the first time, but with the likes of Sony Ericsson's Reality Display, the iPhone 4's Retina Display and Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus offering, it doesn't feel market leading.

It's great for video and internet browsing – you'll struggle to find much wrong with the clarity or sharpness of the letters on offer. However, the claim that's it's sensational in direct light isn't too convincing – it's certainly acceptable, but pales into comparison next to Samsung's latest effort.

LG Optimus Black: Battery

The battery life on the Optimus Black is supposed to outstrip its rivals fairly comprehensively, thanks to the NOVA display that promises a 50% reduction in power over the OLED brigade.

However, in our tests we found the phone to be surprisingly average in terms of battery consumption – leaving push email on and using the phone as a video player on the commute generally saw a dead handset by the time we got home – hopefully Android 2.3 can improve this somewhat.

LG Optimus Black: Verdict

The Optimus Black has a hard place in the market – upper mid-range in the phone rankings is a hard one to convince consumers to go for. It's comparable on contract price with the more powerful LG Optimus 2X and better looking Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, and not too far off the cost of the Galaxy S2.

The battery life is something of a worry at times, and you could almost call the phone TOO light at times, with the lightweight feel not bringing a premium sensation in the hand.

The Optimus Black is a fine handset in a vacuum, and will probably entice a fair few users with its bright display and super-thin chassis. But you feel that with the plethora of hyper-cool dual-core handsets coming our way, this svelte offering could slip through the cracks.

LG Optimus Black launch date: available now, link LG

LG Optimus Black price: Around £410 online sim only, free on £25 a month contract

LG Optimus Black Specs

  • OS: Android 2.2
  • Processor:1GHz TI OMAP
  • Storage:2GB
  • Screen:4-inch NOVA Display 800x480
  • Connectivity: WiFi b/g/n, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA, GPS, HSDPA 7.2Mbps
  • Camera:5MP with single LED flash and AF (front 2MP)
  • Video:720p at 30fps
  • Dimensions:122 x 64 x 9.2 mm/109g