LG Optimus Black Preview

Introduction and Design
This is a global GSM phone. It can beused with T-Mobile USA andAT&T, but without 3G.

Introduction and Design:

We heard about the LG Optimus Black for the first time back in December of last year. It was codenamed LG B at the time, and the leaked screen spec sheet highlighted its brightness – 700 nit, which is the most ever on a smartphone.

It was also compared to the iPhone 4, which, at the time, was the thinnest smartphone on the market, and found to be even slimmer. At the CES 2011 show LG finally lifted the veil over the phone, giving it the name LG Optimus Black, and also christened the screen technology – NOVA display.

Now we have a prototype of this incredibly thin and light Android phone with what LG claims to be the brightest mobile display out there. Is it worth the hype, considering that screen reflectance is at least as important for good visibility in direct sunlight as is display brightness?  We can't really vouch for that, considering what we had is a non-final version, but read on for our initial impressions...

You can compare the LG Optimus Black with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The first thing you notice about the LG Optimus Black is how amusingly thin and light it is – with 3.84 ounces (109 grams) of weight, and 0.36” (9.2mm) at its thickest, it really raises the bar, considering it boasts a generous 4” display. .

What's even more noteworthy is that LG managed to achieve this profile with an LCD display, since it is the Super AMOLED technology that is supposed to allow for thinner screen parts. The 4” IPS-LCD display with 480x800 pixels of resolution on the LG Optimus Black, is another culmination of LG's mobile LCD display prowess.

Being able to produce an IPS-LCD for the iPhone 4 with 500 nit brightness and wide viewing angles, LG saved a little bit of that magic for itself, upping the brightness on the Optimus Black's screen to 700 nit. Not only that, but it actually draws zero watts when showing black, like the AMOLED displays, hence probably the name LG Optimus Black. How did LG achieve it is a mystery to us, but that's what its comparison table claims. It can't be the color of the phone itself, since it is also offered with white and pink back covers, while designer covers are on their way as well.

As we noted, the battery cover, which is only cut for the opening of the 5MP camera with LED flash, is tapered along the left and right sides, giving the Optimus Black a prismatic look from the back, and making it more comfortable to hold.

Below the NOVA display are four capacitive Android buttons, which are illuminated sequentially in purple when the phone boots up, just for joy. Even in the prototype unit we had, they were responsive to the touch. The same goes for the rest of the buttons alongside this Slim Jim – the volume rocker and the G button on the left, and the power/lock button up top, where the standard audio jack is as well.

The G button is an additional way to navigate around the browser and the gallery by tilting the phone while holding it, plus scrolling and zooming by pressing it, if you are so inclined, or if you have just eaten those chicken wings from the bucket, and don't want to mess up your shiny NOVA display. It is all due to an innovative 9-axis motion sensor, which LG calls... you guessed it... the G-sensor. It will be interesting  to check how many additional control gestures will be implemented at launch.

In a nutshell, the LG Optimus Black is indeed an eerily thin and light Android device, with the brightest screen out there, although in reality we couldn't notice a droolworthy difference over the iPhone 4's 500 nit display. The NOVA display didn't make us reach for our shades when looking at it, but let's not forget that we are still some time away from a final production unit.

LG Optimus Black 360-degree View:

Interface and Functionality:

The Android 2.2 Froyo-running LG Optimus Black packs a 1GHz TI OMAP 3630 mobile chipset, which is also found in the latest Motorola DROIDs, and we all know their battery lives are quoted as some of the longest out there, so TI's 45nm silicon has affirmed itself as very power efficient. LG has obviously struck a deal with Texas Instruments for its OMAP family of mobile chipsets, since a dual-core OMAP 4430 is what makes the LG Optimus 3D tick. The PowerVR SGX 530 GPU is a bit old school, but it will still power any game you can currently find in Android Market.

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The chipset powers the so-called Optimus UI, which is LG's most recent Android skinning effort, the way we encounter it in the LG Optimus 2X, and you can read more about it in our review here. A couple of homescreens, ready to be widgetized, a dock at the bottom of both the homescreens and the main menu with four shortcuts to your most used apps – nothing much different  than other Android interfaces to see here, move on, people. There are some differences within the UI, compared to the Optimus 2X, though. In homescreen edit mode, the elements you can add like widgets and folders now appear in a pull-up menu that occupies only part of the visible canvas, and you can scroll a grid of icons to choose what to place on the homescreen, presented on a semi-transparent background, neat.

There is quite the amount of lag throughout the interface, since both the hardware, and the software of our unit are not final, despite that the LG Optimus Black has the decent 512MB of RAM. The 2GB ROM is somewhat disappointing, but, considering flash memory modules are some of the most expensive parts of a phone for the manufacturer, this should reflect favorably on the price, plus you always have the microSD card slot.

The other notable difference from the Optimus UI, as found on the LG Optimus 2X, is that the LG Optimus Black has a 3G switch in its notification bar, which we've always found extremely handy for getting some extra juice out of the battery.

Maintaining only 2G connection doesn't reflect on call quality, only data speeds, but drains much less battery than 3G. We use such a switch very often, and turn 3G on only when we have to browse or download something quickly. Unlike the auto-rotate switch found in the notification bar of the Optimus 2X, which we almost never use. Both phones have music player controls embedded straight into the notification bar, which is also quite handy.

The browser on our prototype unit seemed fairly responsive as far as scrolling, text reflow and zooming go, but it didn't have Adobe Flash, and we couldn't install it. Again, we had a non-final unit, so full Adobe Flash support will probably come with the market-ready version.

As far as connectivity options go, the LG Optimus Black has the works – 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, and DLNA, but with the notable exception of FM Radio. It sports Wi-Fi Direct, though, for that matter.

What it does is it links with other Wi-Fi Direct-enabled devices without needing a Wi-Fi network, and allows for content sharing. It could eventually replace Bluetooth, since it uses the existing Wi-Fi radio in your phone, thus removing the need for that extra chip in the already crammed mobile chipset design. For now, the LG Optimus Black is the only handset that sports Wi-Fi Direct, though.

Camera and Multimedia:

The camera software was still quite buggy in our prototype unit of the LG Optimus Black, so we will  pass on judgment about the 5MP camera's interface and picture/video quality. Every time we hit the back button in settings, for example, it threw us back in the main menu. The interface is the one we have in the LG Optimus 2X, with a bunch of scene modes, presets, and various effects.

The pictures turned out a little soft – it was a grim snowy day when we took the samples, so the noise suppression algorithms smeared a bit of detail and focus, but the color representation and the contrast were quite accurate.

The same goes for the video samples, what we could deduce from the few frames the camera caught at least. The video software is clearly unfinished, since the camera skipped frames like crazy, moving the video as a slideshow at times when we downloaded the file to a computer, since it recorded in the .3GP format, whereas on the phone it played better. Aside from that prototype glitch, which we hope will be fixed when sale time comes, our video player showed HD 720p video shot with 30fps as media info.

As we mentioned in the interface part, the notification bar has embedded music player controls, so your collection control is always easily accessible, and the LG Optimus Black has the same beautiful music player interface in landscape mode that the Optimus 2X has. The loudspeaker on our prototype was decent, but nothing to write home about, even in the mock surround sound mode you can turn on or off while listening to music.

As far as video playback, the phone's chipset is capable of rendering HD 720p video. It doesn't have DivX/Xvid support out of the box, but this is easily solved by downloading any popular free player from Android Market. There is no HDMI port, so you will have to stream your multimedia with the DLNA capability to your TV, if that's what you want.

The standard 1500mAh battery is not rated for talk times by LG yet. For those of us who worried the brightest LCD mobile display out there will consume too much power, LG put together a quick comparison sheet. The screen draws 0 watts when showing black, like what the AMOLED displays do, and 0.7 watts when showing a completely white page.

The iPhone 4's Retina Display munches on 0.42 watts in both cases, but considering most websites and ebooks have white backgrounds, the battery consumption from the NOVA display should in reality be on par with the Retina Display, so no worries. You can read more about the advantages of the competing mobile display technologies in our in-depth article here.


To recap our experience with the LG Optimus Black we will once again rehash that, for a handset with a 4” display, it almost feels like a toy with this incredibly thin and light chassis. The all-plastic construction seems to be inevitable, if you want to achieve that feeling, but the design is far from unappealing, thanks to the tapered edges on the back, the slim profile, and the disco-dancing capacitive buttons below the display.

It doesn't shy away on specs too, with an efficient 1GHz TI OMAP chipset, 5MP camera with LED flash that takes pretty decent photos, even with the prototype software, and the 2MP front-facing cam.

What makes the LG Optimus Black stand out, though, is this 4“ shining star called the NOVA display (anyone willing to bet that the next generation will be called Super NOVA?). It seems very bright indeed, although LG is probably still making tweaks, thus we can't wait to get our hands on a finalized unit with all the respective coatings applied, so that we can pit it against the other bright kids on the smartphone block.

LG Optimus Black Video Preview:

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