LG Optimus Black Android phone

LG Optimus Black review: The standout feature of the Optimus Black is what LG calls a 'NOVA' display

LG is best known for producing budget mobile phones, but its latest Optimus Black Android phone is anything but entry-level. This slim and stylish smartphone is just 9.2mm thick, possesses an excellent display, and a good quality camera.

Read our reviews of other top LG phones, and check out the best upcoming smartphones in 2011.

LG Optimus Black: Design and display

LG doesn't have a reputation for sexy devices, but the Optimus Black is a prime candidate for fashion-conscious users. The phone is just 9.2mm at its thickest point, and the design is tapered toward the sides so it's just 6mm thick towards the edges. In addition to adding a touch of differentiation compared to other phones, this design also makes the Optimus Black comfortable to grip.

The LG Optimus Black is constructed largely from plastic, and this contributes to its light 109g weight. The Black in the name is for good reason — the front of the handset is all black gloss plastic, except for the dark grey, touch sensitive shortcut keys, the front-facing camera, and the subtle LG logo. On the rear, the LG and Google logo's, along with the camera, LED flash, and the speaker keep the design clean and minimal. Unfortunately, the rear of the LG Optimus Black doesn't seem to hold up well to the elements — our review unit was visibly scratched in just two days of regular use.

The standout feature of the LG Optimus Black is its 4in capacitive "NOVA" display, which uses the same IPS technology seen in the iPhone 4. Though it can't boast the same superb viewing angles and colour reproduction as the iPhone, the Optimus Black screen has an outdoor brightness of 700 nits, which is almost twice the brightness of most other smartphone screens. To put it simply, the LG Optimus Black's sunlight legibility is superb, and among the best that we've ever tested.

A somewhat strange feature of the LG Optimus Black is the 'G' button, located below the volume keys on the left side of the handset. Described by LG as a "3D Motion Gesture key”, it enables users to shake or tilt the Optimus Black to activate certain features. You can press the G key and shake the phone to answer a call, tilt to pan around a photo, browse between photos in the gallery, move around a Web page, and switch between home screens. The G key can also launch the camera from the lock screen; simply press and hold the button and shake the phone. Just like the motion gesture features on the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Optimus Black's G key and motion controls will wow onlookers, but they are not practical for day-to-day use.

LG Optimus Black: Software

The LG Optimus Black comes with Google's Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system, but LG has promised it will be upgradeable to the latest version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) in the coming months.

LG has skinned the standard Android interface with its own UI overlay and many of the changes are positive. We particularly liked the music controls that are integrated into the notifications slide-down bar, the revamped contact pages, and the cartoonish-looking weather, clock and calendar widgets. LG's on-screen keyboard is also excellent and is very similar in both look and feel to the iPhone layout, though the space bar is slightly more toward the left of the screen and does take some getting used to. We also like the fact that the lock screen displays missed calls and new text messages, and will unlock straight into each of these apps. You can also simply tap and hold on the home screen to edit it.

On the downside, LG's pre-loaded Facebook and Twitter apps are much inferior to the standard Android versions, and the entire LG overlay isn't as slick or as smooth as we feel it should be. Though we weren't expecting blazing speeds given this is a single-core smartphone, there were various times when the Optimus Black felt sluggish during general use.

LG Optimus Black: Other features

The LG Optimus Black has a 5-megapixel camera that doubles as a 720p HD video recorder, DLNA connectivity for wirelessly sharing media content, and 2GB of internal memory. It does not have an HDMI port but it has a microSD card slot, and it features 512MB of RAM.

The LG Optimus Black's rear camera takes still photographs with good levels of detail and sharpness, and possesses accurate colour reproduction. The lack of a camera shutter key is annoying, as it can be hard to hold the Optimus Black still when framing a photo. The single LED flash is powerful and bright, but does tend to wash out colours in low-light situations.

Despite LG claiming the Optimus Black's NOVA display is much more power efficient than rival screens, its battery life remains below average in real-world situations. Most users will get around 24 hours of life out of the Optimus Black's 1500mAh battery before it needs a recharge.

The LG Optimus Black is available through all Australian carriers — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, on a range of cap plans from $29 to $59, depending on the specific carrier.

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