• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review


When LG revealed its Optimus Black to the world at January’s CES in Las Vegas, there were two outstanding features. One was that it was the slimmest smartphone in the world, the other that it was the first to feature Nova’s technology for displays. The latter, LG suggested, would be something akin to the Retina screen of the iPhone 4. Since January, Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc and the Samsung Galaxy II have both appeared, sporting smaller waistlines, but it remains that we hoped the NOVA display, along with a number of other features, would live up to our high expectations.

First impressions

Another impression we had at CES was that, while the dual-core processor sporting LG Optimus 2X was definitely the Korean phone maker’s top device when it came to power, the Optimus Black had been made to turn heads. While we did get quite excited when we saw it for the first time, the initial excitement didn’t last long. From the front it is definitely an eye-catcher (in fact it looks rather like the iPhone 4) with its four-inch display surrounded by a piano black finish. However, turn over the device and you’ll be confronted by a Teflon cover that looks rather plasticky and more like something you’d find on a cheaper phone. It also looked rather more charcoal than the black that you would expect, given its moniker. Maybe we’re becoming hard to please but it didn’t light any fires for us. And oddly, the Optimus Black also comes in white…

Under the screen there are four touch-keys for home, back, search and settings. Once the display is woken, these light up – you’ll need to press the power/lock button on the top of the device to wake up the screen. Then you’ll have to swipe the screen up to unlock the handset. A heavy pulse when you touch the keys confirms that your action has been recognised. 

NOVA screen

So what did we think of the high-tech screen? Well, it is definitely bright. The home screen boasts icons that have a 3D appearance, with prominent edges, so that they really stand out. LG claims its NOVA technology cuts power usage in half, compared with an LCD screen. While that may be true, we still had to charge the device after a day.

However, what really makes it stand out is the fact that it is really easy to see the screen when you’re outside. The Optimus Black has an onboard light sensor, which works out the light levels and alters the display’s brightness accordingly, so you don’t use any more power than necessary. Try it out yourself – move your hand over the handset and you’ll see the display gets a bit brighter. It’s not so obvious indoors, but outdoors you’ll benefit from an almost glare-free experience.

It is also possible to alter the screen’s brightness manually – we put it on full brightness and the screen proved almost blinding. It’s not quite up there with the iPhone 4’s Retina screen, or the Super AMOLED Plus display of the Samsung Galaxy S II, but it is still impressive and one of the handset’s standout features.

The Optimus Black sports the Android 2.2 Froyo operating system, so doesn’t measure up to the HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy S II, which both run Gingerbread. LG has said that there will be an update, but if you’re an early adopter this might be a deal-breaker. Having said that, the device is capable of playing Flash video and, as it already has a two-megapixel front-facing snapper, we guess you’ll be able to make video calls as well.

Like early Android handsets, LG has chosen to add its own skin – the S-Class user interface. These are not always successful and unfortunately this is true in the case of the Optimus Black. It’s fiddly to customise the menu, which necessitates a lot of pinching and pulling before you can add categories, rename or change the order of programmes. There are preloaded Twitter and Facebook apps from LG, but we also found these somewhat limited. You might as well download the full apps from Android Market.

Gesture control

One of the most innovative features on this handset is the gesture control. On the left-hand side of the device sits a ‘G’ key. Hold it down and you’ll find you can slide between home screens by tilting the handset, or answer an incoming call by double tapping. It might be a bit of a gimmick, but we rather like it nonetheless. The only disappointment is that the volume keys are so close to the G key, so we pressed the wrong button by mistake a few times. It could have sat on the – totally empty – right-hand edge instead.

We had high hopes for the gesture that allows you to start up the snapper from the lock screen. Android handsets often lack a dedicated hard key for the camera, which means you often miss out on those spontaneous shots. So we were quite excited by the fact that we could fire up the snapper from a locked screen with a sharp jolt. But then we discovered you first have to wake up the handset by pressing the power button – so we were left disappointed. 


The snapper is pretty good on the Optimus Black – especially if you manually alter the settings rather than opting for the auto setting, particularly for macro images. If you like fiddling with your images there’s plenty to keep you amused both pre and post shot. Unfortunately the video recording offering isn’t quite so impressive; our films were somewhat blurry and there was no way to make adjustments – such as zooming – once we had started recording.

Surfing the web proved a mixed offering too. That display made pages look great – very crisp. But they took a long time to load up, despite that 1GHz processor. Is it because we have been spoilt by dual-core processors? Maybe. We also found the Wi-Fi connection unreliable – maybe our own hotspot is less than reliable, but we have to say we didn’t have this issue with any other phones or devices.

While we’re on Wi-Fi, the Optimus Black has an innovative feature named Wi-Fi Direct. This lets you send your content between Wi-Fi-enabled devices at a rate that is speedier than Bluetooth – it also works at up to 656ft. Having said that, until other manufacturers include this technology it’s not hugely useful.

The verdict

In the world of mobile phones, four months is an awfully long time. While we got quite excited by our first glimpse of the Optimus Black at CES, now we are not so impressed. Sure, the display is very impressive, but it’s hard to say that the build quality and performance are worthy of a £400 price tag, especially when you can buy more powerful phones – such as the likes of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S II – for a similar price.




Type of phone:



candy bar


122 x 64 x 9.2 mm


109 g


16 million colours





Special Camera features:

auto focus, LED flash

Video recording:


Video playback:


Video calling:


Video streaming:


Music formats played:


3.5mm jack port:


Handsfree speakerphone:


Voice Control:


Voice Dialling:


Call records:

Practically unlimited


Practically unlimited entries and fields, Photocall

Ringtones customization:


Display description:

IPS LCD capacitive touch-screen







Standard color:


Launch Status:






Operating system:



A2DP, Bluetooth, MicroUSB, TV out, Wi-Fi

Announced date:

January 2011

What's in the Box:



512 MB RAM

International launch date:

May 2011

Battery life when playing multimedia:



TI OMAP 3630 1 GHz processor

FM Radio Description:

Stereo FM radio with RDS

Internal memory:


Memory Card Slot:



IM, SMS, Email, MMS

Internet Browser:


E-mail client:

POP3, Attachments, Push email, IMAP4






Yes and downloadable

Data speed:





648 mins


960 hours

Display size:




Audio recording:


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