Introduction & Features

About six months back, I was suffering from a serious case of Android fatigue. There were almost a dozen mid-range Android phones waiting in the wings to be reviewed and there was virtually nothing to separate them from each other. Not that these phones were bad; they just all appeared to take the same middle-of-the-road approach which left them undistinguishable.

The LG Optimus Black P970 is, thankfully, not among those phones. While its price puts it in the mid-range segment, it appears to be a high-end smartphone disguised as a mid-range one. The Optimus Black stands alongside the Samsung Galaxy SLCD as being one of the really exciting phones in the homogenous sludge that the mid-range smartphone segment often resembles.

At the end of the day though, the Optimus Black does have a couple of drawbacks that prevent it from being a superior product.

Features

The LG Optimus Black P970 is an Android 2.2.2 (Froyo) smartphone with a custom skinned UI. It is powered by a 1GHz processor and a PowerVR SGX530 GPU and has 512MB of RAM along with 2GB of internal memory expandable up to 32GB through microSD.

At 4-inches, the Optimus Black has one of the largest displays you will find on a phone that costs less than £300. Not only is the display large, but it also offers IPS technology which means better viewing angles and colour reproduction over standard LCD displays. The screen has a resolution of 480x800 pixels.

Connectivity needs are well taken care of by the Optimus Black with support for Wi-Fi and GPS. The LG also supports 3G with maximum theoretical download speeds of 7.2Mbps and maximum theoretical upload speeds of 5.76Mbps. Being an Android phone allows the Optimus Black to make use of Google Mobile Services apps and a whole host of apps downloadable from the Android Market. The phone also comes pre-installed with apps that take care of media sharing, social networking, viewing documents etc.

Page 2: Design & Usability

LG has clearly put in a lot of work to make the Optimus Black’s UI look good and perform well. However, the experience is underwhelming since there is a degree of sluggishness that’s present throughout the phone. Menus open slightly slower than expected, apps launch after a pause and the touch input is short of being perfect.

LG has tweaked the default Android UI and has added plenty of extras and customisation options letting you change the layout of menus and add various additional widgets to the home-screens.

Thankfully, the touch input works well when it comes to typing in both portrait and landscape modes.  The placement of hardware buttons felt a little strange to me as a right-hander. The volume control buttons are placed on the left side of the phone with a Google Voice Search button below. LG has given the Optimus Black a row of touch sensitive buttons below the screen which work nicely and also light up when in use. A neat design element is that the buttons glow blue as an indicator that they have been pressed.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Optimus Black probably has the best display in its segment. The display offers rich colours and is very sharp. Visibility does go down outdoors but not to such an extent as to make content on the screen unreadable. The Optimus Black is a good looking and well built device. Adding to its classy looks is its glass covered face and a back that curves at an angle at the right and left edges reducing the risk of it slipping from your grip. However, the Optimus Black looks uncannily like the iPhone 4 and I wish that LG had opted to go for innovation in looks instead of being so overtly “influenced” by Apple.

Browsing & Multimedia

Looking at its 4-inch display you would think that Web browsing would be one of the LG Optimus Black’s strong features and you would be right. The large screen lets you see more real estate on websites. The browser supports Flash although browsing does become a bit sluggish when a Flash video is loading.

While the pictures shot with the Optimus Black will satisfy casual photographers, they do look dull. Also, contrast levels appeared off with shadows and darker areas looking very dark. Indoor images looked much better and the autofocus works quite well in helping you shoot subjects close to the lens and capture details. The Optimus Black’s flash is not all that powerful and the camera had focusing issues when shooting in dark environments.

The camera can also record 720p videos but the videos I shot looked terribly stretched. The problem doesn’t occur when you shoot in non-HD resolutions but I really hope LG takes care of this problem through a software update.

If you don’t have a dedicated MP3 player, the Optimus Black does more than enough to make sure you don’t miss one. Audio quality is loud, clear and most importantly, powerful. LG has also added plenty of EQ presets to let you tweak the way your music sounds. The external speaker is also surprisingly loud and clear and the FM radio app works really well. The Optimus Black maintains LG’s reputation as manufacturers of phones with the best music playback in the market.??The Optimus Black wasn’t able to play our 1080p test videos but it managed to play the 720p videos just fine. Videos look good on the Optimus’ screen but playback is a little choppy. The Optimus Black is able to play DivX/XviD files out of the box which is a bonus.

LG Optimus Black P970: Specs

  • 3G, Bluetooth, Wireless, GPS
  • Android 2.2.2 (Froyo) operating system
  • 2GB internal storage
  • 480x800 4.0in touch screen
  • 5Mp camera with LED flash
  • 3G, Bluetooth, Wireless, GPS
  • Android 2.2.2 (Froyo) operating system
  • 2GB internal storage
  • 480x800 4.0in touch screen
  • 5Mp camera with LED flash

OUR VERDICT

If it wasn’t for the small issues that bug its UI and touchscreen response, the LG Optimus Black would have scored a lot higher. However, in spite of all its weaknesses I can say with some certainly that the P970 is one of the best Android smartphone avaiable right now (alongside the Samsung Galaxy SLCD i9003).

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