There are a couple of slight issues with color reproduction -- it's not always wholly faithful to the subject matter -- and contrast not being strong enough on a few pictures, but those are easy to either correct or ignore. The important thing about the images captured by the Optimus Black is that they're detailed, and a quick rinse through your favorite image-enhancing program will make them look their best. A highly detailed options and modes menu will also help any budding photogs who desire the thinnest and lightest tool for their trade.
Video capture was highly satisfactory, however the .3gp files outputted from the phone were weirdly stretched when we offloaded them onto our computer. You can see them reproduced below, entirely unreformatted. Playing them back on the phone itself was a gorgeous, perfectly smooth experience -- notable given we recorded at 720p -- and you should still be able to get a good idea of the quality of the results below, in spite of the funky aspect ratio.
If there's one thing professional sports have taught us, it's that speed kills. The Samsung Galaxy S II
and LG's own G2x have recently raised the bar when it comes to responsiveness among Android smartphones, which is an unfortunate development for the Optimus Black as it's a handset that can't be considered fast even by yesteryear's standards. The single-core 1GHz chip at its heart may be sucking down a lot of power, but its output was meager by modern standards and benchmarks. In Quadrant, we typically got between 1,100 and 1,300, Linpack gave us 12.5 MFLOPS on average, Nenamark exhibited some noticeable stuttering on its way to a 26fps result, and Neocore couldn't crack past the 50fps mark, hovering in the mid-40s. Admittedly, Neocore is a benchmark that's explicitly designed for Adreno graphics chips, but the age of all these tests is such that a current-gen smartphone should be chewing through them with ease. The Optimus Black failed to do so, but more importantly, the subdued synthetic test results were matched by unimpressive speed in real world use.
Animations when transitioning between homescreens in the LG Optimus UI are choppy. With the Optimus Black, lag won't be as much of an annoyance as the simple dropping of frames when performing onscreen actions. Even the initial act of unlocking the phone isn't as fluid as we've seen on other devices and the pervasive feeling you get is that the phone's struggling (or straggling) while performing your commands.
This behavior carries over to the web browser, which loads pages quickly and doesn't exhibit any formatting flaws, but also labors under the strain of scrolling and pinch-to-zoom instructions. It's important to say that nothing is broken about them, everything works, but the Optimus Black doesn't have the same air of effortlessness in these tasks as other phones of this generation. Moreover, the phone's capable of playing back Flash content within the browser, but cannot offer smooth playback of 480p videos. Ultimately, the consistently sluggish performance put us off using the Optimus Black and we imagine others too would be disappointed not to see its looks matched by its deeds.
We were also underwhelmed to find the Black shipping with Android 2.2 on board instead of the latest version 2.3, but at least LG looks to have learned from its mistakes with the Optimus 2X and is sending a very stable software build out with its latest phone. None of the repetitious crashes or aberrances we encountered with the 2X were present here, leaving the only major complaint about the software as the fact that LG failed to meet its hardware requirements with what's inside the Optimus Black. A Gingebread (2.3) update is naturally promised to be in the works, but we always advise to buy a phone on the basis of what it brings in the retail box rather than the potential of what it could be down the line.
If you've been following AT&T and T-Mobile's recent exercises in specious branding, you'll know that adding extra Gs to your phone is the latest in smartphone fashion. LG hasn't escaped this trend, though its G addition is the new Gesture Key, which resides just under the volume rocker. When depressed, this button harnesses the Optimus Black's accelerometer to gauge the meaning of your mad waving of the handset and react appropriately. You can hold down the G-Key to navigate between homescreens by simply turning the phone (yes, very much like Samsung's implementation in the Galaxy S II) or alternatively shake the Black twice to enter the camera app. The biggest attraction from our perspective was the promise that pressing the G-Key and picking up the phone the way we naturally would for a call would automatically answer an incoming call, but alas, we struggled to make it work. In fact, we've yet to figure out what's wrong with our double-shaking (should we be saying "abracadabra?") and don't know whether the promised camera app activation even works. Basically, it's an unwieldy set of motion controls that forces us into the most obvious of puns: the G in G-Key stands for "gimmick."
Another chink in the Optimus Black's already dented software armor relates to its touchscreen. There's a chronic failure to recognize taps. Perhaps one out of every dozen inputs we impart to the phone is never registered, which is far too high an error rate for a pleasurable user experience. As a result, we couldn't type with any great speed on the Black, having to perpetually check that it recorded what we'd written. This wasn't particularly helped by the slight lag between punching in words and having them show up on the screen.
Wi-Fi Direct et al
Wi-Fi Direct was a big deal for LG at CES 2011, where we saw this very handset showing off how easily and quickly wireless transfers can be carried out between compatible devices. The novelty of the approach is that no wireless access point is required to act as an intermediary between Wi-Fi Direct phones, laptops, or watermelon coolers
, meaning that you can use your WiFi radio to throw stuff around as simply as you would with a Bluetooth connection. Importantly, with Wi-Fi Direct you can actually communicate with up to eight devices at a time, so caring and sharing in groups can be done pretty effortlessly. The only shortcoming we found to its implementation in the Optimus Black was that we couldn't track down the Wi-Fi Cast app you see in the demo above, which rendered our Wi-Fi Direct connection useless -- there's a ton of file sharing apps on the Android Market for working over a standard wireless network, but nothing that we could find for negotiating Wi-Fi Direct transfers.
That said, we were lucky enough to still have a Galaxy S II, another Wi-Fi Direct-capable handset, hanging around our test chambers, so we hooked that up to the Optimus Black to see how well it all worked. Happily, we can report connections were almost instantaneous, with both phones capable of acting as the host. So the technology is there and it's very well executed, but the software was oddly missing.
We shouldn't neglect to mention some of LG's helpful tweaks to the Android UI. The lockscreen updates itself with your missed messages or calls and allows you (again, much like Samsung's GSII) to unlock the phone straight into the relevant section. The standard unlocking gesture is an upward swipe, whereas unlocking to a missed call is done with a downward flick, making the two simple to distinguish and precluding the chance of erroneously ending up in a place you didn't want to be. Additionally, when receiving a call, you can slide up a list of message responses, which will reject the call and send out a text message to your caller to soften the blow. On the music front, playback controls have been integrated into the Android slide-down menu -- along with five toggles for sound, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and data -- and are also available as a little slider menu on the lockscreen. Both are neatly done and handy to have.
The app menu organization isn't the greatest in the world and the contacts list picks up all
your Google contacts by default, rather than just the people you've listed in your Contacts section. Neither is much of a hurdle to the enjoyable use of the phone, but a mention's merited all the same. We did appreciate LG allowing the addition of multiple shortcuts and widgets at a time when editing homescreens, which makes customizations much easier and quicker to execute.
The Optimus Black feels like a phone that has missed its window of opportunity. Had it been immediately available upon its announcement at CES in January, its omission of Gingerbread may have been considered forgivable, its unimpressive performance would have been less harshly judged in the light of what else was on the market at the time, and its thinness would have actually been a unique feature to promulgate. Now? Now we have phones with qHD resolution, multiple processing cores, and slim profiles to match and even better the Optimus Black. So why would you want to buy the Optimus Black with all the other options crowding the Android smartphone marketplace?
Well, we could point to its dashing good looks, quality camera, and above-average screen technology, but if those are your top priorities, you might be better off with a Nokia N8. The one thing keeping the Optimus Black in the conversation is Android and its inherent software and ecosystem strengths, but even that has the stale taste of Froyo in a Gingerbread-eating world. We're sorry, Mr. Black, we really wanted to like you, but you turned out to be as shallow on the inside as you were thin on the outside.