Hands-On: LG Optimus Black
We had hands-on time with the new LG Optimus Black Android smartphone. Find out what sets it apart from the Optimus 2X and what we think of it overall.
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The Optimus Black is a strange phone to introduce alongside the Optimus 2X. The 2X is the higher-end model, with its premium design, 8-megapixel camera, and powerful dual-core Tegra processor. However, the Black has the better "NOVA" display and much newer software with a lot of neat tricks.
The hardware of the Optimus Black is nice, but not as premium as the 2X. Where the 2X has a glass front with tapered sides, the Black simply has a flat front. The back shell is simple plastic. It feels fine, but definitely not as luxurious as the 2X. It is quite thin and light.
The Black has a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, 2-megapixel front camera, Wi-Fi Direct, and runs Android 2.2.
The hardware is largely standard for Android, including 3.5mm jack and volume keys. Curiously, LG has copied from Samsung's Galaxy S phones in offering a sliding cover over the microUSB port on top. There is no hardware camera button, and that's a shame.
The touch keys below the screen perform the neat trick of changing color. This is actually quite useful, as they briefly change from white to blue when touched, giving visual confirmation of your touch.
The Black is one of the first phones with version 2.0 of LG's Optimus software enhancements for Android. It contains a lot of neat trick, some useful, some on the gimmicky side.
The home screen has a neat trick where holding down a button on the side and tilting the phone scrolls through the seven home screens full of your custom widgets, etc. You can also use this shortcut when re-arranging widgets, making it much faster to move a widget from screen #1 to screen #6, for example. Other gyroscopic trickery awaits in the gallery app, where you can hold down the same key and tilt the phone to pan around a photo when zoomed in. Also in the gallery, you can tap the side of the phone with your finger to move to the next photo.
More useful software tricks include the drawer that slides up when you press and hold on the home screen to customize it. LG has made this part of Android friendlier with four groups you can choose from via the icon bar at the bottom: widgets, shortcuts, folders, and wallpaper. Clicking one of those, you get a scroll-able icon grid of options above. This is visually much more pleasant than the standard Android menu. One neat trick is that the wallpaper changes in the background as you tap various wallpaper options - before you confirm your choice - so you can preview what your new wallpaper will look like full-screen.
You can also drag icons to re-arrange the main app menu, and it supports app category groups that are fully customizable. Pinching the menu collapses it to just a list of categories, which you can then tap to expand. This makes it quick to jump to a catergory if you have a lot of apps.
The camera interface is mostly great, with a good number of on-screen controls and extensive options. Our one gripe is that a large black bar takes up the right side of the screen. We'd prefer a larger viewfinder image.
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