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Review of LG Optimus Black P970

Live photos of LG Optimus Black

Contents:

  1. Package
  2. Positioning
  3. Design, Dimensions, Controls
  4. Display
  5. Battery
  6. Memory and Memory Cards
  7. Performance
  8. Gesture Controls
  9. USB, Bluetooth and Communication
  10. Camera
  11. LG Desktop Shell Optimus UI 2.0
  12. Impressions

Package:

  • Handset
  • Li-Ion 1500 mAh Battery
  • Charger
  • USB cable
  • Wired headset
  • LG PC Suite CD
  • Manual

Positioning

Back in 2010 LG started a massive offensive into the smartphone market and they chose to do in on Android. The company has released a number of Optimus smartphones which turned out to have a pretty good price to quality ratio resulting in decent sales or even leading positions in certain segments. But the success was mainly based on low prices of their products and the buyers were ready to turn a blind eye on many disadvantages of the phones for the price tag. LG has become a renegade of the market Ц as soon as other manufacturer tries to play in the same niche LG immediately responds with price cuts. This is the so-called "purchase the market" strategy Ц when a company sacrifices profits for the sake of occupying a part of the market and introduces customers to its products targeting at establishing customer loyalty.

Subsequently LG suffered significant losses on the mobile phone market. After considering the 2010 results the company decided to increase the average phone price Ц a logical approach to cease dumping and start making profits. But then they may encounter a possibility of losing a part of the audience to competitors. Instead of continuing dumping the company opted for going into the mid and high price range segments which will allow increasing the prices of their phones. The problem is that in these segments the LG brand is weak Ц it is a realm of Samsung and other manufacturers.

In 2010 Samsung Galaxy S became one of the key products on the market of Android smartphones. In early 2011 this phone received a number of updates that have increased its life cycle. At that time LG did not have a phone with comparable specs and price so they started working on it. Their goal was to create a phone with individuality for those who want a very functional Android gadget and in certain aspects they have succeeded.

The positioning is quite simple Ц it is an all-in-one Android Ц maximum functionality for reasonable money. In practice it means a phone with a reasonably limited functionality on a technological level of the last year's flagships. This phone is interesting for those who know what he needs in a phone.

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Design, Dimensions, Controls

The phone follows the traditional Android design Ц black glossy front panel, four buttons underneath the screen and matte plastic on the back. The body is made of regular plastic, the battery lid is well fixed Ц there is no wobbling. Thanks to the extensive use of plastic the handset only weighs 109g (3.8 oz), its dimensions 122х64х9.2mm/4.8x2.5x0.36in. The handset is thin and feels similar to Sony Ericsson Arc or Samsung Galaxy S2. But the other two feel much more expensive due to the quality of the plastic. The sides of the back panel are sloped and it looks nice but after just a week these sides start wearing off. Though the plastic is rather durable and remains scratch free on other parts Ц these sloped edges will be getting more and more worn off.

LG Optimus Black vs LG Optimus 2X:

LG Optimus Black vs Samsung Galaxy S i9003:

This phone is only available, as you can guess, in black. The company has announced that they have also designed a white body for this phone but it is uncertain whether it will be available.

On the left side of the phone there is a convenient volume rocker, a bit below it the G button that turns the G sensor on. On the top side there is a microUSB slot protected by a retractable lid, also there a 3.5mm headset jack and the power/lock button. On the front side we find the metal mesh of the call speaker and a proximity sensor left to it and the front camera to the right.

There is only one loudspeaker on the back side of the phone, also there the eye of the 5MPix camera and an LED flash.

There has been a lot of discussion around the plastic that protects the screen. The phone is not listed on the Gorilla Glass website but the protective plastic of the phone is very similar to Gorilla Glass products: it is scratch resistant but lacks an oleophobic finish so fingerprints are very noticeable on it.

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Display

LG manufacturers very good screens capable of competing with Samsung TVs around the world, but unlike Samsung LG had been paying little attention to mobile screens. The situation changed when the company started receiving big orders for their matrices e.g. Apple is using LG displays in a number of their products. LG has got all the expertise to produce high quality screens.

When creating a Galaxy S killer the company could not ignore such a remarkable advantage as its SuperAMOLED screen. So LG decided to respond with their own technology that has received the name NOVA. Before getting down to reviewing the screen itself let me quote myself from the LG Optimus 2x review:

"After Samsung with Amoled and SuperAmoled technologies everybody tries to emulate them. LG uses a standard TFT matrix similar to several Samsung phones (Wave II, Galaxy S SuperClear TFT). In terms of marketing the screen is not a highlight and has no special name. Quality-wise this screen shows black as grey, which is visible in the menu with much background, but in real life you will not feel the difference. Moreover, this TFT screen offers comparable quality as SuperAMOLED from Galaxy S. The same happened with Wave II and Galaxy S. Test shots reveal that the color reproduction is almost identical. If you don't use a magnifying glass the picture quality will be the same."

So it turns out that the Optimus 2x screen is comparable to the Galaxy S screen. How are they different? The difference is in the size of the matrix and the power consumption. In the review of Optimus 2x I have quoted a study of hoe energy is spent on these two screens and it proved that SuperAMOLED is much more efficient. And since the screen of mobile phones is the most power consuming part this factor is crucial. Let us now have a look at the NOVA screen and see whether it can compete with the first generation SuperAMOLED screen.

The technical specification data claims that it is the brightest mobile screen providing 700 nits. In comparison the brightness of the Galaxy S screen is about 500 nits, the second Galaxy gives you 550 nits, Apple iPhone 4 a bit over 500 nits. Brightness is an important spec of a screen but not of utmost importance for users Ц most users either use automatic brightness adjustment or set the brightness to a minimum to save the battery charge. Polls show that very few consumers use their phones at the maximum brightness because it is not always comfortable, for example, Galaxy S picture at the maximum brightness becomes blinding. So why LG created such a bright screen? The reason is the way our brain processes the picture Ц it reacts to the brightness and creates an image accordingly so that brighter pictures look more attractive. The downside here is increased power consumption. Besides the brightness levels the screens of Optimus Black and Optimus 2x are identical (pixel size, matrix etc.).

LG Optimus Black vs LG Optimus 2X:

LG understand that very well and they tried to make up an explanation of NOVA's advantages for users. They claim that AMOLED screens require twice more energy for displaying white and this is completely true Ц AMOLED technology consumes different amounts of energy for displaying different colors. This is a typical marketing trick when a particularity is exaggerated into either an advantage or a downside of a technology. To test the energy efficiency of the screens it is enough just to play a looped movie (it tests the efficiency of the processor as well as the general efficiency of the whole system but, naturally, the screen is the most important part of this equation).

I have tested four smartphones: LG Optimus 2x, LG Optimus Black, Samsung Galaxy S i9000, Samsung Galaxy S i9003.

  Screen Processor Life time (% of the best)
Auto brightness
Life time (% of the best)
Maximum brightness
LG Optimus 2x TFT, 16M colors, 4”, 480х800 Dual core Nvidia Tegra2 78 77
LG Optimus Black NOVA - TFT, 16M colors, 4”, 480х800 Single core 75 70
Samsung Galaxy S i9000 SuperAMOLED, 16M colors, 4”, 480х800 Single core 100 100
Samsung Galaxy S i9003 SuperClear TFT, 16M colors, 4”, 480х800 Single core 74 71

The table clearly shows that SuperAMOLED is by far the champion of power saving and I did not even include SuperAMOLED Plus screen phones into the test because the difference would be even more dramatic and the test would lose validity due to different Galaxy S2 hardware (processor, memory etc.). The NOVA screen does not have any advantages as compared to regular Super TFT screens Ц these are same generation technologies. In the auto brightness mode the screens consume about the same amount of energy while at maximum brightness NOVA is much less efficient. This is what behind the marketing.

Let's now consider the picture quality Ц again I will compare it to Super TFT. I find them pretty much the same with a marginal superiority of NOVA Ц it looks slightly brighter and better. Have a look at the sample pictures and compare it to Samsung Galaxy S i9003.

LG Optimus Black vs Samsung Galaxy S i9003:

The pictures are very similar and I think in real life the difference is almost unnoticeable. The brightness of the NOVA screen produces great white and adds whiteness to black, so black is not really black like on AMOLED screens, it has some kind of hue. But I make another note here Ц the difference is practically unnoticeable Ц the screen is great and it is actually comparable to the quality of AMOLED screens. But if we speak about the general performance NOVA has made no breakthrough and its power efficiency is much worse than that of AMOLED screens.

Under sunlight the screen looks quite usual and similar to AMOLED screens of the first generation as well as to SuperTFT screens.

Bottom line for the screen Ц it offers rather poor view angles and very bright backlight, good white and messy black. All this is because the LG engineers changed a parameter of the technology to produce an eye catching picture. The power consumption is on a par with regular screens or higher at the maximum brightness level. All in all, the screen is not bad at all but it is not cutting edge in any respect. I doubt LG will be using this matric in many phones Ц I think it will remain a prerogative of certain models.

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Battery

The phone uses a 1500mAh Li-Ion battery Ц the very same Samsung Galaxy S uses which allows us to compare the performance of these phones. the result have been partially mentioned above so I will skip them.

The phone is quoted to provide 11.5 hours of talk time (GSM) and up to 760 hours (30 days) of standby. These numbers, of course, work for ideal conditions as well as the data for Galaxy S.

Let's start our comparison with music playback. I used same headphones on both phones at maximum volume, screens off, no running applications, no memory cards (playback from the inbuilt memory), equalizers off. Optimus Black worked for 25 hours just like Samsung Galaxy S.

SG testing (infinite download via 3G) also showed parity between the phones Ц 4.5 hours. The life time in this case greatly depends on the network, the quality of coverage and even the influence of a single handset on another phone in the same network. Interestingly, with screens on the life time decreased by about an hour and with Samsung Galaxy S working a bit longer thanks to the lower power consumption of its screen.

In the Wi-Fi data transfer test (infinite download, screens off) the phones again performed equally Ц the life time was identical.

So, all in all, we see that LG Optimus Black can work for about the same time as Galaxy S i9003 but less than i9000. This amounts to most of one day if you talk a lot on the phone or a solid single day for all the other users Ц a rather regular result for an Android smartphone of this level.

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Memory and Memory Cards

The phone features 1 GB of memory and you can add microSD hot swappable cards of up to 32 GB located under the back cover. 512 MB of RAM allow users around 200 MB after the start. It has no impact on the phone's performance and if you need the memory can be freed.

There is one issue with memory cards, which I noticed by chance. No matter which card you use in terms of class (data transfer speed) if you have more than 1000 files (it is a rough estimate), the speed of access to such a card will always be minimal. I do not know what causes this problem, but it must be a software bug in this firmware rather than an issue with Android.

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Performance

The handset has a 1 GHz TI OMAP 3630 processor, which is similar to Samsung Galaxy S i9003. There are no changes here, but this device does not impress in synthetic benchmark tests. Do not pay attention to them while choosing a phone to buy. For example, in Quadrant Standard the model gets around 1250 points and easily beats first Galaxy S and Galaxy S i9003 (800-900 points). In the interface and running of apps you will not feel the speed difference. Nevertheless, Optimus Black has a couple of serious software issues.

When you start "heavy" apps any of them can close down automatically or the overall stability will suffer. I would like to remind you that the model comes equipped with Android 2.2 and so far there are no plans for the upgrade (in January we were promised 2.3 or even 2.4 in May, but it did not happen). To some extent the speed boost will be achieved when the new OS appears, but it will not solve issues with the speed of LG interface and inbuilt features. They drag the phone down and adversely affect the stability. The speed of camera operation is extremely low. You take a picture and hear a sound, but the shot is not saved at the time, which is inappropriate. By moving your hand you can blur the image.

PowerVR SGX530 GPU graphic processor is rather weak and is identical to that of Samsung Galaxy S i9003.

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Gesture Controls

The phone supports the full gesture controls, which is a unique selling point of the model. If you are in a particular menu with the text field you can knock on the edge of the phone for the cursor to move to the input field. I could not think about any use of the feature. All menus with text fields have them active by default. Another issue is icons in the standby mode where you can choose an icon and then avoid screens browsing by merely tilting the handset to choose the appropriate one. It is pretty convenient.

G button on the side expands controls features. For example, in the browser you can press and hold the button to tilt the handset and browse pages in the direction you need. In the gallery during pictures viewing we get the same effect. A dedicated camera button is absent, but you can start it in the standby mode by pressing G button and waving the handset. Shooting must be activated from the screen.

Turning the phone upside down mutes the ringtone or alarm clock and can also pause the video playback. In the gallery and the music player the knocking on the sides will mean moving to the next picture or track. Everything is simple and clear. I do not think that many will use the tricks in everyday life, but the possibility to control the phone with gestures is there.

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USB, Bluetooth and Communication

Bluetooth 2.1 supports EDR and following profiles: Headset, Handsfree, Serial Port, Dial Up Networking, File Transfer, Object Push, Basic Printing, SIM Access and A2DP. Headsets are handled well.

USB Connection. In the menu you can select the Mass Storage mode and in separate instances LG PC Suite is required to access different options. The phone can also be used as a modem (USB/Bluetooth Tethering).

In the USB Mass Storage the handset is easily detected without additional drivers to copy data. USB 2 provides for the data transfer speed of 4.5 Mbps and the USB connection triggers charging.

GSM networks can capitalize on EDGE class 12.

WiFi. 802.11 b/g/n standard is supported. You can store selected networks and connect to them automatically. One touch connection is available for routers. Press the button on the latter and activate the appropriate key in the handset menu (WPA SecureEasySetup).

SmartShare allows for the use of DLNA (WiFi connection) with compatible devices or PC to transfer multimedia files. Everything is implemented and works well.

WiFi Direct is a new protocol to replace Bluetooth or compete with its third incarnation (which also uses WiFi n to transfer large files). One of the first models on the market to support this feature is LG Optimus Black. Its proliferation will make this service more popular, but so far I had to use 2 identical models for testing.

In WiFi settings select WiFi Direct and the phone will start searching for devices around. Choose an appropriate device, activate the connection and you are done. Now in the file manager you can view files of the other device and transfer them. Within seconds large files are transferred from one phone to another.

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Camera

A 5 MP camera has a LED flash. The frontal camera boasts a record breaking 2 MP. Settings for the main camera are numerous. Face Tracking, ISO selection and macro mode are supported among other things.

The main issue is connected with the fact that you cannot disable the shutter sound. It is quite loud at all times, which is a disadvantage here as many handsets allow disabling the feature. Despite the presence of the autofocus it is still difficult to choose the object to focus on from the screen. You have to keep a finger on the screen for more than a second and the focus area is large if to judge by the focus frame on the screen. There is no dedicated camera button.

In settings you can go for different types of focus - auto, macro and fixed. Image size varies:

  • 5M 2592x1944
  • 3M 2048x1536
  • 2M 1600x1200
  • 1M 1280x960
  • VGA 640x480
  • QVGA 320x240

Scene modes are the following Ц normal, portrait, landscape, sports, sunset and night. ISO options available are Auto, 100, 200, 400 and 800.

White balance is Auto, Incandescent, Sunny, Fluorescent and Cloudy.

Numerous effects can be applied to the shots - Sepia, Black&White, Negative, Vivid, Negative Sepia, Blue, Emboss and Solarize.

The timer can be set for 3, 5 and 10 seconds.

Shooting modes are Normal, Continuous shot, Out-focusing shot, Smile shot, Beauty shot, Art shot, Panorama shot, Stitch shot and Cartoon shot.

The quality of a shot can be normal, fine and super fine.

Now let's look at shots and their quality. To my mind the camera is average and in broad sunlight pictures are impressive. From the moment you take a shot until it is saved passes more than a second and the majority of people move the phone slightly, which may blur the picture, so bear it in mind. The use of the inbuilt memory solves this issue somewhat, but the speed of camera operation is still not the best. Let's hope for improvements in subsequent firmware.

Shots samples:

Compare the results with those of a 5 MP camera in Samsung Galaxy S i9003.

LG Optimus Black P970 Samsung Galaxy S i9003

Video Recording. You have similar settings here as well Ц white balance, color effects, sound recording disabling option and resolution selection of up to 1280х720 (720p). The focus is changed automatically during the recording. The overall results are fine, but if the object moves abruptly it can be blurred for some time.

The end product is average and you cannot call it remarkable. The camera is rather ordinary anyway.

Comparison with Samsung Galaxy S i9003.

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LG Desktop Shell Optimus UI 2.0

We will not describe standard features of Android, so feel free to read an appropriate review.

Full review of Android 2.1 (Eclair)

Now read about the unique features of the handset and its peculiarities.

The shell is called Optimus UI 2.0. Remember that the shell can be easily disabled if you wish, which is its advantage over HTC Sense, Motorola MOTOBLUR and other similar solutions. By default the shell is on, but you can take it away with one click. All widgets or icons on the desktop will stay put, so the shell is an extremely handy utility.

When you set up the desktop and its display you press the screen and hold it for several seconds until the grid appears to add widgets, links, folders. Alternatively you can select wallpapers. Icons appear at the bottom of the screen. Choose any required section and you will immediately see miniatures of let's say widgets. It is a useful display, which is pretty much intuitive and is easy to use. It is an improvement on the standard Android.

All desktop settings can be saved in a separate file to reinstall a theme later on if needed. That is you can create any number of desktops with different icons. From the menu you can start the necessary variant in several seconds. I thoroughly enjoyed the option. Not everybody will use it, but it is nice to have such a possibility.

Widgets. Several new widgets were added or changed. The weather app was altered and it now resembles the one in HTC Sense, i.e. offers colorful and understandable service. I also liked the widget representing photos and albums as icons to browse in the standby mode. For some widgets during the installation you can have a preview to select the desired size and display type. It is simply convenient and beautiful.

System Fonts. There is up to a dozen of fonts preinstalled in the handset and they can be applied to all system menus. Traditionally, Android smartphones provide you with the one and only system font.

Keypad looks traditionally, but in fact the proprietary LG solution is used here. You can change languages in one touch and the auto replacement is available too. We are not offered a Swype, but it can be installed independently.

Music Player. The shell of the player was considerably reworked and during the playback you see Album Art, which is also displayed as wallpapers in the track list for the selected album. Apart from standard equalizers, which cannot be changed you benefit from the availability of Dolby Mobile. The sound quality is average and is on par with that of Galaxy S from Samsung, which does not impress with its sound. Unfortunately, we do not get any improvement here.

Video Player supports subtitles, but they can be shut off. The player can handle unconverted video (DivX/Xvid). The user can choose the geometry of the currently played file, drag it onto the screen or scale down/up. The player is simple, but it has all necessary elements. Among rarer things we should mention the support of Dolby Mobile. Sound boost is active while using headphones or speakers.

Polaris Office deals with standard MS Office and Google Docs files. It is a nice alternative to popular preinstalled word processors.

E-mail is represented by the LG client, which offers a joint mailbox featuring messages from all accounts you have. There is nothing special about it.

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Impressions

There is no complaint regarding the communication quality. Ringtones are loud, but a vibro can be missed at times. The sound is good during the conversation as well. Interlocutors will always hear you well.

The model seems to be nice despite some stability issues. They are not vital for the majority of users. Some amends can be made if you give up on preinstalled Facebook and Twitter clients. Unfortunately, you cannot replicate the trick with the camera, which is slow anyway.

LG offers the model as the mid range handset (И360-390), but it is rather pricy, because you can still get Samsung Galaxy S i9003. Their screens are comparable (SuperClear LCD in Samsung lacks in brightness, but other parameters are virtually the same). The use of the Nova screen is more of a marketing trick rather than a true advantage. Both models use the same hardware platform, feature comparable screens and one OS, but add-ons do differ. The comparison of cameras gives us a very close result, but the absence of the LED flash in Samsung model is a disadvantage. At the same time Samsung has 4 GB of memory versus 1 GB in the handset from LG. Each model has its pros and cons, but they can be placed on the same level, which is a big step forward for LG. Nevertheless, the pricing is far from ideal. You can buy Samsung Galaxy S i9003 for И320, while LG Optimus Black costs И375.

Apart from varieties of Galaxy S including the one equipped with the SuperAMOLED screen there are models from other manufacturers playing on the same field. In all cases the prices stay below И350, which means that the LG model in question is overpriced. To succeed it should lose around 15-20% of its price. The phone is nice, but does not offer the best value for money in its segment. At the same time it cannot be considered crucial for LG and sales will slowly go down. Unfortunately, LG cannot generate enough demand for its flagship models and beat the rivals handily.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Full review of Android 2.1 (Eclair)

Review of LG Optimus 2x (P990) GSM/UMTS smartphone

Review of the Samsung Galaxy S GSM/UMTS Smartphone

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Twitter    Livejournal
Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 24 May 2010

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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