Hands on first impressions of LG’s retina-torching Optimus Black

We had a chance to peek at LG’s new Black at Wednesday’s press conference, but today we had a chance to wrangle the behemoth up close. While its size will definitely be a deterrent to more petite mobile aficionados, voracious media consumers may find it to be one of the most compelling mini cinemas you’ll ever fit in a pocket.

LG calls the next-gen display tech in the Black, and it’s certainly something to behold. A not-so-subtle display compares the 4-inch screen on the Optimus Black side-by-side to “S” and “R” displays, representing Samsung’s Galaxy S screen and Apple’s Retina screen, respectively. After busting out our own iPhone to allay suspicions that the Retina display wasn’t cranked up to full brightness (it was), we have to admit being impressed by the sheer brilliance of the Nova. Its 750-nit brightness rating (compared to about 450 on a normal phone, according to LG) seemed to subjectively correspond to how bright it really was. Of course, 800 x 480 resolution spread across 4 inches doesn’t compare, in pixel density, to the 960 x 640 packed into the iPhone’s Retina display.

LG Optimus Black, Galaxy S, Retina screen comparison

LG wasn’t about to let any of the secured models on display outside the Las Vegas Convention center to find out, but the company also claims it’s exceptionally resistant to sunlight, even going so far as to say you could use it at the beach, a claim typically reserved for E-Ink devices.

Not nearly as impressive: The speed of the phone. LG reps claim they haven’t heard from engineers what speed the CPU inside is clocked at, but “suspect” its 600MHz. After watching the Black stutter from screen to screen with every swipe, we “suspect” the same. This is not a fast phone.

What it lacks in speed, it makes up in portability. Despite its imposing size, the Black weighs only 3.8 ounces and measures only 9.2mm thick, making it comfortable to hold and substantially lighter than many competitors.

LG optimus black side thin

LG has also given the Optimus Black some other clever features. For instance, it uses a nine-axis gyroscope for more accurate directional sensing, and uses some neat software tricks to use it in unexpected ways. You can hold a side button, for instance, then tilt the phone left or right and the phone will scroll through screens as if pulled by gravity. Grab an icon, tilt, and you can move apps from page to page without dragging to the edge of the screen.

LG optimus black top

At the moment, the Black is officially a “world” phone, meaning it will likely hit Europe later this year but no U.S. carriers yet have plans to pick it up under subsidy.

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