We had the opportunity to try LG's just-launched Optimus Black and 2X phones today at CES and came away with mixed but mostly positive views. Both are well-designed hardware-wise with an almost uncannily thin profile that's light and non-metallic, but not necessarily cheap. The four-inch Nova display is, as promised, very bright -- 700 nits -- and also quite color-rich.
Performance, as is increasingly the case, something of a mixed bag. The Black and 2X shine when handling 'raw' content. HD video looks superb, especially through the HDMI output. We also saw that it could output games to TV out while preserving the frame rate in most cases. Certain parts of Android 2.2 respond very smoothly, as well; browsing (what we could try) was fast, for example.
LG's custom UI is more elaborate than it is on even slightly older phones, with very vivid widgets for weather and more on the home screen as well as dedicated launcher icons, a custom camera app and a custom lock screen with notices in view. It doesn't significantly get in the way and is a relatively light touch that tends to help, if mostly for newcomers. The camera app was responsive in our tests.
That said, it's increasingly clear that phone makers need to either reduce the amount of customization they put in or otherwise speed up software development. Android 2.2 still has interface elements that stutter and give the impression of significantly slower hardware than what's actually underneath. We suspect this wouldn't be as much of an issue if it were using Android 2.3 and could leverage more of the graphics power. There's also simply the question of longevity: will the phone get an update to 2.3? It's hard to tell.
Still, the phones are a big turnaround from last year, when LG had the strictly mediocre Eve to its name. These are very powerful devices and should help LG get a much better footprint in smartphones, especially on T-Mobile where the 2X should be available in a matter of weeks.