LG Optimus L7 $450
27th Jun 2012 | 15:43
Can LG's top L-style handset produce substance and style?
It's not even competing at the level below, with the Optimus L7 priced at around £240 (around $375) SIM-free and free on contract from as little as £13.50, the handset is set to rub shoulders with the HTC One V, Nokia Lumia 710 and Orange San Diego.
Like its L-style siblings, the LG Optimus L7 is an angular handset sporting a metallic boarder around the edge which LG claims has "exquisite style" – we're not sure if we'd go that far, and although the L7 is far from ugly, it's hardly the prom queen of the mobile world.
LG boasts that the Optimus L7 uses its new "floating mass technology" – which to you and me means that the handsets curves in from front to back, giving the appearance that the handset is thinner that it actually is, as well as making it look like its floating above the surface it's on.
It's hardly groundbreaking, with plenty of phones employing this styling method to give the illusion of a sleeker device – take a gander at the Panasonic Eluga or Galaxy S2 for example.
That said, it's not like the Optimus L7 is a chubby handset, measuring just 8.7mm in depth, it easily slips into your pocket – and tipping the scales at 121g give it a reassuring weight.
The Optimus L7 does feel well made, and the sturdy chassis refused to flex when we exerted pressure on it.
On the front you get a 4.3-inch WVGA (800x480) display, with a physical home key below it, flanked by back and menu touch buttons.
Above the screen is a front-facing VGA camera and light sensor – competing a fresh, minimalist look.
Move to the top of the Optimus L7 and there's a power/lock key opposite a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The power/lock key can be a little troublesome to reach at times, with the angular shape of the Optimus L7 proving difficult to manipulate in your palm – which is better suited to more rounded edges.
The volume rocker on the left hand side is easier to hit, which wraps up all the physical buttons on the handset.
At the base of the Optimus L7 you'll find a microUSB port and a small hole for the microphone, with nothing to report on the right hand side.
Flip the LG Optimus L7 over and the textured plastic back carries on the simple and clean layout, with just a 5MP camera next to a single LED flash and small speaker grill in the bottom left to note.
Picking off the plastic back plate requires a finger nail to be slid between case and frame, so could prove a problematic experience for those who like biting theirs.
The black plate is made of relatively thin plastic which can be easily bent in the hand, so make sure you treat it with care, especially as it houses the Optimus L7's NFC antenna.
You can stick your full size SIM-card into the Optimus L7, with LG not choosing to go down the microSIM route, plus there's a handy slot for a microSD card if you need to expand on the 4GB of internal storage.
Thankfully both SIM and microSD card can be inserted and removed without having to disturb the 1,700mAh battery – which itself can also be taken out, useful if you need to do a hard reset or like to use multiple power packs.
We were a little concerned when we first saw the LG Optimus L7 at MWC 2012, where is was running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, however LG has clearly pulled its socks up as the Optimus L7 review sample we have packs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
As is common among most Android manufacturers these days, LG has had a play with the operating system, applying its own overlay known as Optimus UI 3.0 – not quite a slick as Sense or TouchWiz, but at least it's informative.
You notice LG's user interface as soon as you pick up the Optimus L7, with the handset sporting the firms new unlock screen – place your finger on the screen and a circle will appear, drag your finger to the edge of that circle to unlock.
It's a nice touch, giving the lock screen a bit of unique flare; however it wasn't always the smoothest motion, with the 1GHz Cortex A5 processor in the Optimus L7 sometimes struggling to render the animation.
There are also four app shortcuts on the lock screen and you can employ the same unlock technique to open these if you start with your finger over the one you wish to jump to.
The apps which appear on the homescreen can be easily changed in the Settings menu, where you can also choose from three different clock displays.
The Optimus L7 offers up to five homescreens for you to play with – matching the One V and San Diego – and LG has employed a pleasing little effect as you skip between the screens, with apps and widgets flowing on and off the display as you flip through.
Pinch the screen by drawing two fingers together and you'll get an overview of all the homescreens – with the option to remove some if five is just too many for you to cope with.
Hold down on a free space on any homescreen and you'll enter edit mode – allowing you to add a variety of apps and widgets to the screens, as well as being able to change the homescreen.
There's the standard select of Android widgets on offer, including contacts, weather, Gmail and so on (no calendar widget though), with the only LG addition being a widget with links to the LG Smart World application.
The processor seems to let the Optimus L7 down here as well, with widgets sometimes taking five or so seconds to appear in the list – which can get a bit frustrating if you're trying to add several at a time.
Hold down the physical key below the screen and the multitasking menu will pop up, allowing you to see what apps you currently have running and providing an easy way to close the ones you're not using – just swipe your finger left or right over an open app to close and remove it from the list.
There is a little big of lag each time you swipe an app off the list, and although it doesn't affect usability, it's not as fluid as the system on the One V.
The questionable speed of the Optimus L7 is at large again when it comes to opening apps, with most having a two or three second load time delay – which overall produced a sluggish user experience.
Drag down the notification bar from the top of the screen and you'll find LG has implemented a settings shortcut bar at the top, allowing you to toggle key aspects on and off, including Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and airplane mode.
You can edit the order of these toggles in the bar, plus add/remove some if you only want certain options to appear - it's a handy feature which LG has implemented well.
It's a shame that the LG Optimus L7 regularly suffers from lag and delays, leading to some very frustrating situations, especially when you're trying to quickly find a number or send a text, as its 4.3-inch screen would make Ice Cream Sandwich a joy to use if it worked properly.
Contacts and calling
The Contacts app is your one stop shop for all of your buddy's info. It's the standard Android offering with a little bit of LG style sprinkled over the top.
There's the well known search bar at the top, with the plus button next to it, allowing you to add new contacts and above these are three tabs; Groups (for keeping work colleagues and mates separate), Contacts and Favourites – just select the star at the top of a contact's profile to add them to this list.
We were able to easily import our Google contacts into the app, but the LG Optimus L7 came unstuck when we tried to join our contacts with the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
First off we had to install the Facebook and Twitter apps for the networks to show up in our accounts as an option - something which we've seen offered by default on many other handsets.
We then told the Optimus L7 to sync our Facebook and Twitter chums to our contacts, however we were left perplexed when we couldn't find a way to link contacts to their social network profiles, and the handset didn't seem to want to do it automatically either.
Yep, the Optimus L7 makes calls too, shocker we know, but there you have it.
You can quickly call a mate from the contacts app by clicking the green phone next to someone's name, or if you prefer, you can head to the Phone app.
Open the Phone app and there's a tab at the top called Contacts which, you've guessed, shows all your contacts.
We are a little perplexed as to why LG hasn't just combined the two applications, in the same way Samsung has on many of its handsets, but it's not the end of the world.
The dialler is a simple affair, with large clear buttons letting you tap out a number with ease, plus there's smart dialling – meaning the L7 will offer up suggestions from your contacts as you start to type.
A little disappointingly there doesn't appear to be a video calling option, which is a shame as the Optimus L7 does have a front facing camera - you'll need to download the Skype app or similar if you want the video option.
Call quality was acceptable, with the earpiece volume going up loud enough to help us out in noisy environments, and the people we spoke to said they were able to hear us clearly.
The Optimus L7 managed to hold signal well and we didn't experience any dropped calls or network problems.
The LG Optimus L7 offers up the main messaging options which we've come to expect from Android handsets these days.
It terms of emailing capabilities the stock Gmail and Email apps are present on the Optimus L7 with the former looking after your Google account and the latter providing support for a range of different providers.
The Email app doesn't provide a range of email providers for you to choose from and then set up your account, instead leaving you to a more confusing manual style set up which will certainly frustrate some, especially those less technically minded.
The messaging app is your port of call for all your SMS and MMS needs – with a slightly tweaked interface courtesy of LG here to meet you.
Unfortunately the laggy nature of the Optimus L7 comes to haunt us here as well. When a new text is received and we select the messages app, there is a couple of seconds delay before it opens.
We found that sometimes there was a further delay when we selected to read the new message, with the Optimus L7 taking two to three seconds to reload the message stream to show the new text.
LG has opted to stick with the standard Android keyboard, which isn't the worst we've used and the 4.3-inch display on the L7 means it's not overly cramped, however we find the layout of Swiftkey 3 far superior, especially for speedy input.
You can turn the Optimus L7 to landscape mode to provide a wider, more spaced keyboard, with gives an improved typing experience, but you lose sight of the message you were replying to.
Unlike a lot of Android handsets these days, there's no Swype support on the Optimus L7, however Google voice typing is an option if you prefer dictating your messages.
There's little in the way of social media messaging, with staples such as the official Facebook and Twitter apps not even pre-installed on the Optimus L7.
There's no universal inbox for texts or social media accounts either, but Google+ and its associated messaging app do make an appearance.
Seeing as the Optimus L7 is aimed at the fashion conscious among us we'd of thought LG would have provided better messaging integration to keep them in touch with their fashionista chums.
Has the LG Optimus L7 got an internet browser? You bet. Is it any good? Hmm… not so much.
The Optimus L7 does sport 3G connectivity and Wi-Fi b/g/n, so at least you can get online to try out its questionable browsing abilities.
LG's design team has been let loose in the browser app as well – with a pull up menu available at the bottom screen, providing five options; forward, back, new tab; bookmarks and a fifth mystery button in the middle which actually increases the text size on the screen.
The browser itself is clean and simple to use, however problems occur when the Optimus L7 starts trying to load pages.
Even when connected to Wi-Fi, we were easily waiting at least five seconds for the L7 to bring up websites, with the more content heavy such as TechRadar.com taking at least seven seconds to appear, and then a further 10 to fully load moving carousels and banner ads.
This makes browsing the web a highly frustrating experience and we found ourselves giving up more often than not as we'd had enough of waiting.
Thankfully once a web page has loaded, the large 4.3-inch display provides a comfortably viewing experience, with text and images clear and bright.
We were easily able to zoom in and out smoothly and there's also text reflow, but you'll need to double tap the screen to get the Optimus L7 to do it.
The cheaper, Intel-powered, Orange San Diego puts the Optimus L7 to shame. It's also a single core handset, but Intel's fancy integration has delivered a top notch browsing experience – LG take note.
Flash is not supported on the Optimus L7, even though you can download the Adobe Flash player app from Google Play, the content won't work in the browser.
It's disappointing to see as the majority of phones support this now – including its rivals the One V and San Diego – although Nokia is still in the no-flash boat with its Lumia range.
Using the pull up menu at the bottom of the browser you can access the thumbnailed bookmarks page, providing the intuitive layout we've seen on many other Android phones.
There's a single LED flash round the back next to the 5MP sensor, plus a front facing VGA camera if you need to capture some cheeky self portraits, or just need a quick vanity check.
The camera app can be accessed from the lock screen, if you've set it as one of the available apps in the settings menu, although there's no physical shutter key for instant access and easy snapping.
The camera app takes a good four to five seconds to load up, carrying on the trend of a slow operating handset, which means an instant snap is out of the question.
When you're in the camera app you'll find a relatively decent array of settings to play with, with five scene modes; portrait, landscape, sports, sunset and night as well as exposure, ISO and white balance options.
There are just three colour effects here, which will disappoint some who are used to a few more, with mono, sepia and negative on offer.
Auto focus is available and so too is tap to focus, in case the subject you're shooting isn't in the centre of your view finder.
A digital zoom is also included, but as with most phones, picture quality quickly deteriorates the more you zoom in.
As well as the on screen shutter button, you can also use the volume rocker switch (both up and down) to take pictures – making it a lot easier to snap.
If you want to get fancy then you can also choose to take panorama shots, however we found the Optimus L7 wasn't all the great at stitching together the images - leaving obvious joins in our photo.
There's also continuous shot mode which will snap six images in quick succession - handy if you want to capture moving targets - although the L7 can be a little slow to focus.
Thanks to the lowly 5MP sensor in the LG Optimus L7, the handset is only capable of capturing VGA (640x480) quality video – which is fine for viewing on phones, but won't look so good on the bigger screens of TVs or computers.
You can get to the video recorder via the camera app – you just need to press the camera-video icon next to the shutter button.
Before you start recording you can decide if you want the LED flash on or off and whether you want to use the rear- or front-facing camera to film – however neither of these settings can be changed once you hit record.
Something you can do while recording though is zooming – with the digital zoom activated by pinching the L7's display.
The same three colours effects from the camera app are on offer here, as well as white balance and exposure controls.
The LG Optimus L7 produces adequate video, if slightly grainy and colours could be more powerful, but you're unlikely to be shooting featuring films with this phone and it suffices for quick clips of friends dancing like fools.
With its 4.3-inch WVGA display the LG Optimus L7 certainly as a good enough screen to deliver respectable media playback, however the lowly processor will test your patience at times.
The 4GB of internal storage will be an obstacle for those who like to take their media library everywhere they go, however the microSD card slot, which is capable of taking up to a 32GB card, will help solve most people's storage problems.
No SD card is supplied in the box however, so you'll need to fork out for one yourself.
As well as sticking content on a microSD card and then popping it into the L7 to immediately consume, there are other ways to put your most precious pictures, tunes and videos onto the handset.
There's the classic USB cable (supplied in the box) computer hook up, where you'll be able to manually drag and drop media onto the Optimus L7.
When connected by USB you can also choose to transfer content using the familiar drag and drop process, Windows Media Player or via LG PC Suite, which will needed to be downloaded from the LG website.
The PC Suite software provides a relatively straight forward way to add and remove content from the Optimus, especially useful if you don't fancy navigating the various folders while try to drag and drop media into the right place.
We found the PC Suite easier to use than Samsung's offering Kies, and while it doesn't have the additional functions of iTunes, it's not a bad effort from LG.
If USB cables and microSD are far too much effort, LG has also included its SmartShare app on the Optimus L7, allowing you to wirelessly hook up the handset with other media devices including PCs, laptops, tablets and TVs.
Using the PC Suite software you can turn on SmartShare syncing, allowing you to wirelesses back up your handsets and transfer content between PC and phone without the need for wires.
Although simple to set up and ultimately easy to use, it did take us a couple of attempts before the phone and computer software registered with each other.
There's the dedicated Android music app on board the Optimus L7, allowing you to access your favourite tunes, stick them into playlists and shuffle and repeat the tracks.
If you like to tweak your bass and treble levels then unfortunately you'll be out of luck here, as the Optimus L7 doesn't offer anything in the way of an equaliser.
The music player sports the clear and concise layout we've come to expect from stock Android offerings these days, making the app easy to use and the Optimus L7 supports the major audio file types including MP3, eAAC+, WAV and WMA.
There's some standard ear buds included in the Optimus L7 box and they'll keep the casual listener happy, however for those of you who enjoy extended music sessions, you'll want to opt for your own comfier, higher quality pair.
Sadly there's no homescreen widget available to allow you to manipulate your tunes without having to dive into the app, with a shortcut icon to the playlist screen the only option available.
You can access a now playing pane in the notifications bar though, which provides play/pause and skip keys – which can also be pulled down and used from the lock screen, which is a nice touch.
There's an FM radio included on the L7 as well, if you fancy a more traditional entertainment medium, and the well laid-out app offers the ability to automatically scan for stations, as well as set stations as presets.
Something we were pleased to see on the LG Optimus L7, and something we feel too many manufacturers don't provide, is a dedicated video player app.
The video player app itself is very basic, which may be disappointing for some, but it means it's very easy to use.
Open it up and you're greeted with a list of all the videos on your handset, including those taken with the camera and those housed on the micoSD card.
The only manipulation available on this list is the ability to delete videos, otherwise all you can do is select one to start playing.
The no-thrills video player screen is again basic, but simple to understand, with play/pause, skip, scrub and volume options.
In the top right of the screen you also get a padlock icon and if you select this is locks down the screen and touch buttons below it, to avoid any accidental finger presses during playback – a handy little feature which we're fond of.
Playback is smooth and the 4.3-inch display provides a pleasing viewing experience, making full length feature film watching a possibility on the Optimus L7.
The YouTube app comes pre-installed on the Optimus L7 for those of you who love your cat playing the piano clips, although it does suffer slightly from the slow processor, which can lead to pages and videos taking a little while to load.
Carrying on the plain and simple theme the gallery app on the LG Optimus L7 offers an easy way to view the photos and videos taken with the camera, saved on the memory card or transferred from your computer.
There's no social media integration at play here, so don't expect to see your hundreds of Facebook pics popping up in the gallery – you'll need to head to the dedicated app instead.
There's no gallery widget available on the Optimus L7, but the gallery app does offer some basic editing tools if you fancy tweaking your images.
Select a picture and hit the pencil icon in the top right to enter edit mode. You choose from four colour enhancements, seven visual effects and eight colour effects, plus there's also a cropping tool if you want to cut uggers out of a snap.
Battery life and connectivity
That additional power, coupled with the less than fantastic processor, means the Optimus L7 is capable of easily lasting a whole day on a single charge, even with heavy use.
We found if we were a little more conservative with our usage, but still using social media, emails and music etc, we could get three days out of the L7.
Another plus point for the L7 is that it comes with a removable battery, something the San Diego and One V don't offer – allowing you to perform hard resets if, heaven forbid, the handset was to freeze – although we didn't experience this during our tests.
Oddly, the battery manager option in the settings menu seems to be missing on the Optimus L7, so we can't see what apps and functions are guzzling the juice – something which pretty much every Android handset offers.
With the battery of the Optimus L7 seemingly far superior to its rivals, it's surprising LG hasn't given us the option to show off its capabilities with the lovely usage graph we've seen on other Android handsets.
As you'd expect from a mid-range smartphone these days the LG Optimus L7 comes with a whole host of connectivity options, kicking off with the 3G and Wi-Fi b/g/n capabilities, keeping you online at all times.
Bluetooth 3.0 and A-GPS are also on board, along with a Wi-Fi hotspot function allowing you to share the Optimus L7's mobile internet connection with other devices.
As we've mentioned before there's a microSD card slot under the plastic back plate and a microUSB socket at the base of the handset for charging and connecting to your computer.
Another nice feature is the inclusion of NFC in the Optimus L7, and LG has also been kind enough to chuck in one of its Tag+ NFC tags into the box with the handset.
There's a corresponding app to go with the NFC functionality, so check our Maps and apps section for the full run down on that.
There's also DLNA streaming supported via LG's SmartShare app, allowing you to ping content from the handset to your computer or TV, plus a wireless syncing option with the PC software for back ups and content transfers.
Maps and apps
The LG Optimus L7 runs Android and therefore comes pre-installed with the excellent Google Maps application.
The A-GPS allows for a pretty quick location lock time of around two seconds and saw the Optimus L7 track our movements well, even when we were whizzing along on the train.
The poor processor does struggle at times to render the maps quickly enough though, and any quick panning and zooming will see the Optimus L7 take a few seconds to catch up.
Coupled with the maps app, you also get Google's free turn-by-turn navigation program, providing you with a sat nav in your pocket, as well as phone.
LG hasn't gone too overboard on the applications it's pre-installed on the Optimus L7, and we were disappointed not to see the official Facebook and Twitter apps included out of the box.
In terms of what is there, there's a standard news app and weather app, both of which powered by Yahoo and are simple to use.
There's a handy voice recorder app, which allows you to, yup you've guessed it, record audio. It's a basic app which lets you rename your recordings and share them via email, Bluetooth and text.
The Google Play store is a stock feature on the Optimus L7 and any other Android device, offering up access to hundreds of thousands of apps, as well as ebooks and movie rentals.
However LG has decided that this isn't good enough and has included its own LG SmartWorld app, which is basically a slimmed down version of Google Play.
Unfortunately for LG, while it may have stopped you trawling through some useless apps, the SmartWorld offering is a slow affair, especially compared to Google Play which loads quicker and offers a wider selection, rendering LG's own brand store a bit useless.
For those you who can't deal without a word doc or spreadsheet infront of your eyes every second of the day Polaris office is on the Optimus L7 – allowing you to add and edit word, excel and PowerPoint files, albeit in a more basic format than their PC counterparts.
While simple to use, the small screen of a mobile phone doesn't lend itself brilliantly to working on a spreadsheet or presentation on the move.
If you fancy a less fancy way of jotting down a few notes then there's also a Memo app loaded onto the Optimus L7.
As well as text, you can also add images, audio and location settings to your notes, giving you all the detail you could ever want from an on-screen sticky note, and more!
More interestingly is the addition of the LG Tag+ application, which is used in conjunction with the NFC tag included in the box with the Optimus L7.
From this application you can program the NFC sticker tags to change certain settings on the handset, when you tap the device onto them.
There are three preset programs already set up in the app; car, office and sleep mode, which are easy to program onto a tag – just select the mode you want, make sure NFC is turned on, click "write on tag" and tap the tag with your phone to set it.
Tag settings can be overwritten and you can also adjust the settings on each preset option.
There's also a option, User mode, where you get free rein over seven options; sound, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi hotspot, data network, Bluetooth, GPS and launch app.
We found it very easy to set up and overwrite tags, however we were a little disappointed that we were unable to set up things such as alarms, which would have been useful in sleep mode.
The inclusion of just one NFC tag in the box is also disappointing, as LG clearly wants you to have several around the home and possibly in the car and at work too – so you'll have to splash the cash for some more.
Hands on gallery
It may have style, but the LG Optimus L7 doesn't quite hit the mark compared to the competition, with to much thought put into the design making the user experience feel forgotten and rushed.
The Optimus L7 does have a decent screen, with the 4.3-inch display provides strong, vivid colours and smooth video playback.
The inclusion of NFC is a nice feature, along with the programmable Tag+ sticker included in the box, which makes the technology more useful than just having NFC alone on the handset.
We were also impressed with the battery in the Optimus L7, which can easily last a couple of days with moderate use.
Unfortunately there are a few things which have frustrated us while using the Optimus L7, the main one being the sluggish processor LG have lumped inside.
While the Orange San Diego also sports a single core chip, the LG has not managed the same integration level as Intel, which has resulted in the Optimus L7 being a pain to use.
Even simple commands such as reading a new text message become a chore as the L7 plods along, as it seems to struggle with even the most basic tasks.
The speed issue hampers the web browsing as well, which led to us giving up on numerous occasions because things were just taking too long.
The VGA videoing capability is also a little bit of a let down, as San Diego can record full HD and the HTC One V offers 720p - which is becoming the norm for mid-range handsets.
The LG Optimus L7 had the potential to be a decent phone, its big screen, Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and NFC technology are sadly put on the back burner thanks to the incredibly slow processor and user experience.
If you want a decent, single core phone with all the key features then you're better off looking at the HTC One V or Orange San Diego.