LG Optimus 7 4 Stars

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While a number of WP7 phones have appeared in the past few weeks, because Microsoft has set down strict guidelines on what hardware and software can be included, the phone manufactures have all been trying different ways to make their phone stand out from their rivals. While LG has achieved nothing outstanding in terms of hardware with the Optimus 7, it does offer the consumer something extra when it comes to exclusive apps and its app store.

Hardware

You can tell a WP7 handset by the way it looks. The Optimus 7, while it has a solid and weighty feel about it, nonetheless looks a tad cheap, thanks mostly to the fact that it has a plastic chassis and has a metal back that is also coated in glossy plastic. Hard buttons for Back, Search and the Windows Start logo (this one in fact sends you to the home screen) sit on a plastic strip. Above this sits the 3.8in screen. Behind a little door is the charger slot, while there is also a dedicated button to switch on the five-megapixel camera. At the top of the phone are the power button and the 3.5mm audio jack. You can’t bump up the existing 16GB of on-board memory (the most that Microsoft allows), as there is no microSd slot.

Switch on the phone and you’ll be greeted by the same WP7 screen that appears on every Windows Phone 7 handset. There are plenty of live ‘tiles’ (these are Microsoft’s version of widgets). At the top are the main ones – such as messaging, dialler, email and contacts – although you can move these around to suit your own needs. It is also possible to ‘pin’ apps to the home screen, where you’ll see them displayed in standard tile style. A swipe to the left will take you to another home screen, which displays all your programs. Windows Phone 7 is a straightforward, clean, contemporary OS, which really stands apart from its rivals. It’s as easy to use as the iPhone OS.

Back to basics

The Optimus 7 carries a fast 1GHz processor and an 800x480 pixel capacitive touch-screen, as Microsoft has specified. The screen is far and away the best we have ever witnessed on an LG phone. The virtual keyboard proved itself both accurate and responsive, and you’ll find you only need a light touch to use the phone. Text and colours both appeared sharp and bright, and we found the pinch to zoom function worked well both when browsing and in the gallery.

You’re restricted to the preloaded Internet Explorer at the moment as it is not possible to download an alternative browser. Having said that, we were pleasantly surprised by the mobile version, bearing in mind the glitches present on its desktop incarnation, and found it rendered pages quickly. There is no chance of tabbed browsing, although you can open multiple windows, as well as delete passwords, history and cookies as well as save favourites. The one thing missing is a cut and paste facility, but Microsoft has promised it will come ‘sometime’ next year.

Emailing is simple on the Optimus 7. You’ll find instant notifications for Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail. There is a tile for each account and it’s here that new messages will appear. We like the fact that any missed calls or new texts pop up in a small bar at the top of the screen for several seconds, before appearing as a number on the appropriate tile.

As we’ve found before with WP7 devices, it’s actually making a phone call that is a rather clunky process. But we were thoroughly impressed by the phonebook. It is able to sync through Hotmail, Gmail and Facebook, offering up a multi-screen display of contacts’ profile pictures and updates, as well as a screen that displays any recently contacted (by phone or text) friends.

Multimedia entertainment

If you’re a games or music fan, the Optimus 7 has a treat in store for you – syncing with Xbox Live and Zune (Microsoft’s own version of iTunes, which has only just been released in the UK). You’ll be able to choose from a really good selection of mobile incarnations of console games on Xbox Live – which does a good job of rivalling Apple’s own mobile gaming selection. While Zune currently has no local presence, it is simple to use, and you’ll find it a breeze to transfer your music collection onto your phone

LG has always stayed one step ahead of its rivals when it comes to media and it doesn’t disappoint here – this time with an app dubbed PlayTo. This lets you stream both music and films from your phone to a DLNA-enabled device – a PC running Windows 7, a PS3 or LG TV for instance. It’s a bit fiddly to set up, but we found that if you follow the Help option it should give you little trouble. With both devices on the Wi-Fi network, all you have to do is open up PlayTo and it is possible to enjoy your media content on the larger device.

The Optimus 7 also benefits from an augmented reality app entitled Scan Search. We have seen this kind of thing before, but it does just work. It’s one of 10 apps preloaded into the LG Apps Store and more are due to join them on a regular basis according to LG. The LG store sits on the same page as Microsoft’s own app store, Windows Marketplace, which is quickly becoming populated with a number of apps. We did wonder why there was a need for two apps stores, but we guess it makes sense, as the LG apps are all free. Especially bearing in mind how pricey some of the Windows apps are compared with their counterparts - The Sims 3, for example, costs £5.49 – yet the iPhone app is only £3.99.

Camera, GPS and battery

LG phones usually feature a really decent snapper, and the five-megapixel camera on the Optimus 7, with auto flash and focus, didn’t disappoint. We’re also keen on the Panorama Shot add-on, a clever feature that stitches together images to create one 360-degree picture. Very neat.

For navigation, the A-GPS did a good job of fixing location – just remember that you’ll be using Bing Maps, which can’t really compete with the excellent Google Maps. Sure, it has turn-by-turn directions for the pedestrian, but because it lacks voice direction you won’t be replacing your sat-nav any time soon. Battery life was rather more impressive – it lasted through a day and more while we had Wi-Fi, HSDPA, and A-GPS running and played some music.

The verdict

The Optimus 7 may not yet have quite taken LG into the superphone market, but it is certainly on its way there. As we’ve found with the other WP7 phones, it does a great job of emailing and web browsing and we can’t fault its touch screen. Zune and Xbox Live will continue to attract music and games fans, and while the handset may not be the most classy available, the fact that it can be had on cheaper tariffs than some other WP7 phones means that the Optimus 7 is an affordable way to enter the WP7 arena.

Pros:
Top-notch display; excellent social phonebook; very decent support for webmail; appealing price; cool apps from LG.
Cons:
Actually making a call is a clunky process; app store has some way to go.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice