There is a lot going on in the smartphone world lately, but we thought we would take a step back from the high-end market for a minute and take a look at a device for the more budget minded individual. The festive season is over and most of us are strapped for cash, so what about the individual that is looking for a good device at a low price?
On paper it looks like we have found the answer. The LG Optimus L7 is pretty cheap, especially when you look at the large screen. You can probably pick it up for just over R2500 these days or for R189 p/m on a Straight Up 50 TopUp contract from Cell C. It looks like an affordable, good-looking and reasonably equipped smartphone. But does such a device really have anything to offer? Let’s take a look.
Here are some of the key features:
The L-series has three variants, the L3, L5 and this, the L7. So being the upper branch of the series, it also has the best performance and capabilities.
Design and Build
The Optimus L7 wants to fool people into thinking it’s a high-end device with its looks, and it sort of works. It has a clinical look with minimalistic design. Most LG smartphones are pretty good looking devices these days, and this one is no different. People who like clean lines and tidy looks will appreciate this device.
The back uses a very rigid plastic and feels well built. You will find the speaker and the 5MP rear camera here.
The front is surrounded by a dark silver frame and with the minimum screen bezel it makes the front look very attractive. You will find the Home button (which is Samsung-esque) with hidden illuminating Back and Settings buttons, with the VGA video-calling camera above the screen.
The Home key is level with the surrounding bezel but it is transparent, which creates a wonderful illusion of depth. It shows to what lengths LG went to look at small details, even though it is not a flagship device.
At the top you will find the 3.5mm audio jack and the Power button, which stands out due to the aluminium finish. At the bottom you will only find the microphone pinhole and the standard microUSB port. On the left you will find the volume rocker.
Even though the device is made almost entirely of plastic, the Optimus L7 is very well built and feels good in the hand. The rear cover fits firmly into place, leaving no space to bend or creak. The simple finish and minimalistic design work well to deliver a good looking midrange smartphone that doesn’t look or feel cheap at all.
Screen, Battery and Storage
One of the biggest positives of the L7 is the roomy 4.3-inch screen. It really differentiates itself from other mid-range Androids, which usually have larger screens. So if LCD real estate is what you are looking for, this could be the way to go.
Even though the resolution is only 480×800 pixels, it still equates to 217 ppi. That’s pretty good for this kind of device, but while the display is clear enough, some details aren’t pin sharp like on high-end devices. That was to be expected, though.
With the 1,700mAh battery everything is pretty standard for a modern smartphone. You can expect a full day’s use from a single charge unless you are a very heavy user. You will probably be charging it every night.
The internal storage of the device is minimal at 4GB. But there is a microSD card slot inside the phone, which supports an extra capacity of up to 32GB. So don’t expect to be watching HD videos on this smartphone.
User Interface and Performance
The LG Optimus L7 comes with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. We do know that LG have a poor record in updating software, so don’t expect any later version anytime soon. That being said, we all know and love ICS so it shouldn’t be a problem to the average user.
The widget and app drawers are all still pretty standard and look like most other ICS devices out there today.
Unfortunately, widgets on the home screen can’t be resized. And that’s not the only feature unavailable either; you can’t use Face Unlock. According to an LG spokesperson Face Unlock should be returned via a software update (so don’t hold your breath).
The notification tray is also as you would expect to find in ICS with the usual options and shortcuts. You can flick notifications out of the tray and the animation works well. LG has also added the ability to add effects to videos.
You also have the standard ICS recent apps thumbnail menu. You can scroll back through all the apps you have used, closing them one at a time if you wish, or continuing from where you left off. The multitasking on this device is better than the processing unit would suggest it would be.
The user interface really does deliver the Ice Cream Sandwich experience you would expect. There is a slight problem in the performance of the device, though. Sometimes the device really feels laggy, especially when you want to unlock the phone, which is very irritating. LG’s skin on top of ICS isn’t as heavy as some other manufacturers, so we expect it is because of the engine underneath.
The 1GHz single-core processor struggles to cope at certain times, specifically with apps that are graphics intensive like games or YouTube. That is quite strange, as Google Play opens almost instantaneously. Opening photos or videos can also be a bit tedious sometimes. It is quite disappointing, because other devices like the HTC One V make a lot better use of their 1GHz processor.
If you can see past the minor performance headaches, though, you still have a solid ICS experience. You also have the five home screens for apps, folders and widgets. The launcher bar at the bottom can contain four shortcuts, including folders. All in all, it’s pretty standard Android fare, without being particularly slick or elegant.
The L7 has a 5MP camera plus an LED flash. This was a surprising positive, as the lens turned out some pretty good shots, with good levels of detail. While taking pictures under lights, it also performed well. Outside, we saw reasonably even exposure. Colours look mostly true to life, even though it looks a bit washed out in variable light and shade across a scene.
The only downside is that once you have snapped a picture there is a bit of lag as the L7 processes the image. This device also has no dedicated physical camera button, which some people really prefer on their devices.
The LG Optimus L7 is a chequered device, but that was to be expected from a device in this price range. It has a pretty shiny face and a big screen, which is a massive positive if we look at the latest trend in Android screen size. Under the hood lurks a sluggish single-core chip, which ultimately underachieves on its 1GHz expectations.
There are other mid-range Android devices out there, not all very good. The L7 is definitely an option, but if it was my own money that I was spending on this kind of device, I would buy the HTC One V.