LG Optimus L7 (unlocked) review: LG Optimus L7 (unlocked)

The device is equipped with LG's newest user interface, the Optimus UI 3.0, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich skin. The icons are boxy (and aren't customizable the way they are on the 4X HD), the widgets look clunky (especially the unattractive weather widget), and even though I like the Roboto font, the keypad and app drawer still look a little outdated. There are a few welcome changes, however, like the fact that you can access up to four apps of your choosing from the lock screen by simply swiping over their icons. Personally, I prefer Android's minimalistic interface, but it's refreshing to see LG actively changing and taking chances with its products' UIs.

A couple of other services include Wi-Fi Direct and a battery saver module that lets you customize which features (Bluetooth, auto-syncing, display brightness) to turn off or adjust when your battery gets low. Take note that this phone has no hot-spot capabilities or gesture support.

The 5-megapixel camera offers a variety of options: autofocus, touch focus, a flash, a 15x digital zoom, face tracking, geotagging, a timer, continuous shooting, and panoramic shooting. It also has an exposure meter (-2 to +2); five image sizes (ranging from 1,280x768p to 2,560x1,920p); six scene modes (normal, portrait, landscape, sports, sunset, and night); four ISO options (100, 200, 400, and auto); five white balances (auto, incandescent, sunny, fluorescent, and cloudy); and four color effects (none, mono, sepia, and negative).

The front-facing camera offers the same exposure meter, white-balance options, color effects, timer, and geotagging feature, but only two scene modes (normal and night) and one image size (640x480p). There's also a "mirror image" option that saves a vertically flipped version of your photo and a "beauty shot" meter that lets you adjust the brightness and blurriness of an image. This comes in handy when you're taking self-portraits and want to soften the photo.

The LG Optimus L7's front-facing camera. Josh Miller/CNET

Recording options consist of the same digital zoom, flash, exposure meter, geotagging, color effects, and white balances. In addition, there's audio muting and you can choose from three video sizes (ranging from VGA 480p to QCIF).

The front-facing video option has fewer options. There are still the same exposure meter, white balances, color effects, geotagging, and audio muting feature, though there are only three video sizes (ranging from VGA 480p to QCIF).

Performance
I tested the dual-band (900, 1200) LG Optimus L7 in San Francisco. Because it's unlocked, I inserted an AT&T SIM card. There were no problems with signal quality -- I didn't get any dropped calls, extraneous buzzing, or audio clipping in and out. Sound quality, however, was disappointing. Voices were audible, but muffled, as if my friends were speaking underneath a thin sheet. Though turning up the volume helped a bit, I still had to ask my callers to repeat themselves a couple of times. I was told that my voice, on the other hand, sounded clear and was easy to understand.

The output speakerphone quality was also poor. Calls, as well as music, sounded incredibly harsh and severe, making them unpleasantly sharp to hear. You can also hear the sound bouncing off the back plate of the phone. Turning the volume down helped somewhat, and you can still hear what's being said, but it was unpleasant regardless.

LG Optimus L7 call quality sample Listen now:

The 5-megapixel camera's photo quality was adequate. You can use the onscreen shutter button or the physical volume buttons to take pictures. Because of the slow processor, launching the camera app takes a few seconds longer than it should, and feedback lagged slightly behind the motion of the camera. Though colors were bright in both outdoor and indoor lighting, objects weren't as well-defined and in focus as they should have been. Especially in low lighting, edges are blurred. As for the front-facing camera, there was some understandable graininess. The smaller number of megapixels did lead to more blurriness and poorer focus, but you can still make out faces easily.

In this cloudy outdoor shot, the edges of the bricks aren't very distinct. Josh Miller/CNET

Although colors are vivid in this indoor photo, foreground focus wasn't so sharp. Josh Miller/CNET

In our standard studio shot, a yellow hue blankets the objects. Josh Miller/CNET

This front-facing camera picture is noticeably grainier. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording also was mediocre. Though recording ran smoothly for the most part, there was an instance where it hiccuped and paused for a second, only to continue rolling again. Audio was picked up well, but picture rendering was choppy. Colors were true to form and objects and the lens kept moving images in focus for the most part.

Using AT&T's 3G network, the phone's data speeds were disappointingly slow. It loaded our full CNET page in an average of 2 minutes and 11 seconds and the full New York Times Web page in 1 minute and 42 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 24 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 23 seconds, and its full site loaded in an average 1 minute and 7 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, downloaded in 5 minutes and 15 seconds. The 24.25MB game of Temple Run took a whopping 24 minutes and 8 seconds.

During our battery drain test, the handset lasted 10.03 hours and anecdotally, it had a solid battery life. Nova displays usually don't drain battery as quickly as other screens, and after spending a few hours with the L7 playing games, watching videos, and chatting with my friends, I found it had drained only by about two-thirds. I got a good handful of hours in without much loss of charge. According to ICNIRP radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.76W/kg.

Conclusion
The LG Optimus L7's slow processor is ultimately a real deal killer for me. It's annoyingly slow and doesn't do the sleek device justice. Especially since the smartphone is running the latest Android OS and sports a modern design, having that extra lag time is a drag.

However, if you put that issue aside (or you simply don't need a fast CPU), the L7 definitely pushes the definition of "midlevel" up a few notches. Its NFC capabilities and solid Nova display alone already put it ahead of most midrange LG handsets, and the Ice Cream Sandwich OS is the pleasant cherry on top.

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Where to Buy See all prices

LG Optimus L7 (unlocked)

Part Number: OPTIMUSL7ULK
Low Price: $204.82 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Talk Time Up to 349.8 min
  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Combined with With digital camera / digital player / FM radio
  • Service Provider Unlocked
  • Weight 4.3 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels
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