Budget LG phones that you aren't afraid to own (hands-on)

LG is targeting cost-conscious consumers who still want a superfast wireless connection to their mobile device with the F family of phones.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read
Watch this: Getting familiar with the LG Optimus F7 and F5

BARCELONA, Spain--LG is betting heavily that 4G LTE is enough of a draw for consumers with its new F family of smartphones.

The F7 and the F5 represent a new line of Android phones for LG, sitting in between the lower-end (and 3G only) L series and the flagship G line of smartphones. The F series was intended to address the growing demand for 4G LTE phones, particularly in markets where LTE is just starting to get lit up.

While no price was given, LG intends to go after budget-conscious customers who don't want to sacrifice a high-speed wireless connection. With some decent specs and a light touch with the LG-enhanced improvements to Android, the company has two competitive smartphones on its hands.

Both devices will be available in the European market in the second quarter, with the F5 first followed by the F7. Starting June 6, the latter will be available in the U.S. on U.S. Cellular for $99.99 after a two-year contract.

Editors' note, June 6, 2013: This first-take has been updated with the F7's U.S. release information and additional spec info.

The phones have a basic, but attractive look. Neither the F7 or the F5 are going to win any awards for innovative design, but the phones are nice-looking enough that you wouldn't be embarrassed holding them.

The higher-end F7, which rocks a 4.7-inch IPS 720p display, features a wide and slim physical home button, bracketed by the standard capacitive back and menu buttons. The back of the white F7 features a hexagonal pattern with varying tones and shades, which is a nice change from the generic plain colors you normally see on a smartphone. The design also prevents fingerprints from showing up too clearly.

The F5, which is also white and has a smaller 4.3-inch display, is a bit boxier. The back also has its own unique design: a subtle diamond pattern that likewise helped it from becoming a fingerprint magnet.

LG Optimus F series
At MWC this year, LG debuted its Optimus F line of 4G midlevel phones. Lynn La/CNET

Both displays were clear and colorful. The F7, in particular, packs 312 pixels per inch into its display, while the smaller F5 has 256 pixels per inch.

Both smartphones felt snappy to use, and have a decent amount of horsepower behind them. The F7 runs on a midlevel 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, whereas the F5 runs on the 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon equivalent.

Given LG's budget aspirations for the F7 and F5, neither phone felt particularly weighty, and the thin plastic construction is clear from the get go. The plastic case is largely a necessity because it needs to be removed to allow the battery to swapped out -- a common request from customers.

Overall, the phones did look attractive, and I wouldn't feel bad taking either out of my pocket to show off to my friends.

LG has done a good job adding features found in its flagship Optimus G into the F7 and F5.

Both smartphones offer LG's enhanced user interface, which subtly runs on top of Android.

One of the key features for the Optimus G was Q slide, which allows a user to run two different applications at the same time. You could either run them side-by-side, or have one run on top of the other, with one being slightly transparent.

The F7 and F5 both get an updated version of Q slide, which works with the video player, browser, calculator, memo, and calendar. In addition, users can zoom in on videos stored on the phone, another headline feature of the Optimus G.

Indicative of LG's intent to go after younger and older users, the F phones offer a safety care feature that can be set up to deliver alerts to other family members if the user leaves a certain area, or hasn't checked in for a while. A 911 call will trigger an immediate text message to an assigned family member.

Both phones run on Android 4.1.1, also known as Jelly Bean. They also both have 8GB of onboard storage, expandable by 32GB with a microSD card.

The F7 features an 8-megapixel rear camera that can record 1080p video, and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. It also packs 2GB of RAM and a 2,540mAh battery, which has a reported talk-time of 13 hours.

The F5 has a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. Alongside the slower processor, it also comes with 1GB of RAM.

A close look at the LG Optimus F series (pictures)

See all photos

Both phones round out LG's product portfolio and give cost-conscious consumers an attractive option for an LTE smartphone. The F5, in particular, should be keenly priced, giving it the best chance for success. Indeed, LG considers the F5 its "bread and butter," and expects high sales volumes for the phone. While LG hasn't had as much success forging a flagship brand in the same vein as iPhone or Galaxy S, it has had some success in the budget market. Both the F7 and F5 should continue that trend.