LG Optimus F7 review: Excellent Android 4.1 handset for under $100

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The Good The LG Optimus F7 has a vivid 4.7-inch screen, a zippy dual-core processor, and excellent battery life.

The Bad The Optimus F7 has slow 3G data speeds, and its speaker is poor.

The Bottom Line Competitively priced, stylish, and sporting great midtier specs, the LG Optimus F7 is an excellent handset for U.S. Cellular customers.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

The fact that the LG Optimus F7 is available on more than one carrier is no surprise. It's an excellent midlevel phone that's packed with quality specs, such as a vivid 4.7-inch touch screen, an 8-megapixel camera, and a dual-core CPU.

U.S. Cellular customers can already get the device for $99.99 with a two-year agreement, and Boost Mobile recently announced that the F7 will be coming to the carrier on June 27 for $299.99 off contract.

All in all, despite some of its drawbacks (like its sluggish 3G speeds), I'd still recommend it for current U.S. Cellular customers looking to renew their contracts while on a $100 phone budget. If you're switching to the carrier, however, then I'd go for the Samsung Galaxy S4 instead. Why? As unfair as it is to existing U.S. Cellular clients, the carrier knocks $100 off the GS4 for new customers, making it the same price as the F7, and the more savory buy.

Editors' note, August 7, 2013: This review was originally written for the U.S. Cellular version and has been updated to reflect the release of the Optimus F7 on Boost Mobile.

With its common black rectangular construction and wide oval home button, the F7 looks like your typical midlevel Optimus device. It's a sturdy, well-constructed handset that measures 5.16-inches tall, 2.71-inches wide, and 0.38 inches thick. At 4.7 ounces, I noticed it was a bit on the heavy side, but not enough that it's overwhelming or uncomfortable in the hand.

One design note that I like is the back plate. Though I'm not a fan of glossy plastic (it traps fingerprints like a magnet and this is no exception), it makes the phone look a bit more premium, and the brushed faux-metal look is a nice touch.

LG Optimus F7
The handset dons a stylish, brushed-metallic look on the battery door. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left are a volume rocker and a shortcut key to launch LG's memo-taking app, QuickMemo. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, on the right is a sleep/power button, and at the very bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging.

On the back center you'll see the camera lens and the flash. Below those are two narrow slits for the speaker. Though it has no dedicated insert, you can slide your finger in the Micro-USB opening to take the battery door off. There, you can access the battery, microSD and SIM card slots.

The Optimus F7 has an excellent, 4.7-inch True HD IPS display. The screen's 1,280x720-pixel resolution isn't as sharp as those high-tier 1080p screens from flagship devices, but it's still crisp, bright, and responsive to the touch. HD videos on YouTube look great; the screen has a wide viewing angle.

Above the display is a front-facing camera; below are two hot keys (for back and menu) that light up white when in use. Between those keys is the aforementioned home button, which has its own LED light that glows red during charging.

Software features
The device runs on Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. As such, it comes with Google goodies like Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, Local, Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and store, Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Talk, Voice Search, and YouTube.

Other preloaded content includes a few Amazon apps (Shop, Kindle, Amazon MP3, Amazon Appstore, IMDb, Zappos, and the audiobook app Audible); a portal to download more HD games; two video editing apps; the carrier's native navigator app; a golfing game; Facebook; and Twitter. The handset also holds a translation app; a dictionary; an app to identify the city and state to which a phone number belongs to; a weather app; mobile office suite Polaris Viewer 4; SmartShare, a content distribution app; ToneRoom Deluxe; DailyPerks, which keeps track of local deals and offers; an emergency alert app called Safety Care; U.S. Cellular's TV streaming app; Wi-Fi Now; and Slacker Radio.

LG OPtimus F7
You'll get plenty of Google apps and LG's Optimus 3.0 UI with the F7. Josh Miller/CNET

Basic features present are texting, a native e-mail client, a Web browser, a video player, Bluetooth 4.0 support, a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a notebook, a ti-do list, a calculator, voice command, and a voice recorder.

The phone's Optimus 3.0 user interface, which isn't as stylishly simplistic as the vanilla Android, includes icons that you can customize under four themes (Optimus, Biz, Cozywall, and Marshmallow). You'll get a note-taking feature, QuickMemo, which lets you jot down notes and doodles either directly onto whatever your screen is displaying at the moment, or on a virtual memo pad. There's also QSlide, LG's multitasking window that let's you view and resize apps, like the browser and video player, while using other apps or viewing the home screen. Lastly, there's VuTalk. VuTalk lets you create annotations on documents and photos on your device while sharing it with another VuTalk-enabled device through either a network or Wi-Fi connection. The handsets display each other's annotations in real time and are differentiated by separate ink colors.

Camera and video
The 8-megapixel camera comes with loads of options, such as seven photo sizes (from 1,536x864 to 3,264x2,448 pixels); a 15x digital zoom; a flash; geotagging; a timer; four color effects; five white balances; five ISO options (from 100 to 400); six scene modes; two focuses; a brightness meter; a voice-activated shutter; and a Time Catch option that enables the camera to take shots even before you press the shutter; and four shooting modes, including HDR and panorama.

The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera includes three photo sizes (from 640x480 to 1,280x960 pixels); two scene modes; and the same white-balance and color effects. You'll also get geotagging, a timer, the option to save a picture's mirror image, a brightness meter, voice shutter, and beauty shot.

Video-recording options with the rear camera include six video sizes (from 176x144 to full HD 1,920x1,080 pixels); a brightness meter; the same white-balance and color effects; audio muting; and geotagging. The front-facing camera has all of the same video options except it only has five video sizes (topping out at 720p). Both cameras can record with fun "live effects." One is "silly faces," which will alter your face in a variety of ways like squeezing it together, shrinking your mouth, or making your eyes huge. The gimmicks are fun at first, but after a while the distortions just started to look creepy. The other is a background module, where you can change your background to outer space, a sunset, a disco, or your own custom image.

The camera itself operated swiftly. It took no time for it to ready itself for another photo, and I was able to snap a number of shots in quick succession. Touch focus adjusted quickly as well and photo quality was impressive. Colors were accurate and true to life, and objects were sharp and in focus with well-defined edges. Even in dim, indoor lighting, you can still see images clearly, though you'll get a noticeable amount of digital noise with your image as expected.

LG Optimus L7 (outdoors)
In this sunny outdoor photo, the dog's white fur color is accurate and very fluffy. Lynn La/CNET
LG Optimus L7 (indoors)
This indoor photo shows much more digital noise and muted hues. Lynn La/CNET
LG Optimus L7 (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, a brownish hue can be seen in the background and corners. Josh Miller/CNET

Video quality was also on par -- audio picked up well (both near and far) and despite my hand's shakiness, moving and still objects remained in focus. Colors were bright and true to form, my recording of street traffic had cars driving by that remained sharp, and I especially like how you can live zoom while watching a recording.

I tested the LG Optimus 7 on U.S. Cellular's roaming network in our San Francisco office, and call quality was respectable. None of my calls dropped, I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing noises in times of complete silence, and audio didn't clip in and out. The in-ear volume range was also adequate. My friends sounded clear and were easy to understand, but I could pick up on a bit of static every now and then. Likewise, I was told that I could be heard fine as well, and people on the other line didn't catch any buzzing noise with my words either. The speaker, however, could be improved. Phone conversations were a bit unpleasant, with voices coming off tinny and harsh. In the same vein, lush music would flatten out and sound hollow and sharp coming out of the device's thin speakers.

The Boost Mobile version also showed similar call quality. With the audio speaker, voices came off just as sharp and flat (though understandable) as the U.S. Cellular version. In-ear audio volume was also satisfactory, and none of my calls dropped. I didn't hear any outside static, and voices came out clear. However, it did sound a bit muffled at times, but it wasn't too distracting.

LG Optimus F7 (U.S. Cellular) call quality sample

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