Not every great phone has to be brimming with high-tech specs. U.S. Cellular's Optimus F7 is a solid 4.7-inch midtier handset with a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
LG Optimus F7 (Boost Mobile) call quality sample
Because the carrier's 4G LTE network is unavailable in our area, I experienced the U.S. Cellular's 3G network. Even when compared with other 3G networks, speeds were glacial. In general, sites took several seconds (even more than a minute at times) to fully appear. The phone loaded CNET's mobile site in 21 seconds and our desktop site in a minute and 57 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 22 seconds and its full site in a minute 17 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 24 seconds, and its full site loaded in 41 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.21Mbps down and 0.47Mbps up. I was especially disappointed, however, with how long the F7 took to download the 32.41MB game of Temple Run 2. You're going to have to be a patient soul with this one, since it took a whopping 31 minutes and 42 seconds to download the game.
Though our Boost unit indicated that it was connected to Sprint's 4G network, speeds were inconsistent and unstable. I had to switch to 3G in order to get reliable data speeds. Save for the New York Times desktop site, speeds were much faster on this model than on U.S. Cellular's. The phone loaded CNET's mobile and desktop site in 16 seconds and 47 seconds, respectively. The New York Times' mobile site took about 11 seconds and, oddly, the full site took 45 seconds. ESPN's mobile site loaded in 10 seconds, and its full site finished in 25 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.31Mbps down and 0.67Mbps up. The handset downloaded Temple Run 2 in an average of 12 minutes.
|Performance: LG Optimus F7 (U.S. Cellular/Boost)|
|Average 3G download speed||0.21Mpbs/0.31Mpbs|
|Average 3G upload speed||0.47Mbps/0.67Mpbs|
|App download (Temple Run 2)||32.41MB in 31 minutes and 42 seconds/12 minutes|
|CNET mobile site load||21 seconds/16 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||1 minute and 57 seconds/47 seconds|
|Boot time||32.71 seconds/--|
|Camera boot time||2.51 seconds/--|
The device is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Although it's not as lightning-quick as quad-core CPUs of high-end handsets, it's still swift. All your simple daily tasks will be carried out without any trouble, like switching from portrait to landscape mode, launching the camera (which on average took 2.51 seconds), and returning to your home screen page. During my time playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, the app didn't unexpectedly quit or stutter, and I saw smooth frame rates throughout gameplay. On average, it takes 32.71 seconds to turn off and restart the camera.
During our battery drain test for video playback, the 2,540mAh battery lasted an impressive 8.83 hours. It has a reported talk-time of 13 hours and a standby time of 12.5 days. Anecdotally, it had a solid battery life. It can easily last a full workday, under mild usage and full screen brightness, without a charge. And a 10- to 15-minute conversation drained the battery just 1 percent. According to the FCC, the handset has a digital SAR rating of 0.78W/kg. For the Boost model, it's 0.74W/kg.
As great as the Optimus F7 is, if you're looking to switch to U.S. Cellular, the carrier currently has a promotion on the Samsung Galaxy S4 that is frankly too tempting to pass up. The new customer discount (or "activation bonus") places the GS4 at the same $100 sweet spot as the F7, making it the best deal (and the best Android phone) to grab.
However, for existing U.S. Cellular customers that are on the budget, do consider the Optimus F7. If you get the carrier's 4G LTE coverage, this an excellent device for its price range. Not only does it perform reliably, it's also newer, bigger, and packs a better camera than the LG Splendor. (The Motorola Electrify M is also the same price, but we haven't had a chance to review it).
True, it's not as delicious as the GS4, which will cost twice as much for you, but you'll get a dependable phone and some extra dough in your wallet.