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

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The Good The svelte LG Optimus L7 runs the latest version of the Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, and has NFC capabilities like Android Beam.

The Bad The L7's output speaker quality is poor and its 1GHz processor makes for slow and choppy performance.

The Bottom Line The Optimus L7 is a good midlevel Android device that features some of the latest technology in the market, but only if you're patient enough to live with its pokey processor.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

Most of the devices that LG introduced this year at Mobile World Congress have a standout feature. The LG Optimus 3D Max has, you guessed it, 3D imaging. The flagship Optimus 4X HD has its quad-core processor going for it. And the Vu can flaunt its 5-inch screen.

The LG Optimus L7, however, sadly wasn't meant to have its own "thing."

Designed as a midlevel Android device, the L7 has no outstanding identifying features. Its run-of-the-mill specs include a 5-megapixel camera and a disappointing 1GHz processor. However, if you consider the fact that it runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and has NFC capabilities, suddenly the term "midlevel" doesn't seem so deflating anymore.

The phone is available in multiple countries, including India and the United Kingdom, but there is no word yet on a U.S. launch. Officially, the device is priced around $514, but at online retailers like Amazon, the price is lowered to about $290.

Editors' note: Due to their similarities, pieces of the LG Optimus L7's Features and Performance sections have been lifted from CNET's review of the LG Optimus 4X HD.

The LG Optimus L7's humdrum design is nothing to write home about. With its sharp corners, plastic backing, and tapered edges, the device looks similar to all the other minimalist Optimus handsets I've recently seen so far. It measures 4.94 inches tall, 2.63 inches wide, and 0.38 inch thick, and its slim body weighs 4.48 ounces. It is one of LG's smaller devices, and can snugly fit in a front or back jean pocket. It's easy to pack into a small purse and handling it with one hand is a cinch.

On its left side is a volume rocker, up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button, and at the bottom is a Micro-USB port.

At the back center is a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. Below that to the left are two small slits for the output speaker. Unlike most phones, the L7 doesn't have an indentation to make it easy to pry off the back of the phone. Instead, you'll have to just insert your fingernails anywhere within the seams of the back plate. Once you remove it, you can access the microSD slot, SIM card, and 1,700mAh battery. On the opposite side of the backing are two small gold antennas for the NFC capabilities.

Though generally I don't mind plastic battery covers since they keep a phone light and durable, the L7 is an exception. There are ways to give plastic a more luxurious feel, either by giving it a matte coating or unique texture. But the L7 just has lined grooves like a 3D baseball card, which makes it feel really cheap and almost like a toy.

The L7 sports a 4.3-inch WVGA Nova display with an 800x480-pixel resolution and 450 nits of brightness. Though the lowered specs aren't as impressive as those of other phones, like the LG Optimus 4X HD, the screen is still decent in its own right. App icons were crisp, text was sharp, and at maximum brightness, colors were vivid. Although gradient patterns looked somewhat streaky, on the whole, images were rich and highly saturated.

Above the display in the right corner is a proximity sensor and to the left is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below is a physical home button, with a back and menu front key on either side of it that light up when in use.

The LG Optimus L7 has a physical home button below the display. Josh Miller/CNET

The LG Optimus L7 runs on a disappointingly slow A5 1GHz single-core processor. Basic tasks like unlocking the screen, opening the camera app, and even transitioning back to the five home screen pages took noticeably longer than usual on other phones. The lag time made the screen feel unresponsive sometimes. After I tapped on an app, nothing would happen for a few seconds. At first, I would be unsure that the display had registered my tap, but by the time I went to open the app again, it would finally launch.

On the upside, the device runs on the latest version of Google's mobile OS, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and comes with all the Google goodies you expect: Gmail, Search, Plus, Latitude, Play Store, Messenger, Maps with Navigation, Places, Talk, and YouTube. Other preloaded content includes a finance app for keeping track of your stocks; a news and weather app; the Polaris Office mobile office suite; RemoteCall, an app that lets LG support services remotely access your phone for troubleshooting; SmartShare, a content distribution app; LG SmartWorld, for downloading LG apps and ringtones; an FM radio; and an app that enables you to receive cell broadcast messages.

Basic features present are text messaging, e-mail, Bluetooth, a Web browser, a calendar, a clock with alarm settings, a memo pad, a calculator, native music and video players, and a voice recorder.

The Near-Field Communication chip, or NFC, enables the handset to wirelessly communicate with other NFC-enabled devices within a short distance. Using an included feature called Android Beam, you can wirelessly transfer browser pages and contacts between devices by simply touching the handset's back with another device that has Beam too.

The NFC chip is located on the underside of the LG Optimus L7's back plate. Josh Miller/CNET

LG included with the phone three Tag+ stickers, labeled Office, Sleep, and Car mode, that let you use the NFC feature to activate certain settings on your phone that you customize. For example, every time you go to sleep, you may want to put your phone on vibrate, dim your screen, and have your music turn off after 10 minutes of playing. Once you set up and save those settings using the LG Tag+ app, you can activate them whenever you tap your Sleep Mode Tag sticker.

When I tried this feature, it didn't work as consistently as it did on the LG Optimus 3D Max. Sometimes I would get an error message. But after a few more trials, the tags worked reliably, and the intuitive LG Tag+ app made this feature easy to set up.

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.

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