Microsoft launched Windows Phone earlier this month with much fanfare. Now that the formal announcements are over, it is time to take a closer look at some of the hardware that is landing in the hands of consumers around the world. This review focuses on the Optimus 7, LG’s Windows Phone offering that is destined for carriers in parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.
The LG Optimus 7, like other Windows Phone 7 smartphones from other manufacturers, is a slate-style handset with three navigation buttons on its front face. It’s a lot like other WP7 phones out there, mostly because Microsoft has mandated that WP7 hardware is largely standardized. But, the LG Optimus 7 offers a few perks that other phones don’t have. We’ll go through all those features in this review.
Available in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Asia starting October 21st.
- 3.8″ WVGA display (480 x 800)
- 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
- 5 Megapixel camera with LED Flash
- 720p HD video capture
- 16 GB internal memory
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900)
- Tri-band HSDPA/HSUPA (900/1900/2100)
- Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR + A2DP stereo
- GPS, aGPS
- Windows Phone 7
- Nice balanced handset with a solid feel
- Responsive and smooth performance
- Camera panorama mode and intelligent shot make picture-taking fun
- Front tactile buttons make it easy to navigate
- Play To media playback app and ScanSearch augmented reality app add to the Windows Phone experience
- Windows Phone 7 has some limitations that take away from the overall experience
- Camera performance is adequate, not outstanding
- Lack of state retention. For example, camera settings reset to default every time you close the camera app
- Front tactile buttons have a plastic feel
- Top of the phone is slanted which makes it awkward to hit the power button and hold the phone in one hand
- No expandable storage – especially troubling for camera buffs who want portable 720P recording
The Optimus 7 is your typical LG handset- it sports a solid, sturdy design with practical aesthetics. There is nothing breath-taking about the Optimus 7, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Optimus 7 has a mixed design that features a metallic back to toughen up the handset and rubberized plastic trim to keep the price down.
The front of the handset accented by three tactile buttons which makes it easy to navigate the handset without having to fumble for the right button. While the tactile buttons are a nice feature, their plasticky feel is disappointing. The back of the handset is comprised of a brushed metal battery cover accompanied by a snazzy-looking 5-megapixel camera, LED flash, and a very tiny vanity mirror which is more suitable for an Oompa-Loompa than an adult.
The Optimus 7 has a 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen display that is responsive to the touch and easy on the eyes. Colors are vibrant and photos and video are a pleasure to view even on the small screen. While not as striking as the AMOLED display of the Samsung Focus, the display of the Optimus 7 does the job just fine.
The sides of the handset include a dedicated camera button, a covered microUSB port, and a volume rocker. The top of the handset has a sloping face that adds to the styling of the phone but makes it awkward to hit the power button. When you pick up the handset and tap the power button to wake up the display, you have to curl your finger over the top and bend it downwards to reach the power button. The bottom of the handset has a nice smooth curve and is home to the handset’s microphone.
The Optimus 7 has a decent speaker that works great for alarms, ringers, media playback, and as a speakerphone. Distortion and crackling occur when the volume is maximized. The handset also includes a 3.5mm headphone jack for when you want to watch your favorite game on the bus ride home. Battery life is expectedly mediocre. As with most modern smartphones, you can make it through the day with moderate usage, just don’t plan on making it through the night without plugging into a wall charger.
Overall, the Optimus 7 is a solid offering from LG. It lacks the flashy display of the Samsung Focus and the unique portrait qwerty design of the Dell Venue Pro but it remains competitive with its rock solid performance. Those that want a handset to get the job done without any bling or fancy gimmicks should take a closer look at the Optimus 7 from LG.
Windows Phone 7 is a brand new start for Microsoft and it is amazing how far the software giant has leaped forwarded from Windows Mobile. As a long-time Windows Mobile user, I am excited by what Microsoft has done with this mobile OS. Though not perfect, Windows Phone is an excellent starting point.
Convergence, convergence, convergence. Windows Phone seems to be the first major step forward in the convergence of devices based upon Microsoft’s platform. In his 2009 CES keynote, Steve Ballmer focused on this idea of connecting disparate devices and bringing them together to share and exchange data. Windows Phone is more than just a mobile OS, it is a new platform that includes cloud services, game consoles, mobile devices, and desktop PCs. Microsoft is not alone in this venture- Apple is doing it with OS X, iOS, and MobileMe and Google is doing it with its myriad of online services and Android.
I won’t spend any more time re-hashing the generalities of Windows Phone as we have already covered that in a previous overview. The rest of this review will focus specifically on the Optimus 7 and the features that separate this handset from its competition. The Optimus 7 has several LG-specific apps that add value to this handset and include Play To, a DLNA and Windows-based media sharing application, and ScanSearch, an augmented reality app.
LG’s Play To Application
Play To is a DLNA and Windows-based media sharing app that is designed to make media sharing on remote devices drop-dead easy. It works with DLNA devices, Windows 7 PCs, and the Xbox 360. DLNA devices connect with little to no effort on the user’s part while Windows 7 PCs require you to launch Windows Media Player on your computer and enable remote control. The Xbox feature is a bit of a kluge as it requires a Windows 7 PC and the media is pushed to the Xbox 360 though Media Center on the PC.
Upon launch, the Play To app will scan for DLNA devices or Windows 7-based PCs and list all available connections. A single tap and the software will open a connection with your target device. After you have connected once to a device, all the device’s information and connection settings will be saved for future usage. This is a nice feature that makes it easy to repeatedly share media with the same device.
You can use the app to play your photos, videos, and music on other target devices. You can also send the files to compatible devices to back them up. I tested it with a Windows 7 PC and it worked great. With minimal effort, I was able to watch videos and pictures on my PC that I recorded with my phone. A slideshow mode is available so you can just sit back and enjoy the show.
LG’s ScanSearch Application
ScanSearch has to be one the best apps on this handset. For those that have never used this type of app, an augmented reality app lets you see the world through your camera lens and helps you find points of interest in your environs. The app launches quickly and grabs your location information from the aGPS/GPS on the handset. The app displays a head-up view of local interests which are overlayed on your display. You display acts as a viewfinder for the camera so you see the local flavor in real-time. Basically, you walk around with phone in front of you following the POI icons as they pop up.
In the upper right corner is a radar-style compass that locates nearby POIs with green dots. Just like the moving map on your favorite first person shooter, the corner map helps you navigate towards your target locations. When you get close to the POI, an icon will appear on your screen and you can click on the icon to get more information such as a link to Bing search, Google search, address, and phone number. Clicking on the address will bring up the maps, clicking on the phone number will launch a call, and so on. You can also add this POI to your favorites list from this screen and share it with your friends via Twitter, Facebook, or email.
ScanSearch includes a rang of categories so you can focus your search on one type of establishment. The category list covers all your basic needs including restaurants, bars, public transit, banks, hospitals, and more. It also has a neat, little feature that provides you with the current weather and local forecast when you point the handset to the sky and a map view (show above right) when you point towards the ground.
LG’s Voice to Text
LG advertised the Optimus 7 with Voice to Text, a third added feature that separates this handset from its Windows Phone brethren. This feature expands upon the built-in voice search of Windows Phone and will allow you to send emails, update Facebook, or post to Twitter using voice commands. Unfortunately, this feature was not included at launch and will be added in an update slated to land in late October/early November.
From the ground up, Windows Phone is designed to hook into Microsoft’s Windows Live online services. When you start up the phone and enter in your Windows Live credentials, all your mail, calendar, and contact information from Hotmail is synced with your handset. It only takes a few minutes and your handset is immediately populated with your important personal data.
Windows Live also has ties into Windows Messenger and other social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace. This aspect of Windows Live hooks into the People hub on your Windows Phone handset. When you fire you up phone and tap out a quick status update in the People’s hub, this update can be sent to all of your connected networks. Likewise, the status updates of all your friends across these different social networks can be read from within this single hub.
Windows Live also offers SkyDrive, an online file syncing service offered by Microsoft. The service is integrated into Windows Phone handsets and lets you send photos and One note documents from your handset to the cloud. Once the docs are saved to SkyDrive, they can be viewed via a web browser. Yes, there are other services like SugarSync and Dropbox but the fact that this SkyDrive service is integrated into the OS gives it a leg up on its competition.
Last but not least, Windows Live offers a remote tracking service for your handset. Similar to Mobile Me, Windows Live will let you view a lost or stolen handset on a map, ring your phone (even if it is set to vibrate or silent), and remotely lock or wipe your handset. Once your Windows Phone handset has been retrieved, you can enter your Windows Live ID and all your data will be returned to your handset.
PSA regarding Windows Live and Windows Phone: Everything on the phone is tied to a single Windows Live ID. This ID is also linked to your Zune account information and your Xbox Live account. Before you set up your Windows Phone handset, you need to carefully consider these accounts and how they are linked together. Once you associate a handset with a Windows Live ID, you can not change to another Live ID without resetting the phone and erasing all the phone contents. If you have more than one Windows Live ID, make sure you enter the correct ID into your handset. Likewise, make sure your chosen Windows Live ID is associated with the correct Xbox gamertag and Zune account. Once you associate a Windows Live ID with an Xbox Live gamertag and a Zune profile, it is not very easy to start switching them around.
I learned this the hard way with this review unit. I set it up with a junk Hotmail account that I use for forum posting and other online stuff. I entered this Hotmail address on my phone and it pulled down my email, contacts, etc. At some point, I must have set up an Xbox Live account using this Hotmail email address and my phone pulled down this gamertag as well. Unfortunately, I setup this gamertag under duress because of some ridiculous “you must have an Xbox gamer tag to access this service” requirement as I chose the not so nice moniker of “screwumicrosoft”. I never used this gamertag and forgot about it until it showed up on my phone just as I was going to start my review.
In the end, I fixed thsi awkward situation by abandoning my old Hotmail email and signing up with a new Live Mail email address. This new Windows Live email address has a new gamertag and Zune profile so my slate is now wiped clean. I had to reset the Windows Phone handset and go through the process of setting it up a second time using my new Windows Live ID.
The Games hub is where it all the Xbox Live gaming happens on the handset. Within this hub, you can browse and download games and play against friends via the Xbox Live network. One neat feature of the Xbox Live games is the ability to try a game before you buy. Most games have a free option that provides a limited demo so you can test out the gameplay and graphics of a game before shelling out your hard-earned cash.
Within the Games hub, you can also access your gamertag, gamerscore, and avatar. Via an Xbox Live Xtras download, you can modify your avatar from your handset, check out the status of your Xbox Live friends, and view achievements.
Overall, the look and the feel of the Games hub is reminiscent of the Xbox 360 interface. Games are grouped together into categories and you can browse or search to find your game of choice. Comments are enabled so you can read reviews of a game before buying and the interface makes it easy to buy, install, and play.
Web browser, Multimedia, and Camera
Windows Phone ships with Internet Explorer as the primary browser. This latest mobile version of IE is a significant improvement over the version that shipped on Windows Mobile. The browser does a nice job rendering web pages, quickly and smoothly. Scrolling is smooth and the response to touch is fast and accurate. Pinch to Zoom is excellent and the page reflows nicely when you change your zoom level. Flash and Silverlight are not supported out the door so media in the web browser is limited. You can browse YouTube from the handset’s browser but the actual clip is played in an external app. The browser includes the often useful option that lets you switch from being identified as a mobile browser to being identified as a desktop.
Unlike the HTC Surround or the HTC HD7, the Optimus 7 was not designed with multimedia in mind. The handset has a capable speaker that is fine for “in front of you” use at moderate volume. Don’t expect it to fill the room and use it in a noisy environment. At maximum volume, the speaker begins to distort and crackle. Video playback is smooth and the screen is a nice size that makes video watching enjoyable and, at the same time, keeps the handset sizeably small.
Zune is the media management application that is used to transfer audio and video files to the handset. The software was available for the PC at launch and was released for the Mac earlier this week. Windows Phone supports the Zune Pass which lets customers download unlimited music and keep 10 songs per month.
I am a photography buff and the camera is one of the first things that I check out when I receive a new phone. I am not a professional photographer by any means, but I enjoy taking pictures and capturing those important (and not so important) moments while on the go. The camera fits in with my impression of this handset- very good but not outstanding. The camera on this Windows Phone handset is launched instantly via the dedicated camera button and, as mentioned in other reviews, can be launched when the handset screen is locked.
Focusing and shot-to-shot speed is very good for a mobile camera and well-lit photos are pleasing. Don’t abandon that point and shoot just yet, as images are good enough to post on a website or share via email but are not print quality. As with many mobile cameras, low-light conditions cause image quality to plummet. An LED flash does alleviate this limitation but it is too bright and will over-expose any item within a 2-3 foot range. If you have good lighting, close-up shots are decent but don’t bother taking any macro shots if you need a flash to supplement the lighting.
The Optimus 7′s camera options include Intelligent shot, beauty shot, and Panorama mode that add to the camera’s features. Intelligent Shot is a feature meant to optimize the camera settings for each individual picture and beauty shot is supposed to remove blemishes and improve images of faces. Intelligent shot adjusts the white balance and color saturation of images based upon environmental conditions. It has pre-set options for different shooting conditions including portrait shots, landscape, night, smart scene, and backlight.
I tested the landscape option and it has quite an effect on photos as shown below. While the second picture is more pleasing to the eye due to the added green saturation, it is not very accurate. Anyone who lives in a seasonal climate knows that fall causes widespread browning and this first picture represents what you would see if you walked into my back woods. Though this image processing is helpful in certain circumstances, I left both intelligent shot and beauty shot off and only turned them on occasionally when I wanted to add a different effect to a shot.
Panorama mode is probably the most compelling feature of the camera. The panorama mode lets you take up to five images and stitches them together into a 360-view of your surroundings. Panorama mode is accessible from a live tile on the homescreen or within the settings of the camera application. Once you take your first photo, a red guide box appears on the screen and helps you place the camera for your next picture. Once the camera is in the right position, the box turns green and the camera automatically snaps the picture. This process continues for the third, fourth, and fifth pictures. You can complete your panorama shot early by pressing the camera button at any point in the picture-taking process and the camera will stitch together that current cache of photos.
My biggest gripe about the camera is the lack of state retention. Close down the camera app and all of settings revert to default. The camera turns off intelligent shot and beauty shot and selects 5MP resolution for photos. When shooting video, the video defaults to 640×480 which is an odd choice for a camera capable of recording 720P HD video. Every time you want to take 720P video, you have to change the video settings from the default 640×480, an inconvenience which gets annoying very quickly.
Here are some sample images taken indoors, outdoors, and in panorama mode:
Call Quality and Battery Life
The LG Optimus 7 handset used in this review was a European handset slated to land on Vodafone. The handset supports quad-band GSM and tri-band 3G which makes it only partially friendly to the US market. AT&T can pick up 3G on the 1900MHz band only and T-Mobile’s 1700Mhz band is not supported by the handset. As a result, I could only test data on this single band which in my locale is available at EDGE speeds only. While data was limited, calling from the handset performed quite well on the US network. It was as good as any other AT&T handset that I have used in this area. Call quality was acceptable to both parties and I experienced only a few dropped calls when going in and out of coverage areas.
Battery life is a limitation that faces every smartphone owner. The LG Optimus 7 ships with a larger capacity 1500 mAh battery that allows it to make through a day of moderate usage. When actively testing the handset, I tore through the battery and had to recharge after 8 hours. When I dropped back to normal usage, I was able to make it a full 12 hours before I needed to plug-in the handset to let it charge. I times it so I ran out at the end of the day and charged overnight. Your mileage may vary as battery performance is very subjective and can be influenced by how you use your handset. I have email and tweets coming in at a constant rate and I am always picking up my handset just to check to see what’s new. My usage habits are a battery’s worst nightmare.
Overall, I enjoyed the LG Optimus 7. It may not be as drool-worthy as the HTC HD7 or the Samsung Focus but looks are not everything in my book. Performance is what matters and the Optimus 7 easily handled all of the tasks that I threw at it. Build quality is also important and the Optimus 7 does not disappoint. It combines a metal backing with a rubberized plastic trim to form a handset that has a solid feel and is well-balanced in your hand.
Software-wise, the Play To and ScanSearch apps are excellent inclusions and add a bit of fun to the handset. Though not yet available, the Voice to Text feature is also promising and I look forward to giving it a thorough testing when the feature finally debuts. In the end, I would recommend the LG Optimus 7 to anyone looking for a solid phone with excellent features and a traditional design.