Windows Phone 7 handsets are like episodes of Friends: they’re all basically the same, but each has a slight twist. The LG Optimus 7 then is “The one with the DLNA”. The LG Optimus 7 will be available on Vodafone, where your other option will be the HTC 7 Trophy (The one with the low price).
Out of the box, the LG Optimus 7 measures 125 x 59.8 x 11.5mm and weighs in at approx. 140g. On the front it features a 3.8-inch 800 x 480 pixel resolution display. This is the same resolution as all the other Windows Phone 7 launch handsets; the only variation coming in size, up to 4.3-inches with the HTC HD7, although our display pick of the bunch is the Samsung Omnia 7’s AMOLED.
Across the bottom of the display are the regulation three buttons offering back, Start and search. Rather than being touch buttons, the Optimus 7 has physical buttons, the central raised Windows logo acting as the Start button. Given the detailing in the logo, it doesn’t feel very nice under your fingers, but all three buttons work reliably enough.
Elsewhere around the body you’ll find the required camera button and volume keys, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB socket for charging and syncing. The standby button is situated on the top of the device, and we found it just a little too small to reliably hit first time every time when we wanted to use the phone.
The LG Optimus 7 feels reassuringly well built in the hand, with no sign of creaks coming from the handset. The solid metal backplate fits in reassuringly, under which you’ll find the bay for the 1500mAh battery and SIM card slot. With Windows Phone 7 not supporting removable memory you won’t find a microSD card slot like you will on many other devices. Instead you’ll have to make do with the 16GB of internal memory.
Some are already complaining about the lack of microSD as an option on the launch devices for Windows Phone 7, but it hasn’t been a problem for an army of iPhone users and with 16GB to play with you should have enough space - unless you have an enormous music collection or want to carry around a lot of video with you.
We’ve covered in a fair amount of detail the experience of using Windows Phone 7 in our review of the mobile operating system, and we don’t plan to cover all those points again here. If you are interested, it is well worth reading that review - there is a link at the bottom of this page. There are also plenty of photos of the user interface there as well. What we will cover here is what makes the LG Optimus 7 different.
Power up the LG Optimus 7 and you are greeted with the red of Vodafone, which is disturbingly reminiscent of their Vodafone 360 handsets, but easily changed to a more comforting hue in the settings. Vodafone has added a tile called 360 My Web which essentially is just a browser shortcut to that service. Otherwise the device is unsullied by Voda.
With Microsoft defining what the minimum hardware specs should be for Windows Phone 7 (hence the similarity across the board), manufacturer influence on the handset is focused on just a few areas. One is in the apps they can offer, either by offering a Hub or by granting access through Marketplace to exclusive content, which is what LG have chosen to do. The second major area of differentiation is in the camera.
Looking at the apps, the LG Optimus 7 offers up a collection of pre-installed features. The first, and headline feature, is DLNA sharing. Called Play To, it will allow you to play content on your phone on other compatible devices. Sounds great, but in practice it is a one way system - we’d rather use the technology to view content from a network drive as you can with Samsung’s AllShare on the Galaxy S.
The second area where LG have lavished attention is the camera. Opening up the 5-megapixel autofocus camera you’ll find LG’s branding has made it into the settings menu, offering up what it calls Intelligent Shot, and you’ll find LG’s favoured Beauty Shot makes it into the mix, borrowing something from its Viewty line. You also get the Panorama shot and a link to ScanSearch, its AR viewer. Exactly why this is sitting in the camera menus we don’t know.
In practice we didn’t find a discernible difference between the various camera settings, in fact sticking to “off” in the Intelligent Shot option garnered our most favoured results. Camera performance is average, suffering the same nasties you’ll find on mobile devices elsewhere, but it is capable in good conditions.
One of the nice features is Panorama shot which is a little different and offers to stitch together five shots as you pan the camera. An on-screen arrow directs you to try to make it as smooth as possible. It doesn’t compete with the likes of Sony’s Sweep Panorama on its digital cameras, but we found it fun none the less, even if the results are a little varied.
Video capture offers a maximum 720p resolution as you’ll find elsewhere in Windows Phone 7. The quality isn’t especially good and we found that it struggled to focus, returning an average of 24fps. Fixed focus video is pretty common on mobile phones, but in this case it lacked detail and sharpness overall.
We mentioned in passing the AR, or augmented reality, application ScanSearch that LG has included. This uses the camera and Google so you can find local points of interest, be that a café or bar. The results are only as good as the database however, and we found that using search in the regular Maps got us a better result.
There is an FM radio, but we found the reception to be extremely poor. Sat in an identical position as the Samsung Omnia 7, the Optimus 7 was unable to tune into any radio stations - this was using the same headphones as the aerial. The bundled headphones aren’t too bad however, being of the in-ear variety and offering a choice of rubbers to get a good fit.
Sitting at the core of the LG Optimus 7 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz chipset. You get GPS, Bluetooth, sensors galore and Wi-Fi as you will on any other Windows Phone 7 handset. One issue we had was that the phone would regularly report that it had no data connection, despite being well within Wi-Fi range. This might be a problem with the individual device, or a bug, but it’s something to be aware of. We found that Bluetooth was not Mac compatible.
Battery life is pretty good - we managed to get the battery to last more than a day, but heavy use will see it needing to be charged every night. Thanks to the curved top of the handset, making and taking calls is comfortable too, and the slightly smaller frame of the Optimus 7 makes it more comfortable in the hand than some of the larger devices.
We found that our review Optimus 7 ran Windows Phone 7 perfectly well; apps open in a flash and Windows Phone 7 is generally a great place to be. We prefer the experience on the slightly larger devices however, and we don’t feel that the design is quite as sharp as that of the Samsung Omnia 7 or the HTC 7 Mozart.
We also don’t feel that LG’s added features really serve up that much of a benefit. Software-based, we’re sure that there will be Marketplace offerings that rival or surpass those headline features. Yes, the panoramic photo option is nice, but we’re sure that network media options will appear fairly quickly to offer an alternative Play To feature elsewhere.
LG’s offering shouldn’t be entirely dismissed however, and with your choices limited by network, it may be that you are happy with the snappy smartphone performance it offers and the generous 16GB of memory.