Up until now if you’ve wanted to go Windows Phone 7 you’ve had to ditch the notion of a hardware QWERTY keyboard and go touchscreen. In steps the LG Optimus 7Q, a QWERTY keyboard touting Windows Phone 7 smartphone that promises touch and a hardware keyboard that slides out from underneath.
It’s fair to say that the slide-out keyboard adds a fair amount of bulk to the package (119.5 x 59.5 x 15.2mm) giving you a handset that’s considerably thicker than the regular LG Optimus 7. It’s a heavy phone too, weighing in at 185g, pushing it towards the higher end of smartphone weights.
Aside from that sheer size there is plenty at your fingertips. When closed the phone shows off it’s 3.5-inch 480 x 800 pixel resolution touchscreen. In keeping with Microsoft’s stringent guidelines, LG has included the standard Back, Home, and Search buttons, however in an attempt to “mix it up” the Back and Search buttons are touch enabled and part of the screen while the Home button is a physical button set slightly beneath. We aren’t sure why, and while it doesn’t impede usage, we think we would have preferred it on the same row.
Other detailing around the edge of the phone includes a dedicated camera button, volume controls, USB charging socket, power, and 3.5mm headphones socket.
There is a 5-megapixel camera on the rear with an LED flash. That camera is set top and centre in the phone like the HTC Desire HD. That’s fine when taking portrait shots, but we did find it got in the way when taking landscape shots as our fingers kept creeping over the lens. Why? Because we were holding it like a camera to better use the dedicated camera button LG have helpfully provided.
Sliding out the keyboard is a straightforward process. The mechanism is strong with plenty of flex and the sliding motion is smooth. It doesn’t feature any of the over-engineering found in the HTC Desire Z, but then let’s face it, it doesn’t need to.
What’s revealed is a four-line QWERTY keyboard with a series of alternate keys if you press the function button. The keys are large, spongy to touch and easy to use when it comes to typing however no where near as nice to type on as a BlackBerry Bold.
The QWERTY keyboard is logically laid out. The Space bar is big enough to be of benefit and LG has managed to squeeze in cursor keys for navigation. There is a function key and a caps key, both of which can be used to lock the keyboard to that option rather than having to constantly press it. And yes, there is a dedicated smiley face key, which opens an on-screen array of emoticons for you to choose from. Who knew there were over 54 different options to show how much you cared?
Adding that keyboard should, you would think, make a huge difference to how the interface acts and interacts with your commands. The final story is that it will in some places and won’t in others. Slide open the keyboard and if you are in a text input area of the interface the screen will automatically rotate around into landscape mode ready for you to start typing regardless of whether you holding the phone in landscape – it basically overrides the accelerometer in the handset.
Sliding the keyboard open doesn’t however unlock the phone like you might think and where it confuses even more, is that the Windows Phone 7 tile interface and the application list hasn’t been designed to work in landscape mode so that won’t rotate. It’s the same with the panoramic slides as well.
The interface restrictions mean that the keyboard is only good for actually typing in text boxes rather than navigating. That means you’ve got to jump backwards and forwards between typing and touching the screen. Not ideal.
What about those arrow keys we’ve mentioned? They only work in the text area. They won’t let you zip through To: and Subject: lines in an email for example.
You get a 3G capable world phone that offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and all the usual connectivity options including DLNA. There’s also GPS for navigation and 16GB of internal storage. As with all Windows Phone 7 phones there is no expandable memory so you get what you get, but at least it’s 8GB. Processor speed is 1GHz, memory is 512MB making this a good performer when it comes to navigating all those pretty tiles Windows Phone 7 is famous for.
As for the Windows Phone 7 interface, we aren’t going to cover that here. If you want to know more about the ins and outs of Windows Phone 7 we would recommend you read our dedicated Windows Phone 7 review on the mobile operating system.
Here the experience is as you would expect, although you do get access to the LG app store giving you 10 dedicated apps to get you started. Those apps include Look n Type (an idea created by Pocket-lint for an April Fools joke in 2009), Workout Tracker, Play To (that allows you to hook up your phone with a DLNA television), Tool Box, ScanSearch (an Augmented Reality app), Panorama Shot (a photo app that lets you stich photos together), Metro Scanner, Photo Stylist, and I’m a musician guitar and I’m a musician piano that lets you play both. If you have a DLNA TV we would recommend you download the Play To app and Look to Type is fun too. We also rather like the panoramic offering.
The camera performance is okay but not spectacular. We found the flash had a tendency to over bleach subjects out as if often the case with camera phones. Luckily the camera copes fairly well with low light conditions as long as you keep it still (see girl in hat). When the camera does get it right, there is plenty of detail in the shots with vibrant colours even on a dull day.
When it comes to calling the Optimus 7Q feels comfortable if not a little fat. Yes you aren’t going to be stretching your hands as you do the HTC HD7, or even the company’s non QWERTY keyboard Windows Phone 7 handset the Optimus 7, but it’s no dainty gadget either.
The Optimus 7Q has plenty of features to offer and if you’re looking for a QWERTY keyboard touting Windows Phone 7 this is one of two choices. Your other option is the Dell Venue Pro, a larger portrait phone that’s more dramatic in its approach.
That QWERTY keyboard really does make you pay though when it comes to size and weight. This is a phone you’ll know you have in your pocket, and worryingly in our use over the last couple of weeks we’ve found that the keyboard doesn’t massively add to the mix. The Windows Phone 7 on screen keyboard is actually pretty good.
Give us a candybar BlackBerry designed Windows Phone 7 handset like the Curve or the Bold and we are sure you would be happier, as it is we can’t help feel that this offering won’t be suitable for many.
If you must go LG, then the Optimus 7 will be the better option as you'll still get the great Windows Phone 7 experience, and those 10 free LG apps.