LG has thrown its hat into the Windows Phone 7 ring with the Optimus 7 E900, a trim yet solid phone that benefits from a slick, simple user interface without any extraneous crud. The operating system still has a room for improvement, especially as regards the Marketplace app store, but we like its touchscreen-focused feel.
The Optimus 7 is available for free on a £30-per-month contract, exclusively from Vodafone.
The Optimus 7 feels weighty, clocking in at 157g. That makes the phone feel well-built, an impression that's cemented by the metal back cover, which is held on by a substantial clasp.
Like almost every other Windows Phone 7 handset to date, the Optimus 7 has three buttons on the front. We like that they're the proper clicking kind, rather than the touch-sensitive type, as sported by the HTC HD7. But, on our sample handset, the plastic buttons looked slightly shoddy, and let down the rest of the phone slightly. On the plus side, the phone has a cool-looking camera on the back with a very appealing, retro-futuristic design.
The Optimus 7 rocks a 3.8-inch, WVGA LCD display, with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. That's not as high as the resolution offered by the iPhone 4's screen, but we were impressed by the detail we could make out, and we didn't notice any blurriness. Colours were pleasingly bright and vivid. The size of the display means the phone is fairly large, but it can still fit in a pocket.
Lucky number 7
A sextuplet of phones launched in conjunction with Windows Phone 7, and they're almost identical. Microsoft's strict minimum specs mean the six slices of smart-phone goodness all have around 8GB of memory, a 1GHz processor, at least a 5-megapixel camera, and a large screen.
The Optimus 7 aims to stand out from the crowd, however, with its 1,500mAh battery and a handful of useful apps from LG. The battery is bigger than the HD7's 1,230mAh model, and we'll be updating this review after we've put both phones through a head-to-head battery-drainage battle.
We haven't been big fans of LG's user interfaces in the past -- they've tended to be cute and playful rather than useful. But, happily, LG has left the heavy lifting to Windows Phone 7 in the case of the Optimus 7, and Microsoft's new operating system is well up to the task.
Since all Windows Phone 7 handsets have the same user interface, we've taken a deep breath and dived deep down into the new OS in our full Windows Phone 7 review. Paddle over to that review for the whole scoop on how Windows Phone 7 works. Our conclusion is basically that it's very finger-friendly and simple, but has plenty of room to grow. The Xbox Live, Zune music and Office features are already crave-worthy, but the app store has plenty of catching up to do.
Neither networks nor manufacturers can do much to change the appearance of Windows Phone 7, and neither can you. You can add and remove tiles from the home screen, change the background to white or black, and change the colour of the tiles, but that's it. Besides choosing an image that shows on your lock screen, you won't be spending much time customising the Optimus 7, so, if you like to tweak your phone, an Android handset would prove a better option. But, if you prefer simplicity to flexibility, the Optimus 7 could, like the iPhone, be a good choice.
LG has added a few custom apps to the Optimus 7, but none of them set our world on fire. The panorama app makes it easy to snap photos of wide vistas, and, in our tests, it worked well, helping us line up five images and even firing off the shutter when everything was aligned.
The ScanSearch augmented-reality app lays icons of nearby restaurants, cafés and other snack emporia on an image seen through the camera lens. It gets its results from Google or Bing searches, so the content is accurate, but, like most augmented-reality apps, we found it fun for a fleeting moment, rather than truly functional. We'd prefer to check out the lovely built-in map app to peruse nearby locations, rather than wave our phone around like we're trying to kill a mosquito.
LG has promised a voice-to-text feature that will let you type a text message or a Twitter update just by speaking into the phone, but it won't be ready to go until an update comes out in November. It will be a free, downloadable update.
Vodafone, which has the Optimus 7 exclusively in the UK, has also added the most useless tile in the short history of Windows Phone 7. It's a link to the Vodafone 360 service, which nobody wants to use. And it really is just a link -- tapping the tile doesn't even open the Vodafone 360 website -- it just offers up a link to open the website. It's ridiculous to the point of being insulting, but, thankfully, you're free to delete this tile from the home screen.
We have to give a shout-out to one feature that we much prefer on the Optimus 7 than on the HD7. On the HD7, hitting the search button while using the browser opens up the ugly, dated-looking Yahoo search page. On the Optimus 7, it brings up the Bing search hub. The Bing search page matches the rest of the good-looking UI.
On the back, the Optimus 7 has a 5-megapixel camera, with an LED flash providing support in poorly lit environments. In our tests, we were happy with the camera's shots, although they didn't match up to what you'd get from a compact camera. We'll be pitting the Windows Phone 7 handsets against each other to find the best camera of them all, so stay tuned.
The Optimus 7 has plenty of camera settings if you like to tweak, and a handy 'intelligent shot' automatic mode if you don't. It doesn't only handle stills -- it's also capable of capturing 720p video. There's an option to capture video in a 16:9 aspect ratio too, if you feel that your home movies are lacking that epic cinematic feel.
Once a video's captured, you can try using LG's DLNA sharing feature, which it calls 'Play To'. DNLA connectivity lets you transfer music, photos and video to other DNLA-equipped gear, like a TV, if it's on the same Wi-Fi network. Although we didn't have a DNLA set-up handy, we did use the interface, which was sufficiently intuitive to enable us to figure out what was going on in just a few moments. We'll be updating this review as soon as we can take the Optimus 7's DNLA support for a full test.
Another welcome feature is the phone's 16GB of on-board storage. Windows Phone 7 doesn't support external memory cards, so that amount of space will have to suffice -- there's no way to expand it. This is one of the features that boosts the Optimus 7 above the Windows Phone 7 crowd, since the other phones only have 8GB of memory.
The LG Optimus 7 feels fractionally less responsive than the HTC HD7, and has a smaller screen, but it's much cheaper. Despite its lower price, the Optimus 7 feels solid, and, although the added LG and Vodafone apps are nothing to write home about, the Windows Phone 7 user interface is fresh, fast and easy to use.
If you're already an app-addicted smart-phone user, Windows Phone 7's nascent app store probably won't tempt you to switch from the iPhone or Android. But, if you're looking to upgrade to a smart phone that's easy to use and more affordable than the iPhone, the Optimus 7 could float your boat.
Edited by Charles Kloet