LG hasn't won over us Brits like South Korean rival Samsung's Galaxy range of phones has. But the relentlessly upbeat kit maker with the smiley-faced logo and 'Life's good' slogan isn't giving up. Au contraire.
The L-series is not intended to compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 at the very high end of the smart phone spectrum (for that, LG will be pitting the Optimus 4X HD). This is a mid-range Android family, which means it's less powerful but more affordable.
The L7 is the biggest and beefiest of the L-series trio, with a large 4.3-inch screen, a 1GHz engine and the latest Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) operating system.
Should I buy the LG Optimus L7?
If you're on a budget or have modest mobile power needs, the Optimus L7 could tickle your fancy. Its biggest asset is the latest version of Android -- Ice Cream Sandwich. It also has a large, 4.3-inch screen so if you want a lot of glass to poke it could be worth a gander.
So far, so good. Not so impressive is the L7's sluggishness. Sometimes it's painfully unresponsive. I experienced a few crashes and glitches so stability isn't rock solid either. LG's Android skin is also nothing special -- certainly compared to the polish of HTC's Sense interface -- so be sure to check out the alternative phones out there. Aroung this mid-range price, Android fans aren't short of options.
Alternative (Gingerbread-flavoured) Androids to consider include the Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, the Huawei G300, the Motorola Motoluxe, the T-Mobile Vivacity and the Orange San Francisco 2.
Screen, design and build quality
Arguably the L7's biggest boon after ICS is its roomy 4.3-inch screen. There's certainly no shortage of glass to eyeball, poke and prod. Many mid-range Androids have smaller screens so if you really want a biggie in your pocket, the L7 has the inches to impress.
Resolution is not so impressive at 480x800 pixels. That equates to a middling 217 pixels per inch. While the display is clear enough, details aren't pin sharp. There's also no risk of being stabbed in the retina by eye-poppingly bright colours -- if anything, the LCD display makes the world look slightly washed out as colours are slightly desaturated.
The touchscreen itself isn't hyper-responsive either. I found light-fingered tapping often goes unregistered and requires a second, more fulsome press or swipe to lock on. There is also a distinctly laggy feel to the screen generally. This may well be a software or processor issue.
My review sample was the white model so I couldn't help feeling there was something intrinsically fridge-like about the L7 due to LG's home electronics pedigree. If you're worried about white goods connotations, there's also a black L7.
In general, the L7's design is smart if uninspiring, with lashings of metallic trim around the top and front of the phone and a textured plastic back that you'll either love or hate. In my view it's a somewhat cheap effect. Overall, though, the handset feels good in the hand -- despite its large screen it didn't give me hand ache, thanks to a thin frame (it's just 8.7mm thick).
Build quality seems reasonably solid although there's certainly some flex in the frame and the plastic back can also be made to creak and open up a hairline crack under pressure.
Up top you'll find a metal power key and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the side is a volume rocker and the bottom edge houses a micro-USB port for charging and whipping your photos off onto your computer. On the front of the device is a physical home key plus two touch keys -- back and menu -- which are completely invisible until you press them, at which point they light up (a distinctly unhelpful design).
Software and performance
The L7 runs Android 4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich. Full marks to LG for shipping the latest version of Google's operating system, unlike the majority of mid-range Androids that (still) arrive with Gingerbread.
Not all of ICS's bells and whistles are here though. Notably, there's no Face Unlock option in the lock screen settings, even though the L7 does have a front-facing camera (an LG spokeswoman told me Face Unlock should return via an upgrade).
Home screen widgets can't be resized either. But you can add effects to videos and flick notifications out of the tray. You also get the ICS recent apps thumbnail menu -- so you can scroll back through all the stuff you've being doing with your phone lately and tap to return to an app or function (or flick it off screen to close it).
All of this is nice but the big problem with the L7 is it feels really laggy. Whether this is LG's software skin sitting atop Android -- or the 1GHz single-core chip struggling to cope -- it's hard to say. It may well be a bit of both. Either way, the phone can get very sluggish and tedious to use. It certainly doesn't show off Android's best side.
If you're downloading apps in the background, expect your foreground swipes to go apparently unnoticed -- or at least for a few painful seconds while the L7 gets its ducks in order. Web browsing is also a chore. Expect to be waiting seconds while pages load and render. Many elements of the phone's interface are slothful including the unlock screen, calling up the keyboard and waiting for the photo you've just snapped to process so you can take another.
LG's Android skin gives you up to five home screens to fill up with apps and widgets, plus a launcher bar that can have up to four apps or folders of your choosing sitting on it. Once you dive into the apps view, this can be sliced by all apps, downloads or widgets. All in all, it's pretty standard Android fare, without being especially slick or elegant. But the L7's biggest problem is not so much the interface design, it's how slow it is to swipe around.
While a single-core 1GHz chip is about what you'd expect at this price, the device doesn't make the best use of this engine. The L7 is noticeably slower than rival devices such as the HTC One V and the Huawei G300. Considering the G300 can be pocked for a mere £100 on pay as you go, versus £300 for the L7, it doesn't look like great value for money.
Benchmark tests confirmed the L7's middling status. It ran GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test at 20 frames per second, while its Antutu benchmark score was 2,769 and Quadrant's index was 1,949.
Battery life is average smart phone fare so unless you're a really heavy user you should get a day's use out of a single charge and can expect to plug it in every night. The L7 has a 1,700mAh battery that can be removed -- welcome news if you like to carry spares.
Call quality was fine. I had no problems being heard or hearing the people on the other end of the line, and I didn't experience any dropped calls during testing.
Audio quality was pretty good when put through headphones but the L7's rear speaker sounds flat and tinny. It isn't that loud so if you're set on blasting out your tunes for all to hear, you'll be better off with the HTC One V, which has Beats Audio sound enhancement tech to pump up the bass.
The L7 has a 5-megapixel snapper on its rear plus an LED flash. The lens turned out some pretty good shots, with decent levels of detail and reasonably even exposure.
It handled variable light and shade across a scene better than some other phone cameras I've encountered.
Colours look mostly true to life -- albeit slightly desaturated and sometimes looking washed out.
Capturing a photo was fast -- taking less than a second for the shutter to close -- but there is a distinct lag afterwards as the L7's chip processes the image. Fans of a dedicated physical camera button will also be disappointed because there is no such key on this phone.
The L7 shoots video at a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels. Quality isn't bad. It'll certainly serve for making YouTube or Facebook-friendly clips.
Storage and NFC
Internal storage is capped at 4GB but there's a microSD card slot inside the phone, which supports expansion of up to 32GB.
The L7 also includes near field communication (NFC) tech that can be used in conjunction with NFC tags to quickly set particular preferences or profiles on the phone, or fire up particular apps or web pages.
The L7 has Ice Cream Sandwich and a big shiny face but under its hood lurks a sluggish single-core chip. The 1GHz processor speed doesn't sound too bad, but in practice the L7's engine is an underachiever. All too often this phone is a really tedious performer.
There's loads of mid-range Android phone choice out there. Since cheaper Android mobiles are getting more powerful, you don't have to saddle yourself with a sloth just because you're on a budget. If your heart is set on a big screen then try and save your pennies for a mobile with a more powerful processor.