The LG Optimus L7 is undeniably handsome. It's the leader of the pack in the company's L-Style series, which places an emphasis on a modern, sophisticated appearance, and it certainly looks the part. In fact, much of the design philosophy can be traced back to the more expensive LG Prada 3.0: both have boxy faces with large black borders and subtle chrome-like trim. It's a similar story around back, where you'll find a textured plastic cover that's tapered to create a greater illusion of thinness (the handset actually measures 8.7mm thick). These beveled edges also help the Optimus L7 feel quite comfortable in hand.
Naturally, there are differences. While the Prada 3.0 features only capacitive buttons up front, the Optimus L7 sports a physical home button that calls to mind the global Galaxy S II. On the rear, the horizontal camera pod struts a faux-brushed metal finish that nicely compliments the pinstripe enclosure. The design is both boring and beautiful. In a word, it's elegant.
If the phone were rocking more powerful internals, it'd be known in the car world as a sleeper -- something you don't see coming, but that punishes you just the same. With only a single-core 1GHz CPU, however, you'll need to ground your expectations from the get-go. It performs respectably for its class, but as with the BMW M3, once you've had your hair blown back by a quad-core processor, you'll be forever screwed to draw the comparison. Much of the spec sheet tells a similar story, which includes an Adreno 200 GPU, a 5-megapixel camera and HSPA network speeds that top out at 7.2Mbps. As the benchmarks will later reveal, this is fine for casual usage, but the antiquated architecture will leave many wanting a little more horsepower.
The Optimus L7 may not be the fastest phone in the world, but it sure does look pretty, and the same can be said of the display. Granted, it would be foolish to draw comparisons to some of the more premium options out there, but for a budget phone, LG nailed it with its 4.3-inch NOVA display at 800 x 480 resolution. Curiously, this isn't based on IPS technology like the company's other NOVA offerings; instead, it's based on the much more common TFT-LCD. Still, viewing angles are better than average, text is rather crisp, colors are vibrant, and when the brightness is maxed out, the phone is completely usable in direct sunlight.
We did identify one glaring omission with respect to the display, however, and that's the lack of an ambient light sensor -- a feature so pervasive that it's often taken for granted in smartphones. As such, an auto-brightness setting is nonexistent and users will need to manually adjust the levels to suit their surroundings. LG has included a bit of a workaround for this -- which we'll discuss later in the software section -- but the correct decision would've been to include the ambient light sensor. Needless to say, we're hugely disappointed that LG deliberately excluded the feature.
Take a quick tour of the phone's exterior and you'll find all of the usual amenities in their routine placements: the volume rocker is on the left, there's a micro-USB port on the bottom, both the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are up top, and a speakerphone is on the rear. Try as you might, though, one thing you won't find is an access tab for removal of the back cover. That's not to say it's difficult to remove, but you'll need a decent set of fingernails to pry it free. Once inside, you'll be treated to some funky industrial stylings, along with access to the standard size SIM, an empty microSD slot and a removable 1,700mAh battery. You'll also find a pair of NFC connectors, as the antenna makes up part of the back cover.
As it stands, the Optimus L7 comes in two flavors: one suitable for use in the United States and Canada, and another for Europe. Both models support quadband GSM / EDGE, but the HSPA radios are unique to each continent. For this reason, an unlocked L7 would be usable -- but not terribly enjoyable -- for global travelers. Other hardware-enabled features of the Optimus L7 include an FM radio, NFC with Android Beam, along with WiFi hotspot and WiFi Direct. The GPS hardware was able to find satellites rather quickly, and the compass performed very well once calibrated.
Performance and battery life
As we've alluded to, the Optimus L7 is a bit of a slowpoke in the performance arena. This is largely due to the Qualcomm MSM7227A chipset, which is based on the Snapdragon S1 platform. For comparison, this is the same chip that's within phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus and HTC Desire V.
The benchmarks reveal a similar story. While the L7 fared well in Quadrant, with an overall score on par with the dual-core Optimus 2X, this is largely in part due to its excellent performance in the I/O category. Other areas, such as CPU, memory and graphics reveal a phone that's more closely in line with the Nexus S -- which leads us to an interesting point. In real-world, day-to-day usage, the Nexus S with Android 4.0 feels more responsive than the Optimus L7. Granted, these phones are based on different architectures, but we couldn't shake the feeling that the Optimus L7's performance was in part hindered by LG's software. And if we're being honest, the company doesn't have a great track record when it comes to optimizing its Android skins for specific hardware architectures.
All things equal, Android 4.0 is a resource-intensive operating system that really demands beefier specs. It's sad to say, but anyone who insists on decent performance in Ice Cream Sandwich should look to a dual-core phone. We must emphasize that while overall performance isn't bad -- navigating through the launcher and working within basic apps like Gmail feel relatively snappy, for example -- you'll also need to deal with stuttering animations on the home screen, inconsistent touch response, a subpar browser experience and video capture that tops out at VGA. As a basic phone, the Optimus L7 fits the bill. For those wanting more, you'll need to pay for the privilege.
Call quality on the Optimus L7 is middling at best. While other people's voices were free of distortion, even calls to landlines sounded muted and muddy. Similarly, our callers commented that while our words were clear, our voices sounded flat. Even with a strong signal, calls would intermittently cut out. It's difficult to determine whether the phone or the carrier is to blame for these hiccups, however, so we'll reserve judgment on that one. Our experience with the speaker phone was similar: callers tended to sound tinny. Unsurprisingly, people told us the call quality over the speaker was distant, and some had to strain at times to make sense of our words.
With a 1,700mAh Li-Ion cell and just a single-core processor, it's no great surprise that battery life is one of the better aspects of the Optimus L7. In our standard rundown test, the phone lasted six hours and 40 minutes, which is solid, but unspectacular. Our real-world tests yielded much better results, and those with modest usage habits should have no trouble getting 36 hours or more off a single charge. Battery life can be extended even further with LG's power saver software, a feature which kicks in at a user-set threshold to more conservatively manage brightness, radios and data settings. For our part, we never felt compelled to enable the feature, and were still able to get an impressive 54 hours from a single charge with medium usage.
Along with Ice Cream Sandwich, LG threw an interesting twist into the Optimus L7 known as UI 3.0. With the new software, the company set out to introduce new functionality in an unobtrusive manner, and to that extent, it's succeeded. Granted, UI 3.0 is still a departure from stock Ice Cream Sandwich, but the look is now much cleaner than LG's prior efforts. Immediately apparent is the new lock screen, which allows users to swipe in any direction to unlock the device. Similarly, the lock screen brings quick access to four customizable apps, along with three different clocks for the choosing.