The Optimus L7 II is part of LG’s range of budget handsets, sitting alongside the L5 II and the L3 II. This series of phones gets progressively less well specified as the product numbers go lower, so what we have here is a top of the range model. The L7 II follows on from the original L7 smartphone, and it’s a very wallet-friendly handset – you can find it Sim-free for around £150.
For this price you can’t expect anything that’s ground-breaking, and the baseline of what you get here is pretty average stuff, though there are some pleasant surprises too.
One of these nice surprises is the inclusion of Near Field Communications, and seeing it in such a budget phone is perhaps a sign that NFC is getting more popular. If NFC is your bag, this feature alone could sway you away from the many other Android phones that hover around this price point, as it’s not exactly a widely found feature at the lower end of the Android spectrum.
The outward appearance of the LG Optimus L7 II isn’t particularly endearing. This is a blocky, somewhat chunky handset, and while it shades under 10mm thick, it actually looks thicker than that. This is partly due to the multiple bands that form the sides – there are two narrow bands of silver, one of which is a thin frame for the front of the handset which curves round into the edges. Between these is a narrow grey band, and finally, there’s the much thicker band that houses all the buttons and connectors, and which is formed from the wraparound backplate.
The back of the phone looks like brushed aluminium but is in fact plastic, just like the rest of the chassis. In Samsung fashion, the LG Optimus L7 II has a single physical Home button beneath the screen, with touch sensitive menu and back buttons that light up when you press the Home button, or when you touch the place you expect to find them. There’s a trick Samsung doesn’t offer in that the surround of the home button blinks green to issue an alert. It has a few colours up its sleeve and you can set it to light up when, for example, you get a missed call or message, when an alarm is set, when you’ve got a calendar notification, or when the battery is charging. If you don’t like the light, you can disable it.
There is nothing to complain about in terms of the side buttons and connectors. The microUSB sits on the bottom edge, and the headset connector is on top. The buttons are well built and responsive, with the power button on the right edge, volume rocker on the left. There’s a bit of a bonus in this department in the shape of an extra button at the upper left edge, the function of which is customisable. You can link it to any app you like, which is reminiscent of the old BlackBerry “convenience key” I very much approve of.
The screen is a bit lost in the surroundings of this handset. At 4.3in it is a fair size – probably the smallest I’d say is workable these days if you want to do any real surfing, video viewing or text reading. And the TFT LCD is pretty sharp and bright – though it does suffer a bit outdoors where it can fade away to almost nothing in bright sunshine. There’s no light sensor for automatically dimming the screen’s brightness, but the notifications bar contains a brightness slider by way of compensation.
The resolution is a bit woeful by modern standards – 480 x 800 pixels. Now, there’s no doubting that text looks a bit fuzzy round the edges, but it is readable and you should be able to live with it.
However, the big problem with the LG Optimus L7 II is not with screen usability, rather it falls down when comparing its tech spec to what you could get elsewhere. Consider, for example, the much talked about Nexus 4, a budget Android star. The Nexus 4 caused a stir when it was released for £239 last year, and Google knocked it down to £159 recently to clear out stock (although unsurprisingly, it sold out on the Play store pretty sharpish). For that kind of budget money, it’s clearly a much niftier handset with a 4.7in screen boasting a resolution of 1,280 x 768.
The base Nexus 4 also came with 8GB of internal storage compared to the L7 II’s 4GB – and the actual usable amount of the LG handset’s memory is a very sparse 1.6GB. It’s true that there is a microSD card slot under the backplate for data – but not for apps that won’t fit into that internal memory.
The LG phone’s processor is dual-core but runs at just 1GHz, and with a mere 768MB of RAM keeping it pulsing away things sometime chug along. Apps take their time to launch, and a brief period looking at a white screen while they load is the norm rather than the exception.
While still noting disappointments here, I have to bemoan the fact that LG has gone with Android 4.1 for this handset. In truth, this probably won’t matter all that much to many users, but it does disappoint me that LG couldn’t manage to incorporate Android 4.2.
LG puts its own user interface and some apps on top of Android, and I found this rather bright and breezy to look at. There are some nice software extras too, including QuickMemo, which is available from the dropdown menu and lets you take a screenshot and then write on it. There’s also Memo, which is for more traditional keyboard produced notes, a weather widget, FM radio and file manager. I also like the Smart Screen feature, which uses the front camera to keep the screen on while you are looking at it. This is a feature more usually associated with Samsung’s handsets, of course.
The LG Optimus L7 II isn’t going to set anyone’s world alight, and its core specifications are a bit disappointing – but it does show that budget phones don’t have to be boring. The L7 II might have a low resolution screen and a shortage of internal memory, but that light-up home button, the inclusion of NFC, and the customisable side button show that innovation isn’t purely the preserve of higher end phones.
Manufacturer and Model
LG Optimus L7 II
GSM multi band; HSPA multi band
4.3in, 800 x 480 pixels
121.5 x 66.6 x 9.7 mm