The LG Optimus 7 is a Windows Phone 7 smartphone done right. Well, mostly.
By M. MADHAVAN
MICROSOFT has changed its game plan with Windows Phone 7. Unlike with previous versions of its mobile operating system, manufacturers that make phones for Windows Phone 7 will have to stick to a strict guideline in terms of hardware.
But that hasn't stopped LG from making the Optimus 7 stand out from the crowd of WP7 devices, albeit a rather small one at the moment.
Although simple in design, the candybar smartphone is stylish and sleek, with a brushed metal back that gives it a touch of class.
The Optimus 7 has a 3.8in glass touchscreen which dominates the front - it's a tad bigger than the iPhone's screen but not big enough to drastically affect battery life.
Just below the screen are three standard buttons present in all WP7 phones - Back, Home and Bing - and this is where the Optimus 7 really shines.
The Optimus 7 uses physical buttons which give proper tactile feedback. It may not seem as cool as the touch-sensitive buttons found on other models but it's a lot more practical.
When I used the other WP7 phones with touch-sensitive buttons, I almost always ended up hitting the Bing key by accident which will then launch the search engine. This is a real pain because WP7 doesn't support multitasking and you will have to wait for some apps to load again.
On the back of the smartphone is a camera that shoots 5-megapixel pictures and records 720p videos.
The camera worked wonderfully outdoors but didn't fare too well indoors. In areas where there was little light, the LED flash just wasn't good enough to get the job done.
Also, for some reason I couldn't make the settings stick - the camera always reverted to standard definition when recording videos.
I had to reconfigure it every time I wanted to shoot HD videos which made me miss moments that I really wanted to capture.
To sync the phone to a computer, you will have to download and install the Zune software. Zune makes it really easy to manage your music and movie collection both on the PC and the phone. The only odd thing is that it doesn't seem to back up your apps. So, if you delete an app, you will have to download it again. Bummer.
One of the cool features of WP7 is wireless sync. Once you complete your first wired sync, Zune will give you the option to allow the phone to be synced via your home WiFi network.
But this works in a rather strange way - to sync wirelessly you will have to plug the phone to a charger and the phone will then automatically start a sync with the PC in about 10 minutes.
This works 90% of the time. The phone will automatically launch Zune even if it's not running on the PC and start a sync. I could also transfer media files to the phone wirelessly which was cool.
The other 10% of the time, nothing happened. Maybe this was because there was nothing to sync but it would have been a lot better if there was a way to initiate a wireless sync manually.
Still, the wireless sync is quite handy to have and I no longer need an extra cable lying around.
Like all WP7 smartphones, the Optimus 7 doesn't have a memory card slot but this isn't an issue because it has 16GB of internal storage which should be enough space for storing media files and apps.
It's only to be expected for WP7 to have teething problems but things are made worse because iOS 4 and Android are already matured OSes that don't suffer from most of these annoying issues.
The one that bothers me the most is that there are no reminders for missed calls and messages. This forces me to switch on the phone manually many times in a day to check, and usually I am greeted with a string of missed calls and messages.
This is not because I am deaf but due to another feature that the OS lacks. Unlike the iPhone, WP7 phones does not have separate volume levels for app/games and the phone functions.
I almost always end up reducing the volume when playing games and forget to increase it afterwards so I tend to not hear incoming calls or messages. Until this gets fixed, I will be forced to use earphones or pray that my colleagues become more tolerant when I play games.
Waking up the phone is also not a simple affair - you can only wake up the OS by pressing the power button even though there are three other buttons. While this isn't a deal breaker, it's still rather annoying.
Moving on, WP7 has a status bar that auto hides which gives the phone more space to display other stuff. While this seems cool, it's not practical because the status bar shows me important information like the battery life and if the data connection is going through 3G or WiFi.
Instead, I have to tap the top of the screen to make the hidden status bar appear again. At the very least I would like the option to disable this feature.
Also, I couldn't access the Maxis EasyMenu (*100#) service from the phone but this could be a problem with the review unit.
To really compete with iOS 4 and Android, WP7 will need a vibrant marketplace for apps and games, and here is where it really falls short.
There isn't a local marketplace. Instead you have to get your apps and games from the Singapore Marketplace. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for a Windows Live account on the phone itself and choose Singapore as your country of residence.
If you are an Xbox gamer like myself, you can just use your Xbox Live account to connect to the Marketplace.
Actually, this is one of the main reasons why the phone should appeal to an Xbox gamer.
You can download a nifty Xbox Live client that allows you to view and customise your avatar, check your friends' achievements and even send messages (this really beats sending messages using the Xbox controller).
Each Xbox Live game will also allow you to earn a max of 200 gamerscore points, the same as an Xbox Live Arcade game for the Xbox 360.
This gives you a quick way to rack up your gamerscore while on the go.
However, there aren't that many outstanding games yet and most are just ports of games already available for the iPhone.
LG also has its own collection of apps for the phone.
Panarama Shot allows you to easily shoot a few pictures and stitch them together into a panoramic scene while Play To allows you to stream videos and pictures to a DLNA device such as a TV as well as a PC and Xbox 360.
And there are tons more apps exclusive to LG phones that can be downloaded from the Marketplace.
Also, did I mention that WP7 doesn't support multitasking? This leads to a host of problems especially if you are fond of playing games on the phone.
Should you chose to answer a message while playing a game, you will have to restart the level. Only a few games will allow you to continue from a checkpoint.
This is also a problem when downloading apps/games - if the phone switches off, the download will stall. Most of the times I was able to continue the download by switching on the phone but at other times I had to reboot the phone to get the download to start again.
In terms of battery life, the Optimus 7 fared better than most other models. On a single charge, it lasted a day of moderate use and gaming.
However, the phone tended to get very hot while charging especially near the top where the camera is located.
LG has crafted a WP7 phone that is both practical and stylish. There is so much to like about the Optimus 7 - it has physical buttons with good tactile feedback, a large and nice 3.8in screen, ample storage, and a decent battery.
The camera is good for outdoor shots but like most camera phones, it isn't suited to dimly lit areas.
Whether you like the phone or not will depend largely on Microsoft's WP7 mobile operating system which has a number of issues.
However, Microsoft has promised a big update this month that is supposed to fix most of the problems and we can hardly wait.
Overall, if you are shopping for a WP7 smartphone, the LG Optimus 7 should be at the top of your list.
Pros: Physical buttons; big and nice screen; 16GB internal storage; decent battery life; big update coming from Microsoft soon.
Cons: Phone overheats while charging; WP7 still has lots of minor issues; no local Marketplace.
Windows Phone 7 smartphone
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows Phone 7
DISPLAY: 3.8in (480 x 800-pixels) Gorilla glass touchscreen
CAMERA: 5-megapixels with autofocus, LED flash
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, USB 2.0
MEMORY: 16GB internal storage, 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM
EXPANSION SLOT: None
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 330 hours/5 hours
OTHER FEATURES: A-GPS, digital compass, accelerometer, proximity sensor, FM radio tuner, 720p HD video recording
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 125 x 59.8 x 11.5mm
BATTERY: 1,500mAh lithium-ion
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Review unit courtesy of LG Electronics Malaysia, 1-800-82-2822